Philip Larkin called him “the elephant on the keyboard.” Everyone else with even an ounce of taste calls him one of the most idiosyncratically joyful jazz pianists/composers of all time. That’s right, this week we’re covering Thelonious Monk–specifically, his 1964 masterpiece Solo Monk. Slam your keys in celebration!
This week, Caroline Rayner is back on the island to help us talk about the devastating folk-rock stylings of Jason Molina’s first project, Songs: Ohia. For some reason, it’s our most contentious episode yet.
On our latest Nostalgia Check episode, we talk Our Lady Peace’s Spiritual Machines (AKA Diet OK Computer) and blink-182’s 2003 self-titled “classic.”
Asthenia – blink-182
Right Behind You (Mafia) – Our Lady Peace
In Repair – Our Lady Peace
Feeling This – blink-182
Always – blink-182
The Wonderful Future – Our Lady Peace
Happy Jews Year!
Is what I would be saying, except that a combination of terrible illness and just bad timing ended up delaying this episode for like, two weeks. It’s been 2019 for ages now. But that’s ok, because if anything’s worth the wait, it’s the world’s best band (fight me): Silver Jews.
We conclude our review of 2018’s musical output with a rundown of our favorite songs and albums of the year, along with a guest appearances by past and future guests, the Carolines Rayner and Belle Stewart.
New Year – The Breeders
Sugar and Spice – Hatchie
Heat Wave – Snail Mail
Old Town – Say Sue Me
Dog Milk – Palm
The Reason They Hate Me – Daughters
Dust on Trial – Shame
Acetone – Vundabar
When I Get To Heaven – John Prine
Earth – Mount Eerie
Lamb in the Land of Payday Loans – Efrim Manuel Menuck
Lazy Love – Tanukichan
Lemon Glow – Beach House
(You’re Better) Than Ever – Illuminati Hotties
Now Only – Mount Eerie
Self – Noname
M.A.H. – U.S. Girls
Somewhere a Judge – Hop Along
December 24 – Earl Sweatshirt
Knapsack – Geotic
1:44:29 Quorum – Low
New Year’s Resolution – Lootpack
Join us as we begin to dissect the year that was! In this episode: our disappointments and surprises, plus a very special appearance by one of our most very special guests. Part 2 forthcoming on December 26th, a.k.a. Boxing Day.
This week, we tackle a survey of albums from Flying Nun Records, New Zealand’s pre-eminent indie rock label.
To celebrate the holiday season, we meet in person(!) to discuss the greatest Christmas album of all time: A Christmas Gift for You From [REDACTED]. We talk Darlene Love, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and everything in-between.
NovembeR.E.M. is finally coming to a close as we work our way from R.E.M.’s breakout success in the early 90’s to their honestly quite bleak and depressing decline right up to their breakup. It’s a real rollercoaster ride, this one, full of harsh truths, stark revelations, and ill-advised rapper cameos. But it also has “Nightswimming”, so it isn’t all for naught. Plus, at the end, we finally reveal our top five R.E.M. albums, as well as the very exciting lineup we have in store for the end of the year, so stay tuned, and we’ll all get out of this feeling the reason for the season.
This week, we dissect the odds and sods of Dead Letter Office, R.E.M.’s 1987 collection of b-sides.
Ring in the month of NovembeR.E.M. with us, as we explore Athens, Georgia’s finest export. We cover band’s 1980s career, from the I.R.S. records years to their criminally underrated major label debut.
Radio Free Europe (Hib-Tone Version)
Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)
West of the Fields
7 Chinese Brothers
(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville
Feeling Gravitys Pull
Maps and Legends
Life and How to Live It
Green Grow the Rushes
Begin the Begin
It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
King of Birds
Oddfellows Local 151
For the second year in a row, we’re talking witches, dance, and singular soundtracks. It’s Suspiria, this time the new remake by Luca Guadagnino, as well as its Thom Yorke-written score.
Oh god, it’s our greatest fear come true: a SpoOoOoOkiLy late episode! So late, in fact, that we missed both Halloween and Dia De Los Muertos. Like this is actually 4 days late. We’re terribly sorry. But in a way, that perfectly fits the subject of today’s episode, Scott Walker, who’s made a habit of going upwards of 11 years between albums. And, y’know, he’s pretty scary in his own right.
This week, we talk Liz Phair’s legendary Girly-Sound demos, which launched a thousand ships–or at least three seminal indie-rock albums–in the 1990s.
We’re joined this week by returning guest/champion Caroline Belle Stewart to discuss indie rock legend Liz Phair. Come for the strange, entrancing song structures, stay for dissections of the patriarchy, rock criticism, and impossible-to-replicate guitar chords.
This week, we talk about the late Chris Bell’s lone, posthumous release, I Am the Cosmos. If you thought the Big Star story was sad before, strap in, folks.
On the show this week, we tackle the too-short lifespan of your favorite band’s favorite band: Big Star. From hanging out down the street to starting a love revolution, come along with us September Gurls as we kick off October.
We dive into one of Stephin Merritt’s many side projects, the tongue-twistingly titled “Wasps’ Nests” by The 6ths.
This week, we explore the impeccable pop sensibilities of Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields. How much can one songwriter love the moon? Does Holland-Dozier-Holland need defending? And did she send flowers, or just say she sent flowers? Tune in to find out!
This week, we discuss the 1971 edition of the Jackson 5’s Greatest Hits, from all-time-great basslines to inappropriate lyrical content.
I Want You Back
Never Can Say Goodbye
Goin’ Back to Indiana
I’ll Be There
Let it never be said that we’re not a podcast of the people. Yes, our past few episodes have been deeply entrenched in the kind of hardcore esoterica that birthed a thousand blogspots, but that doesn’t mean we can’t devote our latest to literally the best-selling musical artists of all time: Michael Jackson (no, we do not recognize The Eagles on our island).
This week, we celebrate the life and work of a recently passed legend: Aretha Franklin. RIP, Queen of Soul.
Woof, are we getting esoteric this week. Merely a fortnight after the self-indulgence of “If I Haven’t Heard It, It’s New to Me” month, and we’re already getting deep in the weeds, covering a wide swathe of a music scene that isn’t even huge in its own country. Specifically, we’re talking about Japanese Shoegaze, from 2000-2018.
Welcome to the latest episode we’ve ever posted! Due to several unfortunate circumstances with regards to work and life, we’re getting this B-Side in right under the wire. Luckily, before long this will all be dust and no one will notice.
Speaking of dust and the ravages of age, welcome to the second installment of Nostalgia Check! In this recurring-but-not-even-a-little-bit-regular special, we each take a band from our youths and reexamine them in the harsh light of adulthood to see if they can withstand it, or if they will simply burn up like so much garbage. This week, we’re once again bringing together a pop-punk band and an early-oughts indie darling: Sum 41’s All Killer No Filler and Pete Yorn’s Musicforthemorningafter.
WE MADE IT TO EPISODE 50 Y’ALL. Can you believe it? We certainly can’t—like most amateur podcasts started in times of immense unemployment, we sort of assumed this was going to sputter out after a couple of months. But NO. We’ve defied the odds, and to celebrate this arbitrarily momentous occasion (counting the B-Sides we actually have something like 78 episodes, but who counts the B-Sides?), we’re discoursing about one of the bands that brought us to this accursed island in the first place: Talk Talk
We’re coming up on our 50th episode, folks, and it’s gonna be a big one—Talk Talk. But we’re sensitive folk, and we can’t just jump into the deep end—we need to ease into it! And what better way to ease into Talk Talk than by discussing the last album any of its members ever released—Mark Hollis by Mark Hollis.
“If I Haven’t Heard It, It’s New to Me” month is coming to a gorgeous if baffling end as we cover one of the most inexplicably underrated bands this side of The Chameleons: Kitchens of Distinction.
Founded in Tooting, London in the late 80’s as a three-piece, Kitchens of Distinction is maybe the most unjustly ignored band we’ve done for this show. Their take on dream pop and shoegaze was entirely distinct, consisting more of dreamy swirls of sound than the fuzzy walls of other bands, while still maintaining a rockier edge than, say, Cocteau Twins. They were sonic innovators with an openly gay frontman and the most beautiful pop songs this side of Slowdive, and yet the four albums they released before breaking up were completely out of print until late last year. And, anecdotally, no one I’ve ever spoken to has ever heard of this band.
Hopefully that’s starting to change. Along with last year’s crowd-funded (!) reissue campaign came some Pitchfork-branded recognition when they placed Kitchens of Distinction’s second album, Strange Free World, at number 22 on their list of the greatest shoegaze albums of all time. And now we’re here, spreading the word to our literally dozens of listeners, you (hopefully) included.
We had a blast making this, as you’ll surely hear: the band is just so good, it’s hard not to be extremely upbeat about them—at least, until we talk about their unjust death and regrettable reunion album. But it’s ok, because we have a pretty rad concert report at the end to bring us all back up. Also: sonic double downs, subway farts, and the best Daniel Craig movie ever, hands down, fuckin’ fight me.
Are you ready to get down and dirty with the lord? Because you know we are—and so is the subject of this weeks B-Side: The Supreme Jubilees.
