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

Week 17: Tortoise and They Might Be Giants both begin with T

A.V. Club Undercover
A.V. Club Undercover
Binge And PurgeIn Binge And Purge, The A.V. Club’s Josh Modell is going through his collection of 2,000 CDs, writing a bit about each artist, and then purging the unnecessary in the hopes of cutting that number in half by the end of 2016.

Talking Heads: I’m not as huge a Talking Heads fan as I probably should be, though I do have that big, complete box set around here somewhere. Probably time to take that thing for a spin, and I can get rid of Remain In Light because this is just a double. Also, my favorite Talking Heads thing might actually be True Stories (the movie, not the soundtrack). Also, I’m not feeling very verbose this week, just to warn you. Purging one.

The Tallest Man On Earth: His music should be right up my alley, theoretically speaking, but I never listen to The Tallest Man On Earth. Purging one.

Tapes ’N Tapes: This Minneapolis band was all the rage in 2005-2006, and with good reason: The Loon was aces, but subsequent records haven’t been nearly as interesting or engaging. I’ll listen to “Insistor” on YouTube. Purging two.


Tarkio: I’m a big Decemberists fan (as I pointed out way back in the D portion of this project), but maybe not enough to own the compilation of Colin Meloy’s college band, Tarkio. I assume all huge Meloy fans have this already, but if you don’t, it’s like The Decemberists, only not as… ornate? There’s even an early version of The Decemberists’ “My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist.” Purging one.

Teenage Fanclub: A Teenage Fanclub in-store appearance at Atomic was sort of my official start of working there—I basically begged my way into the job after annoying everybody there for a while. (There was a cardboard sign in back for a while that said, “Employees only—this means you, too, Josh.”) Anyway, this was at the height of Bandwagonesque mania—that’d be the Scottish band’s 1991 album that famously topped Nevermind, Out Of Time, and Loveless as the year’s best. I’m ashamed to admit that Bandwagonesque was really the only TFC album I fully loved, and I appear to have purged the others at some point (or maybe they’re just around here on cassette). I’m purging the greatest-hits comp, and I promise to listen to the new one at some point this week, Merge Records pals. Keeping one, purging one.

Tel Aviv: This Kentucky band sounded a bit like Unrest, a band I was moderately obsessed with in the ’90s, and whose label—Teen Beat—put out the Tel Aviv records. They’re a bit Slint-y, though without any of the rocking catharsis and a lot more whispering. They haven’t aged too well. Purging two.

Telecognac: I’ve spoken of Milwaukeean Jon Mueller in these pages a couple of times already; Telecognac is a project of his from way back when—1997, maybe?—that was pretty clearly influenced by a British band that’s coming up in this column very soon, Tindersticks. It literally sounds just like them. Sorry for saying that, Jon. I still like it. Keeping one.

Dan Telfer: Former Onion staffer, onetime A.V. Club Pop Pilgrims host, and all-around fantastic man Dan Telfer is also very funny, and if you like dinosaurs or nerds or nerdy dinosaur facts, you should listen to his jokes. Keeping two.


Temper Temper: Handsome Milwaukee boys who seemed like they’d ride the dance-punk thing out of the city, and maybe they did for a minute? It’s a good record and they were super fun live, but I haven’t listened to it in ages. Purging one.

Tenacious D: I remember going to a friend’s house in Houston (hello, Don!) a million years ago and watching VHS tapes of the Tenacious D shorts that originally aired on HBO—and were basically buried, because they were not at all popular. I’m not sure at what point—or exactly how—the band became a cultural phenomenon; I assume it had something to do with Jack Black’s rise to movie stardom? Regardless, those original shorts and the first Tenacious D record still hold up for me, even if they’re not anything I pull off the shelf very often. Keeping one.


Them: Every now and then, I go on a Van Morrison kick and end up with a Them greatest-hits set that I rarely/never listen to. (It’s where Van got his start, making hits like “Gloria.”) Maybe I should just buy this CD every few years and then get rid of it after listening once? Purging one.

The Thermals: Did I make that joke 10 times already about liking bands whose songs all sound the same? I probably did. Man, The Thermals are awesome live, but I rarely dive deep into the discography. And for some reason, I don’t even own More Parts Per Million, which is the one I would go for at CD time. It’s Spotify time for y’all, I’m afraid. Purging three.

