It happens every year: I post my “Top Albums of the Year” list and like clockwork, last-minute gems from the year rise to the surface. I suppose I could go back and make changes to my list, but in the end, that defeats the purpose (believe me; if I could change my number one album from 2008, I would). These posts are a benchmark of where I was in that time frame; trying to change the past would be dishonest and misleading. Then again, I can’t help but let you in on some albums that probably should have made my list but were discovered after the fact.
“Past Life Martyred Saints”
[Souterrain Transmissions; 2011]
I think we can all agree that the commercials for ASPCA, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, are downright depressing and manipulative in their ability to take you from bliss to blubbering tears within two-minutes. What’s most disconcerting to me is the use of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” Yes, the song pulls at your heartstrings, but logically, it boggles the mind. We know that all dogs go to heaven, but do they also become angels? And if so, where does God draw the line? Squirrels? Bunnies? Do bats get angel wings to match their bat wings? (Think about that one…it would be pretty bad ass).
If ASPCA were looking for music that actually fit with the message saving abused dogs and cats, may I suggest an artist better suited for their depressing imagery: EMA. Simply put – Erica M. Anderson is one tortured puppy. Her lyrics speak of a broken soul, abused and finding pain as the only means of feeling. She begs “I wish every time he touched me he left a mark” and later concedes “I will get exactly what’s coming to me.” On “Butterfly Knife” she sings in her pained voice of a goth she knew in high school who “cut and fucked (her/his) arms up” and on she portrays the state of California as a rapist who “rubbed me raw/ rubbed me wrong/ and I heave when I think of you.” Even the production is barren and broken. The guitar frets squeak and the strings jangle loosely, just another beaten character in EMA’s opus of self-hate. If you’re expecting a smile during this nine song therapy session, I suggest you look elsewhere. But if you find enjoyment in blunt, artistic honesty, then EMA’s “Past Life Martyred Saint” is right up your alley, hiding behind the dumpster, cold from the night’s rain, and hoping you’ll come along, lead it out from the dark, and give it a warm hug (or a doggy treat).
I actually bought Hospital Ships “Lonely Twin” this summer while visiting a friend in Minneapolis (the Electric Fetus provided the goods). I listened to “Lonely Twin” once while navigating my way through downtown Minneapolis, and I found it to be a wonderfully adventurous set of melodic songs. I then took the CD out, tossed it in my messy back seat and fished my hand in the bag, pulling out Chad VanGaalen’s “Diaper Island,” an album I went on to love so much that it ranked 12th on my year-end list. While I marveled at the magic of “Diaper Island,” the Hospital Ships CD got lost in the Island of Misfit CDs that is my backseat, never to be thought of again (I know this sounds horrible, but I buy way too much music, and at times, it is bound to happen).
On January 1st 2012, while cleaning out my car at a truck stop in Norman, Oklahoma, I found something crammed deep beneath my driver’s chair: “Lonely Twin”! In an instant I had a panic attack. How could I have forgotten this great album? My list was already complete, and really, at this point, could I add an album that I listened to once? Filled with remorse, back in the car, I listened to the album as I rolled across the Ardmore Basin, relishing every moment and regretting my messiness.
But I’m sure Matt Geiger, the brains behind Hospital Ships, doesn’t mind. Being a musician from Lawrence, Kansas often comes along with a feeling of neglect from the world of music. I may have left it off my 2011 list, but I couldn’t let this mixture of Flaming Lips and Folk Implosion hide beneath my car seat any longer. I’m not sure if it’s a great album as much as it’s a collection of phenomenal songs. “Old Skin” will haunt you, “Reprise” will have your head nodding joyously, and “Carry On” will bring you to tears with it’s message of perseverance through neglect. No worries Hospital Ships – if I have anything to say about it, your music will “carry on, carry on, carry on” for years to come.
[Trouble in Mind; 2011]
It was all Alex P. Keaton’s fault. Before that faithful evening, I believed with all my heart that there was a Santa Claus. I don’t know what year it was, what episode of “Family Ties” it was, but I remember the moment vividly: Alex appears on the stairwell of the Keaton household and announces, “There’s no Santa Claus.” I don’t recall whether this was his first discovery or if he was trying to tear down other’s holiday spirit, but I do remember the reaction on the show. No one argued with him about this point, and the show went on as if everyone conceded that Alex had spoken the truth. The Challenger crash, the OJ Chase, and Alex Keaton telling me there was no Santa: moments that will forever remain engrained in my memory.
So imagine my surprise upon returning to my apartment in Texas after two weeks in Iowa with my family and finding a mysterious package on my bed. Had Santa stopped by my place after all the Christmas seasons that had been tarnished by that little Republican prick? Intrigued, I opened the box, only to discover the LP to Mikal Cronin’s self-titled album. At that moment I recalled ordering the album over a month earlier, and after several weeks of backorders, I’d forgotten all about it. My roommate had placed the package on my bed since I wasn’t there when it arrived – once again, my Christmas spirit had been crushed. There was no magic at play.
But that pessimistic attitude all but disappeared the instant I placed the needle on the crisp new record. What came out of the speakers was a gift wrapped in pop-perfection. All three ghosts of Christmas burst out of my speakers in one congealed spirit: the past resonated in each retro-guitar riff, the present emanated from the album’s lo-fi garage rock sensibility that is all the rage in San Francisco these days (Ty Segall, Charlie Moonheart, and John Dwyer all make appearances), and by the end of the album, I marveled at the future of this incredible songwriter. With craftsmanship like this you would think Cronin has been at this for years, but like one of Santa’s magical little elves, this is his first solo album, solidly built from start to finish. The month of January is never an easy one for a “new music fiend” like myself since artists rarely release their latest goods this early in the year. But thanks to Mikal Cronin, I have an album to keep me smiling ear to ear for not only the next several weeks, but for years to come. Perhaps there is a Santa Claus after all.