I Wanted To Assassinate September

Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque

I first became aware of Teenage Fanclub around ’91 or ’92, just as they put out their seminal album, Bandwagonesque. MTV’s 120 Minutes did a feature on the band, and I still hear the name of the album said in show host David Kendall’s British accent.

If you were a high school student, watching 120 Minutes when it actually came on was almost out of the question, since the show aired at the less-than-accessible 12am time slot on Sunday nights. I watched this particular episode on a sketchy VHS copy a few days later while in the sitting room section of my parent’s too-spacious bedroom. I adjusted the tiny tracking knob on the VCR that was hidden behind a thin black plastic panel to make the fuzzy white lines in the screen (mostly) go away. The feature left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. As a part of the story, MTV conducted these sort of man-on-the-street interviews with the attendees of a festival in which Teenage Fanclub was playing. During the interviews, a kid jumped in front of the camera and yelled, “Teenage Fanclub! They’re better than Sonic Youth! They’re better than Dinosaur Jr.!” I was outraged.

This kid has either taken the purple acid, lost his ever-loving mind, or both. There is no band better than Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth is a pretty hard act to follow.

It struck me, at the time, as near blasphemy. After getting over my initial fury, I came to enjoy Bandwagonesque. The “Star Sign” single won me over with its meandering, Sonic Youth tk jam opener that gives way to a propulsive, forceful, dream pop repudiation of astrology. I remember both my girlfriend and I listening to her Bandwagonesque CD quite a bit, in college a few years later. “December” made it onto one of those mixtapes girls make their college boyfriend.

Fast forward over two decades and the album, which is seen as a bona-fide alternative classic, is ripe for some recognition. As far as I know, there’s no deluxe vinyl reissue planned, but we do have Ben Gibbard’s from Death Cab for Cutie’s track-for-track cover of the album, brought to us by the fine folks at Turntable Kitchen. Turntable Kitchen is releasing monthly installments in a series of cover LP’s, where an entire album is covered by an artist, each month and delivering them straight to your doorstep as part of their new Sounds Delicious series. Honestly, when I read about Sounds Delicious, they had me at “cover albums on colored vinyl.”

Gibbard’s faithful reproduction of Bandwagonesque reflects a sense of reverence for the source material. From the dazed and confused stoner jam that is the second half of “The Concept” into the driving 100 mph slightly over the center line Sonic Youth (there’s that reference again) tribute that is “Satan,” the album lands right away as a pretty straight homage to the greatness of the original. “Metal Baby,” a song about a metal-loving girlfriend who’s embarrassed to be seen with her non-metal boyfriend, sounds almost exactly like the original Teenage Fanclub recording, right down to the vocals. Particularly suited to the open-eyed wistfulness of Gibbard’s style of singing is one of the album’s closers, “Guiding Star,” which ends with a meditation on Jesus wondering, “could His golden halo be the sun we all know?”

One thing that is improved over the original album is the production quality. I’m not sure to what I can attribute it, but the original recording had an unintentionally muted quality to it. Maybe it was the early 90’s production techniques. Even during the most dynamic of moments on the original, there’s a flatness to the sound that detracts from the songs themselves. Gibbard’s recording rectifies that, sound like an album with all of the benefits of modern music production.

You may not be a huge Death Cab For Cutie fan and the Postal Service may be too precious for your tastes. Even if you think Teenage Fanclub has been overrated these many years, this album is worth checking out. Unlike it’s predecessors in the Sounds Delicious series, this one is available on streaming services, making the barrier to entry inexcusably low. Recommended if you like rock music.

 

Inside the Museum, Infinity Goes Up On Trial

I just bought tickets for my lady friend and I to go to see this rock concert in August and I’m pretty pumped.

Psyched to play the North Carolina Museum of Art this August with @waxa_katie & @exhexband! TIX at ncartmuseum.org

A post shared by Mac McCaughan (@macsuperchunk) on

This marks the first of two opportunities to see Mary Timony perform. She is also playing the Helium songbook at The Hopscotch Music Festival a month later. Summer of Timony.