These guys are Andrew’s contribution to the one-album wonder side of “If I Haven’t Heard It, It’s New to Me Month”, and boy, they’re the epitome of the form. The Fresno, CA. Sextet (two sets of brothers, all cousins) existed for only a couple of years, released an album under extreme duress (they were kicked out of their first studio for being too funky), and were quickly forgotten. Luckily, the tireless crate-diggers at Light in the Attic managed to find that sole document—It’ll All Be Over—and put it back out into the spotlight. And thank God they did, because this is something strange and special.
Hoo boy, this event has taken a dark turn. In the first official installment of this year’s “If I Haven’t Heard It, It’s New to Me” month, Andrew has brought to the table the works of Parenthetical Girls, with the idea that it would spurn an interesting conversation between him and Max. He was right.
A Quick Personal Note: if you’ve been keeping up these past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed some issues with the episodes lately. While the artists have been universally fantastic (and, I think, the discourse has mostly kept up), our audio quality has varied wildly, we’ve been putting up episodes late, and I’ve been neglecting summation duties. It sucks, and we’re deeply sorry to our regular listeners for that. Life has been pretty chaotic lately, with major shifts in jobs and living situations (all good!), and in the midst of all of that it’s been difficult to keep up the level of production quality we aim for. This episode, on Max-Favorite One Album Wonder Life Without Buildings, is a step in the right direction, but the audio quality on Andrew’s track is still a bit rough and, due to an un-undoable editing mistake, there’s like a minute cut out of the beginning (nothing important happened in it, but it’s an awkward jump). I still think it’s a good episode in spite of that, and for what it’s worth things are finally settling down. Thanks for sticking with us, and I hope you enjoy the episode.
Summer’s back, and with summer comes rerun season, which sucks, but also means it’s time for our annual “If I Haven’t Heard It, It’s New to Me!” month! Which, yes, is starting in late June and will end mid-July. But hell, the Summer Solstice was a couple of days ago, so let’s just ignore the Gregorian calendar and enjoy ourselves for once.
It’s a shorter episode this week, but, much like the woman who inspired it, it packs a wallop far outside its diminutive size. That’s right, this week we’re talking about the other five-foot assassin—Neko Case. And it’s packed with all the animal violence and subversive masculinity you’d expect.
Neko Case has been in music for nearly 25 years now, from her humble beginnings drumming for Vancouver punk bands to her current status as one of the most respected songwriters of her era. But in spite of her impeccable lyricism, musicianship, and genre-hopping experiments, she’s been somewhat marred by the abominable “alt-country” tag for her whole solo career—which is why, up to this week, Max had never heard of her.
So thank god Andrew was enthusiastic enough to bring her to the island, because her discography is one of the most fascinating we’ve ever picked through. After two albums of relatively straight-forward county, Neko Case gradually transformed into a strange, surrealist poet, someone who could adopt Nick Cave darkness and New Pornographers pop with equal aplomb.
It’s a haunting blast from start to finish—sort of like being shot out of a cannon into a ghost. Also: the Necco Wafer fortune, more a capella redemptions, and a swarm of Madonners.
Jackie Shane is really really good.
Sorry for the late episode, pithy description forthcoming, but the gist will almost certainly be along the lines of “hey y’all did you know that Nina Simone is in fact very, very good?” Something like that.
When was the last time you celebrated The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill? It’s been two decades since Ms. Lauryn Hill released her first and, as of today, only solo studio album, and outside of some occasional appearances and a rich history of misused samples (including Drake’s execrable new single “Nice for What”), it’s rarely something that enters contemporary music discussion. It feels like one of those albums you’re more likely to find on Greatest Albums of All Time lists than in anyone’s discman, to which we loudly exclaim: fuck that.
20 years on, as Lauryn Hill gears up for an extensive tour, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill remains one of the most vital, complex, and unique debuts in music history, a dense document of faith, heartache, and motherhood with a fire and wisdom that belie the age of the woman writing it (she was 23 at the time). It set the tone for all pop and R&B music for decades to come while still sounding entirely original, even today. It’s really great, is what we’re saying, even if it isn’t quite the wall-to-wall masterpiece we might remember it being.
So yes, we talk about our issues with the album, and the difficulties of returning to an album like this after so many years of cultural baggage. But we also talk about how effortlessly it shrugs off that weight, how startlingly complete this first album feels, and how dang charming Lauryn Hill was and remains. And yeah, absolutely we talk about Sister Act 2. How could we not?
Also: Shorty for Mayor, dead old white men, and another inexplicable jab at New Jersey.
Lord, has there ever been a musician as eclectic, iconic, and utterly her own thing as Björk Guðmundsdóttir? We’re talking about an Icelandic poet who recorded her first album at age 12, has worked with everyone from Michel Gondry to Timbaland, and is still best remembered for wearing a swan back in ’01. Her discography is a vast, complex, and intimidating landscape, packed with clubland tributaries and avant garde vocal experiments. She can swing from heartbreaking to absurd in a single syllable.
She’s really cool, is what we’re saying.
Luckily, we have a brand new island visitor here to help on our Björk-venture: musician, dog owner, and dear friend Gabrielle Smith (of Ò and Bellows fame). With her help, we tackle a body of work as intense and difficult as it is funny and heartfelt, picking through experiments and masterpieces and complicated feelings to find our personal desert island albums (which turned out to be awfully difficult). It was way more fun than that sounds. Also: masters of unlocking, stuffed-up banshees, and a referendum for the retroactive impeachment of councilman Einar Örn Benediktsson.
Man, the past was weird, huh? When frosted tips were cool and we all thought George W. Bush was the worst we’d ever get? Such innocent, naive times. Well, at Desert Island Discourse, one of our many mission statements is to reveal the truths of the past in the harsh light of day, and it’s with that intent that we’re introducing a new segment for the show: Nostalgia Check. In these episodes, Andrew and Max will be revisiting the CD wallets of their tween years to see how they hold up, one album at a time. This week, we’re covering Smash by The Offspring and Give Up by The Postal Service.
The bands couldn’t be more different; The Offspring were vanguards of the pop-punk boom of the mid-90’s, whilst The Postal Service’s lone album is responsible for ushering in the soft boy era of the early-oughts, leaving a million Garden State‘s in its wake. But they both speak to the core of this series, in that they’re both perfectly designed to appeal to the young and angsty. Whether you’re the kind of angry, bullied skater kid listening to “Come Out and Play” on a loop or a sad ball of angst with Ben Gibbard lyrics scrawled in their journal, there is something in these albums that will speak to you loud and clear.
But it’s 2018 now, your hosts are pushing 30, and we’ve both long since repressed the feelings that made these albums so important to us now. Can we still find the love our 12 year old selves expressed so fervently? Or will we cover our eyes in shame? Find out in our inaugural episode of Nostalgia Check!
Also: Seth Green Classics, the genealogy of the Crazy Taxi soundtrack, and more weirdly dated references than you can shake a devil stick at.
WE’RE BACK Y’ALL! The long national crisis that was Barenaked Ladies is now firmly in our rearview mirror, and we’re blazing into the future with two of our favorite things in the universe: Andy McAlpine, and The Replacements.
Do we even need to introduce The Replacements? Few bands have ever come close to matching the hooks, hedonism, and heart of these lovable lads from Minneapolis. From their raw punk beginnings to their sad, folky denouement, The ‘Mats produced an incredible stretch of music that was at worst fascinating and at best utterly transcendent, cementing their legacy as one of the greatest bands of all time. We literally don’t know anyone who hates them—even Christgau liked them sometimes, and he’s an actual monster.
So with the help of bearded bundle of joy Andy McAlpine, we recorded nearly two hours of almost entirely ecstatic power pop discourse. It’s literally the exact opposite of talking about Barenaked Ladies. We think you’ll like it. Also: dumb coke stories, brief returns to hell, and Bill.
Listeners, it’s been a bad month. We’re in distress, and we need a caress. So what do we get? Well, sleepless nights, to be honest. But also one of the world’s best “greatest hits” albums: Singles Going Steady by The Buzzcocks.
The Buzzcocks occupy a weird place in Punk orthodoxy. They’re considered the progenitors of pop-punk, and have been covered by world-renowned sellouts like The Offspring and Green Day (bands that, incidentally, we love). But they were also there from the very beginning, their first ep is one of the most legendary DIY releases in the medium, and Kurt Cobain brought them on their last tour. If you want to look at them through the lens of “credibility”, you have your work cut out for you.
But this is Desert Island Discourse, where we believe two things: that credibility is for losers, and that The Buzzcocks are better than The Beatles.
After founding member and incorrigible suffragette Howard Devoto left the band to start post-punk weirdos Magazine, Pete Shelley took over primary songwriting duties and turned The ‘Cocks into some of the finest popsmiths in any genre, releasing a string of legendary singles that, in a just world, would’ve been number one hits the world over. And while the three albums they released before their initial breakup are all good in their own right, it’s those singles that really cement their skills in the genre.
On their own, they’re fantastic, crystalline blasts of hyperactive, open-chord melody. Collected altogether on Singles Going Steady, they become a convincing argument that Pete Shelley is one of the most underrated songwriters in rock music. It’s (mostly) pure pop perfection, and a kind reminder of what “hooks” are supposed to sound like after a full month of terrible pain.
