It was bound to happen — an influx of Christmas gift money allows me to explore more albums after the year-end post goes online. None of these albums would knock off anything in the final list, but they’re definitely worthy of some belated consideration.
Anne Dudley, Anne Dudley Plays the Art of Noise
Anne Dudley, Gary Langan and J.J. Jeczalik rebooted the post-Trevor Horn version of the Art of Noise to reissue In Visible Silence. In the midst of it, Dudley released her own interpretations of Art of Noise tracks using mostly piano and percussion with some clever arrangements. The album was released in Japan, and the band hinted it would eventually see a US/UK release. I was not patient, and I think Art of Noise fans are missing out.
Dudley strips away the obfuscating aspects of the original Art of Noise tracks to bring out their musicality. On “Legs”, the croaking bass line turns into clusters that lose none of the original’s percussiveness. Added bonus: she covers the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
Onitsuka Chihiro, Tiny Screams
I actually listened to Tiny Screams when it came out (via the Evil Sharing Networks) and vowed to get my own copy when the Christmas money came. The more I listened to it, the more I favored it over Cocco’s four-disc live extravaganza. The barebones arrangements of the original recordings somehow get stripped even further and become more intense (“BORDERLINE”).
R.E.M., Automatic for the People (Deluxe Edition)
I’ve already gone on record about my ambivalence toward Automatic for the People. I wasn’t inclined to get the deluxe edition of the album till I heard its companion live disc playing in-store at Easy Street Music. The playlist mixes just the correct amount of new material with familiar, throwing in a surprise on occasion. If anything, I’ve played the live disc — R.E.M.’s only concert in 1992 to promote the album — more times than I have the remastered album.
Leo Imai, Film Music EP
OK, I need to follow Leo Imai on some sort of social media site. Last I paid attention, Imai released his third solo album, Made from Nothing, in 2013. Since then, he formed another group, Metafive, and now he’s released an album of film music. The Film Music EP is available in the US through online services, but the full Film Music album is available only at live shows.
Imai has grown bolder as a writer. The four instrumentals on Film Music EP refract the influence of his KIMONOS bandmate Mukai Shuutoku, but “Videotape” shows Imai can be catchy when he wants to be.
Tags: anne dudley, favorite edition, leo imai, onitsuka chihiro, r.e.m., the art of noise
“How did you know you were gay?”
No one has really asked me this question, and from what I gather, I’m supposed to turn this question around and ask the (presumably heterosexual) asker, “How did you know you were straight?”
But my answer to the question would be pretty easy to track through the music I was listening to at the cusp of adolescence. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the I gravitated toward bands with handsome singers — your Simon Le Bons, your Huey Lewises, your Stings, your Bruce Springsteens.
I didn’t connect the growing fascination I had for these pop idols with the orientation my sexuality would eventually align because the curriculum of my Catholic education was clear — I was fated to develop an attraction to women because any alternative would be unacceptable.
So I used music as a cover. Yes, I dug the songs, but they weren’t the only draw.
Exhibit A: Sting, “Love is the Seventh Wave”
The back cover of this single had Sting posing without a shirt, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. My household toed the homophobic line because my parents were devoutly Catholic and my brother and sisters weren’t old enough to come to their conclusions. So I would sneak peeks at this image surreptitiously, not exploring why I was so powerfully drawn to it.
Technically, my brother owned that 7-inch single, and he called dibs on Sting in our Sibling Rivalry Collection Race. My hormones would not be denied, and I wrestled Sting from his monopoly. I dubbed his Sting albums to cassette without his permission, and I played “Russians” at my first piano recital.
The Dream of the Blue Turtles and … Nothing Like the Sun are awesome albums in their own right, but I could count on the music press to include a few pictures of Sting stripped to the waist.
Exhibit B: Midnight Oil, Blue Sky Mining
I didn’t actually like Midnight Oil when a pair of friends subjected me to Diesel and Dust in the car as we drove around town. But I eventually adjusted to Peter Garrett’s warble, and the songcraft of the album won me over.
One of the friends who introduced me to Midnight Oil would be the first person with whom I’d fall in love. I remember one night dropping him off at his house after a night out and driving back, mumbling to myself that I loved him. I can’t remember another time when I felt both solace and burden in a single thought.
