Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Week 12: I used to have a ponytail, but I still have pretty good taste in N bands

The greatest picture of the greatest band
New Order

Kumail Nanjiani: Remember when I said I was going to keep most of my stand-up? I lied. This package is thick, and room is at a premium. Not that Kumail Nanjiani isn’t amazingly funny—he is. Purging one.


Nina Nastasia: I’m surprised singer-songwriter Nina Nastasia isn’t more popular than she seems to be; she’s a powerful, dark songwriter who seems to get some critical love whenever she puts out records. Still, it’s not car music or essential for me. Purging two.

Illustration for article titled Week 12: I used to have a ponytail, but I still have pretty good taste in N bands

The National: I celebrate The National’s entire catalog, though like most of the world, I didn’t fall in love until 2005’s infallible Alligator. I’m still a little stumped by just how big they’ve gotten, considering how dark and occasionally impenetrable their songs can be. I remember when their first album came out—partly because I had a friend in a band with the same name, which then changed it—and they were inexplicably pegged by lazy reviewers as “alt-country.” (If I remember correctly; I’m not looking up any examples.) But what an incredible run it’s been since Alligator (and there’s some great stuff before). (And look who called that one the best of 2005! Right on the back of the special-edition reissue with bonus tracks!) Keeping eight, purging one (a CD single whose only exclusive track is a remix of “Lit Up”).

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin: The year was 1991. My hair was in a long-ass ponytail that I much later realized looked awful. (I’m not sure I ever actually thought it looked good.) The band was Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, who had an awful name—taken from The Goon Show—and pretty bad hair, too, but whose debut album was exactly the right combination of smart and stupid to make some waves both at home in England and over here, where they toured pretty relentlessly. “Kill Your Television” was sort of inescapable at the time, but it seems pretty well forgotten by now. And that’s too bad, because God Fodder actually holds up pretty well. And there’s no mistaking a Ned’s Atomic Dustbin song for anybody else’s, considering there are two busy bass guitars going at all times. Ask any diehard—including The A.V. Club’s Kyle Ryan—and they’ll tell you that 1992’s Are You Normal? holds up as well. Keeping two, purging three, remembering fun mosh pits.

Neutral Milk Hotel: I remember putting “Song Against Sex,” from Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1996 debut album On Avery Island, on my best-of-the-year list for Milk Magazine at the time. That song still towers, almost matching the weird, wonderful intensity of a record you’ve already heard about a million times. (That’d be In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.) If you’re not a believer already, you’re probably sick of hearing about it; if you are a believer, you don’t need me to tell you again. Still, the phenomenon itself is incredible: The only reason that Neutral Milk Hotel could have returned to the public consciousness after quietly breaking up in 1999 is that the record is so special—people found it and couldn’t stop talking about it, and they’ll probably do that for another couple of decades. Maybe more. Keeping three, including the “Everything Is” CD single, and I’ve got the big ol‘ box set on a different shelf.

New Buffalo: You’ve probably heard a Sally Seltmann song without knowing it: She co-wrote Feist’s big hit “1234.” Seltmann records under the name New Buffalo, and she’s got a fantastic ear and voice—but I never really bring these records off the shelf. Purging two.


A.C. Newman: I really like Carl “A.C.” Newman’s voice and songwriting, but I get enough of it with both The New Pornographers and the very last band I’ll write about, alphabetically speaking, for this project. (Can you figure out what it is?!?) If I get that far. Phew. Purging one.

New Order: New Order was one of my first musical loves as a semi-adult; I obsessed over every release and collected every remix in high school. The band was part of a package tour in 1989 that included Public Image and The Sugarcubes, and my friends and I camped out overnight underneath the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee to get tickets. (I recently read that Dan Harmon lost his virginity under that same bridge; presumably it wasn’t the same night.) We ended up in the front row, which probably wouldn’t happen anymore in the world of scalpers. After the show, we somehow managed to find the limo carrying the band, and chased them back to The Pfister Hotel, where I snagged Bernard Sumner’s autograph. This was some fannish stuff.


I would be less proud of that story if the band’s catalog weren’t so fantastic. I count everything from 1982 to 1989 as some of my favorite music of all time; every album marks a step forward or sideways or both, with elegant use of electronics and guitars. (Especially that Peter Hook bass.) There’s not all that much to love in the 2000s output, though last year’s Music Complete is a pretty solid return to form. Keeping 11.

