Nostalgia Check: Pete Yorn and Sum 41

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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.

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B-Side: Mark Hollis

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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.

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B-Side: Life Without Buildings

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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.

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B-Side: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

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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.

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Nostalgia Check: The Offspring and The Postal Service

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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.

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B-Side: Singles Going Steady by The Buzzcocks

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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.

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B-Side: Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? by The Unicorns

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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.

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B-Side: All Nerve by The Breeders

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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

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B-Side: Goths by The Mountain Goats

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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.

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B-Side: World of Echo

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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.

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B-Side: 2017 Year in Review Pt. 1

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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!

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B-Side: Tom Waits’ Big Time

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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.

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B-Side: Julee Cruise and Twin Peaks

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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.

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B-Side: Dennis Wilson

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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.

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B-Side: The Great King of Limbs Debate with The Walnut Desk

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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?!

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B-Side: O Superman (For Massenet)

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TW: Abuse

“Hi Mom”

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.

Links:

“O Superman (For Massenet)” Music Video
Laurie Anderson reflects on 9/11

Music:

“O Superman (For Massenet)”—Laurie Anderson
“O Superman (For Massenet)”—Moses Sumney

B-Side: Same Place the Fly Got Smashed with James Eidson

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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!

Music:

Order for the New Slave Trade

Pendulum

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