January 13, 2009 | Comments ()

By TK | Music | January 13, 2009 |


WALL-E could have had compact discs for eyes and everyone would have implicitly understood the connection: those silver circles of digital music are (if they were’t already) as good as second-rate coasters nowadays. Maybe this is melodrama, but while my music taste and collection was revolutionized just as everyone else’s with the advent of file-sharing services in the late 90s, I am dreading the day that I can no longer walk into my local record store and hold in my hand my new favorite album. I don’t know how possible that potential reality is, but with the way things have been slowly but surely going over the past decade, and so few advocates for something as non-classic (at least vinyl has its audio purists constantly campaigning for its continued production) as the CD, it seems more probable than not.

The fact that people have forgotten, nay, dismissed, the medium is not surprising: there is nothing notable about it other than the fact that it is the last tangible form of the album. Regardless, it’s what I grew up with and how I fell in love with music in the first place. And since it is human nature to grieve over change, I present to you my first (admittedly futile) attempt at reclaiming the glory of the compact disc. I will begin by focusing on just one of many aspects of the CD that iTunes playlists and Last.fm charts cannot compete with: the opening track. Yes, tracks that begin an album still exist in the nebulous arena of the Internet, but in this writer’s humble opinion, there is a completely different feeling that swims into the ears when that first song blasts through the speakers from putting that thin disc in the car stereo in comparison to pressing a plastic play button on a cell phone-sized box.

Keep in mind I am only presenting my favorite opening tracks from my own CD collection. They are in no way the best opening tracks of all time, or even of the past fifteen or so years. When Pajiba Music started, a particularly eloquent Eloquent stated something to the effect of: “this will be interesting, because music is tragically personal.” I whole-heartedly agree. So please give your own anecdotes about favorite opening tracks in your own CD collection in the comments below. Just because it’s personal doesn’t mean you can’t share the passion and the memories, right?

americanfootball.jpg“Never Meant” from American Football by American Football
[Polyvinyl Records, 1999]

I received this CD as a birthday present during the first semester of my freshman year at college in Minneapolis. It came by way of a high school friend who had retreated the Midwest in favor of Los Angeles. Though I have since grown to love the Twin Cities and I hate LA, I was intensely jealous of him at the time. No more cold; no more smallness. When I received the slip in my dorm mailbox saying I had a package to pick up at the front desk from Polyvinyl Records, I was confused and excited. It was one of my favorite labels, but I hadn’t ordered anything. It was a few days after my actual birthday, so I didn’t put two and two together until I read the message inside from my friend. It was three months into the semester and I missed my friends who scattered across the country after graduation so much that when I put the CD in my three-piece stereo system and re-read my friend’s note, I trembled a bit with joy and nostalgia. We had gone through our last two years of high school devoutly following the bands that followed the quickly dissolved Chicago’s American Football and its various counterparts: Owen, Owls, The Promise Ring, etc. The sparkling guitars felt like a Midwestern flaky snow hitting the ground in late autumn and remembering the good times that were now over but not forgotten (even though you partly wish you had). Saying goodbye became a little easier on that November afternoon - mostly because I didn’t really have to.

unrest.jpg“Ghost Trains” from Unrest by Erlend Øye
[Astralwerks, 2003]

Fast-forward to sophomore year, where I’ve garnered a small group of loyal and wonderful friends and while my future has by no means become determined, at least I’ve broadened my taste in music. Still sad and contemplative like most of the music that infiltrated my collection, “Ghost Trains” is the perfect introduction to electronica for those bred and coddled by guitars and organic percussion. Released just months before the implosion of laptop-composed pop that was The Postal Service’s Give Up (which I also adore), Øye’s solo album overflows with warm but minimalist dance beats and confidently whispered lyrics. After hearing and playing the track umpteen times on the campus radio station, I picked up the disc at a nearby record store and immediately crowned it with the title “Bedtime CD.” Every night for at least a month, I would fall asleep listening to the calm and collected Øye swoon over “blip blip bleep bloop being young”; the keyboard twists and vocal flutters became intertwined in my mind as I would drift off into a perfect slumber. Before it even reached track two, I would both intensely listen to every nuance and become intoxicated with lethargy. And thus began my infatuation with synthetic instrumentation - all because I had this CD in my ratty old Discman next to my pillow for thirty days.