You can see how baffled we are, learning what good music is again, so this episode also doubles as a document of us slowly emerging back into the light. Take our hands, and join us in the sun. Also: Fortnightly Fuckabouts, The Ol’ Diggle n’ Dial, and Baby Bjork.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
In spite of what our last (and next) episode might lead you to believe, Canada is capable of producing good music. In fact, in the early oughts, fully 98% of all indie rock was imported from the Great White North, in strict defiance of America’s foreign policy at the time. And to prove it, this week we’re taking on one of Montréal’s finest one-album wonders, The Unicorns.
Their death-obsessed first (and only) album, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?, is still an utterly unique artifact in music, filled with songs that combine the sheer hook-tossing ADD of Guided by Voices with the proggier impulses of Fiery Furnaces. Their compositions often completely eschew the verses and choruses that have long been the cornerstones of pop music, instead drifting thematically through different catchy passages until you end up somewhere far away from where you started, confused and dazzled. The partnership of Nick Diamonds (née Nick Thornburn), Alden Ginger (née Alden Penner), and later J’aime Tambeur (née Jamie Thompson) was one of the most unique and mind-blowing in indie music.
Unfortunately, their fatalistic songs and album title proved prescient—the band broke up acrimoniously two years later, beaten down by the rigors of touring and deteriorating interpersonal relationships. They put out one more EP before cracking up, but 2014 was terrible and we all prefer to ignore it. As of 2018, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? remains the sole defining document of this one-of-a-kind musical relationship (we’re going to pretend their first two demos don’t exist either).
But their legacy lives on, and while The Unicorns remain curiously underrated among the other alumni of the Montréal Gold Rush of ’04, those who believe, who truly believe, continue to sing their praises. And on this island, we’re nothing if not believers.
Also: cozy coffins, bad Ian Malcolm impression, and how to literally emasculate the masculine.
I guess this is just a tradition now. Last April Fools, we decided to play a prank on ourselves by covering a terrible band that became a joke on someone else’s terms. This April Fools, we’re covering a band that wanted to be a joke, but also serious, and failed at both, while still being wildly successful. This week, we’re covering the first half of the discography of Canada’s greatest musical crime: Barenaked Ladies.
If you’re American, you probably know Barenaked Ladies as the “chickety china” guys, thanks to the breakout success of “One Week.” But in Canada, they actually have a hugely devoted fanbase, dating all the way back to the incredible success of their first album, Gordon. To this day, you can find both diehard enthusiasts and actual critics earnestly praising and defending their work. Millions of people love this band.
We do not. We didn’t go into this band hating them—neither of us really listened to them before, and we were hoping to find some hidden gems and surprises in their impressively lengthy discography. But after this first eight album stretch, which covers everything from their indie debut Gordon up to their musical Shakespeare collaboration As You Like It, left us thoroughly broken. We stared into the void, and learned too much. We’ve crossed the rubicon here, folks. See for yourself just how deep this rabbit hole goes.
Also: we pick yet more ill-advised fights with famous writers, discuss getting “Shrekked”, and put out our first ever reviewer mixtape (check it out below the fold)!
It’s been a little over a year since our Mount Eerie episode, but more importantly, it’s been a little over a year since the release of A Crow Looked at Me, Phil Elverum’s bleak, uncomfortably direct meditation on the death of his wife, Geneviève Castrée. And in a way the period of time since that work is the subject of today’s episode, as Mount Eerie’s latest album, Now Only, reckons with the grieving process, memory, what time does to death, and life after Crow.
So as you can imagine, this was a pretty intense episode to make. But the thing is, Now Only isn’t intimidating in the way that A Crow Looked at Me was. In fact, it’s almost welcoming, sharing memories, bits of gallows humor, and legitimately catchy (if very bleak) “choruses” among its darkest moments. It’s a warmer, more musical album, where the emotional moments hit hard not because of their stark alienation, but because you can feel them too. So this isn’t another “O Superman” B-Side—instead, it’s a reflection on generosity, shared emotional response, and the incredible talent at the heart of Mount Eerie.
Now Only is a beautiful album that you shouldn’t be afraid of, and I hope this episode is able to convey some of that. If nothing else, it was at least one last shining beacon of good music before the month gets infinitely worse.
Oh God. They did it. The bastards finally did it. We’re doing the Rolling Stones.
Which is a bit of a departure for us. We’ve been vocal about our distaste for the classic rock songs of the 60’s and 70’s, to the point where we avoided long-time Rolling Stones adversaries The Beatles by hitting their solo albums instead. But this was a direct request from ever-popular recurring guest Caroline Rayner, and when the prospect of bringing on both her and her partner/long-time friend of the island/driest of dry-wits Caroline Stewart, it sounded too fun to resist.
So don’t worry Stones fans—this episode won’t just be Max ranting about how much she hates British blues (although there’s plenty of that). Caroline and Caroline are the best kind of fans—conflicted, self-aware, and still incredibly enthusiastic for a bunch of old white dudes even in the face of all opposition and reason. And with their expert tutelage, we’re taking on what’s often considered the prime swath of the Rolling Stones discography: Aftermath through to Exile on Main Street.
It’s the era when a bunch of mop-topped blues-devotees finally started writing their own goddamned songs, embarking on a journey that would take them through sitar jams, sweet folk, and a psychedelic phase before doubling down on their blues roots for a stretch of critically acclaimed albums that are still held up as the best of their genre by 90% of rock critics.
For Max and Andrew, such a trip is akin to Dante’s descent through hell. But hopefully, with the help of the Carolines, this episode will be an equally monumental work of literature. If nothing else, we got some real good chants out of it.
Also: Andrew professes his love of watersports, Max debuts her new perfume, and the Carolines eat some real bad chili.
Caroline Rayner’s Chapbook: http://www.witchcraftmag.com/shop/calorie-world-by-caroline-rayner
Caroline Belle Stewart’s Chapbook: http://www.factoryhollowpress.com/books/husbandly-things-caroline-belle-stewart
The latest episode of our ongoing “Catching Up!” series is here, and this time I think we can be forgiven for dropping the ball. When we first covered The Breeders with cover artist Haley Thompson way back in Episode 16, it had been over 9 years since their latest album. Of course, we should’ve known that that’s just a typical album interval for the Deal sisters, as proven by the release of their fifth album, All Nerve, earlier this month.
For a certain kind of Breeders fan, this is a momentous occasion, as its the first album recorded by the original Last Splash lineup (not the Pod lineup, presumably because Tanya has a Belly reunion to plan) since, well, Last Splash. And while that was nearly 25 years ago, you’d never know it to hear this latest blast of warm, salty Breeders charm. All Nerve is an album that reminds you of everything you love about The Breeders—their casual élan, complex-yet-catchy chord structures, and goofily surreal lyricism—while still avoiding the trap of just re-treading old ground. In short, it’s fantastic, which is why we had such a great time recording this day-time episode—and why our original picks have changed by the end.
Also: Max starts becoming Andrew, Andrew learns how vinyl works, and we discover the shocking connection between Solid Snake and The Shangri-Las
It’s sort of a sad occasion that brings this episode to you, dear listeners: as of about a week ago (when this episode was recorded), it’s been 8 years since Mark Linkous died outside of his new Nashville home. As the singer, songwriter, and often sole member of Sparklehorse, Mark left behind him a legacy of curiously underrated music that nonetheless meant a lot to those who were fortunate enough to hear it. Today, we bring on Caroline Rayner to help us celebrate his life and work.
Born from the ashes of a failed music career in LA, Sparklehorse made the kind of indie rock that you’d usually find in the holds of wrecked steamboats or haunting ancient attics, combining deft pop sensibilities with a deep love of broken things, junk, and detritus. You’re often as likely to hear a toy plastic saxophone as a scorching guitar riff on his songs, and it’s all put together with a genuine enthusiasm and pathos that keeps it from devolving into the sort of kitschy cuteness that such descriptions often evoke.
Over fifteen years, Sparklehorse released four albums (and one collaboration with Danger Mouse and David Lynch), many of which were so good that they inspired a lifelong devotion from a young Max and college-aged Caroline, both of whom spend the vast majority of this episode frantically enthusing about the beauty, sadness, and hope in this immensely enjoyable music (Andrew, meanwhile, brings the newcomer’s perspective in that irresistibly Andrew way of his). It’s a heartfelt episode that comes from a dear place, and somehow Uncle Kracker comes up anyway. We hope you enjoy it.
Also: Caroline becomes a tough-skinned bitch, Andrew takes Frank Capra to task, and Max finally snaps at these damn kids.
At this Desert Island Discourse, we always strive to make our episodes as thorough and complete an examination of an artist’s discography as possible (broader surveys notwithstanding). However, so many of our favorite artists are rebellious sorts who care not for our mission, and continue to release excellent albums after we’ve recorded. So in an effort to keep up with their output, every so often we’ll be releasing B-Sides to talk new albums released by artists we’ve already covered. We’re calling it “Catching Up With…” because we are unimaginative hacks. First up: Catching Up With the Mountain Goats
This is really all our fault—Goths, the most recent album from John Darnielle and company, came out only a month after we recorded those episodes, and we knew it was coming. But we were younger, more impatient castaways back then, and simply could not wait. And it’s a shame, because Goths isn’t just a great album, but an album that adds new context to the Mountain Goats discography as a whole, solidifying what seems to be a great, golden, experimental era. Which, really, is only appropriate for a record of jazzy pop songs about Gene Loves Jezebel. Also: we discuss our long, ambling paths to grave, offer a peek behind the kimono, and come up with a really great idea for the next Mountain Goats album, seriously John, call us, it’s gold.
