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A year ago I started listening to my record collection in autobiographical order. Then I stopped for a while. Now it sounds like fun again!

41. Dead Kennedys - Bedtime For Democracy

Sort of listenable, but basically insufferable... not that little bits of this haven't stayed lodged in my head for two decades, because they have. (And until just now, I had an unexamined conviction that "Where Do Ya Draw The Line" was somehow related to "Which Side Are You On".)

42. The Primitives - Pure

I figured this would be refreshing after the pain of late DKs, but the juxtaposition does make single "Sick Of It" even less convincingly aggressive than it would have been otherwise (which to be fair is not much). It's kind of funny how-- in the middle of all the classic and terrific Primitives jangliness-- there's the one distorted guitar riff after the refrain, as if to say "Grr! Now I'm mean!"

(You need to imagine a really fluffy cat saying that, or whatever.)

This must have been more or less the first C86-derived band I listened to and I still have a huge sentimental soft spot for them. I do have to admit that side A is not that good. Side B, though: classic.

43. Colin Newman - Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish / Not To

That first fall that I was really listening to music, a DJ on local community station WORT did a whole show (3 hours, I guess) of Wire and related music. He went by "Harry Rag", though I only confirmed just now that that's how he spells it-- he's still doing a show two Friday nights a month. Holy shit, dude. I can also read his top 50s from many many years, including 1989. (Wire's "Eardrum Buzz" was #26; the Primitives' "Sick Of It" was #42.)

At any rate, the night of that show, I had some overnight synagogue youth group event, and the program was due to begin smack in the middle of the Friday night prayers, so (iirc) I beseeched my mom to put in a tape and hit 'record' at the right time. I think I also got clearance to go home in the middle of the evening and put in a second tape, then come back. So my parents' decision to buy a house within walking distance of the synagogue turned out to be valuable for me after all!

From that show (listened to many, many times), I think I already knew that the first half of this CD, originally issued as an album in its own right, was all instrumental. I still, even now, can't tell what the point was. My best guess, actually, is that Newman was trying to prove something to his former bandmates, Gilbert and Lewis, who were making lots of records that sounded more like the proto-industrial "Fish 6", whose harshness is mitigated only by a bunch of xylophone noises at the end, than like the rest, which sound like filler. Or, if you prefer, incidental music from a movie.

Finally, Not To!

Absent vocals bothered me, but incomprehensible lyrics absolutely didn't. Even now that I can make out what more of the words ARE in "Lorries" and get that "soixante nouveau" is a pun (isn't it?), I have no idea what's going on.

By and large, the edge is off Newman's voice, except during two Wire leftovers ("Don't Bring Reminders" and "5/10"), and during "Blue Jay Way", which I knew from the liner notes was a Beatles cover. A surprisingly faithful Beatles cover.

I like a lot of these songs, but they sound like someone gliding to a stop.

44. Colin Newman - CN1 EP

This extra EP came with the preceding twofer, and I think ended up being the rarest item in my Wire collection.

It's all (or mostly?) instrumentals from Singing Fish, with vocals added. "We Means, We Starts" seems like close kin to a much later Newman song: "The Offer". Both seem to be about romantic commitment, framed in a stilted or formal way-- but is that part of the song, or just how Newman is?

45. The Cure - Boys Don't Cry

Those last few notes were written last year, when I started this project. Now it's now. Just so you know.

The handful of these songs that haven't become incredibly familiar from other collections are surprisingly UNfamiliar. I thought I knew how "So What" went but was way off.

Even though I was expecting it, the blood-curdling scream after the fade-out of "Subway Song" was upsetting. I'm wondering now whether it's some cleverly-distorted guitar rather than a person, but not willing to re-listen to it to find out.

I had this on cassette, so actually, that scream might be the entire reason I don't know the album as such very well.

46. He Said - Hail

Where the later He Said album (which I heard first) was just mystifying, this is... pleasantly mystifying? Like, I can make out very few words and it's salted with weird noises, but it also just seems rich and fabulous. Like Steely Dan crossed with Foetus, neither of whom I have too much truck with individually. (For both ends of the spectrum listen to "Pump" and "Shapes To Escape".)

In high school I knew that some of the later tracks were bonuses, but maybe didn't know which ones? No wonder-- two of them are quite good (actually I've found "Pale Feet" to be totally comforting and encouraging every time I've ever heard it, so I guess that's a little better than "quite good") and two are disposable ambient versions of other songs. But at any rate, the album has either aged extremely well, or it got its hooks in me in a way that was weirdly immune to aging. I mean, it's clear a lot of old records got their hooks in me, but usually, noticing that comes with a sense of dislocation, like, how am I the same person now as I was then?

Whereas Hail just still Works For Me.

47. Oingo Boingo - Good For Your Soul

I remember the Oingo Boingo albums I listened to earlier in this retro trip kinda putting me off the band. Or at least, off Danny Elfman.

