Best Albums of 1996

I'm having some trouble getting into my writing tonight.  The difficulty stems from a short story that I would like to revise, but I think I might still be a little too close to it.  I love the writing and I really love the main character, but I don't know that I'm sold on the story.

I've been procrastinating by looking at Facebook and someone on the Mid-90's page posted some excellent videos of a band called Lincoln.  The Mid-90's page is more or less devoted to punk/hardcore/emo/indie/underground/whatever music from, duh, the mid-90's.  And since that's what I was mostly listening to back then, it's pretty great to follow.

It made me go back and look at the albums that my Windows Media Player tells me came out in 1996.  Here are, in my opinion, the stand outs:


The Crownhate Ruin -- "Until the Eagle Grins"

Jawbox -- "Jawbox"

June of '44 -- "Tropics and Meridians"

Karate -- "Karate"

R.E.M. -- "New Adventures in Hi-Fi"

Team Dresch -- "Captain My Captain"

Texas is the Reason -- "Texas is the Reason"

Universal Order of Armageddon -- "Universal Order of Armageddon"

Unwound -- "Repetition"

Weezer -- Pinkerton

That's pretty impressive for just one year, and I left some good ones off in an effort to keep it at 10.  The R.E.M. album stands out from the rest in terms of style of music, but it was probably the last R.E.M. album that I would consider great, and it was coming on the heels of one or two mediocre attempts.

Weezer's also a bit of a sore thumb, although Weezer always had this bizarre "street cred" about them so "indie" kids didn't really care that they were on MTV a lot.

Unwound, UOM, and The Crownhate Ruin were are probably the most "punk rock" of the albums on this list, although I suppose Team Dresch could give them a run for their money.

June of '44 and Karate were both math/jazz/smart rock.  I never really embraced math rock to the extent that I thought I would, given my own propensity towards overly complicated art.

The Texas is the Reason album was something of a modern classic.  It was all over the place.  Everyone was buying it, from hardcore kids to emo kids.  It's still held in fairly high regard in certain circles.

Jawbox's self-titled, final album was an instant classic for me.  While lacking the raw sound of their previous major label release, the song writing overall is stronger on this one.

Top 3 for me?  I'd have to R.E.M., Weezer, and Jawbox, in that order.

What a great year for music.

My Top 10 Albums Released in 2010

These are going to be in no particular order, mostly because I was having a hard time putting them in some kind of order.

A few opening comments: There are two notable releases from this past year missing from this list, by the Black Keys and The National specifically.  I have them, I just haven't listened to them yet.  I have a good reason for that.

I have a backlog of new music.  I have a playlist called "New" that I fill with music and periodically refill with music as I'm going through albums.  The list is currently filled with 8.8 hours of music I've yet to hear.

I also have a playlist called "Next."  This consists of new music waiting to move to the "New" list.  It currently contained 20.8 hours of music.

When a new album comes out, I don't always listen to it right away.  More often than not, it gets sent to the "Next" list to wait its turn.  I try to move new albums to the front of the line, but it doesn't always happen.  How do I decide what gets listened to right away and what doesn't?  I honestly don't know; it's kind of a mood thing.  It's also kind of a timing a thing; if I buy a lot of new music at one time, chances are good a new album is going to get lost in the shuffle.

So, now, without further ado...



My Top 10 Albums Released in 2010

Band of Horses -- "Infinite Arms"

If you're a band trying to win me over (as I can only assume most bands are trying to do), a good way to do it is by having a few songs from your new album appear on "Chuck" before said album is released.  That's a good way to get my attention.  I wasn't sure what to expect from this album, and while this is by no stretch of the imagination a wild departure of their normal sound, it still sounds like a step forward, filled with larger, more epic songs, as evident at the very least by their length.

Broken Social Scene -- "Forgiveness Rock Record"

I've always been kind of "meh" about Broken Social Scene.  For every song I really like by them, there are two that are just kind of there.  Not unlike Spoon, I just assumed they'd be a band that put together a fantastic "best of" album.  That changed with this album, which was far more killer and far less filler.

Dangerbird Amazon Sampler 2010

Okay, sure, this might be cheating, putting a compilation on here, since it has the advantage of being made up of, theoretically, the best examples of each band.  Still, I had never really been exposed to Dangerbird Records before I heard this sampler, which is surprising considering a) how great these bands are and b) this label is based right here in Los Angeles.  I've only broken the surface of their output and I imagine there will be even more new music from them on my playlist this year.

