Monday, November 24, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: Neutral Milk Hotel

Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Then: I think I was introduced to this by DJ Candice Cameron of Freestyle Kill. Despite the fact that it's treated as gospel by many in the 'indie' community, it took me a long time to get into...I was more into Jeff Mangum's first album, On Avery Island, and to this day I'm still a much bigger Olivia Tremor Control fan. But grow on me it did, and I felt that Mangum was the Dylan to The Beach Boys of Olivia Tremor Control, or The Beatles of The Apples in Stereo.

Now That's not to say that people don't overblow this one. I hear people having weird religious experiences listening to Aeroplane, and bursting into uncontrollable tears. No wonder the guy got weirded out by his fanbase and quit soon after its release. For being so revered, Aeroplane actually has a fair bit of filler on it, as well: after a rock-solid first four songs, the album gets lazy, with numerous needless instrumentals or fluff to pad out the lackluster second half, which is surprising since the best song the man ever wrote wasn't included on ANY of his albums. Aeroplane redeems itself with the killer 'Oh Comely' and the astoundingly gorgeous 'Two-Headed Boy Part II' which really is one of the saddest songs I've ever heard, but I still suspect that most peoples obsessions come from the album''s first third.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson: Portrait of an American Family

Then: I'm slightly ashamed to admit it, but I was a huge Marilyn Manson fan for a while. I went and saw him live in 1998, the show at the Great Western Forum where he twisted his ankle and stopped the show after 6 songs, I dubbed my own tapes with all the tracks from The Spooky Kids, the original incarnation of the group. I lost interest around the new millennium, but Marilyn's first three albums were huge for me for a time.

Now: After giving this another spin, I'm surprised that Trent Reznor didn't produce more guitar-oriented rock albums, because he's really quite good at it. The production on Portrait is crystal-clean, the bass and guitar are big and meaty, and it's an anomaly in both Reznor and Manson's respective oeuvre that was never really visited again; both band and producer abandoned guitar rock for the more well-known industrial of "Closer" and "The Beautiful People" pretty soon after. Marilyn displays a humor on this first album that he pretty much gave up on after this as well; everything from Antichrist Superstar on is dour and humorless, whereas buried among the swearing and purposely shocking turns of phrase on Portrait, he allows himself to have a little fun. If you just want a good beefy mid '90s slice of rock, you could do worse than Portrait of an American Family. Way, way worse.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver

Then: This was right at the tail end of my flirtation with 'college rock' before I discovered Foetus and things really got interesting. I had been a big fan of James Murphy, aka LCD Soundsystem, from his first album, which was typical 2004 synth-driven indie rock blended with an awareness of weird '70s fringe stuff, a la Can, Brian Eno, This Heat, etc. I snatched up Sound of Silver pretty quickly and was impressed at how much more mature it was; not really any party anthems like 'Daft Punk is Playing at My House' and more longform, squelchy meditations of how much it sucks becoming old and miserable, probably the closest thing to a modern Talking Heads album as we're likely to get.

Now: James Murphy is a pretty bad singer, but unlike most of the others I've checked out since starting this, he's a really excellent lyricist. His flat, limited range almost works to enhance his poetry, which is beautifully despondent and still makes me feel rushes of emotion, especially the jaw-dropping one-two punch of 'Someone Great' and 'All my Friends' in the middle of the album, which so captures the essence of being a male approaching your 30s and realizing that things aren't going to work out the way everyone had told you they would growing up. He has a line in 'All my Friends', "We set the controls for the heart of the sun/One of the ways that we show our age" which is so short and so simple and yet so affecting, as great poetry tends to be. The album isn't perfect, there's a slump after track 6 (the title track is distressingly dull) but Sound of Silver is impressively one-of-a-kind.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: The Sisters of Mercy

The Sisters of Mercy: Floodland

Then: I think it was around 10th grade that I started abandoning Tool and Korn and all that crap, and for about a year I really got into 80s goth type stuff, mostly through my previous association with Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. I picked up all the essentials: Disintegration, Violator, and of course Floodland. It was never my favorite of the group (I was a big Depeche Mode guy) but 'Lucretia My Reflection' was a stalwart on the mixtapes I had in my car when i first got my license.