They Might Be Giants: I have a fairly vivid memory of buying They Might Be Giants’ second album, Lincoln, on vinyl at Earwaves in Milwaukee—the other “cool” record store besides Atomic. (I didn’t work there yet; I was only a freshman in high school when Lincoln came out.) I assume I heard/saw “Ana Ng” on 120 Minutes, and I definitely fell in love with that song, along with the rest of the record. I had the “(She Was A) Hotel Detective” CD single as well, and there’s a fun old format: For a while, CD singles were three inches in diameter, and in a lot of CD players, you needed an adapter to play them! How quaint!


Anyway, my CD collection didn’t keep up with TMBG, and all I’ve got is the Then collection, which includes Lincoln and the self-titled album, plus Here Comes Science, which I bought for my kid but which he didn’t fall in love with. I bet I’ve got a bunch more on cassette—probably dubbed—somewhere in a closet. May I mention that They Might Be Giants performed perhaps the greatest A.V Undercover in the history of those things? They got so into it, and we so appreciated it. And they came back for seconds! And invited The A.V. Club on stage to perform it a couple of years later. God bless ’em. Keeping one, purging one.

Tim And Eric: I think Awesome Show will have a long, long life, being rediscovered every few years by lovers of the absurd. Part of its brilliance was the songs, which were collected on Awesome Record, Great Songs! Now, I can hear the Michael McDonald riff “Rolo Tony” on YouTube any time I want, but it wouldn’t be the full version, right? So I’m keeping one.

Tindersticks: This one was kind of simple. This gorgeously melancholy British band released two incredible records out of the gate—both self-titled, in 1993 and 1995—and those are staying for sure. After that, I’m sure the records are solid (and similar), but I never pull them off the shelf. I saw them play a couple of times back then, and the shows were really breathtaking; once it was a double bill with Elliott Smith at Metro, if memory serves. (It does.) Keeping two, purging six, though I’m sure they’re good. Sigh.


Tired Pony: I admitted to you earlier that I’m a Snow Patrol fan, and apparently I also have a disc by Tired Pony, the side project of Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody that also features Peter Buck of R.E.M. But I can’t remember a single song on it, so it’s purging one.

Titus Andronicus: Strangely, I only own the first, most manic Titus Andronicus record, The Airing Of Grievances, on disc. I wish I still had the press release that came with it; as I recall, it featured a funny story about one of the guys in the band being an intern at the label (Troubleman) and shyly giving a demo to someone else there. The rest is sort of history, as the band has become a powerhouse—I’m surprised they’re not bigger than they are, to be honest, though I also think they’re much more exciting live than on record, generally speaking. Keeping one.


Tokyo Police Club: I must really like Champ, the 2010 Tokyo Police Club disc, because I have two copies on the shelf. (I’m actually surprised this doesn’t happen way more often.) I do, in fact, like the spunky Canadian band quite a bit, though when I need a fix it’s almost always its debut EP, A Lesson In Crime. I’m going to hang on to that one, plus the excellent Elephant Shell, and one of those Champs. Keeping three, purging two.

Tones On Tail: If more bands were like Tones On Tail, this binging and purging project would be a lot easier. The trio existed for about two years and acted as a bridge between two other bands, Bauhaus and Love And Rockets. Every song they ever released (minus a couple of remixes, I think) fits nicely on a two-disc set called, smartly, Everything! And it’s nearly all pretty great: Unsurprisingly, it sounds a lot like Love And Rockets, since it features two-thirds of that band, but it’s a bit less self-serious at times—especially on the song you’ve probably heard, “Go!”—and definitely more fun. Keeping one.


Too Short: I’m not entirely sure when/where I got Too Short’s Life Is… Although it’s a fine example of old-school hip-hop—complete with that “every line is a clever couplet” and “every beat is sorta the same” vibe—I can’t for the life of me remember acquiring it, and I definitely can’t remember the last time I listened to it. Purging one.

Tortoise: (Read this in Casey Kasem’s voice. Know that I wouldn’t ask you to do that if I wasn’t very tired.) The year was 1994, or more likely early 1995. The indie-rock world was set ablaze not by more variations on Pavement-inspired slack-rock, but by a band from Chicago that played jazz-inflected, airy, indie instrumentals. Tortoise would eventually be swallowed up by the non-genre tag “post-rock,” but at the time, nobody knew what to make of them, exactly. But we knew that the self-titled record and its ambitious follow-up, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, were fantastically different, even as they inspired dozens of soundalikes. (Many of which you’ve already read about in previous installments of this column!)


I was pretty obsessed with Tortoise back then, picking up the remix record (Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters) at Reckless Records and chasing the band down for what were probably shitty interviews for the cover of Milk. These days, I don’t go far beyond those first two albums much, and I need some space, so it’s keeping three (TNT makes the cut), purging three. And I’ve also got the Lazarus Taxon box somewhere for the epic “Gamera” and “Cliff Dweller Society.”