Wellp, it finally happened—Max is officially an old maid. And in a desperate attempt to fend off thoughts of her own mortality, she’s looking as far back as possible, to her very first favorite band: Depeche Mode.
Depeche Mode has always been the kind of band that inspired fervent devotion, which is apparent in the fans that take over their Facebook account and the rabid crowds that still pack arenas to see them. But they’re also a band that became defiantly less accessible over time, starting with a sugary sweet synth pop album (courtesy of a pre-Erasure Vince Clark) and evolving over the course of two decades into a dark, pseudo-industrial act with impeccably arranged songs about addiction, suicide, and S&M. So, the perfect band for an 11 year old kid to obsess over.
Of course, one’s taste can change a lot after 19 years, and Andrew’s exposure to the band amounts to his Dad’s poorly assembled copy of one of their least popular albums. Will they come to their own personal Jesus? Or decide to enjoy the silence instead? Also: The Residents play Ed Sullivan, God dies again, and we discover the albums that shook Polish rock.
The world is a cold, dark, terrible place y’all—and we’re not just saying that because Max is about to hit the existential crisis point that is “turning 30”. So we’re returning to the two things that have always brought us joy in troubled times: ridiculously obscure EPs and post-punk.
While this podcast started as a celebration of the discography above all else, that criteria excludes some of our favorite music, and no genre has been more slighted by that than Post-Punk. Even with our multi-album survey last year, so much of the best music under that umbrella is left out, relegated to 12″ singles and EPs that went out of print more or less immediately. So this week, we’re making an excuse to finally dig into that esoteric crate, starting with Max’s absolute favorite examples of the form (it is, after all, her birthday week).
We start with The Chameleons’ gorgeous swan song, Tony Fletcher Walked on Water La La La La La-La La-La-La (around here we like to pretend Why Call It Anything? never happened), move into the best thing Happy Mondays ever recorded (their first single, ironically), and finish off with one of best examples of pure pop songcraft in any genre—The Wake’s Something That No One Else Could Bring. Along the way, we also confuse sand worms, struggle to explain 24 Hour Party People, and hope to someday find our own individual saviors. Enjoy!
Happy anniversary to us! As of today, we have been stranded on this disc-filled island for a year, and what better way to commemorate the occasion than to bring back our first ever guest for one of the most love-filled episodes in our catalogue? Yep, this fortnight, Caroline Rayner makes her triumphant return to our nerdy shores to talk about possibly her favorite musicians ever: Allison and Katie Crutchfield (spoiler alert, we like them a lot too).
And what’s not to love? From their first band together (when they were teenagers!) to the continued evolution of their respective solo careers, Allison and Katie have left an indelible mark on the world of indie rock with their heart-stabbing lyrics and the kind of rock-solid hooks you can set your watch to. There’s so much to love here, you can hear us grasping for the language to capture it, gasping and going silent in the wake of so many stunning songs.
This music is also just really damn fun, as is apparent from our unbridled enthusiasm and inability to shut up all throughout. We challenge you not to feel the same way by the end. Also: regular Chumbawamba’s, what does and doesn’t rip, and what happened to Andrew the night of the Prince episode.
On January 15th, 2018, Dolores O’Riordan passed away, and we found ourselves devastated once again. As the lead singer and co-songwriter for The Cranberries, her voice has been a part of our collective consciousness for decades now, coloring the childhoods of your good good music pals to the point where we didn’t even realize how deep her art had reached. In memory of her incredible talent, we’re rectifying that, and digging into what we think is the best album of the entire Cranberries discography: No Need to Argue
After Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? blew up on the backs of classic singles like “Dreams” and “Linger”, the Cranberries simultaneously widened and deepened their focus, branching out into fuzz tones, synths, and all the other colors of the jangle-pop spectrum while turning their lyrical gaze to the horrific violence scarring their native Ireland. The result is weirdly controversial—“Zombie” is treated more like a punchline these days than a stirring statement—but also a gorgeous, cohesive piece that shows the band pushing at their limits.
So this week, we’re examining the whole work, its context, its influence, and the era it defined. We talk extensively about both the Troubles and the influence of our families’ music, and Max still somehow manages to make a quick jab at Better Than Ezra’s expense. It’s ok. They’re good sports.
It’s been a long time coming, but this week we’re finally talking about Andrew’s favorite upright piano players/erstwhile neighbors: The Walkmen. As one of the few bands to make it out of the New York post-punk revival intact (although not without some Harry Nilsson-centric stumbles), The Walkmen hold a rarefied place in indie rock history. They escaped the bounds of their own scene to create album after album of solid, ever-evolving, critically acclaimed music right up to their 2014 hiatus
But the methods by which they achieved this are the very ones that have often split this island in twain, shifting from the cold, lonely, angry music of their youth to increasingly streamlined and downright old-fashioned rock n’ roll. Will Andrew’s album-by-album autobiography be enough to show Max the Lisbon light? Or will her dad-rock biases blind her to the later albums of one of her favorite post-punk bands? Also: Punctuation is observed, oats are eaten, and Max and Andrew lock horns over horns.
Disclaimer: Hello! Apparently, the anecdote related about Kevin Killian in this episode is a misremembered falsehood. For a more factual account of his relationship to Arthur Russell, read “Hold On To Your Dreams” by Tim Lawrence. Also, Max’s views on poets and poetry are hers and hers alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Andrew, our guests, or Desert Island Discourse as a whole. Best not to pay much attention them, she’s a bit of a crank.
“The name of the next B-Side is: ‘We’re Sorry, But This is How We Learn'”
Has the winter fog settled in where you are? We wouldn’t know, since our island is in a permanent state of miserable sunshine. But we’ve found a pretty close approximation in World of Echo, by famed composer/cellist/disco-ist Arthur Russell. As the one official album released in his tragically short lifetime, World of Echo holds a unique place in his mostly posthumous discography. Where the vast majority of the albums that have built up his legacy were thematically curated by the heroic archivists at Audika, World of Echo was a purposeful release, designed, composed, and recorded to be an album. As such, it is, in many ways, his most definitive artistic statement.
But it’s also a weird outlier in a career filled with outliers. Where many of his other tracks feel like experiments in whatever his obsessions of the moment were, World of Echo feels startlingly personal, mostly free of his usual conceptual underpinnings. The whole album is just Arthur, his cello, and a few pedals, recorded live and transformed into a thing of vague, heart-breaking beauty. Songs from such far flung projects as his disco single “Let’s Go Swimming” and rejected Medea score “Tower of Meaning” find a home here in radically different forms. There’s really nothing else like it.
Which makes it kind of hard for us to talk about, but damn if we aren’t gonna try. And amidst our many tangents and difficult grasping for words, there is a very real, brief account of how two analytically minded music-lovers try to unpack such a mysterious object. Also: Max unjustly slanders a beloved poet, Jeff Buckley spits in a bucket, and we reveal why Andrew can never leave the podcast.
CW: Homophobia, mention of r*pe
We’re mid-way through the first month of 2018, and already we’re beset with strife on all sides. At times like these, we must ask ourselves the eternal question: can we kick it? To find our answer, we’re going on a leader quest mission with Max’s all-time favorite hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest. Like most journeys, this one starts all sunshine and roses and De La Soul shout-outs—but the ending may surprise you.
Started in 1985 by teenage MC’s Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Jarobi, as well as DJ-turned-NPR host Ali Shaheed Muhammed, A Tribe Called Quest quickly made a name for themselves as positive jammers with a relentlessly innovative aesthetic. Over the course of their first five albums they would pioneer a (mostly) progressive lyricism, bring jazz to the hip-hop world, and team up with a little-known producer named J Dilla to create some of the weirdest albums of the era. It’s that latter fact that makes them such perfect candidates for the island—they were one of the few rap acts at the time that were truly album-focused, creating complete and deliberate artistic works that defied cherry-picking, even as they wrote a string of iconic singles that still influence artists. And after all that, after an 18 year hiatus and the death of Phife Dawg, they come back with one of their best albums. Who does that?
A Tribe Called Quest is one of those bands that made us remember why we love doing this show, and that plus a rather strict time crunch has produced an episode as tight, shining, and artificially inflated in value as a diamond. Also: Max hears Langoliers on the wind, Andrew reveals the kinky undertones of Moby Dick, and we discuss duck penises. Again.
Happy New Ye! It’s 2018, and we’re frankly in disbelief that we’ve made it here alive, much less still podcasting. So it only makes sense to start the year by covering Kanye West, an artist whose made it his job to defy belief since the very beginning.
From his much-anticipated debut to an album that was finished in front of its own audience, the path of Kanye West from soul-sampling upstart to pop icon is wild and wooly, packed with unexpected detours and massive, genre-defining singles. But how do the albums themselves hold up in a post-Pablo world? And how on earth did Kanye get from sampling terrible Steely Dan songs to transforming Arthur Russell into a modern banger? Only Andrew’s suddenly hi-fi voice knows the truth. Also: Crispy Cothren debuts, Foil Cat returns, and a special surprise awaits potential reviewers.