Freelance Whales -- "Weathervanes"

And here's the "Chuck" factor again.  On first listen, this didn't really seem like an album I was going to enjoy.  Their singer's voice is a just a bit too clean for me and there were lots of songs that relied heavily on cutesy keyboard parts.  But the more I listened to this, the more I was okay with that.  This is their debut and from what I understand their lead singer basically put together the entire thing, so it will be interested to see how they progress from here.

Frightened Rabbit -- "Winter of Mixed Drinks"

And speaking of progression, we have the latest offering from Frightened Rabbit, featuring a lead singer who has clearly been beaten up by love.  However, this album seems to be less about moping and more about getting over it.  "Living In Colour" could be my song of the year.

Medications -- "Completely Removed"

Medications are a good example of a band I discovered well after most people.  They seem to have moved towards a less straight forward math rock sound to something bordering on the operatic -- more than a few times I thought of Queen while listening to this.

Nada Surf -- "if i had a hi-fi"

Okay, fine, I'm biased when it comes to Nada Surf, given that I'm a huge fan.  But this album of covers was actually better than I expected, which says a lot given how few of these songs I actually knew in advance.  No one would ever mistake these covers as being by any band other than Nada Surf, but they still remain true to the originals (after I went and looked them up).

The Sword -- "Warp Riders"

This was a big year for me and The Sword.  This was another band that I discovered late, so I ended up listening to more than one of their records over the course of this year.  Yes, it's not unreasonable to say this album saw them leaning more into hard rock and less into metal, but it was still heavy and it was still loud and it was still great.  They get compared to Black Sabbath a lot, but it's their similarities to old Metallica that sold me.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Soundtrack

I really liked this movie.  I mean, I really really liked it.  It's probably no surprise then, given how important music was in the movie, that I also really like the soundtrack.  I really like that they had the actors sing the songs their characters sang in the movie, although it was a little annoying that the Brie Larson sung version of "Black Sheep" was on the bonus tracks version.  From start to finish, this is just a quality mix of songs.

Weezer -- "Hurley"

Corporate sponsorship aside, this felt like the truest, most complete Weezeras I discussed here).  While still not as great as the pre-hiatus albums or the underrated classic that is "Maladroit," "Hurley" still stands as near return to form for Weezer.  Hopefully, good things keep coming.

There you go, my 10 favorite albums of 2010, in all their glory.

Biographical Mix 2009: Pop Culture

I can only assume that anyone reading this has been anxiously awaiting this moment ever since I started posting these things. After all, you're getting this one fresh, as it just happened, as opposed through the misty, water color memories of the previous years.

Since this is fresh, I'm going to take things a bit further and expound upon each of my choices, mostly because I like to over think things.

For those who don't remember how this works, this is a mix comprised of my favorite songs from 2009. It's a fairly good sampling of what I listened to this year, which means that many of these songs came out before 2009, but I just got around to listening to them this year.

As should be very clear, pop culture played a huge influence on me this year, and I'm not entirely sure why.

Without further ado, my 2009 Biographical Mix:

"Returning to the Fold" by The Thermals

I discovered this band through the TV show "Chuck." I love more or less everything about the show, and the music has been no different (my most recent slow mixes are filled with songs from "Chuck."). This is a great song for driving around and singing at the top of your lungs.

"The Twist" by Frightened Rabbit

Yes, another band I discovered because off "Chuck," leave me alone. Okay, by and large it's angsty Scottish (I think) alternative type music, but it's really likeable angsty Scottish (I think) alternative type music. It's also really catchy while also being incredibly sad and danceable.

"Just Drums" by Tapes N' Tapes

Wow, I just now realized that this is another gem from another TV show, this one being "Big Love," a show I just like, not love. But some guy named David Byrne picks out the music for that show, so it's always a safe bet they'll have some good tunes. I barely made out this song in the background of a scene, but it was enough to catch my interest. The rest of the album was okay, but this song is pretty great.

"Hellodrama" by What Made Milwaukee Famous

This is my favorite song off of a great album, "Trying to Never Catch Up." Shockingly enough, it has nothing at all to do with a TV show. I'd actually heard about this band for a while before I actually gave them a shot, and I'm glad I did.

"Basement Parties" by Matt Pond PA

Again, not a band I discovered because of a TV show, although they are favorites of Josh Scwartz's music producers, as they can be heard on both "The OC" and the aforementioned "Chuck." I generally enjoy any song that makes me think of college, and this is one of those.

"Rally" by Phoenix

I had a good run there but, yes, this is also a TV discovery, from the 3rd season of the late, great "Veronica Mars." It seems that these guys are a big buzz band now, but it's news to me. I like this song because it's poppy and happy and good.

