New-to-me music for the rest of my unemployment

A few months ago I commented on a friend’s Facebook page that he should check out the new Longwave album. He gently reminded me that the album wasn’t new; it came out last year. He went on to suggest what the college-aged Norm would have said, were someone to dare refer to an album not released in the last two hours as new. The exact words he put in my mouth elude me. But they were definitely snide, music snob that I was. And in those days, I would’ve followed them with something like…

That album sucks anyway. You need to find their first release from before they got popular and started getting played on the radio. It’s an import-only. And they recorded it before their singer got off the smack. That’s their best album. That’s the one you should pick up.


That album sucks anyway. If you want to hear something good, check out band X. They just recorded a 5-song EP on a 4-track in the bass player’s mom’s cousin’s uncle’s basement garage storage space. They only printed 100 cassettes. And they only sell them at shows to real fans. They’re gonna be huge. [By “huge” I was destined to mean that nobody would ever give a crap, and they’d go on to bag groceries or ride a desk like everybody else.]

The Facebook exchange reminded me that I’m not that young music fan anymore. I’m not even up on the latest music – once a point of pride with me. My priorities have changed. “New” as a music descriptor doesn’t matter as much as “new-to-me.”

But I’ve been in a music slump this summer. Even the new-to-me hasn’t seemed all that interesting. My CD buying has tailed off, what with the unemployment and all. People forward me albums, which sit in folders on my desktop, un-listened to. Even eMusic‘s suggestions haven’t excited me much. Only when wifey commandeers the stereo, and then only when she plays something other than David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” might I be exposed to some new-to-me music.

My music listening hasn’t tailed off one bit. I seem to crave my all-time favorites more than ever. Certain albums connect me to a specific time and place, or, more importantly, a feeling. Some of these albums come from my youth and were first released on a player piano roll; the Pet Shop Boys get a lot of airplay around the apartment, as do The Church.  Some albums are more current – like The Clientele’s “The Violet Hour.” Either way, I’ve heard these albums a hundred thousand times. Every word and every note is familiar. There are no surprises. I know what they sound like, and I know how they make me feel.

This weird lack of curiosity extends to the news as well. It’s been that way since the layoff. I just don’t care that much about the constantly changing. I have a theory as to why this all is. Unemployment breeds uncertainty… about my career, paying bills, having children, life in general. And uncertainty in some aspects of life pushes me toward familiar and comforting things. In the face of upheaval, I crave stability. So I ignore the news. So I keep playing old Church and Pet Shop Boys albums.

A few weeks ago, something changed. We were cruising down a Canadian highway, somewhere in Quebec province, and entering our fifth straight hour of 80s music on XM. We’d heard every one-hit wonder’s other single – “Pop Goes The World,” “Promises, Promises,” “Kyrie,” you name it. All the Duran Duran and Whitesnake actually started my mullet growing back. I’d had enough… probably too much. It was time for something else.

Since then, I’ve been enjoying many great new-to-me albums. Some I discovered on one of the other XM stations. Some were already sitting dormant on my iPod. And some of them are almost new [gasp!]. My younger, hipper, indier-er than thou self would be so proud. Here is but a sampling of the sounds gracing my ears in recent weeks…

Bowerbirds – Upper Air
Ever wish Iron & Wine, Great Lake Swimmers or Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy would liven things up a bit? Maybe you like your depressing folk music to be a bit dancier. Well, here you go.

The Broken West – Now Or Heaven
Wow, can these guys write a pop song. I have wifey to thank for introducing me to this. And she has me to thank for burning the songs into her cerebral cortex from repeated listens. Seems like a fair trade.

Desolation Wilderness – New Universe
Dreamy and atmospheric… but won’t put you to sleep like Galaxie 500.

Here We Go Magic – Here We Go Magic
Catchy melodies that devolve into experimentalism. I like it, but I don’t know really what to make of it.

Jets Overhead – No Nations
Secret Machines-lite… from Canada, where everybody is just a little happier.

Metric – Fantasies
Ladytron meet The Sounds. The Sounds meet Ladytron. It’s cold, emotion-less music for summer cruising in the convertible with the top down. That is, if you have a convertible, or a car stereo, or, uh, summer.

The Most Serene Republic – …And The Ever Expanding Universe
The Most Serene Republic borders on The Polyphonic Spree and Mercury Rev. There supreme ruler has banned all drugs but surrounded himself with interesting orchestration. So things don’t get nearly as wacky here as they do in neighboring states.

Passion Pit – Manners
It’s a happy dance party in your living room, or at least in your headphones. But maybe not in your pants. For that, try Junior Senior or Cut Copy.

Rhett Miller – Rhett Miller
The Old 97’s guy is still around. This album is solid singer-songwriter fare, with a country-ish tinge. It’s pretty okay for what it is. But I get the feeling Rhett can’t decide what to do with the rest of his life but also knows the job market is crappy for low-level rockstars.

We Were Promised Jetpacks – These Four Walls
Is the band name clever or just trying to be clever? Either way, pop punk just sounds better when Scottish guys sing it. It’s a little like Ballboy without the sense of humor.

Wye Oak – The Knot
Pop songs with guitar noise… what’s not to like?

Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars. Unless you’re in a convertible and going under a low overpass.

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  1. amanda wrote:

    I never, ever play “Let’s Dance.” Bowie, yes. “Let’s Dance,” no.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  2. Jon wrote:

    So well said about the music “snobbery” and listening to the same, comfortable stuff over and over rut. The first quote about finding the first album distinctly reminds me of a conversation that I had a little over 20 years ago about the Happy Mondays and how “lame” my friend was because he was unaware of their first ep. which, of course, I deemed far superior to their first album.

    I’ll have to check out the music listed here since we seem to have similar tastes. If you want to revisit an old band that is creating stuff in the present, check out the new Clan of Xymox album. Really quite good. Also, I was watching some of the stuff from the Glastonbury Festival on TV and some of the stuff is definitely worth getting. Check it out.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

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