Popdose 2011: Rob Smith’s Top Ten Albums
If these records could talk …
1. Foo Fighters, Wasting Light. I was bored. I was bored of being bored, and so it was that I went to the only place I could go where I could submerge myself in my boredom—really marinate in it—and no one would know the difference. I pulled the car out into the driveway, moved some boxes around, played my guitar and smoked my cigarettes and drank a bunch of beers, nearly overcome by the heat and the smell of oil and Marlboros and my own stink. I had a boom box out there, and some CDs, and I listened to Maiden’s first record and Motorhead’s No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith and Husker Du’s Land Speed Record and that fucking Bad Brains album that blew my mind back in ’83. Sometimes, I played along on my guitar. Most times I didn’t. I just sat there, contemplating milk crates and trying to get over myself. When it clicked, though, it clicked. Then I invited my friends over.
2. Mastodon, The Hunter. This is your sword and your shield. This is what you use when you want to howl at the cosmos and what to protect yourself with when it howls back. It will howl back. Bet on it. This is your power. It’s made of your musings, your ideas, the sounds you hear in your head that no one else can hear, much less understand. This is the culmination of your thesis work on life, and when you’re done with it, it ain’t going in a library. It’ll fly out of you like a beam, and it’s gonna vaporize anything in its path.
3. Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Canticle. Somewhere over that hill over there is a chilly expanse of quietude where you can go to close your eyes and regain whatever within you has been lost. You can return in your mind to the places where you fell in love, where you felt safety and warmth and where, for just a few moments, you could relax and be yourself, inside yourself, not merely part of a greater whole. It’s a gentle place, where the dew freezes in the early morning, only to warmly liquefy when the sun rises and settles its power on the earth and all that rests and moves above it. Fall in, fall out, fall along.
4. Orchid, Capricorn. I am evil. Pure fucking evil. Nobody gets it; to most, I appear to be banal, out of focus, just some schlub with two jobs and a family and a mortgage and a car payment and a few dozen other bills to pay and a few friends and a decent sense of humor—a couple degrees short of not registering on anyone at all. Inside my head, though, is a roiling pit of disgust and insecurity and worm-ridden grudges and very, very bad intentions. I am one missed dose shy of explosion and exposure. You would not like me very much at all.
5. Dawes, Nothing is Wrong. When it all goes to hell—when she finally gets sick of the tedium and remembers a point at which she actually felt alive and sentient, before she knew you—there are still some truths you can turn to. Number one—there will always be bars; they’re everywhere and are mostly very welcoming. Number two—there will always be songs; turn on the radio, and there they are. Some will remind you of her, but others will be yours, have always been yours. Remember “Running on Empty?” That’s you, right now. Number three—there will always be women. She will go away—it’s a fait accompli now—but there are others who will be made available to you by the gods of whatever force is responsible for men and women meeting. They won’t be her—they won’t sound like her or smell like her or whisper your name like she does, nor will their hands feel the same way in yours, nor will their unique laughter make you happy, nor will their sadness seem as exquisite as hers—but they’ll be there. Somewhere. Here.
6. Tom Waits, Bad as Me. My antenna’s broken. The one under my hat. All I sense around me is fuzzy and loud, like someone turned the volume of the world all the way up. I definitely don’t belong here; the sky is a ruddy ochre; the grass is flinty gray; and I smell burnt flaxseed everywhere. A mother lion just passed me, with three cubs trailing behind her; somewhere, someone is playing “Didn’t He Ramble” on a clarinet. I might be in the middle of a funeral procession; I can’t tell right now. I just want to find my wife, find the trailer; find the bottle of Evan Williams I hid under the floor panel. I feel like I could sleep for the next month.
7. Monotonix, Not Yet. I’ll see your snotty, cocksure attitude, and raise you a thousand—a thousand nights in this piss-pot of a rehearsal space; a thousand gigs in bars you’ve never heard of, in towns you’ve never seen, in countries you’ve never been to; a thousand holes punched in a thousand spots in a thousand paneled walls; a thousand broken strings. On second thought, times are tough; maybe I’ll only raise a hundred—a hundred hours in antiseptic studios; a hundred jobs that had to be worked to pay for those hundred hours; a hundred riffs that got thrown out because they didn’t cut it; a hundred songs that died, stillborn, for lack of those riffs; a hundred screaming matches with promoters, girlfriends, and one another; a hundred bucks in loose change, collected from booths and floors, that paid for a hundred convenience store hot dogs, consumed on the sidewalk across the street from a hundred diners and fast food joints we couldn’t afford. A hundred times we said we’d quit. Ninety-nine times out of that hundred, we didn’t mean it.
8. Moving Mountains, Waves. The end is nigh. The abyss into which we’ve fallen has a great natural echo, and as the flames of Sheol lick up at our ankles, we play anthems for the righteous and unrighteous alike. The sound bounces around the chasm, into the darkness, and in the absence of God, we lean on one another. It is small comfort. We look up and see the graves intended for us, still unlocked and unchained, and we sadly recognize they will likely remain so. We’ll never get back up there, where the worst we could imagine is now our best hope. It’s getting warmer by the minute. So we sing.
9. Adele, 21. I just wanted to be loved. And now I am.
10. Journey, Eclipse. I feel myself going down. I feel myself sliding past cliché, where people around me have suspected I’ve been for years, into a new kind of hell, the kind with the fancy-shmancy girlfriend and the fancy-shmancy shopping sprees in the fancy-shmancy boutique shops in the fancy-shmancy boutique neighborhood I’ve avoided like the fucking plague for 30 or 40 years, since I got this gig. It’s all plastic. It’s all smooth surfaces. In my nightmares, I’m trailed by a camera crew for days, a lens constantly in my face, a boom mic incessantly hovering over me like some winged demon, ready to unload its bladder on me—and when I wake up, they’re all still there. I think I’m out of chances. I think I’m out of the good graces of the people around me, perhaps permanently. I don’t know what to do, so I do the only thing I can do, the only thing that feels natural. I have one shot left at making a statement, not with words (words fail me daily; I can’t even form them in my head anymore), but with sound. Thick, intricate layers of it. I don’t even give a fuck what’s being sung over it. The sound is mine; it’s all me in there. These might be the last sounds I make that others can hear. It’s my testament, my final proclamation before the rest of this shit pulls me under.