Highway Music

I haven’t been posting as much as I would like the last few days because my wife and I have been busy packing up our shitty Van Nuys apartment and driving from L.A. up to Oregon, where we are now slowly unpacking and enjoying our vastly superior Gresham apartment (some people here in the Portland metro area have a fundamentally low opinion of Gresham; I assume this is because they’ve never lived in Van Nuys). We took a leisurely two days driving up from Los Angeles and over that period, I was guided by some totally awesome road-tripping music, which I thought would make a great topic for my first official Oregon Bollocks! post. I don’t remember every album I listened to on the way up, but I remember most of them and why they felt like the album to listen to when I selected them.

I do remember starting off the trip with the ultra-sexy 25th Anniversary edition of Lifes Rich Pageant by R.E.M., chosen for its energetic pop awesomeness. Listening to the opening guitar riff to “Begin the Begin” as I pulled away from the old apartment for the last time felt like diving into a pool of cool blue water (then surfacing and driving a thousand miles).

Somewhere on the drive up, I realized that I hadn’t listened to the National’s High Violet in a long time, which is a travesty. High Violet was my favorite album of 2010 (a year which was an absolute boon for awesome music) and it still holds up. Flying down the highway at 75 miles per hour while rocking out to “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is a pretty satisfying way to take a road trip.

Somewhere in the fuckall nothingness between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, we hit some construction that constricted Interstate 5 (“The Five,” to my L.A. people) down to one lane going north. I decided, slowing to a crawl and gazing out at the dirt and more dirt, it was time for some kind of weird, semi-obnoxious jazz. I selected Marc Ribot’s Spiritual Unity, which is his tribute to and/or reinterpretation of the music of saxophonist Albert Ayler. Ribot didn’t disappoint me – Spiritual Unity is a messy, skronking, noisy blast of jazzy awesomeness that sounds like the players were pounding White Russians and just making noise in a garage. As I listened, I could imagine my good friend Tim, who played with me in Radical Edward and worked with me at Tower Records in Boston, sitting in the passenger seat, screwing his face up in disgust, and asking, “What the the fuck is this shit?” He’s not a big fan of instrumental music.

It was kinda hard to select a follow-up to Marc Ribot’s insane jazz orgy, so I paged through my CD wallet (one of three that made the trip with me – I was not wanting for variety on the drive up) until something grabbed my attention. My instincts led me to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album I was surprised to like the first time I heard it. It’s still a pretty awesome hip-hop album although I’m not sure it will compel me to check out West’s collaboration with Jay-Z.

When my sister died in 2008, I drove up to Oregon for her memorial and, on that trip, I began something of a road trip tradition: I listened to every Hold Steady album in chronological order. I don’t do this with my wife in the car, because she doesn’t like the Hold Steady as much as I do (or at all. And let’s face it: very few people like the Hold Steady as much as I do). But she was with the dog in her car, bouncing along the highway ahead of me (I let her set the pace for the trip because her car is a 1994 Corolla that has crossed the country twice in the last seven years) so I took the opportunity to start with Almost Killed Me and end with Heaven is Whenever, an album that was not as lauded by the critics as it should have been. It’s a great fucking record and the Hold Steady is a great fucking band and that’s all there is to it.

I think My Morning Jacket might be the quintessential road trip band among bands that are working right now (maybe tied with the Hold Steady). This year’s Circuital is pretty compelling evidence; I wound my way through the curving hills of Southern Oregon while shouting along to songs like “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” and crooning along with “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” which might be the sweetest song of 2011.

It wasn’t a large leap to go from My Morning Jacket to the Band, whose self-titled sophomore album is, along with its predecessor, Music from Big Pink, one of the all time classics of broken-ass music.

I’m telling you about these albums in the order that I remember them, not in the order I listened to them. As I was just writing about The Band, I remembered that I actually listened to two albums between Circuital and the Band’s second album. The first one was Neko Case’s excellent 2006 album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I have gushed and gushed about Neko Case and 2009’s Middle Cyclone, but it’s worth noting that Fox Confessor is a titanic offering of beautiful, haunting music.

After Neko Case, I popped in Bob Dylan’s Blood On the Tracks, which might someday eclipse Highway 61 Revisited as my favorite Dylan album. Highway 61 has “Desolation Row,” which is my favorite Dylan tune (goddamn you in the face, My Chemical Romance) but Blood On the Tracks is probably the better album from start to finish. You get Sardonic Clown Dylan, Bitter Romantic Dylan, and Awesome Storytelling Dylan in very balanced doses on this album. Yes, there are people who are gonna whinge about how they don’t like his voice, but those people can – to be perfectly blunt – suck it. Blood On the Tracks is a fucking classic and if you don’t like the singing, go crawl into a hole with your Josh Groban and your pretty notes and you’ll never learn anything cool about life.

Come to think of it, it was even less of a leap to go from Bob Dylan to the Band than it would’ve been to go from My Morning Jacket to the Band. I still hold out hope that My Morning Jacket will just record an awesome album of nothing but Band covers, but I know the odds are against it.

As I drove through Stockton, California, I couldn’t resist putting on Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but this was actually the least rewarding listening experience of my entire drive. I’m not saying the album has grown off of me or anything, it just felt forced. That’s more my fault than it is Pavement’s though, and “Unfair” still fucking kills.

I was somewhere just south of Portland, maybe near Wilsonville, when I popped in Menomena’s out-fucking-standing Mines, an album that rivals the last two TV On the Radio albums for sheer sonic awesomeness. I loved this album immediately and I might love it more now than I did when I first heard it.

We stayed the night at a friend’s house in Beaverton because the power was not yet on in our new apartment. As we drove from Beaverton to the new place on the east side, the only album I could think of to listen to was The Soft Bulletin, which is widely (and correctly) regarded as the Flaming Lips’ best album. It has that perfect sense of victory, summer thrills, and a tinge of melancholy that I have to admit I feel about all the cool folks I left behind in Los Angeles. Mostly though, I’m fucking thrilled to be back in the northwest. Once I get my shit together here and start my job (and school – Sweet Zombie Jesus, I start school in a month!), Bollocks! will get back to a more regular rhythm of rocking your face with reviews of music and shows and stuff like that. Also, there are rumors emerging of a monthly podcast. Now that all three permanent Bollocks! staffers are in the same state, anything can happen.