Liner Notes

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Tom Waits // Nighthawks At The Diner

Released 1975
180G Double LP Black Reissue
Favorite Track: "Eggs and Sausage"

I applied for an apartment on Forrest St. with Tim in the summer of 2001. It was a furnished one-bedroom in the heart of the Old Southwest part of Reno, Nevada. It was also a retirement community, which was not entirely clear to us at the time we applied. I asked the woman whom I handed the application to postpone the credit check for a day so I could turn 18. I had only known Tim "The Duff" for a few months when we decided to move in together, but it was the best decision I ever made. You, intrepid reader that you are, heard correctly. One bedroom. At not a dollar more than $500 a month (not split; $500 total), it was beyond our means to secure the amenities of a door for each of us. The Casson apartments took a chance on two aspiring writers at the start of a long and winding journey. We got the place.

We were both professional pizza slingers, but I had the slightly better pizza job. I agreed to pay a premium for having my own bedroom and Tim slept on a futon in the living room. He got access to the Super Nintendo, but I got a door and had no problem with the arrangement. The year we spent in that apartment amounts to the greatest concentration of good memories I have. 

That summer, Nevada burned. There were wildfires raining debris and ash on the city for what seemed like weeks. I remember my shoes being soaked with bleach and pizza water from scrubbing the floors, my shirt reeking of hot dogs, and my chest full of ash and smoke. Yet every night I walked out with a grin that would make the Joker envious. Because when I left, I went home to my house. My tiny kingdom. My corner of the universe cohabitated by one of the best men to have ever graced the Earth. 

Friday and Saturday nights were a special time at Nim Manor. These were poker nights. We packed a half dozen of the stinkiest boys in Reno into our tiny box to take a $10 buy-in more seriously than cancer. We went all out. We had the fancy clay chips which we annoyed the piss out of each other learning to shuffle. We got a felt table. And perhaps most importantly, we had the Weinhard's bottled root beer. Looking back, not a single human consumed a drop of alcohol on our watch. Did I mention we were squares? We were squares.

Big bet was a red chip. Value? $1. Betting one was dubbed The Red Scare. 

Tim introduced me to his buddy, Alex. He taught us how to play. He kept a ledger with everyone's win/loss percentage. He brought his buddy Jace. I stood at all their weddings and love these men indiscriminately. 

At the time I was riding the punk/hardcore train pretty hard. Most of the records I loved made for a poor poker soundtrack. Enter Tom Motherfucking Waits. My writer friends have adored Tom for half our lives. They've ventured to other countries to see him perform. He was the cornerstone of our poker nights. We listened to his lengthy discography pulled endlessly in black, zippered CD cases. They would swoon between tracks, grimacing at his genius. 

Me? I tolerated it.

To be honest, I didn't much care for it. To be more honest, I thought it sucked. It was boring. I was only interested in bangers. And there were most certainly a scarcity of bangers on Tom Waits records. I endured hundreds of hours of Tom Waits during our poker nights. 

Fast forward a decade. I am less stupid. Okay. I am slightly less stupid. And I love Tom Waits. His lyrics are Americana poetry. I finally hear what they heard. Choosing a favorite Tom Waits record is stupid and I refuse. They are magnificent for different reasons and proof the world doesn't totally have it out for us. But Nighthawks is the one that burrowed into my heart first. It was a the soundtrack of a thousand Rounders quotes. It was the tobacco-stained voice begging me to fall in love in Tim, Jace, and Alex.  It was the root that slipped through the tiny crack in my cement heart and grew a beautiful flower.

I've been playing poker online with old friends and new over the last few weeks and it doesn't make me yearn for how things used to be. It makes me grateful for the friends that have endured over the last two decades. It makes me smile to introduce them to my new friends and watch them instantly get along.  Because, for all my flaws, I pick excellent people to have in my life. And it makes me humbled they didn't dump my ass for being so wildly off-base in my youthful disregard of Tom Waits. Thanks for your grace, Fellas.    

