With graduation coming up this weekend, I can’t help but get nostalgic about the past several years and all that I’ve gone through. I’ve made a bunch of great friends, learned some things and listened to a crazy amount of music. So much so that it’s hard to remember everything, even the things that I really liked at the time. I’ve written about a lot of different music while working for WPGU, so I did some digging through old playlists with the intent of finding old favorites that I’d forgotten. Most of this music meant a great deal to me at some point in my life, so bear with me as I wipe the dust off some old favorites and maybe you’ll find something to connect with like I did so many years ago.
1. The Feelies – “Moscow Nights”
Surprising for what is, at their core, a guitar band, the constant jangling guitars on The Feelies’ debut album, Crazy Rhythms, are probably the least interesting part of the record. While they are usually hammering on one or two chords per song, the unusual percussion and intriguing vocals take center stage and really elevate the album from a simple post-punk record into a true classic. Crazy Rhythms was recorded without a conventional drum set and the inventive use of auxiliary percussion gives the album a one of a kind sound.
2. Destroyer – “The Bad Arts”
Dan Bejar has always been my favorite of the multiple singers from The New Pornographers, so when I discovered his solo project, Destroyer, way back when, I instantly fell in love. Bejar has a knack for mixing clever and often beautiful lyrics with lush arrangements and catchy melodies. On “The Bad Arts,” he repeats “You’ve got the spirit/don’t lose the feeling,” reworking the classic outro from Joy Division’s “Disorder” from desperate psychosis to a reassuring mantra. Destroyer’s work is filled with these kinds of lyrical tricks and one can lose hours piecing through the numerous references and allusions littered throughout his music. I know I have.
3. The Morning Benders – “Chasing A Ghost”
When I was a kid and heard “New Slang” for the first time, like many others, I was immediately obsessed. I needed to hear more like it and, luckily, there was no shortage of imitators in the mid 2000s. Is “Chasing A Ghost” as good as “New Slang”? Not even close. But it scratches the same itch and it carries some fond memories of my earliest days of music discovery, so I’m glad I managed to dig this one up.
4. The Olivia Tremor Control – “Jumping Fences”
My discovery of The Olivia Tremor Control is directly related to my early obsession with fellow Elephant 6 project, Neutral Milk Hotel. Despite the fact that I was hoping for something as captivating as In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, I still found some enjoyment from the sunny psychedelia of The Olivia Tremor Control. Though their albums tend to get bogged down by extended sound experiments, when the band stuck to making straight-forward pop tunes, they managed to craft short songs packed with infectious melodies.
5. The Joggers – “Wicked Light Sleeper”
The Joggers have always been a difficult band for me to get a handle on. Their songs can be catchy, but more often than not they’re too complex to have anything more than a small segment really stick. But what does stick is the virtuosic playing and incredible tightness on songs that sound like they’re only seconds from completely falling apart. It’s indie rock at its finest and both of their albums are heavily stacked with great tunes.
6. The American Analog Set – “Where Have All the Good Boys Gone”
From Our Living Room to Yours is a difficult album to sell. Not because it’s hard to listen to, quite the opposite really, but because after the first several listens, you remember almost nothing about what you just listened to. It’s quiet and unobtrusive, but after many repetitions, the depth of the album slowly reveals itself. The spacious arrangements, perfect guitar tone, dreamy organs and hushed vocals quietly make themselves known and the more often I’ve listened, the more I’ve come to love the album.
7. Talk Talk – “Ascension Day”
The most interesting thing about Talk Talk is their evolution from synth-pop hit makers to post rock legends over the span of their 10 year career. After writing radio friendly songs for their first few albums, including “It’s My Life” which was famously covered by No Doubt, the band completely changed gears and put out two albums of sparse, inventive and intricate rock music. Both Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock are worth listening to in full, as they both have tracks that spill over into each other. As such, it was hard to pick one track that was really self contained enough for a playlist. So I didn’t even bother. If “Ascension Day” appeals to you at all, you owe it to yourself to give the rest of Laughing Stock a try.
8. Dirty Three – “Sirena”
There was a time when I listened only to music that was beautiful. Bands like Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky or Talk Talk were all that I wanted to hear. I came across Dirty Three in this time and they couldn’t have arrived more punctually. Using only a violin, a guitar and a drumset, Dirty Three makes heartbreakingly beautiful music that can wash you away. Across their album Ocean Songs, the band compose an atmosphere of deep blues and ocean tides that begs to be listened to in full.
9. Oxford Collapse – “Please Visit Your National Parks”
I’m not sure what it is about Oxford Collapse that really struck a chord with me, but their album Remember the Night Parties really opened my mind to a lot of the harsher, looser and more abrasive sounds in rock music. In hindsight they’re not actually particularly harsh or abrasive (aside from their singer, I suppose) but when I first put this album on years ago something clicked and I suddenly gained an appreciation for bands like Pavement, Slint or any one of the punk bands I find myself listening to nowadays.
10. The Field Mice – “You’re Kidding Aren’t You”
The Field Mice approach their twee pop songs with a post-punk aesthetic, which means lots of repetition and chord progressions involving only about two chords. Throw on top of that some catchy melodies and you’ve got the recipe to much of my favorite music. The Field Mice came to me at the time when I was transitioning from my early, pop flavored tendencies in bands like The Shins or Belle & Sebastian to my more recent rock-leaning listening habits. As such, they serve as a nice mile marker between two points in my life and really bring me back to a time when I was still figuring out who I wanted to be.
11. The Middle East – “Land of the Bloody Unknown”
The Middle East have nostalgia built into their sound. Maybe it’s the foggy production, sounding like a folk band playing in the distance, or maybe it’s the restrained and breathy vocals. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I do know that their tunes come with a vague, distant sadness that seems to be looking back more than anywhere else.
12. The Whitest Boy Alive – “Don’t Give Up”
Despite having a name that instantly turns off anyone that I try to tell about them, The Whitest Boy Alive is probably one of my most nostalgic bands. They don’t quite sound like anyone else, but their low-key grooves and smooth guitar tones hooked me immediately. Every time I listen to Dreams I’m reminded of driving around with my little brother and listening to it on repeat. Though our musical tastes don’t overlap all that much, this is one band that we could both listen to hundreds of times and not get sick of it. In fact, we have and I’m sure we will every time we see each other.