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

Week 18: Wilco, The Wedding Present, and Yeezy all start with W

Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater
Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater

Ugly Casanova: Ugly Casanova is a solo project from Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse who, if I remember correctly, thought that it would be a good safety-net name if his main band’s major-label deal didn’t work out. The not-quite-a band’s only album, Sharpen Your Teeth, came out not long after the classic The Moon & Antarctica, and it’s like a stripped-down, banjo-ier version of that era. In other words, it’s pretty essential for Modest Mouse fans. Warning: The video above is pretty gross. Keeping one.


Ui: More Tortoise vibes. Ui may have actually arrived at similar musical conclusions—not that similar, to be totally fair, but similar enough—independently of Tortoise’s long shadow, but it probably didn’t matter. They put out a bunch of records before the band’s Sasha Frere-Jones found his true calling as a music critic; he was on staff at The New Yorker for over a decade, and always good for truly sharp, thoughtful pieces. The last couple of years haven’t been as kind; he bounced to Genius and then the L.A. Times before getting embroiled in what seems like, all things considered, a pretty minor scandal. You can Google it if you want; I’m gonna listen to “Skeletons” one more time and then purge one.

The Unicorns: This band was famous for about 10 minutes, both for touring with the Arcade Fire right as that band blew up, and then for eventually turning into Islands. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? Still sounds nice, but not nearly as essential as it once did. Purging one.

Unkle: I don’t know how clear this has been during this Binge And Purge project, but I am most assuredly not listening to every single disc as I go through. There are certain things that I’m positive I’ll be keeping, and other stuff I know I don’t care enough about to keep without listening again. With Unkle’s debut Psyence Fiction, I was pretty sure I’d be keeping it—though I hadn’t listened in quite a while, I remembered it being really solid. It’s a collaboration between Mo’ Wax Records’ James Lavelle and DJ Shadow, who was coming hot on the heels of the classic Endtroducing…… The two of them wrangled a crazy array of guest singers, including Mike D of Beastie Boys, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, and Richard Ashcroft of The Verve, and put their vocals atop sample-heavy, dense tracks that felt like some of Shadow’s best. But listening to the record now, it doesn’t have the spark that I remember, and even the Yorke track—which has an incredible music video, above—hasn’t aged all that well. (It includes the Yorke-iest Yorke lyric ever, too: “I’m a rabbit in your headlights / Christian suburbanite.”) So it went from a keeper to a purger, and I can listen to the individual tracks at my leisure, without the inconvenience of a cardboard CD slip-sleeve. Purging one.

Unrest: I was obsessed with the D.C. band Unrest right when the trio was making its best records and right before it broke up, pretty much for good (unlike so many other bands of the era, who keep on going). For the first part of its life, Unrest was a weird, inscrutable sorta-rock band that played a bunch of covers and sounded like it was fucking around most of the time. Around 1991, band main man—and TeenBeat Records impresario—Mark Robinson found his inner pop muse, and made a bunch of beautifully strange, airy records. Imperial F.F.R.R. is apparently so good I had to buy it twice—an import version and a domestic one, with some slight track-list variation. And then there are the major-label releases, specifically the unstoppable Isabel Bishop EP and Perfect Teeth. I never listen to the earlier stuff, and you don’t really need to, either. But you ought to at least listen to “Isabel” if you’ve never heard the band. Keeping four, purging three.

Vampire Weekend: I always sort of liked Vampire Weekend, even as their preppy aesthetic really rubbed me the wrong way. I couldn’t deny the hooks of “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma,” even as I hated the Izod shirts. (They’re like the Blaine of indie rock.) But I was all-in with Modern Vampires Of The City. In spite of its terrible name, it’s got some great songs. And I think they even toned down the style a bit, to more manageable levels. They don’t look like they should be carrying tennis racquets at all times anymore. I realize that’s a very surface criticism, but you’re here looking for honesty, right? Keeping two. (I don’t own Contra.)

Sharon Van Etten: I’m thoroughly enthralled by Sharon Van Etten’s music, and I think she’s one of the finest singer-songwriters of the past decade. So I’m a little confused as to how I only own Epic and Tramp, but not the other two full-lengths. Did you borrow them and never give them back after seeing her killer version of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Shearwater on A.V. Undercover? Keeping two.

