Archives For Taken from Albums that Changed your Life

In the end of the summer/early fall of 2001 I immersed myself with Radiohead. Having just seen them live for the first time at Grant Park in Chicago, I lived and breathed Kid A and the still new to my ears Amnesiac. I was still coming off of a jamband drip thanks to Phish’s first hiatus and had quickly realized that many of the indie bands that filled my hard drive were broken up, never to practice or perform together in person ever again (<- Lies, I saw Pavement and Neutral Milk Hotel many years later)  – so I injected Thom Yorke, the Greenwoods and the rest of Radiohead into my veins.

I distinctly remember moving into my third floor apartment (the one I never slept at) on Bernard Ct. in Madison at 10 o’clock on the Sunday night before classes started my first semester at UW. My Honda Accord parked in the alley, doors wide open and blaaaaarrring “Idioteque” at volume levels that I assumed a neighborhood at one of the top party schools in the nation would applaud…when from the stairwell I noticed that the sound had ceased. I came outside and found one of roommates (the one I barely knew) stepping out of my car after turning the radio down and shutting all of my doors.

“Think we’re all done here, dude.”

If you didn’t already get the idea – Radiohead was my jam. And if my countless hours spent listening didn’t make it so – the IT hours clocked removing malware from campus computers thanks to me illegally downloading every b-side, remix and live performance definitely did.

I loosened the tie and pulled out the needle one day I noticed an electric buzz flowing through the bus on the way to class one morning – a journalistic hypnosis that had the whole bus wide-eyed and drooling. It was either like an electric current or a scene from a movie where a packed educational transportation vehicle full of zombies had their faces buried in the Arts section of the school paper (really whichever image works better for you).

Naturally, there was an abandoned copy of the school newspaper, bent up and seemingly weeks old next to me after half the kids rushed off at Union South. I quickly flipped past the unfinished crossword and ads for drink specials, used books, and legal versions of otherwise illegal stimulants (with every intention of going back to check them out) so I could find out what the hell all of the zombies were drooling about.

As it turned out, a short paragraph informed me that there was a band called The Strokes that had just played one of their first live shows in New York the previous weekend. No. They didn’t have an album out yet. It wasn’t coming out until October. This article was pointing to the fact that they played a show. In New York.

So why did the hip kids belonging to Madison’s zombie army give a shit about this NOW, months before full length release? Well, I would later find out when Is This It hit shelves and quickly found its way into my ‘too big to fit in any pocket’ Sony Discman.

Upon pressing play and hearing the first notes of “Is This It” I was sucked into a sound that mimicked everything that was going on around me. College. Highs. Lows. Victories. Defeats. Is This It?  was loud, gray, fuzzy, and cocky while also managing to inflect a tremendous amount of uncertainty. It was fast paced and modern. Aggressive and abrupt. Loud and lazy. Vocal phrasing came from a voice that sounded just as good when the words were screamed or sung softly.  Songs like “Last Night” and the track stripped from the US version of the album post 9/11, “New York City Cops,” invoked attitude and a turned up lip of Billy Idol proportions. Others like “Someday” and “Hard to Explain” hit on the confusion and inexplicable.

Is This It is unforgettable for the feeling that it induced and also for the movement of music that it seemed to launch. Soon after, the world was treated to fantastic debut albums from bands that even if they weren’t trying to top The Strokes first offering, it will forever seem like they were. Simply because everything post-Is This It? was offered to me in a comparison. “Have you heard Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights? It’s a darker version of The Strokes. What about Black Rebel Motorcycle Club? Similar vibe.” Or even when a friend called me out of the blue the following summer to see if I’d heard of Kings of Leon. When he heard that  I hadn’t, he said “Dude, they’re like the southern version of The Strokes. But maybe better.” And while Turn on the Bright Lights and the first couple of Kings of Leon records are phenomenal, they’re no match for the sounds that Julian and Co. produced on record 1.

Because of all that – I will forever be indebted to The Strokes for creating an amazing debut record that paralleled and soundtracked a monumental year of my life. Everything about it made sense. Musically, I prefer their second, Room on Fire, over Is This It? but I’m probably in a vast minority there. I suppose I also owe them a hardy thanks for helping me temporarily shelve my Radiohead addiction- I was slowly turning into an android.

Thanks for reading!

Neutral Milk Hotel is one of those bands that’s usually the answer to the demand – Gimme one band that you’ll never forget the first time you heard them.

In the summer of 2000 I was living in a genre specific world where I maniacally and unabashedly consumed music that carried around a complex – jam rock or whatever term you use to poke fun at it. While some of the best jambands of that era were exploratory and improvisational in form, blending many genres to create a musical melting pot – my shallow focus was managing to confine and partition me off from music of other varieties. I was unknowingly blind to music that was smart and more … thought provoking.

