Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Week 4: Frank Black, Built To Spill, Blur, and more… to the used CD store

David Bowie
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.

Black Francis/Frank Black: At the height of Pixies reunion mania in 2004, Frank Black—by then back to Black Francis—released an oddity called Frank Black Francis, a two-disc set with very distinct recordings on each. The first is a cleaned-up version of the earliest Pixies demos—Black solo, recorded straight to cassette for the benefit of producer Gary Smith, who would produce Come On Pilgrim shortly thereafter. The other disc is newly recorded (in 2004) versions of Pixies classics in wildly different styles with the help of Two Pale Boys. Though maligned at the time as “messing with the canon” (those are Black’s words), both are pretty remarkable, one just skeletons and another playing more like a remix album than a total reimagining. The only other solo Black disc I own on CD is the classic first one, because, man, he released a ton of music. I couldn’t keep up. Keeping two.

Black Moth Super Rainbow: I’m not sure how I ended up with three discs by these Pittsburgh psych weirdos—perhaps a fit of fandom after seeing them play a couple of times around the release of 2007’s still fantastic Dandelion Gum. I have never tried psychedelic drugs, but I’m pretty sure these guys have, with song titles like “Jump Into My Mouth And Breathe The Stardust.” Sometimes it’s floaty and obscure, other times rhythmic and intense. Purging three.


Black Sabbath: My mom, a retired symphonic violinist, loves Black Sabbath, and even she knows that having just the essential hits collection, We Sold Our Soul For Rock ’N’ Roll, is plenty. Keeping one.

Bloc Party: The party line on Bloc Party is that the first album, Silent Alarm, is essential, and that it’s rapidly downhill from there. I disagree vehemently. I go to the unfairly maligned A Weekend In The City way more often; it slowed the pace a bit but found much more emotional heft. Although I haven’t spent much time with 2012’s attempted comeback, Four, I love pretty much everything else. I’m even keeping the two-song CD single “Tulips,” because it’s the only place the song appears—and it’s one of the band’s best. Keeping five, purging the remix disc.

Blowfly: Blowfly (the stage name of Clarence Reid) was a costumed superhero who claimed to have invented rap—and he may have. Reid, who died in January at the age of 76, spent plenty of years playing more conventional music but found his niche recording sexed-up parodies of popular songs, which are terrible but also remarkable. For some reason I own 2001: A Sex Odyssey—I’m pretty sure because it features a parody of New Order’s “Blue Monday” with the lyrics, “How does it feel / To have my dick in you to the hilt?” Am I growing up by getting rid of this? Purging one.


Blue Eyes Meets Bed-Stuy: Believe it or not, there was a time when mashups (then, for some odd reason, mostly called “bootlegs”) were hard to come by. Pre-internet saturation, only the best—like The Evolution Control Committee or Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album—really made it into the public consciousness. This one, which mashes Frank Sinatra and The Notorious B.I.G., is one of the most clever I’ve heard—DJ Cappel and Smitty clearly took some care in matching the old and new sounds. Still, I don’t need the disc, and Discogs tells me I can get $40 for it. Purging one.

Blur: I love Blur, and I saw them several times way back when. Once I even saw Damon Albarn jump on stage with Catherine Wheel—right when the band’s first record came out. I have to say, though, I fell off somewhere around the self-titled record, and I can’t really hum a thing from Think Tank. So that one’s going, along with a Japanese remix/live compilation called Bustin’ + Dronin’ and a greatest-hits collection that’s just taking up space. Should I listen to 13 again, though? Or do I stick with the very British Modern Life Is Rubbish, complete with—as a relic of CD history—its raft of “hidden” bonus tracks, which appear after a bunch of silent tracks at the end of the disc? Keeping six, purging three.


