Kristin Hersh: The first song on Kristin Hersh’s first solo album is one of my favorite tracks ever, and yet I have little interest in anything after “Your Ghost.” It’s all good, but it never lives up to the Michael Stipe-assisted haunter. You should listen to that song, though. Over and over. Keeping one, purging one.
Bill Hicks: My lord, I have a lot of Bill Hicks discs that I never listen to. Yes, he was great and important and influential in the world of angry stand-up, and yes, there will always be people angrily defending his originality in a world of fakers. But I’ll just hang on to the hits disc and find the others digitally if I ever get angry enough to need a Hicks binge. Keeping one, purging five.
Micah P. Hinson: I remember really liking this desperate troubadour’s records from the mid-2000s, but I haven’t listened to them since then. Out they go. Purging two.
His Name Is Alive: People always talk about the unlikely bands that were signed to big labels in the post-Nirvana ’90s. And while His Name Is Alive’s Stars On E.S.P. can’t be attributed to grunge in any way, it is one of the odder “alternative” records of the era to get a big push. Case in point: It sort of pretends to be a compilation of tracks from an imaginary record label from the ’60s, which makes sense considering what an unusual character its chief creator, Warren Defever, is. Still, it’s never something I pull of the shelf. Purging one.
The Hives: There was a moment in the early 2000s when The Hives were supposed to save rock ’n’ roll. They didn’t. Purging one.
The Hold Steady: The two Hold Steady albums that I own on CD are the two that I never really want to listen to—Heaven Is Whenever and Stay Positive—though I still like the latter quite a bit. Purging two.
Hot Hot Heat: I remember writing, around the time of the first Hot Hot Heat album, that I both loved the band and assumed that I wouldn’t love them forever. There’s something about the brashness of Make Up The Breakdown that felt sort of instantly dated, and history has proved that out. But there’s something to be said for flashing in the pan—a song that’s great in the moment, but that you don’t need with you forever. The band recently announced a final album, to which the public responded, “They were still a band?” Purging four.
Hot Snakes: San Diego in the ’90s spawned a gang of bands that shared members and sounds, at least to a degree. None ever hit me like Rocket From The Crypt (whose John “Speedo” Reis plays in Hot Snakes), though I do have a smattering of their records. I’ll see Hot Snakes play anytime, but I almost never listen to their records. Purging two.
The House Of Love: The House Of Love supposedly formed after seeing a Jesus And Mary Chain gig, which makes sense, though there’s quite a bit more pop to be found in HOL’s first two albums. They haven’t aged particularly well, though “Christine” is still pleasantly goth-lite. For some reason I don’t own the second self-titled album, which was the breakthrough. Purging one.
Hüsker Dü: I am befuddled by this CD collection sometimes. The only Hüsker Dü disc in here is the band’s swan song, Warehouse: Songs And Stories, which is almost universally regarded as its worst. It’s fine, but it’s overlong and slightly wimpy. I know I’ve got Candy Apple Grey and Flip Your Wig on vinyl, at least. Purging one.
Ice Cube: I am sorry, Cube, but I’d rather make myself a playlist than sort through the individual solo sets at this point. Loved the movie! Purging three.
IDX Featuring Eminem’s Mom: The existence of this disc almost seems like a bad joke—maybe it is. During Eminem mania, Marshall’s mom put out a CD single with a shitty pair of rappers called IDX that was intended as a reaction to her son’s treatment of her in his lyrics. (In fairness, he was not very nice to her.) But these songs—one an open letter, one with bad lyrics from her rapper friends—are just ridiculously pathetic, an attempt to get her very estranged son back in her life. I’m inclined to keep it for the moment, just as a weird historical artifact. (What? It’s going for $70 online? Weird.) Keeping one, for now.
Implement Of Prognosis: So there’s this guy who makes the greatest prank phone calls ever, and those calls are collected under the name Longmont Potion Castle. I’ll write about that later. He’s also a heavy-music enthusiast, and this disc sets some of his calls to some of his hyperactive metal. I don’t know where I got it. Purging one.