emergencyresponse.jpg“A Stirsticks Prediction” from The Emergency Response by Despistado
[Jade Tree, 2004]

The next year I’m running the music department of the campus radio station and I wind up with a free press badge for SXSW in Austin in my hand. The only problem: I’m 20-years-old and going to a festival where approximately three out of a million venues aren’t 21+. The same friend from the “Never Meant” memory is also running the music department at his campus radio station and we meet up in Texas on a blazing hot March day with the same problem. So we wander the streets until we find an all ages venue (better sooner than later, because we’re dying from thirst and exhaustion at this point): The Parrish Room is advertising a showcase featuring a new band signed to Jade Tree Records called Despistado. With a fond respect for many of the bands that the Midwestern label put out albums for in the past, including Zero Zero and Pedro The Lion, we took a gamble on it. With enormous black X’s Sharpie’d onto our hands by the bouncer and free waters in hand, we waited patiently through a couple mediocre acts before the band in question took the stage. Suddenly the Canadians (now disbanded) flew into a frenzy of agitated and angular rock riffs with overlapping coarse yelps pouring into the mics and through the monitors - it was love at first note. Eyes wide and wallets full of twenties, we rushed over to the merch table to buy their CD and hold in our palms evidence of this unforgettable experience. “It’s not out yet,” we then hear the guys announce quickly in between other flawless anthems off their debut EP. After playing the waiting game (quite possibly the least fun game ever), I finally got my mitts on it after returning to the Twin Cities, and I haven’t gone a semester without shoving that disc into my car player to steering-wheel-drum along to that song and its subsequent equals since.

matadorsingles.jpg“See Saw” from Matador Singles ‘08 by Jay Reatard
[Matador, 2008]

Four years and two college degrees later, I find myself ambling along through the aisles of the record store (same name, different location) that I went to so often during my undergrad years. With a gift certificate (that’s right, not a plastic card, but a large piece of paper resembling a check, just like the good old days!) from my birthday dinner in hand and an enormous grin on my face, I carefully chose one lucky album to join the shelves alongside the rest of my collection - all representing various parts of my past, all there for me to hold and touch, in completely portable form, one by one lining the wall of my apartment. Something didn’t sit right about buying a CD that was a compilation of seven-inches, which is exactly what this amazing album is, and yet, because of the song I had put on repeat so many times on my home computer (okay, so downloading music can do some good after all), I could not say no to Mr. Jay Reatard. Talk about rousing: this was far and away the best example of kickstarting an album in 2008, in my opinion. His snotty fuck-all attitude is infectious rather than obnoxious, the competing electric and acoustic guitars make it both raucous and inviting, and the sing-along chorus of “she creeps me out / she crept me in again!” is the perfect way to reel in the listener for twelve more tracks. The more I kept the CD in my car stereo the more I realized: who cares if it was all originally on vinyl? Reatard’s obviously a staunch advocate for not just old school turntable listening, but tangible ownership of music in general. So while I might not have bought this CD if it weren’t for my MP3 of “See Saw,” the real love and pride one feels when buying an album, unwrapping it, and pressing play is not lost on the musicians themselves - and they’re the ones who are responsible for the joy you get out of listening to it in the first place. And while that’s not a revelation by any means (it’s how they help pay their rent obviously), it feels good to know that just because something’s dying doesn’t mean it’s not still alive in some way or another.

Chris Polley teaches high school English, often with his hair disheveled and a glint of crazy in his eye, in the Midwest’s greatest city, Minneapolis. He rambles on and conducts discourse with friends and strangers about the horrific beast that is pop culture over at The Blogulator.

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Pajiba Music

You Can't Miss What You Forget

Opening Tracks in a CD Collection / Chris Polley

Music | January 13, 2009 | Comments ()



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