Boards Of Canada: Have I mentioned that I worked in a record store for a very long time? Thirteen years, to be precise, though the end of that tenure was pretty much just a couple hours a week while ramping up my involvement with The A.V. Club. While the employees’ tastes ran the gamut at Atomic Records, pretty much everybody agreed on the greatness of the Scottish electronic duo Boards Of Canada, whose music ranges from tranquil to slightly scary to simply gorgeous. It’s hard to say what exactly separates a blindingly fantastic record like 1998’s Music Has The Right To Children from the dozens of slightly beat-y electronic groups of the era, but there’s no doubt that that distinction exists. My only question is where did my copy of 2005’s The Campfire Headphase go? Guess I need to buy it. Or not. This is a purge! Keeping four.

Bon Iver: Considering my music taste in general, I am supposed to love Bon Iver, so is there something wrong with me that I only like Bon Iver? In the right mood, I’m as struck by the For Emma songs, but I tend to go for Bon Iver, Bon Iver slightly more often—but neither very often at all, really. But I’m keeping them in anticipation of some time in the woods someday and a commune with the voice that everyone loves so much. Keeping two.


Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Here’s another one I’m meant to love much more than I do. I literally never listen to the three Bonnie Billy CDs I actually own—they’re a weird smattering, too: The Letting Go, The Brave And The Bold, and Lie Down In The Light. I’m not even sure if there are Palace discs down in the “P” section. When it comes to physical discs, maybe I’m just sticking with Smog. (Why wasn’t that ever a rivalry, anyway?) Purging three.

The Books: I love listening to The Books, but I never listen to The Books. The defunct duo’s weird mixture of found sounds and live instrumentation is like nothing else—call it collage pop? I don’t know why I don’t have the classic debut Thought For Food but just the final album, 2010’s The Way Out. Purging one.

The Boo Radleys: The Boo Radleys were sort of a shoegaze-adjacent British band that were always a bit too weird to find a foothold in or outside the scene. I haven’t listened to them for probably 10 years, outside of the incredible 90-second single “Lazy Day,” but that’s sort of what this project is about: Grabbing the band’s third album, Giant Steps, off the shelf has me slightly stunned—in a good way—with bits of squalling feedback and reggae guitar all coated in a fuzzy pop song. Keeping two, purging two.


Bowery Electric: For a time in the mid-’90s, Chicago’s Kranky label was one of the most exciting purveyors of new sounds in the world, releasing records by Jessamine and Labradford and this one by Bowery Electric, 1996’s Beat. It sounds a bit dated to me now, with clutches of post-rock and remnants of shoegaze. And while I’ll keep the tracks digitally for sure, this is never a grab-it-from-the-shelf band for me—there’s nothing urgent about it, which isn’t an insult. Purging one.

David Bowie: You’ve heard of this guy. I have a weird mishmash of his records on CD, which maybe actually isn’t so weird: They’re all from 1970 to 1974, starting with Hunky Dory (my favorite) and ending with Diamond Dogs (which I literally never listen to). There’s also Changesbowie for when I need some of those later hits like “Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love.” I’ve also got a fair amount of Bowie on vinyl, which doesn’t play in the car but sort of counts. Keeping four, purging Diamond Dogs.

Brad: “Hey, what should we call our band, Stone Gossard, who is famous for being in Pearl Jam?” “Well, Shawn Smith, who has a smooth and silky voice, let’s really think of something grabby. How about a random dude’s first name, like Brad?” “Done.” This slow-jamming debut has its gorgeous high points—particularly “Buttercup” and “20th Century,” but listening to it makes me feel old. Maybe in another 10 years I’ll grow into it again. Purging one.


Bradford: Morrissey was once fond of endorsing bands that owed a sonic debt to The Smiths, which I guess makes sense. It tended to be something of a curse for those bands, though, because they could never quite be The Smiths. Bradford was one, and it never escaped Morrissey’s shadow. Still, the band’s debut—produced by Smiths associate Stephen Street—holds up, and it ought to be required listening for anyone who’s worn out their copy of Strangeways at this point. Keeping one.

