Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Week 6: In which Death Cab For Cutie competes for space with “Ass-N-Titties”

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.

Evan Dando: Evan Dando is like the poster child for squandered talent. Is that too harsh? Maybe he’s a test case for drugs not being good for creativity? That’s not true, either, since clearly Dando was doing some drugs when he made his best music with The Lemonheads. (We’ll get to that later.) But his solo career, if you can call it that, hasn’t yielded much of interest. There’s a live solo set from the Brattle Theatre that’s plenty engaging mostly because it’s full of Lemonheads material performed with a sweet charm. Then there’s Dando’s only solo studio album, Baby I’m Bored, which represents the pinnacle of truth in advertising. It’s a snoozer. Purging one.

Danger Doom: Here’s one of a few “prestige” discs that never get any play around here. This one’s a collaboration between Danger Mouse and MF Doom, and it features a bunch of Adult Swim characters in guest voices and verses. All the swears are bleeped out. Purging one.

Danko Jones: I have profoundly mixed feelings about Danko Jones, the Canadian rock god who’s also very popular in Sweden for some reason. The band’s namesake singer-guitarist put it into interesting perspective for me on a sorta recent compilation of early songs, Garage Rock!, that were recorded in the mid-’90s. He writes in the liner notes that bands who deliberately continue to play more rudimentary rock after getting better at their instruments are posers. (I’m paraphrasing.) I get that, but I also know in my bones that the band’s earliest stuff—not really counting that comp, but definitely counting a compilation of early singles called I’m Alive And On Fire—is by far its best. We used to listen to the band’s 1998 self-titled EP when we’d close Atomic Records at night, as sort of a treat for the last 10 minutes of work. It crammed five songs and an insane amount of energy into that running time, melding a love of KISS with flashy shades of early punk. And seeing Danko Jones play around then—with Jones himself hilariously faux-arrogant and strutting around like a guitar god—was some of the greatest live music I’ve ever seen. (Honestly!) And then, after a solid early album called Born A Lion, things got a little less interesting for me every time out. And when I want to listen to Danko Jones, I want to hear the early stuff for the most part. Nothing personal, Danko, and more power to you for evolving and following your muse. I just like the old stuff best. Keeping four, purging six.


Dart: From the long-forgotten bin… This San Francisco band from the mid-’90s recalls American Music Club and Red House Painters—sad and slow. I remember loving one song. I haven’t opened these two discs for at least a decade. Purging two.

The Dead Weather: I like Jack White, but I’m feeling purgy at the moment, and I have plenty of White Stripes and Raconteurs to keep me busy. Purging two.


The Dears: Since The Smiths are such a huge part of my musical makeup, I own a bunch of records by bands that are clearly influenced by them, including this Canadian one. The Dears have 1.5 incredible records (half of No Cities Left and all of Gang Of Losers, from 2004 and 2006, respectively). At their best, The Dears are grandiose and melancholy in all the right ways, and singer Murray Lightburn is often as clever as his onetime idol Morrissey. Keeping two, purging one.

Death Cab For Cutie: Well shit, I’ve got the whole set here—eight full-lengths, one compilation, four EPs, a DVD released in a standard CD jewel case, and even a burned disc of a radio session from Milwaukee. I unabashedly love Death Cab For Cutie, though I didn’t at first. I co-promoted (I think!) a show in Milwaukee in 1998 or so, when the watery, kinda muddy Something About Airplanes had just come out. I thought they were okay, but really found themselves on We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes. I was fortunate enough to see them on a ton of early tours, and watch them evolve gracefully from indie kids into a stellar pop band. Ben Gibbard has always been an underrated lyricist, and even if you find him goopy, it’s tough to completely dismiss what he and the band have done over the years. With the exception of the slightly uneven Codes And Keys, it’s a pretty impeccable catalog. That said, I don’t need the DVD or the live disc. So it’s keeping 13, purging two.


Death Vessel: I have a vague memory of seeing this band once, and I believe it was just one dude with a really high voice. Let me check. Yup! His name’s Joel, and this record is pretty, but I can always pop over to Spotify if I want to check it out again soon. Bye, Joel! Purging one.