Chad VanGaalen: I was enthralled by this Canadian weirdo’s first album, Infiniheart, when it came out on Sub Pop in 2005, but I haven’t kept up with him too much. Maybe it’s because that record has a couple of nearly perfect woozy wonders, and I don’t know that anything else could match up. Keeping one, purging two.

The Vaselines: What percentage of Vaselines record sales are directly attributable to Kurt Cobain? I’m gonna guess it’s well over 90 percent, and my interest in the band is certainly directly tied to Nirvana’s covers of “Molly’s Lips,” “Son Of A Gun,” and “Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam.” And while those songs—and others—are plenty fun, I haven’t listened to the originals for years. Purging one.

Eddie Vedder: I pulled out the Into The Wild soundtrack a few weeks ago after a bit of a Pearl Jam binge—after seeing them play—and found myself uncharitably thinking, “It sounds like they told Eddie to make a record, but to not try all that hard.” There are some decent songs here, but nothing I’ll be pulling off the shelf. Purging one.


Vermont: Before The Promise Ring broke up and its drummer and singer-guitarist formed Maritime, those same two fellas—along with Chris Rosenau of Pele—made a couple of quiet records under the name Vermont. There’s a song on the first one called “These Dudes, They Got A Band.” If you’re a Promise Ring completist, maybe you have these records. I am, but for some reason I don’t even have the second one, just a CD-R of the first and a CD single that I can live without. Keeping one, purging one.

Versus: There was a time I listened to the first Versus album, The Stars Are Insane, pretty regularly, but I’m sad to report that time was 20 years ago. I’m old. Purging one.


The Verve: I once interviewed Richard Ashcroft, the mercurial (read: drug-addled) frontman of The Verve, and he was every bit the rock star, in the funniest ways. He had recently been to the hospital, if I remember correctly, for “dehydration,” but he was ready for a chat. When I snapped his picture, he made what we now call “duck face.” But… I never listen to The Verve anymore, except for the occasional dalliance with the singles. So I’m just going to keep the hits set, and purge three.

Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes were Milwaukee’s hometown heroes when I was in high school, though by that time they had already peaked—“Blister In The Sun” was far in the past, though “Blister 2000” hadn’t come out yet. At the time, I wasn’t much of a fan, though I remember buying and enjoying 3—the one with “American Music.” Now, I own only the classic self-titled debut, which is worth keeping. Not-that-exciting story: The various Femmes used to come into Atomic from time to time, and bassist Brian Ritchie kinda loved talking about his own band. And his didgeridoo. They’re still playing and even recording new music together, almost a decade after Ritchie called singer-songwriter Gordon Gano greedy and insensitive for licensing “Blister” to Wendy’s—and said that Gano had “lost his songwriting ability years ago.” Harsh. Keeping one.

Vitreous Humor: I once saw Vitreous Humor play first on a four-band bill, and the audience demanded an encore—I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen that anywhere else. The Lawrence, Kansas, band really only released one cohesive record, a self-titled seven-song EP, but it’s a doozy—a post-adolescent, super-smart rock record that should never have been called “emo.” (It was, a lot.) The band has mostly been lost to history at this point, though every time I meet somebody who’s a fan, they’re a very, very big fan. Keeping two (the EP plus an odds-and-ends collection).

The Walkmen: As you may recall from the J section of this project, I was a huge fan of Jonathan Fire*Eater, the great tinny rock hope that ultimately fizzled out after one major-label record. Three-fifths of that band took some time off then started The Walkmen with a new singer and bassist, and I saw them many times in those early, casual days. They ended up having the career that Jonathan Fire*Eater seemed to have been promised, releasing seven full-lengths that got—in the rarest rock ’n’ roll form—increasingly great. Now they’re on indefinite hiatus, which doesn’t sound great for a reunion, but there have been plenty of side projects, including the recent, fantastic debut by singer Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend. Keeping seven, including a CD-R I compiled of rarities and B-sides, purging the Harry Nilsson covers album.


The Wannadies: I’m trying not to keep discs for a single song, and that’s what I’d be doing if I hung on to the fine Wannadies self-titled record. The Swedish band has one song I need, “You And Me Song,” and I don’t need it all that often. Purging one.

The War On Drugs: I’m a bigger War On Drugs fan in theory than in reality, though I love to see them live. All I’ve got here is Slave Ambient, which I like a lot but never listen to anymore. Purging one.

Washed Out: You may know Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around” as the theme from Portlandia. I like his music, but I’ve got enough floaty, beaty records around here without this one. Purging one.