If you are reading this, you have made it through this year, and it didn’t kill you, and dammit we’re all going to celebrate that fact. Of course, being a music podcast, we can only celebrate this occasion by doing what we do best—picking the albums of this year that helped us get here. So in this part two, we pick our most disappointing albums, our most surprising, and, yes, our Top 5 Albums of 2017. You’ll also hear even more returning guests revealing their own top fives, including a blast from our very distant past. So join us in salvaging the only things worth keeping from this blasted hellscape of a year, secure in the knowledge that we have survived, and that we may continue to survive, at least long enough to hear the next Guided By Voices album. Also: impersonations of dear friends, hardcore emotional realness, and the official sign of every song on Lorde’s Melodrama.
Thom looks awfully sad up there, and for good reason—2017, as a year, mostly served to prove that no dumpster fire is so heinous that it can’t be made even more dumpster-fiery. But because the universe is just packed with ironic twists, this was also one of the best years in music in recent memory (and not just because this was the year when your illustrious hosts first crashed on this awfully esoteric island). So, starting on this fine Saturnalia, we’re taking a break from our discographic discourse to look back at all the music that made existence just a little more bearable, even as the walls crumbled down around us.
The one issue with our format is that, while we get to explore so much music history in-depth, we rarely get to talk about all the contemporary artists that are making history right now. So there’s a lot of pent-up joy coming out in this episode, as we discuss top 40 surprises, the continued relevance of Flying Nun, and whether not having heard something really does make it new enough. And like any good Christmas special, we also take this time to look back at the work we’ve done, and even bring back a few fan-favorite guests to give us their take.
This episode, we go through podcasts past and our top five songs. Stay tuned next week for our top five albums!
This Waitsmas Finale is dedicated to Ralph Carney. Rest in peace buddy—wherever you are, I hope you’re playing a saxophone and bass clarinet at the same time, you incredible badass.
Can you hear the blind street urchins banging their garbage cans? The rabbit bones clattering through our drain pipes? The conjoined twins looming portraits of the damned on Broadway? Do you know what it all means folks? That’s right: Waitsmas day is upon us! We’ve finally reached the apex of the one true holiday season, and are celebrating in style by inviting recurring castaway/life and death of the party Andy McAlpine to gush our way through the second half of the Tom Waits oeuvre, from the dramatis personae of Franks Wild Years to the raucous collage of Bad As Me.
After the Kathleen Brennan-inspired madness of Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs established a new direction for Tom Waits, he embarked on some of the freest experimentation of his career, embracing industrial primitivism on the apocalyptic Bone Machine and a Burroughsian carnival on The Black Rider. It was a period where he took his newfound freedom into strange new places, creating strange works that would never be repeated again before. And then, with the impeccable Mule Variations, the Tom Waits sound was fully canonized, setting off his path into respected elder statesman. But while many icons go stale at that point, Tom continued to make incredible albums, and while his pace has slowed down the quality of it has been as high as ever.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying that this is one of our most enthusiastic episodes since Sleater-Kinney, a beer-fueled mirth-fest that’s as raucous and celebratory as Waitsmas day should be. It’s all about finding joy in the darkness, and we can’t think of a better way to cap off a year like this than by inviting you to join us here, in this cave, around this weird-smelling yet intoxicating fire we call Tom Waits. Pay no mind to the screaming. Also: Andrew dispels the myth of Coney Island, Andy gives the traditional Waitsmas presents, and Max dies at the end.
We’re going straight to the top, fellow Waitsmas celebrants! Or, at least, y’all are—Max is deathly ill and coughing all over this track. But we aren’t going to let a little thing like death get in the way of talking about one of the weirdest and most wonderful live films we’ve seen: Tom Waits’ Big Time. As the ersatz “t’s a Wonderful Life of the season, Big Time is an odd one, since its nearly impossible to find rather than everywhere always, but Waitsmas is all about making life a lot harder than it needs to be, right?
Filmed hot off the heels of his Franks Wild Years tour, dubbed by many to be his greatest ever, Big Time bucks the cinéma vérité style of films like Stop Making Sense for a more surreal, imagistic pastiche, blending live footage with odd, go-nowhere vignettes and singular fever dreams. It’s more “visual companion” than “concert film”, while still delivering some truly bone shakin’ performances from a band packed with all-time greats like Marc Ribot and Ralph Carney that tear through the material—all plucked from his post-Swordfishtrombones output—like a pack of drunken robot dogs. You heard me. Drunken robot dogs. Oh lord, I think the Mucinex is kicking in~~~~. Also: the heartbreak of modern dating apps, an extensive interlude on World of Tomorrow 2, and perhaps the only time anyone has ever compared Tom Waits to Madonna.
Merry Waitsmas drunks and drunkettes! Yes, tis the season when all islanders forsake God and turn their eyes to the gutter in worship of the one true king: Tom Waits. This week we’re flying guestless so we can get down and dirty with the first half of his career, watching as a Brill Building jazzbo blooms into some sort of horrifying junkyard scarecrow preacher man. If you’ve ever wondered what it sounds like when an iconoclast is still trying to find their voice, the line of albums from Closing Time to Rain Dogs is a good place to start. But it’s also filled with some of the most genuinely beautiful work of his career, packed with bawling ballads and jazzy improv that would fall to the wayside later in his career. So join us as we inaugurate the actual most wonderful time of the year, and maybe—just maybe—learn a little bit about ourselves. Also: Andrew seeks help for his Much Music fever dream, the Melvoin Alert returns, and we all hear the story of how baby Max met the reason for the season.
Can’t wait for Waitsmas? Neither can we, so we’re opening one of our presents early, only to discover that Grandma screwed up again and got us the wrong thing—a Tom Waits cover album, courtesy of Scarlett Johansson and Dave Sitek. Back in 2008, they came together to give us “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” the most baffling crossover vanity project of that innocent time before an evil land developer from an 80’s movie literally took the white house. But while “Actress Scarlett Johansson and TV on the Radio Member Dave Sitek Make an Album of Tom Waits Covers with Special Guest David Bowie” seems like a particularly hipster mad-lib from the outside, the result is actually surprisingly pleasant, and even—dare we say—a little dull.
Rather than taking the obvious route of Downtown Trains and Uptown Buses, “Anywhere I Lay My Head” is a collection of some real latter day deep cuts, the kind of playlist that belies a genuine fandom. And Sitek’s production is definitely a fresh take, turning each track into a sort of technicolor Julee Cruise dreamscape. But is that enough to make this a project worth revisiting? Also: The Beach vs. The Island, Subway gift card dilemmas, and several burps that Andrew really should’ve edited out.
CW: R*pe, Sexual Abuse
Need a big loan from the girl zone? Well this desert island has you covered, thanks to longtime castaway enthusiast (first-time castaway) Caroline Pendleton! With her anime-fueled determination, Max’s lifetime devotion, and Andrew’s generally pleasant demeanor, we have everything we need to cover the first half of the discography of songwriter/piano-bench humper Tori Amos. That’s right, we’re all Toriphiles now.
Tori Amos is sort of an anomaly in the music scene. She’s a classically-trained pianist who made her name writing lyrically and melodically dense albums, but she’s also a die-hard pop fan who was kicked out of music school for refusing to read sheet music. She’s boasts a dry wit and a fanciful streak a mile wide whose biggest hit was a dance remix of a harpsichord song that heavily features the line “starfucker/just like my daddy”. But for her diehard fanbase (of whom Caroline and Max count themselves a part), Tori Amos is quite simply one of the greatest songwriters of her era, and her discography is filled with wild experimentation, impeccable songcraft, and a bizarre penchant for soft-rock excess.
This week, we’re covering the first half of her extensive oeuvre, from her stark, piano-focused debut to the post-9/11 adult contemporary concept album Scarlet’s Walk. The albums she released in this period were some of her most creatively vibrant, establishing her as a force to be reckoned with even as she dipped in and out of the charts. And, of course, we tackle it with all the grace and aplomb you’ve come to expect from us—which is to say, none. Also: the place of Goth in our schools, the debut of the CureBerries, and a song for the Greg inside us all.
CW: R*pe, pedophilia, abuse, misogyny
We’ve taken down our Brand New episode because we no longer wish to have a document out there supporting the music of an abuser. This clip is a more in-depth explanation of our thoughts on the matter. We do not mean to erase our mistakes and pretend as if they never happened—we simply want to prevent those mistakes from hurting anymore people.
Here are some better written, more articulate pieces written about what happened, the toxic culture that supported it, and the people left in its wake:
“The Specific Betrayal of Brand New” by Zoe Camp: https://theoutline.com/post/2499/brand-new-sexual-harrassment-emo
“Unraveling the Sexism of Emo’s Third Wave” by Jenn Pelly: https://pitchfork.com/thepitch/unraveling-the-sexism-of-emos-third-wave/?mbid=homepage-more-latest-and-video
Are you ready to Free Fiona? Well, too bad—she’s already free, and has been for, like, 12 years. But that’s not gonna stop us from examining one of the strangest and, oddly, most controversial albums of her career: Extraordinary Machine. Both of them. Since the first, Jon Brion-produced version was held in limbo by Sony for so long, Fiona ended up re-recording the whole album from the ground up with part-time Dr. Dre collaborator Mike Elizondo for its official release. So with two significantly different versions of it in existence, Extraordinary Machine has long been a strange and divisive beast, which is why it was especially fun for us to dive in and dissect the successes and failures of these two disparate machines. Will we discover which producer is best? Or will we come to our senses and finally focus on the impeccable songcraft at the core of the album? Why not both? Also: Weird Al’s hot new single, the year of male consequence, and the shocking return of “Meet Me in Con-Talk.”
