This week I’ve had Lies by Chvrches running through my head, mainly the chorus. The song starts out strong, and has a killer hook, but when that chorus kicks in, it’s like the band magnifies itself by a factor of ten. Chvrches was at the forefront of an electropop revival at the beginning of the last decade, all heavy synths and processed beats, but they did it better than any of their peers, and they’re still around and kicking today.
It’s hard to believe this song is almost ten years old at this point; this was one of my favorite albums of 2013 and is still on repeat in my favorites list.
As someone diagnosed with ADHD, there are multiple symptoms that come along for the ride. One of the things I’ve dealt with my entire life are songs that get stuck in my head for days on end, until they burn out and I need to lock them away for months or years until I can hear them again. There is no logic behind why a song will stick; I can’t control it nor can I shut it off. Imagine being stuck in an elevator for hours with a song on repeat—or, in many cases, a particular section of song repeating. They are the soundtrack of my life.
This week’s earworm is one of the lesser tracks on Steely Dan’s Gaucho, called Glamour Profession. A song about a coke dealer in L.A. in the late 70’s, it’s anchored by an uncharacteristically weak rhythm section, a beat programmed into every cheap keyboard punctuated with even cheaper keyboard tones. It’s almost saved by the supporting elements of the band’s signature sound: careful horn arrangement, world-class backup vocals, and an excellent bridge leading to an abrupt chorus.
There are far better songs on this album: Babylon Sisters and Time Out of Mind are some of their best. Gaucho was was a troubled production, at the very end of the band’s first run. Drug use, perfectionism (perhaps influenced by drug use) and interpersonal problems split the band up at perhaps the best time to preserve their legacy—AOR sounds were shifting and yacht rock-adjacent music was dying out. I get the sense this was as close to filler as the band was willing to release. Either way, it’s stuck in my head until something else comes along.
Yesterday I was out the door to catch the train at 7:30AM for the first time in 2+ years; I had a full schedule of meetings and a photo shoot in the afternoon, so I dragged some gear with me and set to work cleaning up my corners of the comms area. The first issue I had to deal with was getting online. At some point in the last couple of months the wireless network decided it didn’t like Macs, so I had to cobble together a wired connection to be able to look at my email. Then I had to deal with about 30 boxes of printed materials that have been delivered and stacked under cabinets and desks, most of which are already out of date and useless. The printers all forgot who they are and where they live, and the one next to my desk is completely broken, so I couldn’t print or scan anything. Then I had to sort and organize our video and photo gear, which has been scattered among houses, bags, closets, and locked drawers since lockdown. In the afternoon I set up a photo shoot for the South Korean ambassador, who signed an MOU with us to do climate-related work (they didn’t use the best photo I shot).
It was both strange and reassuring to be in the office for a full day. It was strange to wear a button-down shirt and work pants all day. I’m still navigating mask etiquette from house to train to station to office—I will be wearing a mask on the train, through the station and all the way to my desk—but it’s strange to have it off in the office but put it on to ride the elevator and walk through the lobby, etc. I ran into a handful of colleagues and the social animal part of my brain wept with joy to be interacting with human beings again. And I spent more time on my feet in the office yesterday than I do all week at my house, which was both exhilarating and exhausting.
The word is that we’re going to be going to 2 days a week sometime later this spring, which will be tricky. I’ll come into the office if I know other folks will be there, but I’m not going to spend time and money on the train if I’m going all the way to D.C. to sit in an empty office on Zoom calls. Doing the math, I’ll save money buying individual tickets two days a week instead of a monthly pass, and that makes me happy.
I got a very nice Audio-Technica needle cartridge delivered yesterday, and after dinner I installed it in the Technics turntable. Then I hooked the unit up to the amp in the basement. My Steely Dan album was upstairs on the shelf behind Jen, who was on a zoom call, so I pulled an Elvis album from the pile we saved at the Mildew House and queued up Hound Dog. The result: absolutely beautiful. The platter is smooth, and the sound was ten times better than the Scott—smooth, crisp, and clear. I can’t wait to hook it up to better speakers and a subwoofer.