Inch: I don’t remember where this band was from, or what scene they were sorta lumped in with—’90s indie rock? I do know that Alex McCown reminded me of their existence the other day, because we apparently both liked them whenever their record Stresser came out. It sounds fine to me now. Purging one.
Innerstance Beatbox: One of probably a thousand truly decent records made in the decade after DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….., Innerstance Beatbox’s All Little Boys Do Silly Little Dances sits very much in Shadow’s shadow. It still sounds great, but not great enough to keep around. Purging one.
Inspiral Carpets: There’s not a lot of music on these shelves that I look at and say, “Why did I ever love that?” But I was obsessed with Inspiral Carpets when I was 16—I saw them play a bunch of times, collected every import single, and I’m pretty sure I even wrote them a fan letter. Sure, “Joe” and “This Is How It Feels” are still pleasant to my ears, but I can’t figure out now exactly what connected me emotionally to a ’60s-throwback band that was lumped into the Madchester scene alongside bands that made a much bigger impact. (Specifically The Stone Roses, I guess.) I’m going to hang onto the debut album Life for nostalgic reasons, but everything else must go. Keeping one, purging four, and there are more CD singles hiding in a closet somewhere…
The (International) Noise Conspiracy: The legend of Swedish band Refused raged pretty hard in the late ’90s, though far more people got into that band after it broke up than ever saw it together. That was slightly less true of the band formed in its wake, The (International) Noise Conspiracy. T(I)NC was hugely fun live—I remember singer Dennis Lyxzén walking down the bar at The Globe in Milwaukee like a rock star, despite the fact that maybe 40 people were there. That said, clearly this band didn’t have the staying power that Refused did. It’s fine throwback garage rock, but not terribly memorable. Purging one.
Interpol: This is easy, since Interpol started off strong and continues to slowly peter into insignificance. (Sure, El Pintor was fine, but have you listened to it since it came out?) So I’m keeping the first two (Turn On The Bright Lights and Antics) and the rest can go.
Here’s a story, though: When I worked at Atomic Records, I was phone pals with a rep named Daniel from an electronic music label called Caipirinha Records. We used to shoot the shit when he’d call to push the label’s records, and he’d talk about the band he was in, which was nothing like the records on the label. He even sent me their EP, a.k.a. Interpol’s now ultra-rare Precipitate. (That one’s in one of those skinny sleeves, in a totally different place, and it’ll stay, too.) Keeping two, purging three.
Iron & Wine: This is going to be a tough one, because I’m pretty sure I have too many Iron & Wine discs. Unfortunately (for this project), I don’t heavily favor either the early, super-minimal songs or the more layered recent years, so I guess I’ll hang onto a little bit of both—The Creek Drank The Cradle stays for sure. And where’s Kiss Each Other Clean? That’s no indictment of any I&W era—they’re all great. Keeping two, purging six.
Islands: I remember liking the first Unicorns record a lot, though I haven’t kept up with Islands at all. But hey, Nick Thorburn doesn’t need me to keep this. He does the music for Serial now! Purging one.
Michael Jackson: I was in fourth grade when Thriller came out, and it’s hard to overstate how completely ubiquitous the album was. Seven of the album’s nine songs were released as singles (“Baby Be Mine” is the lone straggler, though “The Lady In My Life” wasn’t released on its own until 2011), and they absolutely dominated radio and MTV for what seemed like an eternity. It has sold more copies—somewhere between 48 and 65 million—than any other album ever, and by a pretty wide margin. Still, I probably wouldn’t own the CD if it weren’t for the promo copy of the reissue that came out in 2008, which features Kanye West, Fergie, and more. I haven’t listened to those bonus tracks, and I’m not sure I ever will. My dad is a musician, and he came to my fourth-grade class to talk about it. In trying to explain complicated rhythms, he sang the “mama-say, mama-sah, ma-ma-coo-sah” bit from “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and I was mortified for weeks. Keeping one.