Billy Bragg: Between my wife and me, we’ve got almost the entire Billy Bragg catalog, and even doubles in some cases—up to 2002’s England, Half English. He’s a weird one—a brilliant one, but a weird one. His earliest, barest albums still send shivers down my spine: “The Milkman Of Human Kindness,” “A New England,” and “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” are all stone classics, but there are songs as late as 1996’s William Bloke that still fully have it.


Here’s a story: At my first South By Southwest, which was around the time of William Bloke, I was invited to breakfast with Billy Bragg along with a bunch of other music journalists. I didn’t yet realize that things like this are sort of awkward for everybody, but Bragg was a good sport, and he’s a great talker. He quoted his own lyrics to our group (particularly the line about “socialism of the heart” from “Upfield”) and generally charmed. If you’ve never seen him play live, he talks between songs for about the same length of time he actually plays, which is probably frustrating for casual fans—though I can’t imagine many casual fans coming to see him at this point. I once saw him play in Madison, Wisconsin, and he made so many cheese jokes (and puns!) that the audience nearly turned against him. But they didn’t. He’s too winning. Keeping eight, purging the Volume II box set, because it’s basically a double, but it doesn’t even count because it’s on a different shelf than the regular CDs.

Brak: This was a clear candidate for purging, but when my 6-year-old son asked me what I was doing with all of these stacks of CDs and I told him, he grabbed the disc on top—Brak Presents The Brak Album Starring Brak—and told me that I couldn’t get rid of it, because it “looks really cool.” I told him it could go with his small stack of CDs, so that still allows me to say that I’m purging one. I think he’s going to love it, even if I haven’t given it, or Space Ghost or The Brak Show, much attention lately. Purging one.


Bright Eyes: There have been Bright Eyes songs and albums that I’ve found truly excellent, but it’s a band I never, ever go back to. I don’t even own the alleged classic—Fevers And Mirrors—on CD. When I’m ready to actually binge on Conor Oberst, I’ll just head to Spotify. Purging three.

Broadcast: I’m torn here, which means I should probably purge. I just have this cinematic British band’s singles compilation, Work And Non Work, which has pleasant memories—like a poppier Stereolab—but no real emotional resonance for me at this point. Purging one.

Broken Social Scene: It’s getting later in the day, and I’m getting a little more trigger happy. I love Broken Social Scene’s modern classic You Forgot It In People, and when I listen to the band, it’s the only one I ever reach for. The others are good—mostly—but only 2005’s self-titled album ever got near that 2002 peak. Keeping one, purging four.


James Brown: No home should be without easy, immediate access to 20 All Time Greatest Hits! Keeping one.

Built To Spill: Well, shit. I love Built To Spill, and I think there’s something to say for each of the NINE CDs here, including the new one, which I’ve barely spent any time with. Part of me thinks I should bite the bullet and just hang on to There’s Nothing Wrong With Love and Keep It Like A Secret, but there are so many hidden gems elsewhere in the catalog that I can’t let any of them go. Not even Live. Keeping nine.


Basia Bulat: This melancholy Canadian singer-songwriter is responsible for two of my favorite Undercovers we’ve ever done, covering Ted Leo and Bruce Springsteen. For some reason I’ve only got 2013’s Tall Tall Shadow on disc, and it stays. Keeping one.

Hannibal Buress: I don’t think about Bill Cosby when I think about Hannibal Buress. I think about Hannibal Buress, drunk as hell, almost famous, standing across the street from The Hideout in Chicago after one of the greatest nights of comedy I’ve ever seen, The A.V. Club’s [REDACTED] showcase from 2012. I was getting into a car to head home after a long night, and Hannibal was peeing on the parking lot fence. I yelled goodbye, and he raised the hand that didn’t have his penis in it and yelled, “Good night!” Keeping one.


Burning Airlines: Strangely, I don’t think I own any Jawbox records on CD—I never upgraded from the Dischord tapes from the mid-’90s. But I’ve got both of the blisteringly good Burning Airlines records, 1999’s Mission: Control! and 2001’s Identikit. Seems crazy to think that the band—which features J. Robbins from Jawbox on guitar and vocals, did I forget to mention that?—found it tough to tour after 9/11, because of the name. Purging one, keeping one.

