If these records could talk …

1. Jason Isbell, Southeastern

The last time I saw her, she was standing in a doorway, about to go inside and do something—something, that is, in addition to transitioning from a physical presence to a figure in memory. An embrace, a “see you later,” a wave from the doorway, and gone. We missed each other the next day, a breakfast date canceled at the last minute, the click on the phone was pretty much final, though neither of us knew that then.

In the ensuing months, there were attempts at meeting, weak though they were (mine were stronger by far, but no matter), but there was physical distance too wide to bridge, and distinct lives to return to, and work of the sort that causes too many disconnects, too many wires severed and cauterized at their ends. We hadn’t been together long, but our togetherhood was impressive for its intensity, for our intensity, the intensity of us. Ultimately, though, we weren’t together long enough.

Over the years, I’d imagine her working her way through a career, meeting someone, settling down, old memories replaced by newer ones, that brief bit of us fading away as it sank miles and miles back. I wound up doing the same thing, but the miles sometimes loop you around, and I’d see someone at a bar, or hear someone ordering her drink (Rob Roy, rocks—the three sweetest R‘s I’d ever heard), or something on the radio would catch me off guard, and I’d get that pinch in my belly, or that split-second warmth in my chest, and I’d see her again, in the doorway, waving.

And the songs that she sang in the shower
All ring in my ears
Like “Wish You Were Here”
How I wish you were here

2. Flaming Lips, The Terror

Interstellar frequencies of the mind, bounced off the surface of Mars, relayed back past the moon, right at the waiting antennae of whichever heads and hearts are open to receiving them. My God, those sounds are full of beauty and sadness and trippiness and desolation. How do you begin to explain the melody in the static, the absence of air around the words, the absence of love that fuels those words, and the grim recognition that even in the absence of love and loved ones, the being must go on; you could walk around for the rest of your days a cracked hull of a man, a dried-out shell, an empty vessel with no hope of ever being full again, except with static and noise and the sound of your own breath, steady as time, until it slows, until it stops. And where are you then? On to the next signal, the next noise, the next bounce around the cosmos, still on your own, still so, so, so much on your own.

3. David Bowie, The Next Day

John ducked out for six years, and played with his son and baked bread and watched TV and went on vacations and walked around New York—God, he loved this city. So do I. I know people wanted me and wondered about me and asked around about me, and made offers to rouse me out of my very comfortable life, out of this very comfortable chair I’m sitting on now (if not sinking into—feel that; feel how soft that is?). And every time one of those offers would come in, or one of those requests would be received by my office (for I always kept the office; no sense in completely disconnecting); every time I’d consider doing it—whatever it was—I thought of John. John stayed out until he was ready to come back in. And when he came back in, he came back in the way he wanted, when he had something to say, something to broadcast in the manner in which he wanted to broadcast it. I thought of John. And a couple years out, I began to tinker, and I tinkered until I had something to broadcast. And the first thing I wanted them all to hear was the saddest thing I could ever think of saying.

4. Truth & Salvage Co., Pick Me Up

On the country gravel roads where you learned to walk, along the Appalachian hilltops of family drives, down by the creek you skinny-dipped in as a teenager—it all comes back to you. It’s in the people you grew up with, the ones who stuck around. It’s in the girlfriend you broke up with, who you still think about. It’s in the gentle breezes and silver linings and wise men you can’t forget. Wherever you go in this world, you are not alone; they stay with you. You’re never alone, as long as there’s a home to go home to.

5. Patty Griffin, American Kid

Daddy fought and drank and loved and raised children and drank some more and lived and loved and was loved and died. Born on one day, dead on another—dates on a headstone, surrounded by grass that takes in water and gives back nothing. The dash between those dates, though—the dash is where the important stuff was. There were stories to tell—war stories and marriage stories, and one really good wedding story, and stories of me and of the old house and of Ma. There were plenty more he never got to tell. So many stories; such a quiet man.

6. Various Artists, Drink a Toast to Innocence: A Tribute to Lite Rock

For years, your mother drove a 1978 Civic hatchback, with AM radio but no AC, but who gives a shit about AC? Roll the windows down and let the wind blow your hair back, blow your sunglasses against your face. No, the real treasures in that car were the sounds that came out of the dash speakers—Casey Kasem counting down, local deejays spinning 45s, the same ones you’d go buy at the Record Bar with your allowance, after you’d saved for a couple weeks. Let the rock dudes have Who Are You and The Wall and Back in Black—you had Ambrosia and Little River Band and Player and Robbie-by-God-Dupree. And yeah, now you can hear Leo Sayer sing “More than I Can Say” on an iPod, but it’s not the same as it was when it was coming out of that car radio back in the day. No, you want to bring that AM pop into the Aught-Tens? You need new voices, pal. The Civic hatchback bit the dust a long time ago.

7. Steve Earle, The Low Highway

Because the dirt in the Village ain’t the same as the dirt in Texas.

8. Kanye West, Yeezus

Have you ever seen Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye—the original, just outside of Paris? It’s built on stilts—tall, concrete stilts that provide the support for the entire house. Because of those stilts, there is no need for weight-bearing walls, so when the interior was designed, the placement of each wall, the creation of each room, could be made without the practical concern of holding the building up—these decisions were purely aesthetic. The symmetry in the place is breathtaking; I could spend all day there, and I did spend a bunch of time there, and at other places that used Le Corbusier’s plans. This record is my Villa Savoye—no one song has to carry it; no ornamentation had to ornament it; I could layer in the beats and the samples and then bring Rick Rubin in to rip them all out again once my rhymes were down. Every decision made for purely aesthetic reasons. I’m an aesthete at heart. And like Villa Savoye, this thing is a motherfucker.

9. Sex Mob, Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti (Sex Mob Plays Fellini: The Music of Nino Rota)

I saw Anita Ekberg in the Fontana di Trevi, the water dancing over that ohmygodsovoluptuous body. And I had to play to her. I had to play for her. It’s been so long, so long ago; damn near everybody in that movie is dead. Did they realize how sweet their “sweet life” was? Had they realized how high they had climbed, how everything they’d create from then on would shine just slightly less brightly? La dolce vita. La bella vita. Here, Sylvia—listen to this.

10. J. Roddy Walston & the Business, Essential Tremors

Hillbilly Zeppelin. With piano.




Other Fine Records …

My Bloody Valentine, mbv
Kenny Garrett, Pushing the World Away
Dawes, Stories Don’t End
Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Mikal Cronin, MCII
Manic Street Preachers, Rewind the Film
Queens of the Stone Age, Like Clockwork
Okkervil River, The Silver Gymnasium
Scott Amendola and Charlie Hunter, Pucker

About the Author

Rob Smith

Rob Smith is a writer, teacher, wage earner, and all-around evil genius who spends most of his time holed up in his cluttered compound in central PA. His favorite color is ultramarine blue. His imaginary band The Dukes of Rexmont tours every summer.

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