"Wilco (the song)" by Wilco

Okay, well, let's be clear about this one: yes, I first heard it on a TV show (the Colbert Report), but I've been a Wilco fan for a while now. I had the recording from the show and played it to death well before the album version finally came out. Sure, it's cheesy, but it doesn't shy away from that cheese.

"The Fixer" by Pearl Jam

Yes, it was only appropriate that Pearl Jam released a new album this year, as this was also the year that I caught back up with this band. I enjoyed their latest record well enough, and this was easily my favorite song. A pop song by Pearl Jam? Who knew?

"Ascending" by ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead...

I like Trail of Dead and I really like this song, but I'll be honest, none of their albums have hit me the way "Source Tags and Codes" did. I like how they've expanded their vocals over the years, but it seems to have come with a loss of guitar hooks.

"Welcome Home" by Coheed & Cambria

Yes, well, I couldn't go too long without another pop culture induced choice. I have yet to see the move "9," but I absolutely loved the trailer, in no small part due to this song; it's epic. This song also represents the extent of my exposure to Coheed & Cambria.

"Last Call" by Thursday

Sure, maybe it was the fact that this album came out right around the time I started jury duty, but it just clicked with me. I enjoy Thursday, even if they are generally lumped in with much less talented "screamo" acts. It was actually hard for me to pick just one song off of their last album, but the super emo side of me couldn't resist a song that ends with the repeated chorus of "Everything is fine," when it most obviously isn't.

"Radical Adults Like Godhead Style" by Sonic Youth

I go through Sonic Youth phases and the last three months of '09 was one of them. Honestly, there's not much more to say than that. They creep up again and again over the span of most of my mixes for whatever reason. They've put out such a huge catalog of music that I feel like I'm constantly playing catch-up with them. Hell, I still haven't listened to their latest yet and that came out months ago.

"Into the Mirror" by Minus the Bear

Oh, Minus the Bear, the band that makes me think of college like no other band makes me think of college, which is a bit strange, given that I don't even think they existed when I was in college. No, it's their music that makes me think of college -- something about their lyrics just speak to me in that way.

I was a bit disappointed with their last album, but this two song single and recent acoustic release has redeemed them in my eyes. They're starting to get less angular and more groovy, which I'm perfectly fine with.

"Thunder$stroke" by Beaten Awake

I always feel weird when I put band with people I know (or have known for years) in them on these lists, like I'm cheating somehow or playing favorite. But, damn, if Beaten Awake's second album isn't impossible to ignore. I had a really hard time picking a favorite song, but sold out and went with the single. Sure, I wish the vocals were a bit more to the forefront and it's a ridiculously catchy vocal line, but I can look past that.

"Substitution" by Silversun Pickups

There are moments, when I listen to the Silversun Pickups, when I can find no other way to describe their music but Grunge 2.0 (you know, if we stopped 1.0 before it got completely awful, thank you very much Seven Mary Three). There are also times when I listen to the Silversun Pickups where I wonder why I don't listen to them more. They're like the Smashing Pumpkins before Bald Billy went insane, but with something more important to say.

"I Bet You Look Good On the Dance Floor" by the Arctic Monkeys

Never let it be said that I'm a trendsetter. It's a catchy song, what can I say?

"Can't Stop Partying" by Weezer

Ditto. I'd go into details, but I just wrote a whole damn blog on Weezer.

"Time to Pretend" by MGMT

Again, I'm probably behind the cool kids curve on this one, as I didn't really listen to much MGMT until this past year. This is the kind of dance music I like -- the kind that doesn't require any actual dancing.

"Left Behind" by CSS

I will say this much: CSS could be the revelation of 2009 for me. It would have been pretty easy to assume a lot of different things about this band, from the stupid Ipod commercial to the cutesy singer and dance beats. But they cover a pretty wide range of music styles on their (so far) two albums. It's also impossible to not love a band that features a musical homage to Death From Above 1979.

"Stadium Love" by Metric

Great title for a great song by a great band -- makes it a good choice, I'd say. Really, I can't say enough about the title of this song. The lyrics are fairly abstract, but the music is just so huge that calling it anything other than "Stadium Love" would have been kind of sad. I can only assume that the riff came before the words.

There it is -- took me weeks to write, but there's my mix for 2009. Enjoy. I'm off to watch Chuck.

Pop Essay #1: Weezer

The summer of '94 was pretty great. I'd just graduated from high school and was getting ready to go college that fall. It seemed as if my parents had either become completely lax in their enforcement of my curfew or just no longer cared, as such a thing would soon be out of their hands, anyway. The only drama I had involved leaving behind an ex-girlfriend who never became completely ex, at least at that point, but it was the type of drama dependent upon someone liking you, which meant that, at its core, it was almost good to have. I was eighteen and I had my friends and I was done with high school and freedom was in the air.

