Liner Notes

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Moss Icon // It Disappears

Released in 1994
Hand Silkscreened cover on reclaimed LP sleeve
First press on black
Favorite Track: "Gravity"


This is a big one. So big I avoided it until now. It is with great trepidation and qualification I name Moss Icon's It Disappears my favorite record. It makes my bristle to say it, like picking a favorite child. Every parent has one, but looks over their shoulder as they say it. What is a favorite (cf Experiment 1)?  I certainly haven't listened to it more often than dozens of other records. I haven't played it in a year. But to answer myself from a half decade ago, I don't think my declaration is disingenuous. I must carve out a new slot between play frequency and intellectual posturing for favorites.

This record, using a phrase my buddy Tim coined (perhaps stolen from my other good buddy Ryan, who almost certainly stole it from someone profound), saves me. And I don't mean it in the hyperbolic, "Music saved my life" bumper sticker wisdom. I've never been on the precipice only to be pulled back by a record. And while my life's course was certainly guided by music, it never needed saving. Music saved my life from boredom. It saved me from ever believing the world is devoid of beauty. It rescues me from despair. This record, and countless others, are a rope in a deep well. They implore me to climb out of the morass. I have no doubt I would still be here without music, but I wouldn't be the same person. Maybe I'm just being an asshole about admitting music did save my life, and that my beliefs can be distilled into a bumper sticker.

Moss Icon was a DC hardcore band in the late 80s. And they ruled. Their Lyburnum LP is best in breed. It's powerful and emotional. In high school, I had to read my favorite poem to the class. I read the lyrics to "Kick The Can." Their records were pretty rare. The only copy of their Lyburnum I'd ever seen belonged to my friend Jawsh, who plays in a great band called VHS now. I must have searched fifty record stores' used bins for their albums before finally tracking one down. When I got it, it didn't disappoint. I played it on repeat for a month.

Years later I finally tracked down a copy of their second record, It Disappears. It does not rock. Not even a little. Gone was the fury of youth, the aggression which echoed the aggression I felt toward an indifferent teenage world. What the fuck was this record?! Where was the fucking rock?!

I was severely disappointed. My love for their first record set an expectation of what this record should be instead of taking it for face value. I would put it on when I was in the mood to destroy and it didn't deliver. And I resented the band for it. The record sat largely unplayed on my shelf for months.

The B-Side has a live version of "I'm Back Sleeping Or Fucking Or Something," a ripper from Lyburnum. I would begrudgingly play the B-Side for the one track I could get into. And some late night, I let the record keep playing. The title track, and the only other song on the B-side, is an egregiously mixed, sprawling 15 minute live jam. And despite the awful recording, it's incredible. In a letter to Nathanial Hawthrone about Moby Dick, Melville wrote, "You were archangel enough to despise the imperfect body, and embrace the soul." He could see past the flaws in the work to the perfect soul underneath. "It Disappears" has a perfect soul. I discovered this album quite by accident. I heard it differently. As it hit the run out, I immediately flipped the record and listened to the other side. I was ready to hear.

Lyburnum tells of a man in trauma. His home has burned. His faith is tested. It is tumultuous and off balance. It Disappears is the soundtrack of a man who's found an earthly peace and repose. Even the anti-war "Memorial," is done with immense care and poetry, not anger and frustration. When I listen to this record, it calms me. It reminds me that chaos and ugliness can give rise to beauty and peace. I would sit in my room in the dark, put on headphones, and listen to this record in its entirety. I love it from top to bottom. The lyrics rescue me. And I won't bastardize them by quoting them for you out of context; they are too special for that. I don't know if Jonathan Vance found God, or love, or what happened to him between these two records, but the journey is beautiful.

I no longer think of Lyburnum and It Disappears as separate albums. They are a singular piece of art, told over several years. Expectations put holes in the universe. And mine almost caused me to write off what is now my favorite record.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Elastica // Elastica

Released 1995
First press on black
Favorite Track "Never Here"


A newly minted teenage Nick spends the summer in Cleveland, Ohio. Next year he enters middle school where he discovers skateboarding, guitar, and girls. The three spend the next ten years fighting for their place in his mental hierarchy.