The New Pornographers: I only ever listen to one New Pornographers record, and that’s Electric Version. It’s not that I don’t like the other ones, but I’m only ever in the mood once in a while, and it’s got to be “All For Swinging You Around.” Keeping one, purging two.


The New Year: The New Year formed after Bedhead broke up, and they’re an obvious continuation of that mostly sad, slow-burning Texas band. These records never quite reach the heights of Bedhead’s first and third albums, but they’re still solid. Still, I’m keeping two and purging one, and only because the self-titled record is a weird advance CD-R with no artwork.

Scout Niblett: I remember liking this stark, harsh British singer-songwriter quite a lot when This Fool Can Die Now came out back in 2007, but I don’t think I’ve listened to it a single time since. RIYL: P.J. Harvey? Purging one.


The Night Marchers: I got rid of Hot Snakes, but I’m going to hang on to The Night Marchers’ debut, See You In Magic, for the moment. It’s Speedo Reis from Rocket From The Crypt, getting a little more tuneful. It may go if things get tight, but it’s getting some fresh love right now. Keeping one.

Nirvana: I was a teenager when Nirvana-mania happened. I reviewed Nevermind—very positively—for my high school paper, and I obsessed over the band like any good teenage rebel should’ve. The only time I ever saw them play was the big In Utero-era triple bill with Jawbreaker and Mudhoney, and I had an after-show pass. We were like, “Should we go up and meet Nirvana?” but decided to go home instead. Oops!


So I’ve got the complete discography, as many 42-year-olds probably do, and I still listen to most of this stuff—not so much Nevermind—quite a bit. Still, I don’t need the CD single for “Lithium” (which was notable at the time because it featured all of the Nevermind lyrics in the booklet, which the album didn’t), or the hits package with “You Know You’re Right” on it, or From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah. Keeping five, purging three, and the box sets for Nevermind and the other one are on a different shelf. I’m covered.

Noah And The Whale: If Wes Anderson were a band… Purging one.

Number One Cup: I loved this Chicago indie-rock band’s debut, Possum Trot Plan, a ton when it came out in 1995; it’s full of the sort of tuneful, lo-fi indie songs that were inescapable at the time. (Which was fine by me.) I think I’ll give it one more nostalgia spin in the car before purging one. You can just listen to “Divebomb.”


N.W.A.: Here’s the dirty secret of Straight Outta Compton—the album, not the movie. It starts out arguably better than any album in history, certainly better than any other hip-hop album, with the trifecta of the title track, “Fuck Tha Police,” and “Gangsta Gangsta.” After that, it drops off pretty significantly in quality, presumably because N.W.A. weren’t sure yet that people wanted to hear all gangsta rap. Still, it’s a classic worth cherishing, though I hope my kid is a bit older before he discovers it. And while “100 Miles And Runnin’” is great, too, I don’t need that EP or the post-Ice Cube Efil4Zaggin. Keeping one, purging two.

Oasis: Looking at the only two Oasis discs I have, clearly I already purged the chaff some time ago. I’ve got Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? left, which makes sense considering they’re the only ones I ever really liked. (And I like those a lot.) I saw Oasis a couple of times early on, and they lived up to their reputation of being pretty damn boring at the time—not talking to the audience, Liam Gallagher standing stock still at the microphone and glaring. I guess he made up for it in interviews. I remain on Team Blur when it comes down to it. Keeping two.

Frank Ocean: Channel Orange is as great as its reputation, but it’s not as great as Nostalgia, Ultra, which is unavailable on CD. This is the new age! Keeping one.


Sinead O’Connor: Oof, it’s tough to listen to Sinead O’Connor these days, since it’s hard not to think about how far off the rails she’s gone personally. (Facebook rants, missing-persons reports, etc.) That said, I’ll still hang on to the classic I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got and hope that she gets a happy-ish ending. I’m purging a CD single of the song that first made me love her music, a Smiths-sampling remix of “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” that I heard on Milwaukee’s WMSE way back when. Keeping one, purging two.

Office: I interviewed this Chicago band for SPIN in 2007, which was supposed to be the year they broke out from semi-hot local act onto a national stage, with help from James Iha’s vanity label, Scratchie Records. But it was wrong place, wrong time, not exactly right sound—even the band didn’t really like Night At The Ritz, which polished up some of their older songs. To my ears, it sounds like a slicker, more radio-ready Of Montreal, which also happens to be the next band on the shelf. Purging one.