Feeling wistful in this winsome winter weather? Well so are we, faithful listener, which is why we’re dedicating our first full episode of November to one of our all-time favorite songwriters: Joanna Newsom. And thankfully, this harpists’ siren song was enough to drag three-time castaway and possible cave-dweller Andrew McAlpine back to the island, to give his own skewed perspective on her brief but incredibly deep discography.
As one of the only survivors of the short-lived and abominably-titled “freak folk” movement of the early-oughts, Joanna Newsom made a name for herself by taking what first seemed like a gimmick—her status as a classically-trained pedal-harp player—and turning it into a career packed with dense lyrical brambles, impeccably constructed song-craft, and her own divisive, inimitable chicken-fried-Björk singing voice. She’s a sentimental favorite of everyone on this episode, leading to a surprisingly contentious but heartfelt discussion of the four albums she’s written to date. It’s an episode packed with heartbreak and unlikely alliances, capped off with our very first letters section! Also: Max reveals the origin of her vendetta against Van Dyke Parks, Andy shills for the pleasures of suburban Western Mass, and Ryan Shea gets just super roasted for, like, no reason. He’s not even on the episode. Sorry Ryan.
We have no calendars or seasons or sense of the progression of time here on the island, but that’s not gonna stop us from celebrating what we’re told is Halloween. And for us, that means celebrating one of the spookiest soundtracks for one of the spookiest movies by one of the spookiest bands we could find: the Suspiria soundtrack by Goblin! A creepy combination of cacophonous ambience and straight up prog rock, this soundtrack is one of the most interesting—and listenable—horror movie soundtracks out there. And of course, we also delve into an in-depth discussion of Dario Argento’s surreal, visually stunning nightmare, which also just so happens to be Max’s favorite horror movie of all time. Also: occult psychology, the importance of razor wire rooms, and a celebration of national treasure Jessica Harper.
It’s time for Angstoberfest to bid a teary, mascara-stained farewell, but not before taking an extra melodramatic bow. So now, one week after covering the best (early-oughts) emo band of all time, we’re traveling to the flipside of the much derided sadness coin with the world’s best nü-metal band: Deftones. That’s right, this episode is all about how Max’s favorite no-longer-guilty-pleasure band slowly transformed from a bunch of So-Cal Korn fans into one of the foremost experimenters in a notoriously conservative genre. But are they really the Radiohead of metal? Or is that a stupid, lazy comparison made by a legion of hacks who don’t know how to talk about anything without referencing Radiohead and have probably never listened to any metal past Metallica’s black album? Sorry, I have a chip on my shoulder about this. Anyway, enjoy! In a sad way! Also: the death of compact discs, Grindr is magic, and the Tom Waits Advent Calendar.
The skies are dark across the heartland of the island, as we grieve the sudden death of Tom Petty. It’s a strange thing, when a musician whose work you take for granted as a constant source of joy and barroom camaraderie is suddenly taken—it forces you to reflect on just how much you came to love them. So its in that spirit that Max and Andrew have come together to celebrate America’s most jangly and least litigious musical genius, Tom Petty (& his ever loyal Heartbreakers). It’s our first and perhaps only episode examining a greatest hits compilation, but we think it’s worth it here, both as a means of approaching the breadth of his work and as a showcase for the incredible pop craftsmanship he showed throughout his career. So please join us on this genuine and enthusiastic celebration of Tom Petty, the one musician who it is literally impossible to hate, don’t even try. Also: a brief preview of our Deftones episode, Desert Island Discourse’s official stance on serial killers, and the new global standard for measuring Joy.
Did you hear? Twin Peaks is back! Or it was. It’s gone now. But dammit if Desert Island Discourse isn’t dedicated to stretching out nostalgia way past the bounds of what is good and reasonable. To that end, this week we’re branching out a bit, examining the Julee Cruise album Floating Into the Night and, by extension, the TV show that made such great use of its music—Twin Peaks. One of us has been obsessed with both for years, and the other was only exposed to either in the past few months, but somehow we find common ground in the love we share for this pristine slice of strange, reverb-laden dream pop, and its equally strange televised cousin. Also: the possible origin of fuckboys, Andrew’s irrational hatred of tote bags, and the remarkably well-casted content of Deputy Andy’s Balls.
Everybody loves the Beatles, right? Well not on this island—we’re as contrarian as ever here, mostly considering the legendary rock band with a meh and a hand wave. So in our typical iconoclastic style, we are jumping right over any discussion of the Beatles as a band to talk about the far more weird and ranging solo albums that the members released in its wake. From the homespun pop of McCartney’s solo debut to the schizophrenic art-pop of Lennon’s last album, the genre-diversity at the core of the Beatles was completely indulged in, for better and for worse. But which of the lovable lads from Liverpool will steal our 60’s hating hearts? Hint: it’s not Ringo. Also: cheese factors, the uncanny valley of repetition, and all our thoughts on God.
I have a confession to make, Deserteers, on this, the eve of our Beatles solo album episode: I have never listened to a John Lennon album. Due to a combination of apathy, youthful iconoclasm, and a deep-seated hatred of blue-eyed soul, I have managed to avoid his storied solo career for nearly three decades now. But that all changes today (well, technically a month ago, but play with me here), as, with the steady guidance of eccentric musicologist extraordinaire James Eidson, I venture to listen to his legendary album Plastic Ono Band for the first time. And what better way to first encounter a record than by drinking PBR and talking over it? Over the course of one full album play, we discuss John Lennon’s checkered past and the strange critical reputation of Plastic Ono Band in our classic aüdio vérité style, so you can hear every off-handed comment and argument about beer consumption. Also: terrible portraits of James Schuyler, the similarities between Dara Wier and Yoko Ono, and how Harry Nilsson is actually amazing, jeez James, come on.
Can you believe we’ve been trapped on this island nearly half a year, and never once discussed the beach or its titular boys? Well it’s about damn time we rectified that. So, with the help of return castaway/bearded bundle of joy Andy McAlpine, we’re going to take on one of the most legendary discographies we’ve yet encountered—The Beach Boys. The weird and wild world of the Wilson brothers is full of classics and clunkers, and on this episode we’re running the gamut of both, with a selection of albums ranging from the pure pop pleasures of The Beach Boys Today! to the lo-fi depths of Smiley Smile. In the process, we learn a lot about the glossed over depths of this band, the joys of life before and after Pet Sounds, and, of course, the epic heights of “Bull Session with ‘Big Daddy'”. Also: the world’s greatest box set, food party gender dynamics, and the perks of eating John Stamos.
In preparation for the sunny onslaught of our upcoming Beach Boys episode, we take a moment to discuss the troubled, oft-ignored beach brother — Dennis Wilson. Responsible for the surf vibes that permeated their early albums, the hard living beach bum of the family released the first solo album of the group, Pacific Ocean Blue, and was working on another (Bambu) when he tragically died in 1983. We’re talking about both today, as we examine these flawed yet fascinating tracks, shot through with a darkness and pathos that the Beach Boys only hinted at. It’s a brief episode about one man’s personal dissolution, although we somehow still find time to take jabs at the second best drummer in Foo Fighters. Also: suffocating prospectors, Andrew’s empty tummy, and the puzzling state of the Depeche Mode fandom.
Welcome back, punks and punkettes! We’ve received yet another castaway on the island, drummer and punk rock dad extraordinaire Chris Pagnani, and we’re welcoming him the only way we know how—with spiky hair and outdated weed references. That’s right, we’re covering those west coast bad boys made good, Green Day! From their earnest and humble beginnings through multiple cries of “sellout!” and all the way to their millennial political makeover, we cover the career of one of music’s most enduring punk institutions and, in the process, learn a little about ourselves. But in a cool, hardcore way. Also: sock hops, Fuck Time, and the Vegas odds on Max’s capricious heart.
Ladies, Gentlemen, Genderqueers: it is going down. Ever since they heard our lukewarm treatment of King of Limbs back in the Radiohead episode, the Walnut Desk boys have been itchin’ for a fight with your Desert Island pals to defend its honor. And on Saturday the weird fishes finally came home to roost, in a raucous hour of…well, actually rather civil conversation. Andrew even warmed up to the album a little. But will three good-natured bearded men be enough to convince Max that King of Limbs isn’t actually Radiohead’s worst album? Stay tuned for the thrilling answer! Also: DrummersTM, the pathos of Korn scatting, and Phil?!
Well we’ve made it folks—Desert Island Discourse has hit episode 25. And now that the island is officially old enough to rent a car, we figured the best way to celebrate is with our favorite bunch of screaming, pseudonymic songsmiths: Animal Collective. As one of the first bands that opened up Max and Andrew’s baby brains to the wonders of weird music, Animal Collective has long held a sweet, unique place in our hearts. So of course our attempt to trace their lineage from weird pop solo project to, uh, weird pop group project (with a lot of strangeness in between, we promise) resulted in a full two hours of gushing, tangents, and terrible, terrible puns, as well as the most insufferable installment of “Pitchfork Said it Worst” yet. Also: Max learns the difference between Blues Traveller and Collective Soul, Andrew throws foil at a cat, and we learn Avey Tare’s secret recipe for almond butter.