But … some might say that being consumed by bliss and (in some cases) lyrical nonsense was a bonus – it saved me from Limp Bizkit and Korn – shit rock bands that over dominated Milwaukee’s local rock station. I managed to narrowly escape doing it all for the nookie and I believe I owe an incredible debt to Phish for that assist. Their existence prevented me from ever owning a red Yankees cap or frosting my tips. Consider me forever grateful.

The musical discovery that is the focus of this post happened in the middle of Indiana, at a makeshift campground in Noblesville, while traveling the midwest to see the above mentioned. After returning to the campsite with my arms full of new cds – the only 2 that come to memory are String Cheese Incident’s Carnival ’99 and Grisman, Rice, and Garcia’s The Pizza Tapes – I remember being proud to show off my purchases to anyone milling in our group. After showing them off and passing them around, me and everyone hanging around appeared to be pretty stoked. Everyone except …

this fella that quickly had intrigue turn to disappointment which then resolved to disapproval of my entire existence. “DUDE. There is so much better music to be listening to. I mean, the jam scene is cool but … there’s so much more. Are you listening to Neutral Milk Hotel, Sunny Day Real Estate? PAVEMENT? Tell me you dig Pavement?”

Now I wasn’t offended. Maybe I hadn’t heard of any of those bands but I wasn’t a rook when it came to music. I was coming off of a Bob Dylan hangover and I had gotten cavities from over indulging in Elliott Smith and Matthew Sweet. Ben Folds Five was cool and … I had just that past year fell in love with Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True. I had just gotten a little off track. I had just gotten over a bad break up that allowed me to replace my relationship by focusing on traveling and seeing a band that to this day never fails to make me smile.

But on that day – it was if someone had turned the light on. Pressing play on a mixtape that led off with Neutral Milk Hotel’s “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 2 & 3” I sat motionless as Jeff Mangum whined an undying love for Jesus Christ. And even though the boomnbox was shitty and the tape was worn out, that voice – full of power, emotion and energy, transformed me. It was 98 degrees, as humid as a Florida August and my feet felt like they had just been pulled from a kiln. [lame alert ->] But the only thing I could feel were the goosebumps the music created.

And as the tape rolled on and I gave mere handshakes to bands that I couldn’t live without now (Built to Spill, Guided By Voices, Pavement) I remember nodding my head and ignoring merely every word not coming through those speakers. I can’t quite recall the way that I felt the rest of the trip … but with 3 shows left on the tour schedule and one more city to hit – I do slightly remember being briefly underwhelmed by Phish those next few nights. We actually ended up (stupid. regret.) selling our tickets for the summer tour closer in Columbus.

Now it might have been the heat of that summer. It might have been the fact that we did 9 shows in a few weeks or it might have been that I wanted to get home to hear more from the bands that would end up becoming part of my life after that day at the campground.

And that’s why I’ll never forget the first time I heard Neutral Milk Hotel.

In 1994 we kicked around a new British band called Oasis. While “Live Forever” got decent radio play on our alternative rock station, 102.1’s lack of playing anything else from their debut album rendered Oasis as potential one hit wonder fodder. So we didn’t expect much from the shaggy haired Brits that we were told ripped off The Beatles. It was pretty easy not to. I mean, most of us were still hip hop heads.

But while urban sounds dominated our outward existences, we longed for ways to round out of our creativity. And besides, hip hop had a tendency to get dull. And sometimes it was angrier than we were. While we were into good beats and an occasional melody we finally figured out that we were suckers for (and still are) samples from something soulful and “way back,” and that wasn’t what hip hop was evolving into. It seemed to be getting more intense and situational. Situational in a way that we just couldn’t relate to.

Or maybe we never could quite relate to it but now we just needed something that paralleled our thoughts and the things we kept hidden. So now we would easily abandon the aggression for something glowing and insightful. But it had to be something glowing and insightful with a good amount of attitude.

New avenues had to be paved. And that’s exactly what What’s The Story Morning Glory?  did for us.

It did all that-had meaning and made us feel alive with living and breathing hopes. But it also fed us a new culture. And we wore it everyday. From our Adidas, to our make shift mop tops, to the music that we listened to everyday-we were mad for it. It rounded us out solely because at this time if you listened to Oasis, you wanted to wear what they were wearing and you wanted to listen to everything that they listened to- The Beatles, The Jam, The Stone Roses, etc….. It simply became what you did. Or maybe that’s what we as sophomores in high school did.

If you hate Oasis, that’s ok. I will always be indebted to them for giving me a sneer and a bit of a punch when I needed it most. For helping me find ways to spend my allowance on cd singles and also for recording one of the best episodes of MTV Unplugged ever!

Liam-less and fantastic, Noel sings his heart out on songs that he wrote. And he sings both parts. I would’ve chose their entire Unplugged performance as an album that changed my life but….it’s not an actual album. However, it is amazing! Check it.