And this is when I first fell for Weezer. Heck, I believe I even gave said ex-girlfriend a mix tape with "The World Has Turned" on it, because I loved the song and because I felt it related to our relationship, and what more could you ask for from a band, from a song?

I'm not sure why I latched on to Weezer as quickly as I did. Part of it, I'm sure, was their image, as I was something of a dork myself. I'd also grown quite fond of driving around in the summer time and singing along with my car stereo, and Weezer was great for that.

Because I was eighteen and filled with all the bitterness a Midwestern teen can muster, I viewed people in two groups when it came to Weezer: the "Undone" fans and the "Buddy Holly" fans. I was the former, of course, and at one point my pretentiousness actually drove me away from the almighty Weez because of those "Buddy Holly" fans. The rift didn't last too long.

But let's start right from the top, shall we?

The Blue Album

Weezer played in Cleveland before anyone had really heard of them. I didn't go to that show (it would be years later before I ever saw them live), but they did a radio interview for a local station the day of the show. It had to have been the middle of the afternoon and I can't imagine too many people heard it. I don't even think the DJ really knew who they were, but he was at least good enough to intersperse a few of the band's songs throughout the interview. It might not have been the first time I heard "Undone," but it's the time I remember the most. I also remember that there were a group of six or seven, hardcore Weezer fans standing outside the radio station with signs proclaiming their love for the band.

I love the Blue Album for a lot of reasons. Yes, it's awesome. There's only one song on it that I could live without ("Holiday"). But, of course, it holds sentimental value. For me, it's probably my favorite album of theirs, basically because of context.

Pinkerton

I was in college when Weezer finally released their second album and I will admit, to this day I don't understand what all the fuss was about -- and I mean that on both sides of the fuss aisle. There's no question that Pinkerton's a great album and a worthy successor to the Blue Album. I am genuinely baffled, however, but the positive and negative claims about it being dark and/or abrasive. Compared to the Blue Album, it's definitely darker, but on it's own? No, I just don't think so. Hell, I spent most of the winter of 1996 listening to this album, and winters in Ohio are about the most depressing thing in the world, and I still didn't see what was so incredibly dark about this record. Is it as pop friendly as the Blue Album? Of course not. But it's still power chords and vocal harmonies. Hell, at times it's filled with borderline silly lyrics.

More intense than the Blue Album? Definitely. And I think that's ultimately what scared so many people away. But I also think that it became the record that Weezer fans used to define themselves and, sadly, the band. It turned into "if you liked Pinkerton, you must be a real fan," and that was unfortunate. Even worse, a certain segment of their fan base took that belief even further, now believing that anything that doesn't sound like Pinkerton is a failure for Weezer.

I love Pinkerton. It's a very specific record from a very specific time. But I would hate for Weezer to try and recreate it, and I'm glad they haven't.

Green Album

I'll admit it: I was thrilled when I heard Weezer was releasing a new album. Since I was still pretty new to the whole "obsessing over a band online" thing, I was completely in the dark as to the circumstances that led to the release of the Green Album, or the fact that there appeared to be hundreds of unreleased Weezer songs. When I first heard "Hash Pipe," I got even more excited; it was everything I wanted from a Weezer song, big guitar sound, catchy vocals, weird lyrics -- clearly, I thought, this new album was going to pick up where they left off.

Well, it did, I guess, if picking up where they left off meant putting out a bland and, dare I say it, trite record. Don't get me wrong, I still love "Hash Pipe," and there are one or two other songs on the Green Album that I enjoy, but overall this was...well, this was weak. I had no choice but to chock it up as Weezer's version of spring training, and that they had to get this album out of their system before putting out a real Weezer record.

Maladroit

And that's exactly what they did. Sure, I love the Blue Album and Pinkerton, but Maladroit, to me, was the future of Weezer (I was wrong about that one, it turned out). It is filled with giant guitar sounds, big riffage, and catchy vocals. It was an album that said that Weezer couldn't really be that dorky band everyone knew and loved years ago, but that they could rock better than pretty much anyone else. If their first two albums were "alternative" and their third album was "pop," this album was rock and I freaking loved the hell out of it.

Just listen to "Take Control" and tell me it doesn't sound like something Guns N' Roses could have come up with.

Anyway, I've just read that this was Weezer's least successful album to date, which I suppose is only appropriate. I like big rock records and that's what Weezer gave me, so I'm grateful, even if they dropped this sound completely going forward.

Make Believe

As soon as I heard "Beverly Hills," I knew this was not going to end well.