The Decemberists: Oh man, here’s another relatively complete collection that spotlights my taste in Smiths-inspired literary pomp-pop. But The Decemberists are so good at it! It’s only on The Hazards Of Love that I join the Greek chorus of “Decemberists are puffery!” but even that one has moments I can’t live without. I may never listen to any of these except the brilliant debut Castaways And Cutouts and the most recent one, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World again, but I’m keeping them all, shelf space be damned. Keeping nine, even the “song cycle” The Tain.


Deerhunter: I’ve always admired Deerhunter more than loved them, specifically the way they can veer from pop engineers to borderline sonic terrorism. (Never more clear than on Cryptograms, one of two that I own.) But I never pull these from the shelf, and both have half-assed promo artwork anyway, so out they go. Purging two.

De La Soul: Whenever I think about listening to the hip-hop classic 3 Feet High And Rising, I nearly always end up reaching for Prince Paul’s psychotic, amazing Psychoanalysis: What Is It? instead. Paul produced 3 Feet, and he’s heavily responsible for its sound and acclaim, and on his own he’s much stranger and meaner. But that’s on me; this one’s staying. Keeping one.


Dianogah: Dianogah features two basses and no guitars and the singing is kind of talking and it’s so much of its place and time—Chicago, 1995, alongside Tortoise—that it always brings back happy memories, even if the music itself is more cerebral than emotional. One of the basses is played by the nicest poster artist in the business. Keeping three, purging one.

Rob Dickinson: He was the singer of Catherine Wheel, who I already wrote about. They’re due for a reunion any time now, aren’t they? Dickinson—cousin to Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson—just made one solo album, called Fresh Wine For The Horses. And while it’s fine, I’ll never grab it before I grab one of his old band’s records. Purging one.

Dinosaur Jr.: I was obsessed with Dinosaur Jr. circa Green Mind, like a lot of other nerds. (You couldn’t escape the purple shirt with the cow on it, or the shirt with the little girl smoking around that time.) I’ve got the entire catalog save the third post-reunion album, 2012’s I Bet On Sky, though I couldn’t tell you how any of those post-reunion discs differ from the other. I guess that means I can purge the later ones (along with the 1997 clunker Hand It Over) and stick with Green Mind, You’re Living All Over Me, and Bug. Purging three, keeping eight.


Directions In Music: It’s crazy to think that Tortoise seemed so huge in the mid-’90s. I have no idea how many records they sold, but their first one, from 1995, sure felt like a bomb blowing something up. It was even a big deal when original member Bundy K. Brown—the weirdest of a weird bunch—left and formed the slightly more rocking Directions In Music, though the band’s only album is barely a footnote now. That’s too bad, because it’s obvious what a huge part of the original Tortoise sound he was. This fine record might as well be part of the Tortoise historical record. Keeping one, even though it has no spine artwork and is therefore easy to overlook.

Dirty Three: Australian instrumentalists of the moodiest, most analog variety. Also lots of violin. Always filed more under “admire” than “love” for me. Purging three.


The Dismemberment Plan: At one point in my music-loving history, The Dismemberment Plan was the greatest live band on earth—it might’ve been during that weird time when their magnum opus, Emergency & I, was in record-company limbo. The band’s discography never exactly reflected its power, though that album and its follow-up, Change, came close. And there’s a certain maniacal majesty to the first two as well, which bears repeat listens. I also own a couple of bootlegs. And the CD singles. And a Japanese-only import compilation that features, as a bonus track, a jokey rap song written and performed by me (with beats by The Promise Ring’s Jason Gnewikow) about how great the band is. It’s ridiculous, and I can’t say I’m proud of it, but the guys in the band—all friends of mine from back in these rock days—seemed to think it was pretty funny. It can’t be found online, thank god. Keeping 10.

DJ Assault: I’ve always been drawn to the sublimely ridiculous musical fringe, and there’s nothing more sublimely ridiculous than DJ Assault’s “Ass-N-Titties”—except possibly its sequel, “Ass-N-Titties 2001.” (That version doubles the number of asses and titties.) As you may have guessed, the song is about asses and titties, and it treats its subject with no reservations. DJ Assault was a big name for about a minute in a genre—“ghettotech”—that didn’t last, but “Ass-N-Titties” lives on as a novelty. Purging one.


DJ Shadow: I’m sure they’re all worthwhile, but I only need one DJ Shadow CD (though I need it a lot, as you do): Endtroducing…, the 1996 cut-and-paste masterpiece that inspired a thousand instrumental hip-hop imitators. If you’re a dabbler in that arena, or anywhere really, it’s a lightning-strike kind of album that sounds timeless 20 years later. Keeping one, purging two.