Welcome to the first B-Side of our brand new schedule! You’re gonna be seeing a lot more of these from us now, so it’s fitting that we start with one of the best albums we’d never be able to cover otherwise: the Neutral Milk Hotel classic In The Aeroplane, Over The Sea. In the process, we examine its legacy and give a platform to Andrew’s Anne Frank-less interpretation of an album that’s so entrenched with lore and history that it’s hard to remember how great the songs themselves are. It’s a rambling conversation full of surprises, for an album that deserves nothing less! Also: horrible singing, jerky old friends, and the humble origins of Desert Island Discourse.
It’s been a long, angsty few weeks here at the island. In the midst of myriad work stresses, life changes, bad albums (from the former occupant of this slot), and, of course, the sad loss of Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington. When it came time to record this episode, your good good music pals were in pretty rough shape indeed.
But then, what better condition to be in to celebrate the music of Linkin Park? The band that was there for us when hormones and the dark conditions of mental health and middle school put us in a bad way, and who over the years managed to transform that rap-rock angst into anthemic power ballads, experimental electronica, and, most recently, EDM influence pop music, all while remaining at the top of the charts for nearly two decades. We start the episode one step closer to the edge, and it nearly breaks us. But with the help of Linkin Park, we’re breaking the habit and…well, I’m all out of useable titles, but the episode is good!
And speaking of breaking the habit, there are gonna be some changes on the island in the near future. As I mentioned, life changes have been taking their toll, and weekly episodes just aren’t as feasible as they were back when we were both unemployed/semi-employed. So, we’re moving the standard episodes, the A-Sides, to a bi-weekly (Semi-weekly? It’ll be every two weeks) schedule, and we’ll be releasing B-Sides on the off weeks. So you’ll still be getting weekly episodes from us, they just won’t all be discography focused. This schedule goes into effect as of now, so look forward to a cool new B-Side next Monday, and come back in two weeks for our highly-anticipated Animal Collective episode!
Wellp, it happened again—due to a combination of audacity and human error, our Aphex Twin episode has been lost to time. But that’s ok—every podcast worth their salt needs a lost episode, and now we have one to take the place of our old lost episode, which has recently been salvaged from the bleached coral depths of our fateful island! That’s right, our original Sleater-Kinney episode, recorded way back in the fateful Month of Love and Hate, is finally seeing the light of day. Now you can hear me fangirl out over Carrie Brownstein’s guitar playing/hair all over again! Andrew has many nice things to say about Janet Weiss and Corin Tucker too.
It’s not quite like our typical episodes—while I’ve edited out the long silences and managed to put in music (almost all of which is different from the music in our official episode—yes, Sleater-Kinney is just that good!), all the tangents and digressions we usually edit out for the sake of focus have been left in. In addition, my audio is kinda of weird and glitchy throughout, although it’s still (mostly) understandable. So it’s a longer, messier episode, but frankly I think that just adds to its charm. I’ve always been really proud of what we did in this episode, and was super bummed that we weren’t able to release it. So I’m glad we could finally post up this lo-fi rarity for your listening pleasure. Enjoy! Also: Led Zeppelin shirts, Fraggle Rock covers, and one of the most elaborate Sesame Street jokes ever laid to tape.
In our second ever B-Side, Andrew and Max get together and struggle with the existential dread of Laurie Anderson’s masterful track, “O Superman (For Massenet)”, and get really, really dark in the process.
“O Superman (For Massenet)” is a weird track for a lot of reasons. It’s an excerpt from a 6 hour long conceptual opera that hit number 2 on the charts. It’s a masterful piece of music written by someone best known for her performance art. It’s an 8 minute long track with no chorus or verse made with just a vocoder and a synth. It literally laughs at you. But most of all, it’s a work of art capable of evoking emotions I rarely associate with music—fear, fatalism, that heavy, sinking feeling.
It’s a lot to take in, frankly, which is why we had to dedicate a whole B-Side to just discussing its weight. In the process, we delve into the fears in our own lives, be it our personal rock bottom, the fallout of 9/11, or the simple question of how to respond to an uncaring universe. But we also talk about mocking young conservatives and a mythical world where Tarkovsky directs Napoleon Dynamite, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
We’ll do an episode dedicated to Laurie Anderson’s wide and fascinating body of work some day, but for the time being, I hope you enjoy this weird, brief, personal discussion on O Superman.
“O Superman (For Massenet)”—Laurie Anderson
“O Superman (For Massenet)”—Moses Sumney
We’ve had a good time with Bob Pollard over these last three weeks, but alas, every Julyded by Voices month must one day come to an end. Fret not though, for we’re celebrating the holiday’s end with Guided by Voices new beginning, exploring the 8 (!) albums they’ve released since reforming back in 2012. Yep, Bob brought the classic boys back together again, and we’re here to guide you through their awkward first steps, their power pop triumphs, and eventual re-dissolution. And the story doesn’t even end there, as we continue through a mysterious “solo” album and a massive double album monument from a reformed hi-fi lineup. How do these myriad forms of Guided by Voices stand up to their past selves? Well, it’s messy, but it’s also marvelous, much like this episode, which left quite a few PBR tall boys in its wake. Also: winking poets, parental beer snobs, silver badgers, and the debut of Desert Island Dinner tips!
The chaotic weather patterns of Julyded by Voices month have shipwrecked another guest on the island—fortunately, that guest is poet, actor, and Guided by Voices superfan Andrew McAlpine! That’s right, we have double the bearded Andrews on board to guide us through GBV’s wild and wooly hi-fi era. Spanning multiple lineups and a bevy of labels, this era is commonly seen as the moment when Bob Pollard lost his way, ditching the lo-fi charm of their classic albums for a more commercial sheen. Yet it also sees the band experimenting with their sound like never before, and the end result is an eccentric collection of highs and lows that produced some of the most interesting (and highest charting) albums of their career. With the help of Andy’s jovial, moderating presence, we take on a divisive set of albums, and find far more jewels than we expected. Also: Controversial Opinions, Doug Gillard’s Extraneous Solos, and plenty of new stickers to help those albums fly off the shelves!
For more Andrew McAlpine, check out http://www.andrew-mcalpine.com/!
Bet you didn’t think you’d be seeing us again so soon eh? Well this time we’re trying out something new here at the island. Don’t worry: the main series is going to continue being the same sprawling, discography devouring experience you all know and love. But albums are so much more than just an entry in a longer line: they’re independent experiences, a web of relationships, fandom, and artistry that’s worth exploring in its own right. So for our new series, which we’re calling “B-Sides”, we’ll be bringing in a guest to talk about one specific album—not just as its own work, but as a piece of art in their lives. What do these songs inspire in an individual? What does this album mean in your specific life? Music is always a personal thing, and this is our chance to really explore what that means.
For our first B-Side, we’re talking about Same Place the Fly Got Smashed (from our Guided by Voices Lo-Fi episode) with poet, musician, and raconteur James Eidson. In the process, we discuss our shared country origins, shifting perceptions of middle age, and, of course, fleshlights. It’s like My Dinner with Andre, only excessively drunk. Enjoy!
Order for the New Slave Trade
It’s that time again, when we join together with family and friends to celebrate our proud heritage, shared love, and spirit of independence. That’s right, it’s Julyded by Voices month! For our latest poorly named and hurriedly invented holiday, we’re dedicating the next three weeks to national Tascam heroes Guided by Voices. This week we focus on the lo-fi era, when Bob Pollard and his Band of Merry Men emerged from the alcohol soaked basements of Ohio and into the hearts and minds of indie-loving Americans everywhere. Also: Brain Shortages, Max Tape Tips, and an extended stinger about fleshlights.
Welcome back to the island! Have you ever heard of a band called Pygmy Lush? Well I hadn’t, so they were new to me! That’s right, “If I Haven’t Heard it it’s New to Me Fortnight” (a.k.a IIHHIINTMF, or “Eehintimef” for short) is coming to close with a brief but dense discussion of these hardcore-veterans-turned-ambient-folkies. With only three and a half albums to their name, they managed to surprise this jaded, unfeeling woman, and we think you’ll get a kick out of em too. Also: James Buchanan Fun Facts, the Only Good Nirvana Cover, and some very frank talk about hormonally induced boobs.
It’s summer here on the island, so we’re reviving ABC’s old justification for reruns to justify our own experimental indulgence and telling each other, “If I haven’t heard it, it’s new to me!” This week is kicking off a two week special where Andrew and Max each bring in an artist the other hasn’t heard of, and Max is starting us off with one of the most unpredictable bands in post-punk, Japan’s own P-Model! Modern day composer Susumu Hirasawa’s post-punk passion project went through a lot of changes over its 20 year existence, and we’re covering perhaps it’s most tumultuous period, from 1979’s Devo-biting debut In a Model Room to the baroque synth-pop of 1986’s One Pattern. In-between, we’ll journey through goofy atonality, reverb heavy no-wave, gorgeous Cure style ballads, and Art of Noise-esque sound collages. But will this island import tickle Andrew’s fancy? Probably! I mean, they’re a real good band. Also: music hipster dick measuring contests, the varied works of Satoshi Kon, and just so, so much poorly pronounced/translated Japanese.