Of Montreal: How/why do I own almost the entire discography of a band I only sort of like? Here’s how. (Warning: This story is not that exciting.) I reviewed a live Of Montreal show in 2007, and it was pretty fucking great: The stage show was huge—more expensive than a band of that size could afford, and supposedly paid for with money they earned by allowing Outback Steakhouse to make their own version of an Of Montreal song for a commercial. Anyway, somehow the band’s publicist realized that I was only familiar with a couple of the band’s many albums, and he sent me a big ol‘ package as a thank-you. But I only ever listen to Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? And I will admit as well that most of their records sound the same to me—I like ’em, but I only need one. Sorry to my cousin Bella, world’s biggest Of Montreal fan. Keeping one, purging eight.


Okkervil River: Another band I’m reasonably fond of but never listen to. On top of that, most of the discs I own don’t have the actual artwork. Double whammy! Purging six.

The Olivia Tremor Control: There was a time when everything related to Elephant 6—that includes Of Montreal, too—seemed touched by some kind of fairy dust. When that dust settled, only Neutral Milk Hotel was really standing. Someday there might be an Olivia Tremor Control revival, though: Dusk At Cubist Castle is gorgeously psychedelic and immediate, though maybe a little too indebted to the ’60s to really stand on its own. Keeping one, purging one.


One Dove: Here’s a weird situation to find yourself in: I remember really liking One Dove’s Morning Dove White, but I barely remember what it sounds like at this point. Okay, it sounds like generic trip-hop. Bullseye purge! Purging one.

The Orb: Last summer, I pulled out The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld for the first time in years, and I remember being delighted that almost my entire commute was soundtracked to just the first two songs, “Little Fluffy Clouds” and “Earth (Gaia).” I don’t own any other Orb records (or, weirdly, I guess, any KLF material at all), but this double disc is a classic. Oh, and it’s the perfect representation of another dead genre, ambient house. Keeping one.


Orbital: Orbital, on the other hand that I don’t pretend to understand, is “ambient techno.” For some reason I’ve only got In Sides, which includes a 28-minute version of “The Box.” I don’t do any drugs, but I like it plenty. I may have to eventually just replace this with a greatest-hits collection, because I’m missing all the hot tracks from the first two albums. Keeping one (for now).

Jim O’Rourke: Jim O’Rourke has released dozens of solo albums and collaborated with everyone from alt-rock heavyweights—Wilco and Sonic Youth—to out-there jazzbos. Unsurprisingly, the records I own of his are on the more accessible end of the spectrum: Bad Timing is a largely instrumental guitar suite that sounds like John Fahey, and Eureka gets a little more pop, particularly on the awesome “Women Of The World.” Strangely, I don’t have Insignificance, which is sort of the third in that trilogy. Its artwork features a cartoon of a man being fucked by an octopus, an image so glorious that the Atomic Records staff were inspired to make iron-ons of it for ourselves and a few lucky customers. Keeping two.

Orthrelm: Orthrelm’s experimental grindcore masterpiece Asristir Vieldriox is one of my favorite comedy albums, though I don’t think the drums-and-guitar duo were joking. At the very least, they were experimenting: Asristir features 99 tracks and clocks in at about 13 minutes, which means each “song” is in fact just a few seconds of shredding guitar and drums. We used to listen to it at Atomic Records to see how customers would react—it almost always elicited laughs and at least a few what-the-fucks. Purging one. I can just listen to the whole thing on YouTube.

Beth Orton: Beth Orton has always been more on the “folk” side of “folktronica,” though her best songs—“She Cries Your Name,” from 1996’s great Trailer Park, is the best known—ride the line perfectly. I’ve got a stack of her discs, though I think I’ll just hang on to the greatest-hits collection Pass In Time, because when I want to hear Beth Orton, it’s just the hits and one particular deep cut: “This One’s Gonna Bruise,” from Daybreaker. I guess it’s Spotify for that one, and you can listen to it above. Keeping one, purging four.


Alec Ounsworth: I didn’t keep the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah discs, so I probably don’t need their singer’s first solo album. Purging one.

Owl John: I’ve told you how much I love Frightened Rabbit, right? Owl John is singer-guitarist Scott Hutchison’s bleakly ambitious solo record. I wish it had a regular jewel case, because it’s going to get lost in here. Keeping one.