Butterglory: I found it interesting that the mellow mid-’90s duo Butterglory got so much play in the Merge Records autobiography, Our Noise. I always found them engaging but also very much of the time—a band that didn’t seem to try very hard but still came up with some great little tunes. Unfortunately, just a couple songs still stick in my head at this point. Purging one.

Butt Trumpet: Another favorite from my time at Atomic Records, this dandily vulgar band’s only full-length album was released by a major label in 1994, despite its very obvious intention to offend. (Maybe it was because of that.) But I don’t want to give away the finest all-swear-word song I know, “I’ve Been So Mad Lately,” so this one is going to stick around until my kid is old enough to find and enjoy its ridiculousness. Favorite lyric: “Shit fuck hell damn shit fuck shit!” (That’s from memory.) Keeping one.


Buzzcocks: Strip me of any punk credentials I might have left, but all I need by the Buzzcocks is the 25-track Operators Manual, a collection of hits from the prereunion years of this incredible punk-pop band. (That’d be 1977 to 1979, really.) But man, the greatness you can find in just those three years… Keeping one.

The Byrds: Looking at the task in front of me, it’s time to start making some slightly harder choices. I used to love The Byrds—the classic ’60s psych-pop band that birthed so many other careers. My first exposure was when a friend’s brother gave me Fifth Dimension on vinyl, which I still have. But the three reissues I own really never make it off the shelf these days, so it’s time to set them free this time. Purging three.


Bill Callahan: I’m going to save writing about Bill Callahan until I get to S (for Smog), but I’ll give you a sneak peek: I think he’s a genius. Keeping two.

Call Me Lightning: More Milwaukee dudes done good, mixing equal parts aggression (like another of my favorite ragers, Mclusky) and tunefulness (they’re named after a Who song!). I only own two of the band’s records, and one doesn’t have artwork, but they’ll still get plenty of digital rotation. For you, start with 2010’s When I Am Gone My Blood Will Be Free. Keeping one, purging one.


Camden: And yet more Milwaukee dudes from my lengthy time there. The first time I ever saw Death Cab For Cutie, the band was opening for Camden at Milwaukee’s tiny Cactus Club. Chris Walla of Death Cab went on to produce Camden’s debut album, Reel Time Canvas, which is a solid, sweet pop record, but not one I ever listen to anymore. Two of these guys would join The Promise Ring for a brief time. Purging one.

Candy Bars: Pretty sure I reviewed this one for SPIN almost a decade ago, and I must’ve liked it enough that I shelved it, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it sounds like, so… Purging one.

Canned Hamm: This is a tough one. Canned Hamm was (is?) a Canadian duo consisting of a big dude (Big Hamm) and a little dude (Little Hamm) who play silly songs and dance around in poorly choreographed routines. It’s comedy, yes—they opened for Neil Hamburger a bunch way back when—but it’s also something more. Seeing the two of them play songs from their debut album, Karazma!, put a smile on my face so big that it hurt. So I’m keeping that one, for the memories. Keeping one, purging one.


Barton Carroll: I first met Barton Carroll when he was a road tech for Archers Of Loaf, and he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. When he first sent me his own music, I was a little taken aback, because it’s this sort of beautiful, classic, earnest singer-songwriter stuff that doesn’t reflect at all what a silly dude he is. Every one of his records is worth a listen if you’re into world-weary singer-songwriters. Keeping three.

The tally: Thirty-six more discs out the window, for a total of 101 eliminations in four rounds. I already need to go back and start reevaluating some shit.


Personal Hall Of Fame (the discs that I’ll take to the grave, maximum of one per artist): Boards Of Canada, Music Has The Right To Children; Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It In People; Built To Spill, Keep It Like A Secret; Bloc Party, A Weekend In The City.

Next up: The Cars through Cymbals Eat Guitars. That rhymes!


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