Edition: Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Rock-n-Roll Exhibition: TAUFIQ RAHMAN
In Defense of Underdog
I have never become a number one. And it is easy to see myself as a member of some kind of underdog club, people who just muddle through in life without any aspiration to be bigger than what they are, a state of mind that allows me to live with only little amount of pressure. Enough about myself!
My championing of underachiever makes it easy to connect with bands who throughout their existence never achieve even a modicum of success—who never had a number one hit at the Billboard Chart or MTV videos. I hate to use this word, but these are some of the most “underrated” bands, who without the pressure of having to achieve success, could produce lasting work of art.
These are music from bands that are spoken in hushed tones and knowing wink from people who are willing to look away from the screen, pages of Rolling Stone or the syndicated FM dial. Having said that, pardon my deliberate omission of The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Metallica or even The Strokes. Everybody else has put them on almost any list, so why bother?
01. The Way That He Sings – My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket is a great band, but they are just too weird for me. Their last album, the Prince-influenced Evil Urges is just too quirky. But there are moments in the early millennium, prior to their leap to the major label, when My Morning Jacket went for smooth, country-tinged pyschedelia that feels just right. I have to think hard whether to include this or the similar sounding “Low Down”, but this song wins for its cool, breezy chord progression that will forever lives in a tree.
02. Sister Ray – The Velvet Underground
There’s no way I will put any tracks from Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music into this list. As a substitute, I put in a more audible track off White Heat/White Light, which happens to be my favorite of all VU compositions. This is Velvet Underground at its most decadent and primitive. Three chords being extended into 17 minutes of pure unadulterated white noise. When the society brings me down—which happens pretty often—I just put the needle down on to this track and drown in.
03. Tell Me – Galaxie 500
Don’t get fooled by the lethargic opening guitar strumming. Singing-guitarist Dean Wareham may sound like he’s learning to play his guitar. But the moment when you least expect him to shine, he could launch into some of the best guitar solos in indie rock’s history. “Tell Me” not only has slow-core’s best guitar solos, it has Wareham falsetto and la-la-las that sound so effortless you can easily mistake this song as a traditional lullaby-like folk song.
04. Take Care – Beach House
This is one of two best songs in rock history with “Take Care” as its title. The other is Big Star composition of the same name off the 1975 album Third/Sister Lovers. I don’t want to sound old and picking Beach House song for this list would certainly jack up my hip quotient. My hipster-pandering aside, Teen Dream is arguably one of the first masterpieces of the new decade. “Take Care” eliminates all competition thanks to Victoria Legrand’s angelic voice and ethereal composition that could pass for Cocteau Twins.
05. Bloodbuzz Ohio – The National
I have a soft spot for good drumming. Together with Matt Barrick of The Walkmen, Brian Devendorf is two of the most important drummers in the scene today. Other than the difficult drum parts, composition-wise, there is nothing complex about this song, with Bryce Dessner putting together some expensive atmospheric guitars and pianos. It’s just that everything falls right into place and enough to make Matt Berninger lyrics about missing Ohio sound so profound.
06. ‘Cross the Breeze – Sonic Youth
This is the song from a band that still makes me believe in Rock ‘N Roll. It’s only drums, bass and guitars, but in the hands of true artists, they could produce a symphony that could stand the test of time. I like to use the word “sprawl” to refer to this song. There’s nothing light in this song, from the opening electric guitar strumming, the massive guitar overdubs, the heavy-handed drumming to Kim Gordon’s sing-shout, are all grand, calculated attacks on all cliché in rock.
07. Intervention – Arcade Fire
I have issues with organized religions. But there’s something about places of worship, be they church, mosque, temple or synagogue that always pulls me in. “Intervention” was recorded in an abandoned church in New York, complete with the grandiose sounding church organ. This is Arcade Fire making a big statement and what comes out of it is heavenly music that sounds so heavy.