Patton Oswalt: Patton Oswalt shares a lot of DNA with The A.V. Club: obsessive nerd tendencies, (hopefully) more than our share of intelligence, and seriously cantankerous streaks. He’s great on TV, in his two fantastic books, and in movies—both Big Fan and Young Adult were remarkable performances—but he’s at his transcendent best alone, onstage. Apologies for the cliché, but it’s never been truer: He makes it look easy, and you can hear him get better and more confident with each passing special and album, starting with the incredible Feelin’ Kinda Patton. Keeping six.

Outkast: You’ve heard of these guys. Keeping two.

Augustus Pablo: I’m purely a tourist when it comes to reggae and dub, but I’ve always loved the sound of Augustus Pablo’s melodica—surely an affinity I picked up from listening to too much New Order. I have no real desire to dig deeper, to be honest, but I love the 1977 instrumental album East Of The River Nile, and I’ve also got a hits record that I pull out from time to time. Keeping two.


Panther: Here’s one I’m truly befuddled by. I have no memory of this Panther record, 14 Kt. God, which the internet tells me came out in 2008. It’s got a bit of funk, but also some of that weird D.C. go-go energy. Listening to the first track, I’m remembering it vaguely, but not loving it. So out it goes! Purging one.

Papa M: After the breakup of Slint, David Pajo was involved with a bunch of other bands, most notably Tortoise, but he also released a series of solo records under a variety of similar names—M, Aerial M, Papa M. The first couple of those were fantastic, playing around in the sandboxes of his better-known bands but getting moody and sunny in new ways. (And he covered The Misfits’ “Last Caress,” funnily enough.) The only disc I’ve kept over the years is a compilation called Hole Of Burning Alms, which features his first (and best) two songs, “Safeless” and “Napoleon.” Keeping one.


Paris, Texas: If I’m being honest—and I’m trying—I liked the guys in Paris, Texas more than I liked their music. I think the only reason I still have the Madison emo band’s sorta-major-label debut, Like You Like An Arsonist, is that I wrote the bio for it. Still, it sounds like the kind of thing that really should’ve been a lot bigger with the kids: It’s snotty, catchy, and goes down easy. Purging one.

Pavement: Slanted And Enchanted was released on my 18th birthday, and I have a vivid memory of posters hanging in the window of Atomic—I didn’t work there yet—that said something snotty like “The next big thing?” That, along with the cover, attracted me immediately. (What also drew me in: One of my all-time favorite bands, The Wedding Present, had covered a really early Pavement track all the way back in 1990, before pretty much anyone had heard of them.) Slanted was massive for me (and a lot of people, clearly)—a touchstone of slack-sounding indie-rock that was in fact beautifully crafted. (Not carefully crafted, maybe, but there’s a magic to that energy.) After the brilliant Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, it was a bit of diminishing returns for me, if I’m being honest, but they never fell so far that I got bored—and I listen to all of the Pavement records with some regularity. (Terror Twilight might have some dust on it.) So I’m keeping it all—all the deluxe reissues, the Westing By Musket And Sextant compilation, even the kind of unnecessary hits collection. Keeping eight.


Paw: Question for any young people reading this: Does the word “grunge” mean anything to you? I know you know what it means, but do you have a sense of how pervasive the genre—and maybe more importantly, the word—was in the mid-’90s? The bands themselves always avoided the term, but plenty of new ones dove headfirst into the sound and then disappeared. That included Kansas band Paw, which sort of looked like Soundgarden and sounded like Helmet, but with a Southern-ish flair. Their single about a dog, “Jessie,” was catchy enough, but like the word itself—and most of the grunge bands, save the big three—it was quickly forgotten. Purging one.

The tally: Not an amazing week for purging, but there were a lot of great bands to keep. I ditched 49 more, for a grand total of 586, which is also the name of an excellent New Order song. Coincidence?!? Yes, actually.


Personal Hall Of Fame (the discs that I’ll take to the grave, maximum of one per artist): Some seriously tough choices here. The National, Alligator; Neutral Milk Hotel, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea; New Order, Power, Corruption, And Lies; Nirvana, In Utero, I guess?; N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton; Patton Oswalt, Werewolves And Lollipops; Outkast, Stankonia; Pavement, Slanted And Enchanted

Next up: That time I hung out with Eddie Vedder and started liking Pearl Jam (sorta related).


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