I don't loathe Make Believe the way that many Weezer fans do. But coming on the heels of Maladroit, it just felt like a huge step backward, and some reviews went so far as to suggest that's exactly what Weezer was trying to do. There seemed to be a belief among some music reviewers that this was Weezer's attempt (and probably producer Rick Rubin's as well) at putting together another Pinkerton. If I need more validation on my belief that they should never try such a thing, this supports me pretty nicely.

What's really strange to me about Make Believe is just how tame it is, something made all the more obvious given the album it followed. And that's not to say that I don't enjoy some of the songs; I actually like "Perfect Situation" and "We Are All On Drugs," and I think "The Other Way" is really catchy. But by and large it's just, well, a wussy record that feels nearly as by the numbers as the Green Album.

Clearly, Weezer weren't going to use Maladroit as the basis for their future. It seemed like they weren't really sure what kind of band they were going to be.

Red Album

If I need confirmation that Weezer was going through an identity crisis, I got it with their sixth album. If there's a singles song on the Red Album the epitomizes the entire record, it's "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived," as I think it actually covers every style Weezer has ever tried in a single song...which is actually why I like it, because it's just insane.

The experiment of letting other members of the band write and/or sing songs didn't go over so well, either. Those songs stick out like sore thumbs and break up any momentum the album had, although that's giving it a lot of credit. This was also the first Weezer album released in two versions, one with bonus tracks. As would become a trend, some of the bonus tracks ended up being better than some of the regular tracks, which calls into question the song selection. In fact, it would be be possible to put together a 10 track version of the Red Album that's far superior than the one that was released, just by replacing a few songs with the bonus tracks.

As unstable as this record seemed, there was a seed in it that seemed to be the future of the band. The accompanying tour, where fans were encouraged to bring instruments along and play along with the band, was another clue as to what the future held for Weezer. It was going to be different, for sure, but not entirely without precedence in their catalog.

They were going to embrace this new style whole heartedly on the next record.

Raditude

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the new Weezer: a sublimely ridiculous rock band, full of spectacle and hooks. This is not the Weezer you knew when you were a teen. There is no angst here, but tongue in cheek bravado and a desire to have a slightly warped good time.

Personally, I love the hell out of it.

I'll admit there are a few clunkers on this album, although, again, that could have been fixed had they dropped those songs and replaced them with some of the higher quality bonus tracks ("Get Me Some," "Run Over By A Truck," and "Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World" should all be on this album). But the size of it, the overblown style and the pure, unadulterated joy of music practically oozes from every song.

This is also the first record in some time where Rivers' incredibly awkward sincerity comes through. He's completely earnest on every track, even when he's singing about things that are completely foreign to him. But he's so painfully honest that it still works, even when he's singing about his "homies" or his "posse," or telling a girl that she's his "baby, and I'm your daddy." It's so wrong, yet oh, so right.

I'll be interested to see where Weezer goes from here. I would expect another record like this one, although I can't see how they'll be able to maintain this much beyond that. Then again, these albums always seem to reflect where Rivers' is at in his life, so who knows what he'll be doing years from now.

So, yes, Weezer, I still love you, probably more than I did way back in that summer of 1994, not in spite of all the changes and missteps, but because of them. And I'm looking forward t the future.

Biograhical Mix, 2008: The End Is Here (for now)

And here we are, at long last, to the final of my annual mixes. Thankfully for you, gentle reader, the next one is just three short months away. Looking at it now, I can say with some confidence that there will be some surprises on there, unless something very strange happens between now and the end of the year (and given the year I've had, chances are probably good).

Anyway, this mix is a good one, and features the return of an old favorite, as well as the return of an old, old favorite (pre-dating the mixes for the most part). It also has a nice flow, given how it begins and how it ends, which is kind of a nice bit of symbolism for this last entry.

"Rays of Pinion" by Baroness
"Jaguar Pirates" by Jaguar Love
"Being Here" by the Stills
"Everybody Get Dangerous" by Weezer
"Ice on the Wing" by Nada Surf
"Long Division" by Death Cab For Cutie
"For the Birds" by What Made Milwaukee Famous
"Tearing Up the Oxygen" by Martime
"A-Punk" by Vampire Weekend
"Supernatural Superserious" by R.E.M.
"Ghost Under Rocks" by Ra Ra Riot
"Lilacs" by Matt Costa
"No One's Gonna Love You" by Band of Horses
"Light for the Deadvine" by People In Planes
"Development" by Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip
"No Lucifer" by British Sea Power
"Salute Your Solution" by the Raconteurs
"The Standard" by Self-Evident
"All Nightmare Long" by Metallica

I spent seven months of that year without a job, so I had a pretty deep backlog of music to listen to (as I had nothing else to do but sit at my desk, listening to music and looking for employment). I actually had some much music to listen to in 2008, that I can guarantee that a few of the tracks on my "Best of 2009" mix will be from albums that came out last year and I just never got around to until this year.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this stroll down nostalgia lane with me. Don't you worry your pretty little heads -- I have a whole new series of columns set to go in the very near future, which only a few of you will read, and even fewer will actually understand or appreciate, they will just be that specific.