The Weakerthans: I know a bunch of folks that connect with this Canadian band really strongly, but I’ve always sort of liked them more than loved them. It may be that I can’t quite get past John Samson’s nasally voice. Alas. Purging one.

We Are Scientists: I’m pretty sure I saw We Are Scientists for the first time at the Iceland Airwaves festival in 2006 or so, when they were riding sort of high on With Love And Squalor. (Album title taken from J.D. Salinger, band name take from Cap’n Jazz, so good on ’em?) They had/have the fortune/misfortune of releasing a very Killers-esque record right as The Killers were getting huge. I was ready to ditch all three discs that I own, but I’m going to hang on to With Love for now, because it’s got some killer hooks. Keeping one, purging two.

The Wedding Present: The Wedding Present is one of my all-time favorite bands, but if anyone in the current lineup except singer-guitarist-founder David Gedge walked into my living room right now I’d have no idea who they were. That’s a roundabout way of saying that the band has had an intense number of lineup changes over 30 years. They even became an entirely different band for a few years in the ’90s, but that’s a different story that I already covered in the “C” section of this project.


Anyway, the most fruitful years were 1986-1991 or so, when TWP were considered, only half-jokingly, to be every Smiths’ fan’s second-favorite band. They’re much more a rock band than their fellow Brits, and much less popular in the grand scheme. But they still inspired plenty of devotion. My first Wedding Present show was at Metro in 1992; you had to be 18 to get in, and I was a couple of months shy. Drummer Simon Smith—long gone by now—was kind enough to sneak us in, after we went to a silly autograph session with the band beforehand. (They were terribly uncomfortable.) But the show was incredible: It was relatively hot on the heels of what’s considered the band’s masterpiece, 1991’s Seamonsters, a swirling record of jealousy and lost love. (Pretty much every Wedding Present song is about those things.) Seamonsters was recorded at Pachyderm Studios in Minnesota with producer Steve Albini—he would take Nirvana up there not super long after to record In Utero.

So, naturally, my shelf is jam-packed with Wedding Present discs, both from the golden era and beyond. There have been a million reissues over the years on both vinyl and disc, and I’ve plowed through most of them. A couple of years ago, a British label called Edsel undertook a massive, exhaustive reissue campaign of the band’s 1985-1996 era, and they were nice enough to send me all of them after they considered—but ultimately didn’t use—the band’s cover of “19th Nervous Breakdown” that was recorded for A.V. Undercover. Those new versions have rendered several other compilations obsolete, which is no surprise considering each one features three discs of music plus a DVD. So I’m able to part with a six-disc box set of John Peel Sessions (The Wedding Present were huge favorites of the famed DJ, who had them on all the time), plus some other compilations. I’m hanging on to my U.S. issue of Seamonsters, because it’s autographed and it has different cover art, and I’m hanging on to the 3 Songs EP, because it’s my favorite. Can you tell I love The Wedding Present? Go listen to Bizarro or Seamonsters, won’t you? Oh, and they have a brand-new record out that I’ve barely listened to yet. I will, I will. I’m busy! Keeping 12, purging seven, which really take up the room of 10 or more.


Weezer: Is this where I lose you, finally, after all these letters? I remember when the blue album came out, and I liked some of the songs, but I never really connected emotionally with Weezer. That first record has some hot hits that I like hearing on the radio from time to time, but the only Weezer disc I actually own is Pinkerton, and that’s only because I wrote this piece about it several years ago. I guess you can read most of my Weezer thoughts there, should you care to. In the meantime, I don’t hate Weezer in the slightest, but I’m purging one.

Kanye West: I remember the prerelease hype behind The College Dropout—I still have a promotional notebook around here somewhere with Kanye’s face on it, back in his pink polo days. It was a great record then, and it’s a great record still, even in a world in which the man himself seems insufferable to the point of exhaustion. But I’m not exhausted by Kanye West at all, because it’s so easy to ignore the tabloid silliness and the public statements when the records are all so fucking good. All of ’em. Including that one you don’t like, whichever one that is. (He must be good, if everybody has a different record they like the least.) I guess I listen to 808s & Heartbreak less frequently than the others, and College Dropout and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy the most. But they all stay. Is Pablo available on CD yet? Keeping six.

We Were Promised Jetpacks: This Scottish band formed around the same time as Frightened Rabbit, has toured with Frightened Rabbit, and sounds nominally like Frightened Rabbit. I don’t like them as much as I like Frightened Rabbit, though “It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning” is a super jam. Purging one.