It’s been a tumultuous week in Great Britain, and we’re reaching out to our fellow island dwellers the only way we know how: by talking about a bunch of albums for, like, 90 minutes. Specifically, we’re covering possibly the strangest, cleverest, and Englishest band to come out of the British Invasion: The Kinks! Long beloved by Andrew, occasionally confused for the Monkees by Max, the long running project of the Brothers Davies took us on quite a journey as we explored their first 11 albums. But will the snarky charms of Sir Raymond and Double Dave be enough to win out over a bad-blues-cover laden start and one of the worst concept albums ever recorded? Also: the dangers of nostalgia, uncomfortable Frank Zappa confessions, and the most anyone has ever talked about classic Tony Danza film She’s Out of Control
-It’s been a pretty emotional week here on the island, as Max revisits one of her favorite bands (and the creators of her go-to breakup album)—Slowdive. Her diehard shoegaze fandom meets Andrew’s general shoegaze apathy as they tackle the brief yet fascinating discography of the only band Richey Edwards ever dubbed “worse than Hitler,” and find some surprising common ground in the lush pop anthems therein. Will this be the band that finally convinces Andrew of the glories of pedalboards? Will Max ever get over her totally real Canadian ex-girlfriend? And what does any of this have to do with ReBoot?
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a visitor to these distant desert shores, but we couldn’t ask for a better co-castaway than poet, cover artist, and general raconteur Haley Rene Thompson, who’s joining us to talk about one of the world’s most underrated supergroups: The Breeders. Over four albums and 28 years (!), Kim and Kelley Deal’s eccentric and electric indie-pop-punk-whatever group has released a body of music that defies expectation and explanation, but that’s not gonna stop us from trying to analyze the shit out of these fantastic tracks. Join us on this rough and wild journey through the deepest realms of songcraft, twin-speak, and staying up way past out bedtimes. Also: Andrew becomes the perfect parent, Haley compares Kim to a Japanese modernist, and Max gets kicked off her own dang podcast.
Rising from the ashes of catastrophic technical issues comes this, our first ever re-done episode. After our first attempt in the Month of Love and Hate was devoured by Audacity’s hideous maw, we had to let the fields lay fallow for a bit, but we’re coming back stronger and more in love than ever, to finally cover America’s Greatest Rock Band™—Sleater-Kinney. For the second time in our lives but the first in yours, we’re celebrating the storied discography of Carrie Brownstein, Corrin Tucker, Janet Weiss, and occasionally Laura MacFarlane, one of the very few we’ve encountered with nary a bummer disc in the bunch. So join Andrew and Max as they dish on the great hair and even greater chops of one of our favorite bands that we’ve ever discussed. Again. Also: Van Zandt Bandannas, the New Flesh, and another installment of Concert Report!
Put on your plain white tees and asymmetrical haircuts boys and girls—it’s time to get emo! That’s right, for our second survey episode we’re covering American Emo from 1995 to 1999—the era when emo went from a weepy offshoot of hardcore to a commercial juggernaut. And as puberty often is, this period is defined by plenty of awkward fumbling and experimentation, from the swirling post-hardcore of Sunny Day Real Estate to the quiet filigrees of American Football. It’s a difficult journey of self-discovery for the Desert Island Duo, but one with some rich rewards waiting for us at the end. Also: good and evil Kinsella brothers, catfished truckers, and the surprising connection between corn on the cob and Animal Collective.
Wellp, the Desert Island duo has really fallen into the old obscurity hole with this one, an examination of the career of a man best known for soundtracking an early Nickelodeon show. That’s right, today we’re covering the one and only Mark Mulcahy, from the early post-punk musings of his first band Miracle Legion through The Adventures of Pete and Pete and well into a solid if inconsistent solo career, all in a quest to turn one of our most beloved songsmiths into the household name he so richly deserves to be. But can their sheer enthusiasm defeat Skype lag, lack of sleep, and widespread public indifference? Don’t worry—rock and roll never dies, Thunderball. Also: exhaustion, heartbreak, and the Guardians of the Galaxy/Cruel Intentions slashfic you’ve always wanted.
Hey y’all! Did you know that Kendrick Lamar is like, really good? He’s so good. So as we emerge from cruelest month, hunched over and blinking in the light, it only makes sense that we do so with one of the most impeccable discographies we’ve ever tackled. Will our Desert Island Duo be able to pick just one of his incredible works to cherish in their exile? Well, I mean, we have to—that’s the whole premise. Also: Failed jokes, lawyer taunts, and spiteful jabs at Geraldo Rivera
We’ve finally reached the end of our turbulent month of Hate and more Hate, and we’re capping it off with perhaps our most contentious episode yet, as Max subjects Andrew to her beloved Lifter Puller and its much more successful sequel, The Hold Steady—both the creations of one Craig Finn. Across this meandering tale of shock, awe, and despair, we work through problematic faves and drink more whisky than ever before in a desperate attempt to bridge the sudden taste gap that has separated Max and Andrew for lo these past two weeks. Will Max ever be able to convince Andrew to give in to the Finn? Judging by the number of sick burns delivered, the prognosis is not good. Also: In-Depth Lore Reviews, American Idiots, and the Many Deaths of Andrew Cothren.
We’re back from our extended, technical difficulty fueled hiatus with just one important question: are you ready to feel the steel? I certainly wasn’t—I found it very unpleasant. But thanks to Andrew, our Month of Love and Hate continues with those smoothest of jazz dads, the one and only Steely Dan. Will these bitter perfectionists be the wedge the splits the island in twain? Or will Max finally see the light and embrace her inner dad? Either way, 12,000 Grammy voters can’t be wrong! Also: angry affirmations, surprising samples, and even more Mountain Goats.
Wow. Just, wow. What started as a joke and soon evolved into a grim death march has finally reach its fruition as the strange artifact you see before you, a frenzied message in a bottle from two lost souls desperate for solace. That’s right: this week, we’re covering the entire discography of the famous San Jose chin beard models, Smash Mouth. And if you think the Smash Mouth legacy begins and ends with “All Star”, oh God, do we have a horrific surprise for you. Join us as we take you on a journey from their ska, rap, and personal harassment-based origins through Christmas albums, Justin Bieber tributes, and an honest to goodness EDM collab. Will we make it through with our souls intact? No. No we won’t. Also: puka shell necklaces, actual and legitimate screaming, and our new film: The Ramones vs. The Mummy’s Curse!
It’s been a heady month for the castaways this March, as we weathered a self-inflicted hurricane of tours and two-parters that (vaguely) threatened to drown us. But the end is in sight, and who better to shepherd us through this all-consuming fury than famed storm-chaser Phil Elverum? Join us as we finish our deep dive into his discography with the wild and wide-ranging works of Mount Eerie. In the process, your hosts will swing from measured singer-songwriter talk to ecstatic joy to utter speechlessness, in what is quite possibly our most epic episode yet. Also: plenty of cowboy talk, Max’s Monologue Moment, and more pained sighs per minute than ever before!
Ravaged by tour strife and the rigors of funemployment, your beleaguered hosts call upon their deepest inner resources (and the magic healing powers of whisky) to steady themselves for another epic two parter—an exploration of the wild and ranging works of Phil Elvrum/Elverum. Luckily, we’re starting small, with the four official studio albums that make up the discography of that late, great early Elvrum project, the Microphones. But beset on all sides by despair, distortion, and the Big Black Death, will even this small task prove too much for Max and Andrew? Judging by the 45 minutes of drunken rambling we cut from the episode, the answer is “probably.” Also: The rise and fall of Incubus, DRUMS DRUMS DRUMS, and a brief discussion of Mac McCaughan’s relative chunkiness
Well, it happened—we posted a late episode. Roughly three days late, which is quite a delay. There wasn’t much that could be done about it (since I was editing it, the file was at the mercy of several unreliable Austin internet connections, none of which were super capable of uploading such a large file). In penance (and maybe as a sort of exorcism), here are the collected notes for both episodes—9235 words over the course of 16 albums. I can’t promise there’s anything enlightening here; again, this more about offering a peek into the process of researching for these episodes. But if you’re curious, this is what happens when an over-caffeinated Mountain Goats fan is given two weeks to ramble. Enjoy?
Your desert island girl is on tour, and you know what that means: late episodes, loose editing, and a whole lot of Mountain Goats flavored discourse! Our exhausted but generally amiable hosts finish up their exploration of the Mountain Goats mammoth discography by covering all 9 albums that make up the hi-fi era so far. From the shaky yet atmospheric Tallahassee to the triumphant wrestle mania (unofficial) of Beat the Champ, we chart the path of these indie folk stalwarts from one man and a boombox to three men, a variety of actual producers, and relative stardom. Also: rare tracks, tales from the road, and 100% fewer dildos!
a.k.a. no please andrew don’t make me type this
Get your special shoes on, castaways—it’s time to tackle the epic heights of that most indelible of indie institutions, The Mountain Goats. Faced with a discography of 15 albums and counting (keep an eye out for Goths!), your desert island duo are approaching this task the only way they know how—by dividing, labeling, classifying, and (hopefully) conquering. Thus, we begin our story with the works of John Darnielle and his trusty boombox, covering his pre-Vanderslice works from Zopilote Machine to All Hail West Texas. Will this massive undertaking be the strain that finally tears the island apart? Can a lo-fi girl from Texas win out against a hi-fi city boy? And will there be any peanuts waiting for us at the end? Find out in our latest thrillingly folksy installment of Desert Island Discourse.