DJ Spooky: DJ Spooky’s debut, Songs Of A Dead Dreamer, hasn’t had the same staying power as DJ Shadow’s, though they’re not light years away from each other stylistically or philosophically. Spooky’s compositions, though, always felt more cerebral—a dark journey into the long-forgotten “illbient” genre. Dead Dreamer has its moments, but I never reach for it anymore. Purging one.


DMX: I’m not sure what the critical world thinks of DMX, though the commercial world couldn’t get enough of the barking rapper in the late ’90s; in that stretch, he released five albums in a row that all debuted at number one. I own five of ’em, though I really only need the one that hit the biggest—1999’s …And Then There Was X. It’s brutal, funny, and completely from the heart, which is a combination that landed DMX in some hot water after the success started to fade. I don’t know what he’s up to now, but I do know that someone, somewhere, is singing “Party Up.” I also know that the first time I met The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin in person, he did a mean impression of X, which made me like him instantly. Keeping one, purging four, you wack, you twisted, your girl’s a ho.

Dntel: I need to start making some tough choices. I own Dntel’s Life Is Full Of Possibilities for the same one song that a lot of people do: “(This Is) The Dream Of Evan and Chan.” The song, which features Ben Gibbard of Death Cab on vocals, is the precursor to The Postal Service—same two guys doing basically the same thing. It’s a fantastic, brilliant, wonderful song, and I’ll listen to it on Spotify when I need to. Purging one.


The Dodos: Another in the “not quite sure why I shelved this” category. Folky indie band with glimmers of greatness that never quite got all the way there for me. Purging one.

Dogs Die In Hot Cars: Ten years ago, I was still too much an Anglophile, enough that I sorta liked the only album by this Scottish band, which sounds like a punked-up XTC. It’s not bad, but it’s also not good. Purging one.

Julie Doiron: There was a period of several months around 1998 that I was staying up all night playing Crash Bandicoot 2 and listening almost exclusively to Julie Doiron’s Loneliest In The Morning. (I was not drinking or doing any drugs, believe it or not.) This combination will sound particularly strange to anybody familiar with Doiron’s music, and particularly that fantastic album, which was released by Sub Pop: It’s a slow, sad meditation on motherhood and womanhood. (I was neither a woman nor a mother at the time.) Crash Bandicoot, meanwhile, was running really fast and smashing boxes and stuff. Doiron has had a quiet but remarkable string since then, releasing gorgeous, melancholy records sporadically. I have most of them, but I’m going to lose a few here. (Do I need to repeat that I have all this stuff digitally? I need to repeat it to myself.) Keeping five, purging four.


Doves: When a new Doves record comes out, I get mildly excited, enjoy it, and then file it away. So I’m glad to have found out that I have a Doves greatest-hits compilation on the shelf, which may be my perfect way to enjoy the overserious British indie rock band. (I love overserious British indie bands.) I’m pretty sure I have their entire discography on CD in those thin cardboard sleeves that promos used to come in, but that’s a whole other project to think about—they’re in a box in a closet. Keeping one, purging one.

Drake: The greatest Drake (so far) only came out on CD in a truncated EP form, called So Far Gone. But it was the mixtape version that had me following the now-huge rapper from his early days, and it’s the only thing I really have to hear by him on a regular basis. And you can’t get it on CD, so these can go. Purging two.

Nick Drake: This British singer-songwriter’s legend won’t die—even though the man himself did way back in 1974, at the age of 26. Nick Drake wasn’t famous when he lived, and he died—by suicide—pretty much a broke recluse. But the power of his songs, especially the stripped-down beauty of his last album, Pink Moon, couldn’t be kept secret, and every generation there are songwriters that publicly declare their affection. (Or car commercials that recognize the majestic songs’ power to sell automobiles.) Nearly everything he did is collected in the Fruit Tree box set, so I’m going to leave my collection at that and skip the rarities set. Keeping four, purging one.


Dr. Dooom: I’m going to save my thoughts on Kool Keith for the Dr. Octagon entry. I have thoughts on Kool Keith. Purging one.

