Speedy Ortiz: 5 Physical Albums That Changed My Life
In honor of Record Store Day 2018, TIDAL enlisted some musicians to share with us the records that changed their lives. The members of Speedy Ortiz break down their picks below.
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Ween, Pure Guava
I wasn’t cool enough to be the one 7th grader in 1993 with a Pure Guava CD, but there were frequent mixtape trades among my friends. I ended up with one tape that had ‘I Smoke Some Grass,’ ‘Little Birdy,’ ‘Big Jilm’ and ‘Touch My Tooter’ all in a row. It was exactly the warped, suburban brand of strangeness that I was looking for. Soon enough, I ordered the tape from Columbia House. Not yet knowing much about tape manipulation, I expected a 4- or 5-member group that looked like Gibby Haynes fronting Faith No More, but instead they were two normal-looking dudes wearing solid-color T-shirts. And somehow, one band member sang all those different voices. Ween did not look as intimidating as what their music suggested.
Pure Guava‘s recording and production allegedly cost under $100, recorded to 4-track using cassettes given to them from fans (which explains some of the half-second fragments that pop up between songs). ‘Flies on My Dick’ has the GOAT of guitar solos and ‘I Saw Gener Crying in His Sleep’ has the GOAT of whistling solos. And I think Ween owes this distinction to the way they’re recorded. Many of the nuances, inflections and noises feel happenstance, a collection of druggy bedroom-recording magic. Very few of the songs ever sounded quite as perfect when performed live. It’s also impeccably sequenced. Most of the transitions are as memorable as the songs themselves.
Pure Guava was the first weirdo album that I ever loved, and it helped me understand how to use a Tascam Portastudio as a musical instrument. It was a big part of what inspired a weirdo radio show that I’ve hosted for the past 10 years, and it also inspired me to co-found my own weirdo two-member band that lasted throughout the 2000s. - Michael Falcone
Deerhoof, Milk Man
Yeah, yeah, cats get nine lives or whatever, but I’m thinking I’ve got even more, because Deerhoof has busted open my skull and caused instant ‘I’m dead lol’ syndrome at least 14 times. That’s ‘cuz they’ve got 14 absurdly genius studio records. It’s rare that a band with such a lengthy discography stays this interesting across it, especially a group that delves into experimental noise as easily as it dips into prog rock, free jazz, riff heroics, playground sing-alongs, art funk, folk anthems… and sometimes that’s over just the course of a song.
I don’t think Deerhoof’s made a bad album yet, and I’m not one of those ‘their older stuff is better’ fans. Last year’s Mountain Moves and its 2016 predecessor The Magic are two of my favorite rock albums period, by Deerhoof or by anybody. But if we’re talking formative albums, I’m gonna have to go with their records that came out when I was in high school, particularly Milk Man.
Milk Man gets my commendations for its HIGH DRAMA. It’s a concept album about the Pac Man-meets-Matthew Barney figure on the record’s cover, a Pied Piper-y ‘milk man’ with a ghostly bag over his head, fruit ‘stabbed to the arms’ and blood dripping all over his naked body. (Why has no one proposed the theory that Milk Man is dating the Babadook? A way better ship than the one with Pennywise, IMO.)
Anyway, MM kidnaps children in the middle of the night and takes them to his icky castle in the clouds, as a milk man does. It’s just enough horror for me to party. In spite of this delightfully kooky narrative (which was adapted into a children’s ballet in 2007) I’ve always gotten way more lost in the overlapping guitars, shifting rhythms, derailed grooves and stylistic teleportations than the record’s plot.
Not too many other records make me think of Steely Dan before they make me think of RPG side quests. Operatic melodies are delivered sotto voce by the always-interesting bassist and singer Satomi Matsuzaki. Minimal electronic beats give way to Greg Saunier’s suspiciously superhuman drumming, and guitarists John Dietrich and Chris Cohen play in a psychic mindmeld. This record clued me into a composing device I call ‘the Deerhoof trick’ — playing a riff a half step off from the key in which you just played — and every time I rip it off (which is A LOT) I think about Milk Man.
Side note: my dog, with whom I generally see eye-to-eye about everything, HATES this record. Cries nonstop when I put it on. I’m dogsitting another pooch who has been whimpering the entire time I’ve been revisiting this fine record. Is he scared of the Milk Man? Or is Milk Man the new Law & Order theme song? Can dogs not abide? Please play this record for your dog and let me know what happens. – Sadie Dupuis
The Unicorns, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
Like a great television show canceled during the height of its brilliance, the Unicorns’ tenure in music was all too brief. Sure, their founding members went on to form other projects such as Islands, Clues, Mister Heavenly, etc., but there is something undeniably special and formative about their first and only proper LP, 2003′s Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
Alternating between the maniacally sugarcoated on tracks like ‘Jellybones’ or ‘I Was Born (A Unicorn),’ and the downright diabolical on ‘Inoculate the Innocuous’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Die,’ this record covers a lot of emotional and philosophical territory. It’s also FUN AF to listen through, especially after all these years.