Now: Listening to the album after a long time away, it really rides so strongly on the good graces of its three singles: 'This Corrosion', 'Dominion/Mother Russia', and the aforementioned 'Lucretia My Reflection'. All three songs remain astounding, and show that Andrew Eldritch could write a killer hook when he wanted to (to say nothing of Jim Steinman's production, which is bombastic, ridiculous, and totally awesome). Sadly, he doesn't show the same panache for the rest of the album as he does for its singles, and honestly the rest of Floodland is actually kind of boring, which is always the most egregious offense when you're creating art. Still, if you could cut Floodland down to the singles, it would be a nifty little EP (and a fairly beefy one too, considering that two of the singles cracked 7 minutes).

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: The Fiery Furnaces

The Fiery Furnaces: Blueberry Boat

Then: Another album I was absolutely blown away by in 2004. I had the Furnaces' first album, which was a rad but inessential collection of White Stripes-style stripped down rock, and when I first heard Blueberry Boat's 10-minute long, elliptical opener, "Quay Cur," I really thought I had picked up the wrong disc. The feeling got even stronger when I saw them live, a show where they distilled down both their albums into a single 45-minute long song. This was my absolute favorite album for years.

Now: Damn if Blueberry Boat isn't just as solid and essential as it was 10 years ago. The Furnaces' songwriter/lyricist/musical kaleidoscope Matthew Friedberger strikes that rare balance between melodic and experimental, and he does it in such a way that the album's several 8-minute-plus songs never wear out their welcome. Friedberger has to be one of the cleverest musicians around, as well, which makes his apparent disappearance since 2008 or so a tragedy. His lyrics are absolutely sharp, an extension of Pete Townshend's rock opera work, and the music is a melange of The Residents' Not Available, early Psychic TV, and the Friedberger siblings' own, strange take on pop music. Blueberry Boat is no longer on my favorite albums list, but it's most certainly an album everybody should hear at least once.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: Animal Collective

Animal Collective: Sung Tongs

Then: This was absolutely mind-blowing around 2004. I had never heard anything quite like Animal Collective's Sung Tongs, which was sort of experimental folk music, lots of weird droning acoustic guitars and bizarre vocal affectations. I was absolutely blown away and tried repeatedly to make an album that was basically a big ol' rip-off of it (I think we were going to call is NUJV). I remember going to see them live and describing them to a guy in line who was only there for the headliner (Black Dice, I think?) as "Can with acoustic guitars." The rest of their records sounded absolutely nothing like this one, and for the most part I gave up on the Collective after about 2005, but there was a year or so when this was my life.

Now: Ehh...Sung Tongs is okay, but nowhere near as good as I remember. Maybe it's just because I've discovered Comus and The Incredible String Band since, but their 'unsettling acoustic' schtick doesn't feel nearly as fresh as it did at the time...hell, singer Avey Tare even sounds like the dude from Comus. Speaking of which, Jesus Christ, the lyrics on this album are straight-up awful, some of the most mind-numbing poetry I've ever heard. If you ever needed proof that doing drugs makes you an absolutely atrocious poet, give a couple tracks from Sung Tongs a spin (or, as always, Kemialliset Ystävät, which is so bad that I have to believe is intentional). The last couple A Screaming Comes Across the Sky albums were fairly psychedelic folk influenced, so Sung Tongs remains an album that affected my music, but these days I look at it more like a record that got me to find records from OTHER bands that are, for lack of a better word, much better.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: The Shins

The Shins: Chutes too Narrow

Then: I initially discovered The Shins after seeing them headlining a show The Fiery Furnaces opened soon after this record came out. I dug Chutes too Narrow but I don't think I paid any mind to their first album, which I've completely forgotten the name to. I remember being very impressed that I could fit both albums on a single CD, though.

Now: Not bad! The album is really stripped down, acoustic guitar-based, catchy pop music, and James Mercer's singing voice doesn't fall into the insufferably cutesy trap a lot of 'indie' singers fall prey too. It has an impressive string of really good songs in a row, from the first to the eighth, and considering the album is only ten songs long, that's not bad at all. If you want some harmless, Beatle-influenced pop music, you could do a lot worse. They weren't that good live though, sadly.