Toshack Highway: Well, I was just about to purge this one, and then I opened up the booklet and scribbled in marker is, “Nice one, Josh! Adam.” That’d be Adam Franklin of Swervedriver, who started his solo career by naming his new outfit something hard to pronounce and remember—Toshack Highway. I know this wasn’t autographed in person or anything—somebody from the label must have had him sign it and send it to me. Yet I still feel bad getting rid of it. Anybody out there named Josh and a big Swervedriver fan? Keeping one, for now.


Ali Farka Touré And Ry Cooder: I’m nearly positive I heard this very pleasant collaboration between Malian guitarist Touré and American guitarist Cooder on public radio in the ’90s and sought it out, never to listen to it again. (Doesn’t mean it’s not good. It’s nice.) Purging one.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead: Filed under T, naturally, for “Trail Of Dead.” I like but don’t love these overblown Texas dudes, so I’ll just keep the accepted classic, Source Tags & Codes. Are any of the others essential? Keeping one, purging three.

Trans Am: This trio benefitted from proximity to Tortoise—same time, same scene, same record label—but played it was more aggressive and weird. I used to listen to the self-titled record and Surrender To The Night plenty, but they haven’t darkened my CD player’s doorstep in years. Purging two.


Trashcan Sinatras: I love Trashcan Sinatras (or, as they’ve been called over the years, The Trash Can Sinatras). They were Scottish and oozed cleverness long before Belle & Sebastian (who were pretty clearly influenced by them, in some ways, anyway). The Trash Cans (as they’re known to fans like me) have been making gorgeously windswept pop since 1990, though there have been long droughts in that period. The first three albums—Cake, I’ve Seen Everything, and A Happy Pocket—are pretty unimpeachable, and they inspired the kind of fan base that diligently collected their odd, pun-filled lyrics (pre-internet, when such things were harder to find) and B sides. So I’ve got a few discs that don’t get much play, including some singles and live recordings. But the main catalog—minus 2009’s In The Music, which I’ve never really connected with—definitely stays. Keeping seven, purging five.

T. Rex: I’ve got nice-looking reissues of both the classic The Slider and the not-classic Tanx, but I think I’m only going to keep a janky early pressing of Electric Warrior, because it has the best T. Rex album cover and the best T. Rex songs. Bolan was no Bowie, sure, but he knew his way around a glam riff, and he gave interviews that were almost as good. Keeping one, purging two.

Troubled Hubble: I’ll always wonder exactly why this Chicago-area band—Elburn, to be exact, I think—didn’t get a lot bigger, especially considering that its 2005 album Making Beds In A Burning House had everything going for it. (Except, I guess, a record label that wasn’t about to go out of business.) But that record and the one before it, Penturbia, are the perfect mix of joyous indie rock of the era, with bits of Modest Mouse and The Dismemberment Plan making for something a little more quirky and bright. (The Plan’s Jason Caddell even produced Making Beds.) But alas, it’s possible—likely, even—that great bands/records will get lost for one reason or another. I’m glad they got back together last year for some shows—and a killer Undercover. Keeping three, purging three.


2Pac: I’m going to lose all my credibility as a white kid who grew up in the suburbs when I say that I never really cared all that much about 2Pac beyond the occasional single. Maybe I just missed the boat? Purging one. (It’s All Eyez On Me.)

Turn On: Tim Gane of Stereolab. You’re mad that I didn’t keep the Stereolab, and I’m not keeping this one either, though it has some good memories. Purging one.

TV On The Radio: Someday I’m going to get really into TV On The Radio. It’s a band that I always binge on when a new record comes out, then completely forget about, and for some reason the only disc I actually own is Dear Science, and it’s a thin, dark package, so it gets lost on the shelf. Still, I’m going to make an effort to meet it halfway. Soon. Keeping one.


The tally: Seven hundred sixty-nine plus 46 more is 815. That means I need to eliminate 185 discs, and there are (just eyeballing here) about 300 left, including a good chunk that belong to my wife as well as a bunch of compilations that I’m sure I don’t need. So maybe I’m actually going to make this without too much cheating. (I’ve already got my eye on a box in the closet to keep a few things in.)

Personal Hall Of Fame (the discs that I’ll take to the grave, maximum of one per artist): They Might Be Giants, Lincoln; Tindersticks, self-titled (1995); Tortoise, self-titled; Trashcan Sinatras, A Happy Pocket; Troubled Hubble, Making Beds In A Burning House.


Next up: U and V? I believe those are next. I get to tell you more about Vitreous Humor!

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