The first thing I notice, listening on headphones, is that WWCOHWWG? is filled to the brim with interesting production choices. Crazy vocal panning and warbly synths veer into lo-fi tape manipulation, only to suddenly careen back again towards hi-fi vocal harmonies. This record is filled with extremely high highs and depressingly low lows. As such, the lyrics on these songs fluctuate between the brutally hilarious and the hilariously brutal.
One thing that I’ve always loved about the Unicorns is that while they don’t take themselves too seriously, they also aren’t afraid to punch you in the gut. This warped combination of extreme absurdity and self-awareness backed with a feeling of existential dread is what I feel truly affected me during my more impressionable years.
This brings me to ask myself a question that I think we all should ask ourselves in regards to the music that changed our lives: If I heard this for the first time today, or if it were newly released in 2018 for that matter, would I fall in love with it immediately, just as I did in high school? That’s something I find truly interesting to consider: music or art in the context of the time it was released vs. revisiting or rediscovering it at a later date. Would I have written the same music or appreciated similar artists had I never heard the Unicorns’ specific flavor of insanity when I was 17 years old? Kinda makes me want to show every 17-year-old this record immediately.
That’s another thing, this album will be forever a shining diamond in the roughs of the Internet that most people will never even experience. At the time of this writing, the Unicorns have around 60k monthly listeners, but I’d imagine that most, if not all, of these listeners were above the age of 30. Are we listening out of nostalgia? Maybe partially, but I feel strongly that this material stands the test of time.
As far obvious comparisons go, the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle is another standalone LP that shines brightly through the aether of the decades. But as I said at the start of this synopsis, Who Will Cut Our Hair also brings to mind some great lost TV shows of yore like Party Down or Freaks & Geeks, brilliant works of art, far ahead of their time, that ended much too early and forever leave us with a burning, unanswerable desire for more content.
Perhaps it’s the same inter-band tension and fiery spirit pulsing throughout these 13 indie-pop masterpieces that also ultimately ended up tearing The Unicorns apart, but I would argue that that’s one of the things that also makes them so great. I for one take comfort in the fact that if I ever have a mental itch that I just cannot seem to scratch, I can throw on the Unicorns and instantly be transported back into their demented, freewheeling psyche. – Andy Molholt
Lassie Foundation, Pacifico
I was introduced to this band and album through the singer in my high school band. Thankfully, there were websites where people diligently uploaded every album ever recorded, so I was actually able to find not only Pacifico, but most of their other albums. I’m not sure why they aren’t known at all because they combine the tone of My Bloody Valentine with the vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys, which is an amazing and thoughtful combination. There’s not much more for me to say on why the album is great since they aren’t even talked about, so listening is really the only way.
But, beyond the great songwriting and incredible recording quality, this was an album that I place very specifically in terms of time and place. Listening to the album reminds me of a lot of moments of emotional struggle: moving away from my band and friends to go to college, losing my childhood pet, no romantic life. Still, at the same time, it reminds me of reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, while also revitalizing my interest in pursuing new music, which had begun to fade for me.
I think they’re an incredibly underrated band that was introduced to me at an incredibly formative time in my life. – Darl Ferm
I haven’t found any online Q&A’s with Harmony Korine about the Gummo soundtrack, and so I always assumed he curated it personally. I think only about half of the songs appear in the movie, but the track selection feels very deliberate and careful to me.
Growing up, I didn’t have any close friends who knew anything about abrasive metal, but its absurdity had always compelled me. The crazier sounds are the ones I felt were worth embracing. For example, I can’t forget the first time I heard Mortician’s fake double kick-drum in ‘Skin Peeler.’
I got the impression that the CD was intended to showcase black metal bands spaced with other sub-genres in between. I did not realize that half of the acts weren’t black metal until a few months later. The songs from those other sub-genres were the ones that initially impressed me and acted as gateways to finding more bands.
I first got the CD to hear Sleep’s ‘Dragonaut,’ which became my gateway to other stoner-metal bands like Electric Wizard or Uncle Acid. The track from Eyehategod eventually led to me discovering the band Crowbar. The Spazz track led me to finding Charles Bronson, and so on. You could call it a crash course for metal posers if you want, but it’s been consistently one of my favorite resources for music discovery. Whenever there’s a new album by Absu or Brujeria or any of these bands (the ones who are still functioning), I always have to check it out just because they were on the Gummo soundtrack. - Michael Falcone
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