Friday, April 24, 2020

Queens Of The Stone Age // ...Like Clockwork

Released: 2013
Double 45RPM LP Black
Favorite Track: "The Vampyre of Time and Memory"

I don't think I've ever put this record on before midnight. It's a nighttime record. "Keep Your Eyes Peeled" is a nasty opener. Driving a shitty car in a bad part of town, nasty. Nighttime records are tricky. When I first hear them, I tend to hate them. Usually because I first listen to them in broad daylight and am not ready to hear them. It's incredible how much context affects your enjoyment of something. I used to trap people in my room and force-feed them my favorite records.
Nothing makes you love a record more than someone staring up expectantly at you after a killer drum fill, right?!

I offer a formal apology to every friend or potential mate I've ever subjected to this well-meaning but misguided behavior. Now, on rare occasions, when I want to share a record with someone, I usually loan it to them so they can listen to it on their own time. I wanted to share Queens with my listening party accomplice and made two different mix tapes (constructed in this, the 21st century, using the thoroughly modern convention of Spotify playlists). The first was composed of the dyed-in-the-wool bangers, or "cheap thrills" as she calls them. The phrase haunts me, but we'll come back to this.   It's heavy on Songs For The Deaf and Nick Oliveri's contributions. The second mix was comprised of the more mid-tempo, seductive, and moody Queens.
Which brings me back to "cheap thrills." I love a tasty morsel of rock 'n roll, a line of cocaine in 4/4. I'm ride or die for the bangers. But the phrase "cheap thrills" is ferocious; both perfectly apt and massively undermining. It cut me to the quick. Is that all my record collection is? Cotton candy for my ears? Is that what I love? Is that all? Have I only swum in the shallow end? I went down a rabbit hole of self-doubt.

Two words unraveled me.
Shockingly, the second mixtape had twice as many songs. I never realized how many of their more contemplative, thoughtful songs I loved. Maybe it's my age showing, or how incredibly well-crafted their quieter jams are, but my "cheap thrills" were outnumbered 2 to 1. Maybe I'm dividing my cheap thrills into cheap and cheaper thrills, but listening to this record, I will go full Daniel Plainview with a bowling pin for Josh Homme's song-writing.
Their catalogue is handsome and calls to my desert casino-trash heart. They are one of the last great rock 'n roll bands. Cheap thrills, heart-breakers, and cautionary tales are all in rock 'n' roll DNA. And on the off-chance my musical tastes never got deeper than rock 'n' roll, so be it. Jazz can fuck off with its math. If you want music that's more fun to talk about than to listen to, you won't find it in my house. Four on the floor with my bass drum heart.
I'm tempted to share the mixes with you here, but that would undermine their bastion of specialness.  For now, let me simply recommend this record to you. Take a long drive on an open road through the desert in the dead of night and let this record kidnap you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Hot Snakes // Suicide Invoice

Released in 2002
Original Swami Pressing
Favorite Track:
Then: "LAX" 
Now: "Paid In Cigarettes"

There was considerable debate in my hometown about 2002's record of the year. Most of Reno was split between The Blood Brother's March On Electric Children and the indispensable Hot Snakes' Suicide Invoice. I saw Hot Snakes on this tour and it remains my favorite of the half dozen times I've seen them. As nothing good ever came to Reno, we ventured to SF for our beloved Hot Snakes. They closed the show with a cover of Drive Like Jehu's "Bullet Train To Vegas" which had our little-boy hearts swooning. In the last ten years, I've listened to March On twice. And while I will still go to bat for "New York Slave" and "American Vultures," I'm ready to call it (albeit 18 years late): Suicide by a mile.

I worship at the altar of the riff. And in this capacity, there is no more suitable idol than Jon Reis. Growing up playing in basements, garages, and DIY venues have taught me one thing: no one can hear the vocals. So, by virtue of some limp-dicked PAs, we all learned how to play the ass off our instruments. Hot riffs and heart was all we had. And this created an entire generation of Reno rock kids who were abnormally good at their instruments and uncommonly bad at singing. It comes as no surprise to me we found a hero in Jon Reis, a man whose riffs shred on an unplugged Les Paul -- a guitar player whose right hand was his right-hand man. I own nearly every record he's ever minted. And they say the Jet has lost a step or two after Drive Like Jehu, but we saw some fireworks on Suicide Invoice.