08. House of Jealous Lovers – The Rapture
The Rapture is a band so obscure that when they came to Jakarta last year, I failed to notice and I consider that my biggest loss in 2010. This band once held the promise that the future of rock lies in dance floor. Early in the millennium, the proposition sounded plausible and “House of Jealous Lovers” is the most convincing proof.
09. All My Colors – Echo & the Bunnymen
Once again this is a song with an unbelievably good drumming. This song opens with Pete de Freitas’ complex tom-tom that spells only doom and gloom. Ian McCulloch is just talking nonsense about burning box and being flown away, but coupled with Will Sargent’s psychedelic guitars, and de Freitas’ drumming “All My Colors” is the distant rumble of an apocalypse.
10. September Gurls – Big Star
It took me forever to find this song. Big Star is one of those obscure bands, so obscure that it is almost impossible to find their physical artifacts in my pre-Internet days. I first listened to this song inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, where this song is part of an exhibition on “500 Best Songs of All Time.” This is arguably the best power pop song ever written. Alex Chilton sings forlornly probably about all the girls he meet before the Autumn sets in, but the sky-scouring solo always remind me of one Summer day I spent by the Lake Michigan circa 2008.
11. Trying To Get To Heaven – Bob Dylan
It is almost sacrilegious not to include Bob Dylan in any lists. And since his back catalogues from the 1960s and 1970s have been lionized in the annals of rock history, it would be better if I just delve on his latter day releases. This is not just a contrarianism on my part. No one in their right mind could deny that his 1997 record Time Out of Mind is an instant classic. As mortality sets in, Dylan crafted some of the darkest music and lyrics that could rival his drugs-referencing 1960s album. “Trying To Get To Heaven” not only has some of Dylan’s best poetry, it has the best melodies he ever put on record.
12. Mic Check – Rage Against the Machine
They are the last political band that matters, but what speaks loudest in this song is not Zach de la Rocha’s anti-establishment call-to-arms. It is the three-note air-raid siren guitars from Tom Morello that will blow the mind even skeptics to their ideological hectoring. But that’s nothing compared to what Morello does with his guitar two minutes into this song, when it shape-shifts from a turntable into a machine gun.
13. In The New Year – The Walkmen
The Walkmen is quintessential American East Coast band, an indie rock outfit that manage to sound unmistakably New York, in the vein of Velvet Underground and Modern Lovers. Of all The Walkmen tracks, this is the song that can perfectly capture the vibe. It has White Heat/White Light organ sounds and raw guitar that once belonged to Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman. The ascending organ line in the middle is probably the best sound ever produced by a bunch of New Yorkers.
14. Where is My Mind – The Pixies
Black Francis’ guitar lead throughout this song is enough reason to name this song the most demented song Pixies ever wrote. And there’s the spooky chorus hovering over the mix that adds to the menacing air to this song. No wonder David Fincher used this song as soundtrack to Fight Club, another demented work of art.
15. Morning Theft – Jeff Buckley
To the chagrin of my wife, this is the track that I always give to any new young female friends. This song—from Jeff Buckley’s aborted album session Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk—is the ultimate adult male romantic fantasy. Over a hushed, circular guitar rhythm, Buckley serenades a secret lover, whose daughter sleeps in the other room. Sonically, this song is a hint what might have been if only Buckley lived long enough. But some of angels in heaven, whose voice was stolen by Buckley want him back sooner.
16. Here – Pavement
It’s easy to love Pavement. I could put any song from their record into this list and come out a winner. But one of the best songs Stephen Malkmus ever wrote is one that involves him goofing off with his guitar less. Over a piano-sounding guitar he sings about “success that never came”. This song practically launch post-Britpop career of Blur who imitate it in “Tender”.
17. Fake Blues – Real Estate
This is the last little-known band that I really fell for. They could be from New York or New Jersey I am not sure. I don’t even know who their guitarist is. All I know is that he played for another band called the Ducktails. What matters to me is that circular guitar notes and the reverb-drenched drums.
18. Decades – Joy Division
The last song, the closer in Closer. The bleakest in already bleak, depressive record by one of the darkest band in post punk. Over a funereal keyboard riff, Ian Curtis’ baritone foretold his demise only one year later.