Huzzah!

Biographical Mix, 2007: Repeat Offenders

Spinto Band reads my blog! Or, at least, they read the last one. Most of you who read this do so through Facebook, but the blog is imported from a blogspot site. Well, turns out Spinto Band found my last entry and commented on it! Pretty sweet.

While I had a fairly steady stream of new music on rotation during 2007, there seemed to be an awful lot of new albums from bands I already listened to coming out each month. There are also a few bands on here that I came late to the party to, although at least one of them only won me over because of this specific album, as their other stuff isn't as interesting to me (there, that's a little mystery for you to solve).

"Intro: A Song of Fire and Wine" by Trail of Dead
"Stand In Silence" by Trail of Dead
"Song for Clay (Disappear Here)" by Bloc Party
"Turn On Me" by the Shins
"Letter From An Occupant" by The New Pornographers
"Well Thought Out Twinkles" by Silversun Pickups
"The Last Word" by Solea
"Blood Red Blood" by Voxtrot
"Impossible Germany" by Wilco
"Make It Wit Chu" by Queens of the Stone Age
"Good to Sea" by Pinback
"Burying Luck" by Minus the Bear
"The Underdog" by Spoon
"Sewn" by the Feeling
"The Beat That My Heart Skipped" by Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip
"Tranquilize" by the Killers
"Silver Lining" by Rilo Kiley
"Open Bar Reception" by Jimmy Eat World
"Summer Is Coming" by Matt Pond PA

You know, looking over that list, I realize just how average a lot of those new albums were. Each of them had great songs, but none of them were just devastatingly great like some of the earlier releases. Even the initial Voxtrot full length didn't really match up to the litany of EPs that came before it, but that was an awful high bar to match. I was really disappointed in Minus the Bear's effort and I LOVE Minus the Bear. I think Pinback might have the best new release by a band I already listened to for this year (there's an award for you).

Only one left! Or, at least, only one left this year!

Biographical Mix, 2006: Hell Yes

This mix is freaking awesome.

I don't say that lightly, either, as I'm quickly approaching my 20th mix. But I was extremely energized during most of 2006, and I think the music on this music reflects that. I don't know where it came from or what it was about, but clearly I was ready to party.

The biggest influence on me was my discovery of a little web site called Emusic.com. For those who don't know, Emusic charges a flat monthly fee for a certain number of downloads per month. At the time, I paid $15 a month for 65 downloads. Granted, they didn't have any major labels, but that didn't particularly bother me. And, yes, 65 songs is a lot of songs in one month, so I ended up downloading entire albums by bands without really knowing what I was getting into. It was great, though -- I discovered a lot of great music this way.

I also discovered some great bands through Soma FM's Indie Pop Rocks internet radio station. Credit where it's due, I say.

Oh, and this was also the time when Indie 103 was alive and kicking in Los Angeles. It was a great station which, of course, no longer exists.

Heck, now that I write it all out, 2006 was like some kind of magical, musical nexus.

"Cosmopolitan" by Nine Black Alps
"Oh, Mandy" by Spinto Band
"Sucker Punch" by the Pale Pacific
"New Comes and Goes" by Oranger
"Softer and Warm" by Voxtrot
"Destroyer" by the Stills
"Catastrophe" by Rainer Maria
"Pyrite Pedestal" by Pretty Girls Make Graves
"Hooray" by Minus the Bear
"Pantomime" by Engine Down
"Zodiaccupuncture" by Aesop Rock
"Steady As She Goes" by the Raconteurs
"The Things We All Carry Around" by Some By Sea
"Little Dawn" by Ted Leo
"This All Can Become Completely the Same" by Bats and Mice
"Metal School" by Spoon
"Food For Worms" by Milemarker
"The Zookeeper's Boy" by Mew
"Telegraph Avenue Kiss" by Thursday

If I were ever in a band again, it would be a band like Nine Black Alps. Not many people know them, but they're more or less a straight ahead rock band with lots of energy. Also, some day I'll throw a party and play only the obscure hip hop acts that I like and the only person dancing will be me. This mix also features a song from Rainer Maria's last album...and Pretty Girls Make Graves' last album, for that matter. And Some by Sea's last album. Geez, that's a downer.