Also, I don't care about singing. You want a singer, go listen to Michael BublĂ©. Rick Froberg can't sing worth shit, but he slays. He's perfect. Unimpeachable. My buddy Jace used to describe vocalists in heavy bands as just another instrument in the band. Johannes plays drums with Victor on the scream. There are good screams and bad screams, and make no mistake they can be graded. Rick is a critical darling of the throat varietal. This is rock 'n' roll.

My love for the Hot Snakes is old enough to vote. This record is a perfect 33min at 33 1/3. When I was a sick as a kid, my Dad would put on a Betamax copy of Star Wars and by the end of the 20th Century Fox fanfare, I legitimately started to feel better. I have a similar reaction listening to this record. That ugly little tug on the strings that kicks this record off gets me every time. I didn't think Rick was talking about me when I heard "I Hate The Kids," but now I hate the kids. And it's glorious.

My friends would always say, "You know what this song's about?" and proceed to tell me about their sense memory of listening to it. It got to be a little joke in our circle. As I write this, it occurs to me I should have called this project, "You Know What This Song's About?"

And this song is about living in a huge house on Manor St. in Reno, NV, with some of my best friends. It cost $400 a month to heat during the winter so we kept a space heater in our rooms, hoarding our precious heat like dragons. I remember being able to see my breath in the hallway between my room and the bathroom. I remember long trips in Jeff's Ford Escort Station Wagon across the Sierra Nevada mountains for rock 'n' roll. Andy Dufrisne had his Mozart when he was in the hole, and during quarantine I have the Hot Snakes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Elvis Costello And The Attractions // This Year's Model

Released in 1978
MoFi Original Master Recording #025234
180G Black
Favorite Track:
Then: "Lipstick Vogue" 
Now: "Lipstick Vogue"

Let me start by saying I hate my version of this record. The UK versions include "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" which is easily in my top three songs Elvis Costello and The Attractions ever penned. I went full nerd mode and wanted the 180G original master blah blah blah, but didn't assume  it would omit one of my favorite tracks. So suffice it to say the version of this record I fell in love with was purchased at Recycled Records in Reno, NV, for less than $10 and is VG - at best. It turns out that good songwriting is vastly more important than fidelity. That said, this record sounds fucking incredible.

I've made a long-overdue upgrade to my system in the form of a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB in piano black. It feels like the bass drum got its own speaker. It's wild. Like dating an ex after a prolonged period; new and familiar at the same time. My longtime roommate and best friend, Tim, used to give me shit about my AV obsession. I've ruined no less than a dozen movies tweaking the frequency crossover of subwoofers mid-movie. He's caught me at home with a calibration disc more times than he's caught me with a girl. He always used to give me shit about the money, time, and mental real-estate I'd spend perseverating over tiny audio details.

One day I'm in my room and Tim Kramer's through my door. "Fine! You're right. You're fucking right," he begrudgingly exclaims.

I have no idea what he's talking about.

As I sit here in the perfect equilateral triangle between my tower speakers listening to this record after having gingerly applied a forty year-old Discwasher brush, I realize I should have known what he was talking about. He continues, "I was listening to This Year's Model on my record player and it's not even the same record as when we listen on your setup. It's not even the same fucking record. You're going to ruin me." Not the first person to utter those words to me. He would go on to bemoan watching The West Wing anywhere other than our living room on a once-coveted 40" Sony Trinitron XBR, my holy grail of televisions.
Let me be clear: I don't really care about hi-fi systems. The point of great equipment is to get out of the way. It should be invisible. It should be a conduit for the art. You should forget the apparatus and get lost in Bruce Thomas' musical and innovative bass lines. Speak of the devil, "Lipstick Vogue" just came on. His contributions cannot be overstated. I'm geeking out so hard right now. I stopped writing until the song ended. Trading "Chelsea" for "Radio Radio" is so American.