The New Analog

What We’re Missing in the Analog vs. Digital Debate

My personal pleasure of Bandcamp is buying downloads of cassettes and putting them on my phone. A phone is shaped exactly like a cassette, and the sound I expect out of it is no better than I expect out of a cassette. I feel it’s like a perfect marriage of analog/digital to me. I just love it. Also, my cassette deck broke, and the price I got quoted for repairing it was like, “No, I’m done. I’m just going to listen to cassettes on my phone. I’m happy with it.”

Damon Krukowski, author of The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World, and founding member of Galaxy 500, on why he loves Bandcamp.

Competing With Sleep

Tim Challies has a thought-provoking piece on what Netflix views as its primary competition. He recounts a recent earnings call in which Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, was answering questions about the company.

One investor asked about Amazon in particular: How will Netflix stay ahead of Amazon and their growing library of Prime videos? Hastings praised Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos, but then went in an unexpected direction. It turns out that Netflix doesn’t actually consider Amazon (or HBO or Hulu or any other similar company) its true competition. Netflix’s main competitor is something far more elemental: sleep. “When you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. You really — we’re competing with sleep, on the margin. And so, it’s a very large pool of time.”

It’s interesting that Hastings is so up front about his company competing with healthy living habits. Of course, Netflix is not alone in this quest to defeat your desire (but not your need) to sleep. Facebook, Twitter and the like, all grasp at whatever time they can get out of your day to get their products in your eyeballs.

Challies is rightfully concerned about this strategy from new media companies. It takes mindfulness and discipline to combat the lure of the screen. In our home, a combination of factors keep us from going overboard on the screen time.

  1. The no-binge rule: Long ago, I set a no-binge rule that my wife and I both have to follow. We can watch no more than two episodes of a show at time, no matter how compelling the content.
  2. Wifi restrictions: The router in the house shuts down at 10pm, so streaming movies, checking social media or just surfing the web is impossible after that time.
  3. We like sleep: Having gone through life with infants and noisy neighbors, we value the ability to slumber in quiet.

As a result of these factors, we don’t blaze through TV series episodes like some other people we know. Sometimes, it takes a while before we can discuss the latest streaming show with friends and family. It’s taken us two weeks to get through he first couple of episodes of The Crown, despite our enjoyment of the show. We’re getting our rest, though, and that is infinitely more important than the latest Netflix drama.

A Smaller, Smarter Firefox

Firefox Compact Theme
Firefox Compact Theme

 

Mozilla has a post about the new hotness in the latest version of Firefox. They’ve introduced Project Quantum, which uses GPU to handle graphics in a seperate process from the main browser app. The advantage to the new project is that GPU will handle the graphics faster and make the browser itself more stable.

And if you’re wondering about the Mac – graphics compositing is already so stable on MacOS that a separate process for the compositor is not necessary.

Gotta love Mozilla. They go on for paragraphs about the capabilities of their new Quantum Compositor. Then they have a brief little snippet that basically says, “oh yeah and everything is already great on the Mac, so there’s nothing we need to do there.”

My favorite part of the new release (especially since I have a Mac) is the new compact theme, which comes in light and dark. The dark theme still needs some polish and some of the favicons on the tabs can be really hard to see. I’ve also already found a bug in the compact theme that causes Firefox to go revert to the default theme if you go full-screen then back to normal size again. Overall, though, it’s an impressive release and I continue to appreciate the progress Mozilla is making on their main product.

Others Say She’s Shy

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the album The Velvet Underground and Nico. Rolling Stone has an article on 10 lesser known but interesting facts about what they refer to as the first album that could truly be described as “alternative.” One of the stories contained in the piece involved Andy Warhol’s limited involvement (for someone credited as a producer) in the creation of the recording.

Although he didn’t try to specifically shape the band in his own image, Warhol did make some suggestions. One of his more eccentric ideas for the track “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” Reed’s delicate ballad inspired by his simmering romantic feelings towards Nico, never came to fruition. “We would have the record fixed with a built-in crack so it would go, ‘I’ll be your mirror, I’ll be your mirror, I’ll be your mirror,’ so that it would never reject,” Reed explained in Victor Bockris’ Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story. “It would just play and play until you came over and took the arm off.”

I’m not sure how well that particular change would have gone over. I have a scratch on my copy of Built To Spill’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love and it repeats the line, “other’s say she’s shy” over and over again. As an unintended lock groove, it’s fantastic, but it can be a bit disruptive when you are trying to listen to the rest of the record.