Dr. Dre: I was exactly the right age and filled with suburban angst to enjoy Straight Outta Compton, which naturally bled into a love of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, which still holds up as a signifier (or perhaps igniter) of G-funk. Dre is funny, crass, and catchy as hell—it’s no wonder he never makes records, because there’s always so much to live up to. Compton (the album) is interesting and weird, but it’s got nothing on the other two proper albums. And lord knows why I own the ridiculous compilation First Round Knock Out, which looks (and even sounds) unauthorized.


And here’s a bonus story about the time I met Dr. Dre. It was the Up In Smoke tour, 2000. A friend of mine worked for Interscope, and he told me to show up early, with some friends. We were ushered backstage before the show, not knowing who were going to meet—the tour featured Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Eminem, plus a sorta-N.W.A reunion to close things out. Turns out we were to meet Dr. Dre, who was very nice—and had an incredible setup in his dressing room, including an entire entertainment center in a roadcase. I was first to greet him, and he tried to give me the kind of complicated, multi-part handshake that I was never very good at—and I fucked it up so badly that he didn’t even try to do it with my friends. Alas. Keeping two, purging one.

Dr. Octagon: One of the filthiest, funniest, and most innovative hip-hop albums of the late ’90s, Dr. Octagon’s first full-length—Dr. Octagonecologyst—was supposed to launch its main rapping force, Kool Keith, into the superstardom he never achieved with Ultramagnetic MCs. Instead, it was just popular enough to influence a ton of other artists and split up the core group that created it—Keith, producer Dan The Automator, and turntable genius DJ QBert. (Kutmasta Kurt produced as well.) Keith’s persona—umm, a time-traveling gynecologist alien—anchored the otherworldly raps, and Automator’s production mixed underground hip-hop with psychedelic flourishes that still sound forward thinking. Nobody involved ever made anything nearly as great again, unfortunately, though not for lack of trying: Keith’s next character, Dr. Dooom, “killed” Dr. Octagon a couple of times over the years. Keeping one.


Dump: James McNew of Yo La Tengo recorded an album’s worth of Prince covers that are surprisingly good and obviously reverential. It’s got an incredible title—That Skinny Motherfucker With The High Voice?—but not something I bring out often enough to hang on to. Purging one.

Dungeonesse: When we filmed a One Track Mind episode with Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, she ended up driving us around Baltimore a little bit, and she played me “Drive You Crazy,” from her then-forthcoming super-poppy side-project, Dungeonesse. It’s so mainstream and fantastic that I figured she’d have a huge radio hit with it, and make her the superstar she ought to be. That didn’t happen, but the resulting full-length is nonetheless awesome fun. Keeping one.


Duvall: Smoking Popes were a huge deal in the Midwest during my most active rocking years, and Duvall formed after that band’s breakup. Purging one.

Bob Dylan: Well shit, what to do here? I’m by no means a Bob Dylan maniac, but as fate would have it, I’m a Bob Dylan completist (sort of). When the massive Complete Album Collection came out in 2013, somebody at the label was nice enough to send me one, and I’ve been promising myself I’d take a trip through its entire 41 discs at some point. (I’m super familiar with, and a huge fan of, the usual suspects: Freewheelin’, Blonde On Blonde, etc.) So I’m hanging on to that, and I’ve still got a clutch of the “bootleg series” as well, which I’m not sure I need. So out goes most of those, except for Live 1966 (the “Judas” concert) and The Essential, because that’s good on the go. And someday I’m going to methodically go through that box set, which resides on an entirely different shelf. Keeping two, purging three.


The Dylan Group: Tortoise had a wide-ranging influence in the ’90s—so many vibraphones. The Dylan Group was clearly enamored, and I saw them a couple of times back then—and they were great. But I don’t think the one disc I own has been out of its case in a decade or more. Purging one.

The tally: Another solid purge, with 53 out the door, for a total of 201 gone, though copy editor Laura Adamczyk says my math got messed up in here somewhere. Let’s just say it’s close to 200, okay?


Personal Hall Of Fame (the discs that I’ll take to the grave, maximum of one per artist): Danko Jones, I’m Alive And On Fire; Death Cab For Cutie, We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes; Decemberists, Castaways And Cutouts; Dismemberment Plan, Emergency & I; DJ Shadow, Endtroducing…; Dr. Octagon, Dr. Octagonecologyst; DMX, …And Then There Was X; Nick Drake, Pink Moon

Next up: From Eazy-E to somewhere in the Fs.


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