"Sweat" sounds an incredibly square Joe Jackson. The music is viscerally satisfying but it doesn't sound like anyone involved has ever actually sweated, much less had sex. They're just as excited about the idea as other people are about the thing itself, which... well, fair enough.

Still pretty fun when I don't pay attention, but if I tune in, it feels like a high school friend who really liked the sound of his own voice, hamming it up over a Howard Jones track while L.A. session musicians jam out.

48. Pixies - Surfer Rosa/Come On Pilgrim

By this point the exact sequence of my purchases is kind of muddy, so I don't necessarily think I actually got this right after an Oingo Boingo album. But wow the contrast.

Exact opposite of the previous album: if I don't pay attention, it's just catchy and comforting. I mean, I've heard these songs a LOT. If I attend to it, though, it sounds intense. I suppose I didn't have any reason to think rock music didn't all sound like this.

It's certainly legible in the tradition of Zen Arcade. Bits of the drumming sound borrowed from hardcore, though Lovering is a lot more interesting than that would imply.

I got this on import CD, with both albums together. Never paid much attention to where the break was, in retrospect maybe because there are two big stops in the action shortly *before* Surfer Rosa ends: this famously awkward bit of studio banter, and the intro to "I'm Amazed". But I mean now, paying attention, the debut EP is thinner and less jagged. "The Holiday Song" might be as screamy as Black Francis gets. Wait, no, there's a full-on howl during the "Nimrod's Son" break.

I don't quite remember how I felt about the Pixies' freakiness back then. I suspect "you are the son of a motherfucker" was thrillingly transgressive and the unsexy flirtation in "I've Been Tired" was more mystifying than uncomfortable. The idea of discussing sex with somebody you didn't already utterly trust would not have made sense, I don't think.

49. Chess

I had the version with the black cover. I think that's the UK version?

So for a while I thought I might like musicals. This one seemed cool, at any rate-- it had had a song on the radio, and was about chess, which I've never known anything about beyond how the pieces move but it was clearly an emblem of the brainy wing of adult culture, so I liked the IDEA.

Speaking of cultural affiliations, I can't believe the young me made it through the choral number at the beginning. Maybe I was more open-minded, in some ways, than I am now.

The ABBA-ishness is obvious.

The accusation that The American is "a fruit" went right over my head back then.

Right now, I can't help skipping around, and eventually ahead. I would go on to be in two of my high school's musicals but I never really explored them as listening material after this.

50. Colin Newman - It Seems

I have a note from long ago saying that I got this the same week as I checked Chess out from the library. Apparently I remembered that fact well into college, when I first tried to figure out exactly when I'd gotten each of my records. But why?

Starts with "Quite Unrehearsed", and... the quick, chiming, artificial synths with Newman singing more slowly over them instantly bring back a wave of what I remember about this album: a feeling that I could stop panicking and things would be okay. Mind you, I almost never COULD stop freaking out when something upset me. But it was nice to feel, sometimes, as though if I could it wouldn't be a bad idea.

In retrospect, Wire were (are!) almost completely humorless. That's not what I aspired to in high school and yet maybe it helped me take them seriously.

One song here is sung by Malka Spigel, Newman's wife. I did not have a great attitude toward male musicians' female partners, perhaps because I had no real model of what collaboration looked like, much less what it might be like to have a relationship with someone whose work you admired and wanted to share with the world. Spigel's vocals on "Better Later Than Never" (Youtube has the title wrong) are a great contrast with Newman's, though; I just don't like her songwriting. Or I didn't like it, and haven't gotten over that?

This album also creates a very strong feeling of being in SFMoMA, which is clearly an anachronism (I first went there about 10 years after buying this album, by which time I really was not listening to it much).

I know I tried to feel as though "Not Being In Warsaw" was relevant to the long-distance friendship/relationship/whatever that I had with a girl who I'd met at camp the previous summer-- tried to feel that way, and mostly failed. It's funny to see that, in retrospect, it may well have BEEN about a long-distance relationship, but, obviously, that didn't make it relatable.

Last story: I tried to take this CD back to the record store because it was missing one track printed on the label ("Si Tu Attends"). They were polite but said there wasn't much they could do if a CD was missing bonus tracks that it was supposed to have. Which makes sense, but man, what a mystifying thing. I actually still think it seems like a good idea not to put absent tracks on the back cover of your album. It's legitimately disappointing! 13 years later, I rebought It Seems from a French used-music store on the theory that if ANY printings of the album had the bonus track, ones from a different country were a good bet. Success! With that track restored, the album ends cheerfully unresolved, instead of disoriented ("Round & Round"). And I can't find "Si Tu Attends" on Youtube, so it gets to remain a slightly obscure object of desire.

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Dorothy Fennel

February 2016

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