Blue Sky Mining followed Diesel and Dust two years later, by which time my feelings for my friend made senior year in high school a slog. I listened to the album day in and day out because I had to escape into something that linked me to him. And I could use my growing interest in college rock as another cover.
Exhibit C: R.E.M., “Country Feedback”
My friend went to the Mainland for college, and I stayed in Honolulu. During my first semester, I would play Out of Time by R.E.M. every morning, and the track that summed up my depression was “Country Feedback”. The track is slow and quiet, but Michael Stipe tosses out the phrase “fuck off” at the midpoint of the song with conviction. I was pissed off at having a broken heart but also sad by the implications of who broke it.
Exhibit D: Haruki Murakami, Hear the Wind Sing
No, Hear the Wind Sing is not an album. It’s a novel. A Haruki Murakami novel, to be exact.
But it was a novel that served as the basis for an electronic song I wrote hoping to convince a guy I had a crush on to sing it. He couldn’t find the time to do it.
It had been a year since I returned from New York City, and I still wasn’t ready to accept the obvious direction of my sexual orientation. So something like writing a song hoping to get a guy I liked to sing it was just a totally rational thing for someone in my state of mind to do.
It took another 13 years before I transposed it to my own range, recorded it and sang it myself with much assistance by pitch-correction software.
Exhibit E: Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
Emmylou Harris’ label directed its press efforts for her 1995 album Wrecking Ball to colleges and independent music outlets instead of country radio because it was her “weird album”. I snagged a promo of the album and fell in love with it.
The arrival of Wrecking Ball happened at the same time I wrote articles about National Coming Out Day, which resulted in my own. The two events are indelibly entwined. But I can’t think of a better album to serve as a soundtrack for that change.
It’s a dark, brooding album but also beautiful. I was still intimidated by the process of coming out, so I can’t say I look back on it as bright and joyous. I had a lot of work to do introspectively, and Wrecking Ball reflected that.
The album pretty much transformed Harris’ career, reaching a new audience as the old one moved on. It was certainly my pivot point as well.
Tags: emmylou harris, gay influence, midnight oil, murakami haruki, r.e.m., sting
Automatic for the People marked the decline of my interest in R.E.M.
I’d been peripherally aware of the band since at least 1985, but it wasn’t until the local classic rock station put “Stand” on rotation that I was formally introduced.
I had recently become acquainted with 10,000 Maniacs at around the same time, and the music press made quite a deal of the relationship between Natalie Merchant and Michael Stipe.
Green wasn’t the best introduction to the band, but Side A of the album set me on a course to play catch-up with R.E.M.’s indie work. By the time Out of Time arrived three years later, I was already well acquainted with Murmur, Document and Lifes Rich Pageant.
Out of Time was the soundtrack to my morning bus commute to the University of Hawaii, monopolizing my Walkman for months on end. At the time, I considered the album perfection. Everything seemed to be in balance — bright tracks (“Shiny Happy People”) offsetting darker tracks (“Country Feedback”), Mike Mills’ voice contrasting with Michael Stipe’s, Kate Pierson of the B-52’s adding a feminine touch the band was sorely lacking.
I was hopeful R.E.M. would always record albums this great.
Automatic for the People followed immediately afterward, and Rolling Stone magazine gave it a five-star review. The press leading up to the album’s release was breathless, and I bought into the hype.
I headed to the record store on release day and snagged my copy. I gave it every chance to burrow deep into my consciousness the way its predecessor did. It didn’t.
Months later, Bill Frisell and Duran Duran each released albums that fulfilled the jones I had hoped Automatic for the People would fill. I eventually concluded I was duped. It’s not a bad album, but it wasn’t five-star material.
Automatic for the People would not survive a purge for cash, and it went on my list overrated albums alongside Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins and I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got by Sinéad O’Connor.
The first pressing of the CD was housed in a jewel case with a translucent yellow tray. Back in November 2014, I ran across a used copy of Automatic for the People in excellent condition with the yellow tray. And it was selling for $1.
So I picked it up and gave it another spin. Would age and wisdom alter my opinion of the album?
It’s not as awful as I thought it was, and taking a 20-year break from the ubiquity of “Everybody Hurts” certainly helps soften my previously sharp opinion.
It still hasn’t been dislodged from the overrated list, but it was a good first lesson in skepticism. Being a fan of a band doesn’t mean blind worship for everything they do.
Tags: r.e.m., the ones that nearly got away