I’ve been using a spare MacBook from work for the last 2 years as an email machine. It came back to me from a former employee right after COVID hit, and I figured I’d flatten the drive to use it while I wasn’t in the office. I went to update it yesterday afternoon to 12.o Monterey and it wouldn’t let me get past a prompt for Jamf, an enterprise nannyware application that I don’t want my personal information sitting underneath. I could attempt to use my wheezy 15″ MacBook from 2008, but older software is getting harder and harder to support—older operating systems, browsers and email clients don’t support modern encryption, which makes things difficult on a day to day basis. For example, our twelve-year-old server in the basement, topped out at OS 10.7, can’t load and display email on Apple’s native client. So it’s looking like I’m in the market for a new laptop for the first time in a long while, something I wasn’t planning on.
Finley did a great job at school last week so I treated her to something new and interesting: we rode down the street (it was cold, y’all) to a store called Trax on Wax and went record shopping. At some point last year, Finn found a purple standalone record player at the thrift store and excitedly brought it home. She hasn’t had anything to play on it since then, and she mentioned getting some vinyl in the car ride home from karate last week. She had an idea of what she wanted to look for before going in—I made sure she listed a couple of options before we got out of the car— knowing exactly what would happen: we got in the store and she was immediately overwhelmed. I reminded her she was looking for the first Black Sabbath album (no shit) or some Beatles. I had a couple of ideas as to what I wanted so we split up and started digging. I found a good copy of Steely Dan’s Aja but she struck out on Black Sabbath, so I walked her over and showed her how to pick a good album within her budget. We chose The Early Beatles and I treated her to her first LP.
I’ve got a pair of turntables sitting in the basement: Dad’s old Scott XXX and a Technics SL-DD33, which I got from our visit to the Mildew House, along with some CCR and Elvis records. The Scott is a bargain brand unit probably sold at Sears or K-Mart back in the day, with an integrated stylus and a very basic speed adjustment. The Technics is a much higher quality unit, with a heavy slab platter, a weighted, balanced tone arm, and a direct drive motor. The stylus on the Technics is also cartridge-based, allowing for worn out needles to be replaced. The needle was trashed when I got it, so I put a replacement in my Amazon cart. In its place I hooked the Scott up to my basement receiver and played my first LP in probably 25 years. There’s a reason audiophiles use Aja as a test record: the signal from the Scott is weak and carries a strong hum; I also think the motor is going out because I could hear the speed oscillating slightly. So I’ll replace the stylus in the Technics unit and figure out which receiver to hook it up to. Then, I’ll start building a small library of classic jazz.
Well fuck. Mark Lanegan, of the Screaming Trees, various solo projects, and a fantastic run with Queens of the Stone Age, is dead at 57.
Jen and I got to talking over coffee yesterday morning about mixtapes and 45’s and the first albums we had as our own people (not inherited from our parents or siblings). In 1984 my sister and I both got boom boxes for Christmas (the exact model I had is in the picture above), with a selection of five cassettes to listen to. My five were:
Looking back on that selection, it’s pretty solid, from an early 80’s point of view. There weren’t a lot of clunkers there—the Def Leppard album fell off on the B side pretty steeply and there was some filler on that particular Van Halen album, but everything else was tight. I played all of these constantly and then when I got my first brick of blank tapes I started taping songs off the radio. At some point I probably had 30 or so cassettes like this, where the DJ was talking over the intro to the song, it played through, and they came back in again only to cut into another song. You Kids Don’t Understand, and all of that.
But man, I miss mixtapes. I miss the time and patience it took to sit by the radio and wait for the DJ to mention he was gonna play a Who deep cut at the top of the hour, and I’d sit with my fingers over the Record button hoping it would be Baba O’Reilly because there was no way I was going to spend $12 on Who’s Next for one song. I had a whole stack of “goddammit” cassettes, a hundred dollars’ worth of store-bought albums that sucked except for that one good track, and that really sucked at a time when when I was making $7.50/hr slinging tacos. Mixtapes may have sounded shitty, but we got the music we wanted.
File this under Awesome Shit I Did Not Know Until Today: Blood and Thunder, one of my all-time favorite metal songs, features guest vocals from Neil Fallon of local heroes Clutch. One of my favorite podcasts breaks down the song and some of the things that make it so good.
Working on the bus this summer I binged about thirty episodes of Strong Songs; even if you’re not a musician there’s a ton of great stuff to learn about great music.