19. Elevation – Television
Compared with their peers from the New York punk scenes, Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie, Television is certainly nothing. Their debut record Marquee Moon failed to chart in the States and their only achievement is being given a glowing review by Nick Kent of the New Musical Express. The title track is masterpiece of the punk era and this first track from side B, quoting Nick Kent, is 24-karat pure gold.
20. Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 2 – Neutral Milk Hotel
Don’t play In the Aeroplane Over the Sea while driving. This is one of those albums that need intense listening session, alone if necessary. This could be the heaviest of records in the entire indie scene in which Jeff Mangum sings about tortured childhood on the verge of breaking down backed by traditional American music from mariachi to New Orleans funeral band. The heaviest of the tracks however is Mangum alone with his acoustic guitar. He struggles hard to hit the high note but it is the raw emotion that speaks volume. Little wonder he disbanded NMH soon after this album and started living in a monastery.
21. Nosferatu Man – Slint
If I were a guitarist, I would die to get the eerie guitar slide that David Pajo made for this song. Billed as progenitor of math-rock, there’s nothing mathematical about this song. Slint broke up only after one proper album and remained a mystery.
22. Moonlight on Vermont – Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band
Avant garde rock pioneer Don Van Vliet a.k.a Captain Beefheart died late last year and probably only sold a few thousand copies of his albums, but almost any self-respecting musicians owe him a debt. His music is difficult, ranging from free-form jazz to background noise. But if you are patient enough, you will be rewarded with the ultimate prize of finest rock composition like this song.
23. All I Want – LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy probably just had a bad day and hated himself for having to sing in this song. The solution is to just crank up volume to the guitar drowning his vocals deep in the mix. Best song from last year.
24. Crazy Rhythm – The Feelies
Small band with big ambition. They cover the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” and models this song after it. Seven minutes of epic one-note guitar, with some crazy drumming throughout.
25. Bastards of Young – The Replacements
This is a quintessential underdog band and “Bastards of Young” is the quintessential anthem for underdog and slacker. This kind of song can only come from a place like Minneapolis, where lakes are forever frozen and sun hangs so low.
26. Pablo Picasso – Modern Lovers
Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers never run out good jokes. This one is about why Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole by girls in New York although he is only 5.3 ft. Guitar and keys stutter and stop along this song to a hilarious effect.
Taufiq is, in no particular order, a writer, a vinyl junkie, amateur watcher of international politics. He’s currently employed as metropolitan editor for The Jakarta Post—as he puts it: The stint is enough to financially sustain my early morning slacking off, listening to old records and reading Cracked.com while other fellow suburbanites are trapped in Jakarta’s soul-crushing traffic.
– Feb 23 | Exhibition: Meita Kasim (writer, ex-music director of Hard Rock FM Jakarta, ex-singer of Wondergel)
– Mar 02 | Exhibition: Robin Malau (entrepreneur, Indonesia’s hardcore pioneer via Puppen)
– Mar 09 | Exhibition: Acum (asst. Managing Editor of Trax mag, vocalist of Bangkutaman)
– Mar 16 | Exhibition: Che (vocalist of Cupumanik, founder of Jeune mag)
– Mar 23 | Exhibition: Santi YZ (manager of Koil, senior acct. executive Rolling Stone Indonesia)
– Mar 30 | Exhibition: Henry Foundation (voice & programmer of Goodnight Electric)
And more shows and exhibitions by oomleo, Ardy Chambers, Anto Arief, Kemir, Philip Mimbimi, etc.
See y’all again next Wednesday!
Boozed, Broozed, and Broken-boned,
*subject to change
The Block Rockin’ Beats
Curator: Rudolf Dethu
Every Wednesday, 8 – 10 PM
The Beat Radio Plus – Bali, 98.5 FM
120 minutes of cock-melting tunes.
Zero horse shit.
Rad-ass rebel without a pause.
Shut up and slamdance!