Having fallen woefully behind on my "Acquisitions" series, I am trying out a new approach to logging my music habits, namely looking at my Last.fm "weekly top artists" list and commenting on what I find there. This should have two advantages over the Acquisitions approach. First, since it is limited to ten artists, I shouldn't get overwhelmed by sheer volume, as was happening regularly with my monthly acquisitions lists. Second, since this is the music I've listened to the most in a given week (more or less—not everything I listen to manages to get scrobbled to Last.fm, but the vast majority does), I should actually have something to say about it, which was not always the case with the brand-new music covered in my earlier posts. There should actually be some intersection between what comes up with this method and what 's actually new in my library, because the structure of my playlists keeps new arrivals in heavy rotation for about a month after they get added to iTunes. But it will also give me reason to revisit older music that's caught my ear, which appeals to me as well. Obviously, this will not wind up being some perfect log of my listening habits, but I never really set out to do that in the first place. The tougher question will be whether I can keep up with a regular schedule of weekly posts. History would suggest not, but maybe this exercise will be the impetus I needed to get more disciplined about my blogging.
Here, then, is my Heavy Rotation list for the week of October 21-28:
- Art Brut - Their Bang Bang Rock & Roll (2005) was one of my October eMusic downloads. It was pretty much a blind purchase in that I had nothing more than the band's appearance in some "find similar artists" result and a Robert Christgau A- to recommend them to me, but I've been very happy with this album. A little hard to categorize: the sound is garage-punk, but with a heavy dose of lyrical irony (notwithstanding Eddie Argos's declaration—in the album's opener, "Formed a Band"—that "yes, this is my singing voice. / It's not irony"). "Emily Kane"—a declaration of devotion to the singer's teenage sweetheart—is probably the album's most fully realized song, but if I had to pick my favorite, I'd go for "Good Weekend," with it's creepy-romantic opening salvo—"First time I saw her / I wanted more than just to hold her / I wanted to bend her and fold her / So I went over and I told her"—and triumphantly inept cri de cœur—"I've seen her naked... twice!"). I can see others finding this stuff to be too smart for its own good, but it's got me hooked.
- The Mekons - Another October eMusic acquisition was the Mekons' The Edge Of the World (1986). I only really became aware of the Mekons about six years ago—by way of a friend's copy of Rock 'n' Roll (1989)—and I've been assembling their catalog in piecemeal fashion ever since (their most recent—Natural—was one of my September downloads). They are an example of a band that I appreciate more on the basis of total output than for particular songs, and Edge of the World is typical in this regard. I like it top to bottom, but outside of the rousing "Big Zombie" ("I'm just not human tonight!") I can't really point to any especially great or memorable songs on it.
- Van Morrison - This seems to be a case of my having gone on a big Van Morrison kick about six months ago, creating a cluster of his songs traveling together through my iTunes library rotation system and popping up as group now. I only have Moondance and His Band and His Street Choir (both 1970) in iTunes (a couple others on vinyl and a few that never made it past homemade cassette tape). These albums have a tendency to get played during dinner parties as they are both fundamentally excellent and palatable to a wide audience.
- Beat Happening - Another case of music that was in heavy rotation six months ago and has only now made it through the system again, but in this case, I remember why. Last spring, I was reading Michael Azerrad's chronicle of 80s independent bands, Our Band Could Be Your Life, which featured a chapter on Beat Happening, and as I did with other bands covered in the book, I re-listened to much of the Beat Happening catalog as well as downloading the compilation Music to Climb the Apple Tree To (2003) from eMusic. They were a a fairly critical part of my introduction to the indie world, and I continue to have a soft spot for their defiantly lo-fi, competence-optional, "twee as fuck" approach to music.
- Golem! - This is a new acquisition. I'd had my eye on Fresh Off the Boat (2006) since seeing Christgau's favorable review on MSN Music last April, but I held off for a bit out of concern that I was overdoing the whole Gypsy-Klezmer fusion thing in my enthusiasm for Gogol Bordello. I probably shouldn't have waited, as this is wonderfully inventive and explosive music, more akin to the aforementioned Gogol Bordello's "gypsy punk" than to more traditionalist Klezmer (which I also like, though I am far from well-listened in the genre).
- Sonic Youth - Also featured in Our Band Could Be Your Life, also a critical part of my personal initiation into indie, Sonic Youth got on this list much the same way Beat Happening did, by my doing a heavy-listening session back in the spring, and the magic of smart playlists reprising it half a year later. Sonic Youth are especially interesting because they are about the only band from Azerrad's book to survive the era he chronicles intact, to say nothing of remaining vital and relevant two decades later.
- Bob Dorough - Unsuspecting visitors to my Last.fm profile may be befuddled by the fact that although my "Top Artists" list is populated by the likes of Yo la tengo and Sonic Youth, my "Top Tracks" list is dominated by songs from the Schoolhouse Rock series of educational cartoons from the 1970s (they currently hold the top 13 slots in said list). For Americans of my generation, however, Schoolhouse Rock is a cultural touchstone, and I'll freely admit to still being a fan of the series. While there were a few real clunkers, especially in the latter days of the series (don't get me started on "Scooter Computer and Mister Chips"), several of the songs are works of genius, and in most cases the genius at work was Bob Dorough, who wrote and sang many of the most memorable songs. The real reason these songs rank so highly, however, is because I have successfully conditioned the children to request them pretty much in preference to any other music.
- Tapes 'n Tapes - The Loon (2005) was a fine album that I didn't stumble across until last fall. It seems to be on its second rotation as a block through the library system.
- Ornette Coleman - Mostly a product of the addition of jazz titles to my Mix-o-matic smart playlists. I have a big backload of unrated Coleman tracks from the imposing Beauty is a Rare Thing box set (2005). Compared to other jazz greats, Coleman is something of an acquired taste, but he has a sound that is uniquely his and which is well-represented on this box.
- Jack Sheldon - Another Schoolhouse Rock luminary. Sheldon was the singer for several of my all-time favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs: "I'm Just a Bill" (recollection of which saved my hide during a pop quiz in AP US History in ninth grade), "Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla," and "Conjunction Junction." I only today noticed that the latter had been misattributed to Dorough (who did write it) in my iTunes library, so I've been shortchanging Sheldon in my scrobbling for some time now. Sorry, Jack!
And that's a wrap! Look out for the next Heavy Rotation (covering the week that just ended) in a few days. Or not.