The big discover in this year was, of course, Voxtrot, who have gone on to become one of those bands that I managed to spread, like a virus, to all my friends. The same can be said of "Oh, Mandy" by Spinto Band, which was actually played at my wedding, and more than a few people actually danced to it.

Only two more mixes left! Will your favorite band suddenly pop up? Will an old band make an unforeseen return? And what of the mix currently in process? The suspense is killing me!

Biographical Mix, 2005: Disjointed

Really, looking at this mix makes me wonder if I was more than one person during the course of 2005. I came pretty close, really, but I think most people would claim the same thing, given the circumstances. There's something about meeting someone that you will spend the rest of your life with that amplifies everything -- the good and the bad. I suppose you could compare it to birth, in that there's an awful lot of pain for something that's ultimately wonderful, and for every moment of morning sickness, there's that first kick, which makes it all worthwhile.

I could go on, but needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), 2005 was a mind boggling one for me. While I met Nicole the last month of 2004, this was the year that our relationship got serious...and that seemed to stick, what with us being married now and all. Still, there are more than a few songs on this mix that involve, to some extent, wrapping your brain around being in love, and allowing yourself to be happy, two things that are far harder for most of us than they should be.

"Survival 101" by the New Transit Direction
"The Rat" by the Walkmen
"Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" by Arcade Fire
"One With the Freaks" by the Notwist
"The Widow" by the Mars Volta
"Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" by Stars
"Will You Smile Again?" by Trail of Dead
"Little Thoughts" by Bloc Party
"Perfect Situation" by Weezer
"Ear, Nose, and Throat" by Troubled Hubble
"Popular Mechanics for Lovers" by Beulah
"I Turn My Camera On" by Spoon
"We Will Become Silhouettes" by the Shins
"The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" by Sufjan Stevens
"Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead" by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
"Blankest Year" by Nada Surf
"Lydia, You're Fading" by Oceanographer
"Ten Years Ahead" by Soundtrack of Our Lives
"Juicebox" by the Strokes
"For Miles" by Thrice

Aside from themes, it's interesting to see how Nicole's presence in my life indirectly affected this mix. She's the one who finally got me to listen to the Arcade Fire. We also watched the OC together, and a decent number of these songs came from that show. One of our first dates involved seeing "In Good Company," and there's a song from the soundtrack on here.

On the music industry side of things, 2005 was significant for two reasons. First, it featured new albums from big bands like the White Stripes, Coldplay, and Weezer, all of which were pretty disappointing and, ultimately, exercises in playing it safe. Weezer's the only one to make the cut on this mix, and that's mostly because I like the lyrics.

The other big industry related aspect of this mix is that it would be the last one made up of songs I ripped from actual CDs. Come the new year, I would stop buying CDs all together, going so far as to rip all the ones I already had and taking them to Amoeba for cash. The digital revolution had finally hit home.

While this mix might be disjointed in both style and substance, next year's mix would end up being one of my all time favorites.

Biographical Mix, 2004: Best Yet?

I might not actually be referring to the mix in that title. As I look back on my Christ-like existence (by which I mean I have now been alive for 33 years), I have a hard time finding a better single year than 2004. Sure, there have been other years where good things have happened to me, but 2004 was different. As god as my witness, 2004 was there that I became...happy, or at least as close I could come. It was a magical, transforming time in my life. Really, I should have a 5 year anniversary party for it.

So this mix means an awful lot to me, wide range of music and all.

"All These Things That I Have Done" by the Killers
"A Line in the Sand" by Q and Not U
"Time Is Running Out" by Muse
"Vindicated" by Dashboard Confessional
"Lossleader" by Nine Days Wonder
"Get Saved" by Pilot to Gunner
"East School" by Dignen
"Caring Is Creepy" by the Shins
"Spitting Games" by Snow Patrol
"Stones" by Sonic Youth
"Still In Love Song" by the Stills
"Say Hello to the Angels" by Interpol
"Float On" by Modest Mouse
"17 Years" by Ratatat
"Fortress" by Pinback
"Hands Up" by Walking Concert
"23" by Jimmy Eat World
"Fall to Pieces" by Velvet Revolver

This mix is also very specifically divided by parts of the year. Everything from the Shins through Modest Mouse came from that summer which, not to beat a dead horse, was one of the best summers I've ever had.

What's truly amazing to me is that the year was already one of my best by the time December 1st rolled around. That was the day I finally met Nicole face to face, and her influence on these mixes would become obvious pretty quickly...

Biographical Mix, 2003: The Love Affair Begins

Apropos of nothing, some day I would like to start a blog entitled "Damn This Inebriated Brain!" I'm saving that for when I'm famous, though.

