I was one of those fools who paid nine dollars a month only to spend hours flipping through netflix. Twice. With the tiny amount of pop culture I actually absorb, I can never see myself paying for any streaming service. My exception: Spotify. Sure, it’s just another in a long string of internet companies that either doesn’t pay its employees or artists nearly enough, but the world is filled with enough true evil to not have to adjudicate every minuscule action one takes. Without mindless TV shows or movies, I leaned heavily into the re-discovered music of the pandemic.
Largely locked away at home for over a year, music, always a staple in my studio, become doubly important. This past year, I’ve been able to reconnect with some great albums I hadn’t listened to in ages. And these albums are so good. So here’s some highlights of the music of the pandemic:
Holly Golightly – Truly She is None Other – 2003
There are certain things you never forget about certain old flames. The first time she flashes that warm smile aimed directly at you, the places you’d go, the fucked up yet fun conversations you’d have at 4am, the arguments, the makeups. And of course the music. Truly She is No Other is one of those albums that can take me back to a great time of wild drama and stupid fun.
“Holly’s tunes tend to make the same three points as most torch, blues, and country songs: (a) you’re no good, she’s glad you’re gone, and she might possibly be plotting some form of revenge; (b) she’s no good, you’d better get going, and you’d better stay out of her way; and (c) she’s no good, you’re no good, and maybe that’s why she can’t live without you. You’d be surprised how those stories never get old.”Pitchfork
Rediscovering this album brought me back to a lot of fun places and times, and Holly’s voice, verbal warnings, and odes to the tenuous nature of love keeps this one a classic.
The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come for Free – 2004
In the middle of a short lived yet vivid romance, it was after a long night painting in my studio that I found out she and I had the exact same feelings about this album. Normally, naturally found common interests is one of the best things in a relationship. But this album, full of distrust, dating, breakups, good luck and bad fortune probably should’ve been a sign for the both of us. But, youth takes chances, no matter how inexplicable.
This concept? album grinds through the minutia of a normal guy trying to make it through a few days. It’s complete all the highs and lows of friendships, dating and the daily grind can produce. It hits its mark so many times its hard not to put it on heavy rotation for a while. After losing touch for a long time, it was great to run back into this old friend of an album.
Pigface – Washingmachine Mouth – 1993
A few fellow painters and I have always talked about the months after wrapping up work for a big show. Exhausted, seemingly out of energy, sleep deprived and yearning for a break always leads to the most interesting and fun new work. Ideas, thoughts and dumb visions you couldn’t fit into the previous body of work all of a sudden come alive and rise to the surface. The end result may ultimately be unusable, but it always pushes work forward and new territory is found when you reach out into those weird places after you push yourself hard enough.
Washingmachine Mouth is one of those efforts, produced musically. Fook, one of Pigface’s most polished albums complete with heavy hooks, big beats and an even larger star studded cast of musicians, was one of my favorite albums in high school/college. Washingmachine Mouth was a follow up EP, released within a year of the larger project. It stripped down songs, created new beat and rhythms by sampling itself and adding spaced out loops, and built an entirely new mood on a set of songs that never needed rearranging. A few new songs anchor the large collection of remixed grooves. It’s an often forgotten album, but to me its an essential look into the work and mindset of a band of moving pieces that was in its apex.
This album became my defacto music of the pandemic for my daily walks.
Fiery Furnaces – EP – 2005
I just realized three of the albums on this list are EPs. This one plays as a full length album, and its fucking delicious. Released just six months after their great Blueberry Boat album, it’s the sounds of a band that starts to combine everything into perfect harmony. Some of the best song to song transitions keep a breathless momentum building between the fantastic lyrics and the elegance of the upbeat, almost pop driven rhythms.
The whole album feels like being on a wonderful roller coaster ride while on vacation. The lyrics and beats and times fluctuating at a moment’s notice. From the opening song ‘Single Again’ to the pop ‘Tropical Ice-land’ to the back to back delights of ‘Duffer St George’ and ‘Smelling Cigarettes’ create a world I want to live in all the time.
Built to Spill/Caustic Resin – EP – 1995
Built to Spill teamed up with Caustic Resin to produce a wonderful, long forgotten album. This EP was always a solid member of the rotation my albums, but was never the star. It does some tremendous heavy lifting in its four songs. By the time the long and almost mournful intro of ‘When Not Being Stupid is Not Enough’ hits its first lyric, the mood of fascinating soft regrets and understated resentments creates a memorable mark.
Built to Spill’s jams move into a more concise format by Caustic Resin. The beauty of ‘She’s Real’ walks a line between 90s alternative grit then switches to the naive wonder of the best of 60s pop love songs. It’s a fascinating breakup song that ends half drunk, giddy, and yearning for more. Built to Spill’s next two albums were complete classics, so they were able to build off this album’s gains.