White Denim: This Austin band is tough to pin down, since they feel solidly jam-like one minute, and experimentally indie the next. I think I’ve given a good listen to every record since D, but I don’t ever pull anything of theirs off the shelf. Purging one.

Jack White: I’ll save my longer Jack White thoughts for The White Stripes section. Preview: I like The White Stripes. Keeping two.

White Rabbits: This is slightly awkward, since a very nice person who’s in this band works in our office. (Hi, Jamie! Is your band broken up?) I reviewed the only White Rabbits record I own, Fort Nightly, for Spin a million years ago, and I was largely positive about it, noting its similarities to Spoon, whose Britt Daniel produced it. But I never really reach for it, and I can listen to “Rudie Fails” on YouTube. Purging one.


White Rob: This ridiculous (and fully self-aware) white rapper from Milwaukee wrote and performed songs with such delicate titles as “Check My Wang,” “Dem Titz Iz Big,” and “Vagina Makes Me Smile.” (Next line, if I remember correctly, “I got it on speed dial.”) It’s a fun memory, but I need all the W space I can get, and I don’t need my kid finding the artwork, either. (Surprise: It features naked women.) Purging one.

The White Stripes: I’m a big fan of The White Stripes, especially of the incredible three-album run between 2000-2003. (That’d be De Stijl, White Blood Cells, and ElephantWhite Blood Cells was The A.V. Club’s best album of its decade.) I saw them play to nearly nobody at Milwaukee’s Cactus Club in 2000. (I was actually there to see The Waxwings, a band featuring Dean Fertita of a later Jack White project, The Raconteurs.) The White Stripes were great every time, even as the venues got bigger and bigger and bigger. One of the last shows I participated in as a promoter was The White Stripes at the Modjeska in Milwaukee; backstage, I saw Meg White take a pull from a whiskey bottle that would have put me in the hospital. (I’m a lightweight drinker, but she literally weighs very little, so it’s a fair comparison.) And while I haven’t loved every incarnation of The Jack White Show since, I absolutely admire his commitment to music, from his own to so much that comes out of his magic factory in Nashville. The only disc I’m dumping is a bootleg of the Peel Sessions, because eventually I’ll pick up the official vinyl release. Oh, and I’m keeping a CD-R compilation that my pal Chris (from The Mistreaters) made for me, with all the seven-inch tracks and the tracks by The Upholsterers, a White side project. Keeping seven, purging one.


The Who: The only proper Who album I have on CD is Quadrophenia, a classic that I never listen to and that takes up the space of three regular CDs. Then I’ve got BBC Sessions and hit records. So I’m just going to keep one of the hits and purge the other three, since they’re all the same tracks anyway. Don’t worry, I have Who’s Next on vinyl. Keeping one, purging three.

Wilco: I’m the annoying Wilco fan that wasn’t too into the band at first—I’m not even an Uncle Tupelo fan. But Yankee Hotel Foxtrot hit me the way it hit a lot of other people, and it’s still far and away my favorite record of theirs. I attended the band’s five-night residency at the Riviera in 2008; over the course of those shows, they played every single song in their catalog, and it gave me a new appreciation of everything I wasn’t super familiar with. (I still don’t own A.M.) But man, the Ws are killing me, and I need to make a few snips: I’m going to axe Wilco (The Album) along with the live disc Kicking Television and a bootleg called YHF Demos. And I don’t have Schmilco on disc yet, though it’s my favorite of theirs in years. Keeping six, purging three.


The tally: 815 plus another 42 gets me to 857, but I also did another re-purge that I’ll detail next week, and my wife grudgingly gave up a bit of space at the end. It’s going to be a tight finish, but it’s going to happen.

Personal Hall Of Fame (the discs that I’ll take to the grave, maximum of one per artist): Ugly Casanova, Sharpen Your Teeth; Sharon Van Etten, Tramp; Vitreous Humor, s/t; The Walkmen, You & Me; The Wedding Present, Seamonsters; Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; The White Stripes, White Blood Cells; Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot


Next up: That time I helped Wesley Willis write a song. Also, did you know that I like Wye Oak? ALSO X, Y, and Z in totality, I think! But is that the end, or are there soundtracks, miscellany, and a box filled with discs housed in thin cardboard sleeves? (Answers: No, yes, yes, and yes.)