And lo, in the darkness, there would come a light. And said light would be kind of sappy and a little poppy and occasionally even cheesy. But I would love the hell out of it, even until this very moment. Yes, 2003 was the year that I rediscovered Nada Surf.

Laugh all you want, but I love me some Nada Surf. They're overly sincere, but their lyrics are generally abstract enough so that they don't sound trite. Hell, an argument can be made that half of their songs don't make any kind of sense. And, sure, I generally dislike singers who feel the need to rhyme everything, but when the end result is as bizarre as some of Nada Surf's songs are, I'm more than willing to look past that.

While discovering Nada Surf's classic album "Let Go" might have been the most enduring musical moment from 2003, I'd be remiss if I also didn't mention Pretty Girls Make Graves. Their first full length is unbelievable, and just the perfect blend of pretty much everything I love about music. I was blown away by it. Their second record was good, but couldn't really match up. After that, they lost a guitar player and added a keyboard player and the band I once knew and loved had morphed into a completely different thing. Still, the day I first heard Pretty Girls Make Graves will always be an important one to me.

And off we go.

"The Getaway" by Pretty Girls Make Graves
"It's Over" by the Fire Theft
"Happy Kid" by Nada Surf
"Sound of Settling" by Death Cab For Cutie
"This Is Our Emergency" by Pretty Girls Make Graves
"Hands Down" by Dashboard Confessional
"CT Catholic" by Rainer Maria
"Killian's Red" by Nada Surf
"Fade Out/In" by Palo Alto
"B" by Pinback
"2+2=5" by Radiohead
"Ears Ring" by Rainer Maria
"Teen Titans Theme" by Puffy AmiYumi
"Get Your Hands Off My Woman" by the Darkness
"Art of Losing" by American Hi-Fi
"High Wire Escape Artist" by Boy Sets Fire
"Silhouette" by Thrice
"Signals Over the Air" by Thursday
"Absent Stars" by Year of the Rabbit
"All That's Left" by Thrice
"Asleep in the Chapel" by Thursday

Yes, that's the theme song from the Teen Titans cartoon; it's awesome.

I went through a bit of a screamo period, too, with new albums from Boy Sets Fire, Thrice, and Thursday. I also think "Long Knives Drawn" could be Rainer Maria's best album.

This was a good year for music, although not a particularly good year for me. Next year, however, would be both.

Biograhical Mix, 2002: The City of Angels

Of all the questions to be asked about the 19 (currently working on 20th) mixes like this I have made, there is one that had a definitive answer: Which mix has the best first song? You will find no better way to start a mix than the way this one begins.

For what it's worth, I spent the first 5 months of 2002 living in Atlanta. I then drove back to Ohio, and then flew to Los Angeles. There's very clearly a song on here specifically for that drive out of Atlanta (and, in theory, my flight to California). Most of these songs seem to take a turn for the fast paced, which only seemed appropriate given my new surroundings. While the "underground" music that seeped into Ohio from New York, DC, and Chicago seemed much more experimental and heavy, it just felt right somehow to listen to upbeat, singalong type music once I got to Los Angeles. If I'm ever independently wealthy, I'd love to research and write a book about the differences in the underground music scenes from the west coast and the east coast -- and the north coast, for that matter. They all seem very much rooted in some sense of geographic identity.

Anyway, with all that in mind...

"Party Hard" by Andrew WK
"California" by Phantom Planet
"Hate to Say I Told You So" by the Hives
"City of Angels" by the Distillers
"Another Morning Stoner" by Trail of Dead
"Diazapam" by Karate
"Disco" by the Butchies
"You Are Invited" by the Dismemberment Plan
"It's Over" by the Fire Theft
"Get Free" by the Vines
"Paris In Flames" by Thursday
"Fell In Love With a Girl" by the White Stripes
"Beautiful Disaster" by American Hi-Fi
"Cochise" by Audioslave
"All Systems Go" by Boxcar Racer
"Clocks" by Coldplay
"Light Rail Coyote" by Sleater Kinney
"Eastern Wave" by Three Mile Pilot
"Taste of Ink" by the Used
"Keep Fishin'" by Weezer
"No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age

Seriously, there was a point over the summer when I listened to just the Vines, the Hives, and the White Stripes. It was all very strange. I blame my exposure to KROQ.

I will say this: moving to a new city caused me to latch on to music in a way that I hadn't really done before. Going forward, I would keep track of release dates and end up buying a new CD nearly every week. I'd never really been a part of that ritual, but I found that I needed new music every week -- it brought me a sense of stability, akin to new comic book day on Wednesdays.

Perhaps that will be my next stroll down memory lane -- a biographical mix of comic books.