Spoiler: girls by a mile.

As I lacked an older brother, or siblings of any stripe, I was dependent on some radical older friends to shepherd me through the pre-iTunes musical jungle. If your friends didn't listen to it, you never heard it. That's how music worked. You were only as cool as your friends or your Dad. Thanks for getting me into Sabbath, Dad.

Until that point, I listened primarily to KWNZ, the top of the pops radio. Now, while it turned me on to Dre and Snoop, the rest was pretty much garbage. Except for Ace of Base. I stand by that shit. My buddy Justin, who could kick flip a five-stair, shredded the guitar, and had flowing grunge locks that broke hearts simply by spilling out from his knit beanie, decided to take me under his wing. He was basically a god of cool and I wanted to attend his church. Justin lobbies for me to abandon the "pop shit" and insists I should listen to punk rock. He bets if I switch between the radio stations, I'll find ZROQ, the indie alternative station, more to my liking. As the fates would have it, there was some boy band on KWNZ and "Self Esteem" from The Offspring blaring on ZROQ.


The aggression and the whining about girls really struck a chord with me. He gets me into Reno legends 7 Seconds, and blows my mind with Afi's Answer That and Stay Fashionable. He helps me pick trucks from a CCS catalogue for my first board, and I'm pretty sure donates some of his old skate shirts to get my wardrobe started. There ought to be fucking Academy Awards for guys like him.

So I'm getting my bearings (literally) and really digging all the new bands when my Dad tells me we're spending the summer in Ohio, away from all my friends, cool shows, and skate parks. I'm pretty bummed.

The suburb of Wickliffe, Ohio is a far cry from the budding metropolis of Reno, Nevada. There isn't a record store that sells punk records for miles, was screamed at by jocks while skating, and all my friends were discovering crucial bands while I was languishing away in the land of sports and humidity.


I beg my Dad to take me to a used records shop I find in the Yellow Pages. He drives me out there and I'm totally lost. I know of like three punk bands. And they don't have any of their albums. I had been watching a lot of videos on MTV and, though I turned my nose up at most it, I did bob my head to a little Brit Pop tune called "Connection." The video was cool, and I thought the lead singer was real pretty. I was desperate for new jams, so I bought the CD.

I got it home and was totally rocked by the song "Annie" before "Connection." Relief washes over me in an awesome wave. Maybe this won't suck after all. It's actually kind of punk. I only had a handful of CDs with me that summer and I listened to this album on repeat maybe fifty times. It was with me in an important time. I had branched out on my own and found a cool, punk band all on my own. I was feeling great.

Fast forward ten years.

I realize they aped the main riff of "Connection" from Wire's "Three Girl Rhumba." Fuck.
I find other Wire songs they straight lifted. FUCK. I was conflicted. Can I still like this if they're thieves? Am I allowed to enjoy this record anymore?

Yes. It turns out you can and I didn't care that they robbed The Stranglers, The Fall, and other great bands. To me, it was like the end of The Graduate. I'd already seen that ending in Wanye's World. And for me, chronologically, Wayne and Garth did it first. I'm sure if I moralized about it, I'd find them culpable, but they had already been part of my life for a decade and I wasn't about to have one of the pillars that built my house knocked down because of a little plagiarism. As my good friend Jawsh says, "There's only so many chords on a guitar."

I bought the LP on eBay sometime, I'm guessing in the early 2000s. I was probably in college. I spent more on this record than any other I'd ever purchased up to that point. DGC put out their CD and never released vinyl for this album. Only the UK label, Deceptive put this baby on wax. It's real collector bait. Import only, 12 page fan booklet, numbered, AND an exclusive Flexi. I got the first press from overseas which has the special misprint on the label listing "Waking Up" on both sides. I don't usually go in for in collector stuff. Given a choice between colored and black wax, I'll choose 180G black every time. I just want it thing to sound great, which is why I shelled out a little more for the first press. All and all, including shipping, I think I paid $30 for this record and it felt like I morgaged a home for it. If college Nick only knew what I spent on records now, he'd have a heart attack.