Elvis Costello has me thinking about solo artists. I am of the opinion that his best work was with The Attractions and I am not particularly interested in his solo career. Here's where I get real American Psycho. Outside of a handful, and I do stress the numerically quantifiable handful of five, most solo artists produced more consistent and more interesting art in the context of their respective bands.

Some qualifiers: I play bass. Am I biased against virtuosic songwriters who think they don't need their supporting band? A fair query, but I submit a band provides something essential to our warrior-poet troubadours. Let's operate under the assumption they are all artists of singular talent and vision. Even if they write every song, lyric, and time change, having someone you've worked with for years whose sole job is to think about laying down the perfect details to your magnum opus can't hurt. So unless you're the Stanley Kubrick of rock 'n' roll, sit down, Bitch. Be humble. Respect the rhythm section.

I was whining about this to someone who's both profoundly important to me and who possesses impeccable music taste (they often go hand in hand) who responded with a pragmatic response: life gets in the way. Perhaps the artist wished to continue working with their band, but maybe some members aren't as dedicated, perhaps they wanted to start a family, or tour less. Would I prefer to not have any music from them at all? Of course not.

People should make art until the last shovel of dirt covers their casket. Elvis Costello is still playing music. And that's a miracle which should be shouted from the rooftops. We are lucky to have him in any capacity still making music. He's a gift for the ages. And his solo stuff is solid, certainly worthy of positivity and praise. But for a series of records in the late 70s and early 80s, he and The Attractions made magic. They produced unicorns.

And those are the records I'll never forget.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Murder City Devils // In Name And Blood

Released in 2000
First press on black
Favorite Track: Then: "Rum To Whiskey" 
Now: "Someone Else's Baby"

In the 1999 I transferred from a high school too poor to allow its students to share books for its Spanish program to a community college pilot program. Essentially you'd take college courses and still graduate high school. I'll never forgive myself for taking two full semesters before realizing 9AM classes are to be avoided like 2020 handshakes.

The experience was a fucking gift. I met some all-time desert island people and for the first time felt like I belonged. One of the people I met there would go on to define several chapters of my life. Enter: Jade. Jade was rock and roll as fuck. She wore retro glasses and usually some kind of bandana. She was slight of frame and spoke like she was made of glass. But holy shit did she dig some killer bands. She dropped the Murder City Devils S/T in my lap like it was nothing. This motherfucker was howling about Iggy Pop rolling in broken glass and I never fell in love with a record faster. Jade later got me into Tom Waits and we took PE together the following summer because we needed it to graduate. She dated my best friend and that's a whole other story.

Fast forward to the summer of 2000. The underground had been exploding. My buddy Jawsh used to say, "Indie isn't a genre. It's just alternative that hasn't gotten popular yet. Mark my words, Dude. Jimmy Eat World is going to be huge."  At The Drive-In just released Relationship of Command  (a record which most certainly will make this list sooner rather than later) and announced a tour with the Murder City Devils in the fall.

News of the this tour shook Reno. Literally every person I liked planned on making the four hour drive to see them perform at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. But as Tarantino pointed out in a Pulp Fiction b-side, "There are two types of people in the world: Beatles people and Elvis people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis, and Elvis people can like Beatles, but nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice. And that choice tells you who you are."

At The Drive-In are Beatles people and the Murder City Devils are Elvis people. And Reno had to fucking choose. And everyone insisted on knowing your answer. At the time I was playing in a trashy rock 'n roll band AND a screamo post-hardcore band. I refused to answer for months. It wasn't until the drive down I let my allegiances slip. While warbling the verse of "One Armed Scissor" to my captive audience, I shouted, "I'm an At The Drive-In man!"

The show, however, changed my mind. ATDI was unhinged. They were raging like a wild fire, but it was thirty seconds into "Ebroglio" before I even recognized what song it was. MCD, however, put on a rock 'n roll sermon. Leslie indulged her parts with a cigarette in one hand. Spencer wrestled with he mic like it owed him money.  I fell in love with Coady as a drummer. It was perfect. I walked in a Beatles man, and walked out an Elvis man. Twenty years has not changed my mind.