My emotions run deep with this record, and my love for it has evolved over the years. As a kid I loved the fast, nearly punk moments best. I wanted this record to be fast and nasty, which it most certainly is not. Even the punk moments are expertly produced and tame. What gets me now is the B-Side. Quieter jams like "Never Here," "Waking Up," and "2:1" are the ones that hook me now. Records I learn to love differently over time are the most rewarding to me. Revisiting them digs up new gems, making it feel like the album is growing up with you.

I don't like quantifying my love for records. Top 10 lists always seem gauche to me; they miss the point.  Music doesn't have a win/loss record, it isn't so nearly categorized. My love for albums ebbs and flows, surprises me when it comes on a jukebox, and changes depending on my mood. But I will say this, if my house was burning and I could only save a handful of records, this record would make the cut. No doubt in my mind.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Man... Or Astro-Man? // Is It?

Released in 1993
First press on black wax
Favorite Track: "Clean up on Aisle #9 (Turn Up the Monitors)"

This record is tangentially responsible for a cross country move, the loss of my virginity, and my first band. My buddy Jawsh put it on a mix-tape in high school and I blasted tape hiss into my ears until they didn't make Walkmans anymore. And although you can't really sing along with an instrumental record, but you can memorize every B-movie sample and shout along with the band while they play. It's basically the same thing.

I own every single Man Or Astro-Man? record and nearly every 7". Some I've bought several times because I gave them to friends with budding record collections and had to rebuy. I love this band.  Since high school. And yet I continually find new things to love about them. I like their later records as much as their first. And that, for me, is the hallmark of a great band. Lots of bands can get lucky and string together a couple bangers. But seven great full length records, spanning twenty years, is something special.

The members who recorded this record parted ways before I ever got to seem them live, but they reformed in 2000 with a different lineup. My closest friends and lady road tripped to San Francisco to see them at the Great American Music Hall. These dudes are nerdy. I mean like really nerdy. Like they build the software they use to sequence their samples, nerdy. The wrote a song on a dot matrix printer and rolled it on stage to play a song. One of the proudest moments of my life was watching Amber wrench a piece of the printout from the girl next to her's avaricious hands. I still have a shard.  I never got to see them with their original lineup.

Until, they reunited. Like a bunch. Over and over again. "Oh, I'd better travel way the fuck over there to see them because I'll never get a chance to see them again.." Yeah, I did that like a dozen times. They're still together and playing at least once a year. I don't travel to see them anymore, but I still go to every show here. Hey, it got me to Chicago for the first time and made me think this was a place I could pay rent in for a few years.

When you love MOAM, and bands like them, you don't have to treat their discography like a minefield. Eventually they left behind Ventures-style surf for a Sonic Youth in space sound. Every record is great and, though their sound evolves, it's all fantastic. The argument isn't about which records are good, but which records are better. I get deeply jealous when someone discovers MOAM because they just added nearly a dozen great records (because who doesn't need the live records and 10"s too?!) to their collection. It's like the first time I saw The Jinx. I wanted to go back in time and watch it again with fresh eyes. It's how I feel when someone tells me they haven't seen Shawshank Redemption before. I get giddy at the thought of vicariously experiencing it for the first time.

The LP version of this album contains the exclusive track "Rudy's Lounge." I can easily see why it was left off the record. The soft crooning guitars belie the reverb tsunami that is the rest of the record. I never thought much of it. That was until I realized the samples from the song were from the pinball machine, Funhouse. My favorite band wrote a song about pinball that I had listened to for a decade and never knew it. I love the song now. Art is tricky.

I'm in love with the sounds guitars make. Guitars sing. And I'll never fully understand people who need vocals in their music to enjoy it.  I'd read a romance novel from a Telecaster to a Twin Reverb. Man or Astro-Man is my instrumental Adele.

Surf gets relegated to movie soundtracks and is largely overlooked as a musical genre. It's gems are rare, but they shame a diamond. I'll probably end up writing about all their records, but I happen to listen to their debut first. It put me on a journey to the stars which The Ventures started, but has yet to reach its final destination.