The Jam: I’m a little torn here, because I don’t listen to The Jam all that often anymore, and I only own the British band’s first two albums—In The City and This Is The Modern World. They’re a great band, but I think I’d be better off with a greatest hits. I’ll split the difference and keep Modern World. Keeping one, purging one.
James: James looks like a one-hit wonder from this side of the ocean, but the Manchester band had a massively interesting career before “Laid” made them briefly famous here. They were actually contemporaries of The Smiths, releasing their first single—on Factory Records—in 1983, a weirdly folky song called “What’s The World.” Strangely, I don’t have the self-titled 1990 album (a.k.a. Gold Mother), which was reasonably hit-filled. I lost interest after Laid, for the most part, though for some reason I own 2008’s Hey Ma, whose title track I remember liking. Keeping three, purging three.
Jane’s Addiction: Jane’s Addiction was incredibly important to 14-year-old me; their show at the UW-Milwaukee Ballroom in 1989 was one of the first “cool” concerts I went to. (Check out the set list!) In hindsight, it was pretty amazing to see that band—still dangerous, still weird—at that time. My friends and I had to sneak in to the sold-out show by transferring a hand stamp from one to the next; I still remember the thrill of making it in safely. Still, the two classic records hold up really well, and I don’t think that’s just nostalgia talking. Nothing’s Shocking might not sound as out of bounds as it did then, but the songs are still great. And the self-titled live album is solid, too, with one of the band’s best songs, “Trip Away,” which doesn’t appear on any studio album. Now only if they’d retired when they said they were going to, after the very first Lollapalooza and before those two fairly awful reunion records. Keeping three, purging the rarities compilation Kettle Whistle.
Japandroids: I was as excited by Post-Nothing, 2009’s Japandroids debut, as a lot of folks, but it hasn’t come off the shelf since. And my copy doesn’t have the actual artwork anyway. Purging one.
Jawbox: I have the dumbest Jawbox CD collection ever: just the band’s self-titled swan song and the rarities compilation My Scrapbook Of Fatal Accidents. I’m surprised the band hasn’t seen a resurgence in popularity—though they did reform to play on Jimmy Fallon’s show. Maybe in another decade, but for now I’ve got to track down the proper records and purge these two.
Jay Z: I have way more Jay Z discs than I ever listen to. (And truth be told, when I want to hear Jay these days I go for Watch The Throne.) Still, I’ll keep The Black Album for partially sentimental reasons and purge five.
The Jealous Sound: How about an obscure 2000s band sprung from the ashes of an obscure ’90s band? It’s sort of this project in a nutshell, I’m afraid. The Jealous Sound features the singer-guitarist of Knapsack, a band that came up alongside Archers Of Loaf but sounded quite a bit like Sunny Day Real Estate. Their records are great, but they’re few and far between. Keeping two.
The Jerky Boys: Man, this is a tough one, because I’ve got some serious sentimental attachment to The Jerky Boys—at least the first couple of years. Before these prank calls were widely available, I had a 90-minute cassette with the earliest calls on one side and the “Cambodian refugee calls” on the other. (I thought they were made by the same people, but they weren’t.) They felt like a great secret until they no longer did—Radiohead even named Pablo Honey after a Jerky Boys call. But I don’t listen to these at all anymore, and there’s always Spotify if I’m feeling nostalgic. Or I can read Sean O’Neal’s great piece on 1993 comedy. Purging two.
Jeru The Damaja: Though his name his mostly forgotten now, Jeru The Damaja made a classic of ’90s hip-hop in The Sun Rises In The East, which was produced by DJ Premier of Gang Starr. Somehow I no longer have that record, but just a CD single with two tracks and various remixes from his next record. And while “Me Or The Papes” is great, I don’t need it. Purging one.
The Jesus And Mary Chain: The Jesus And Mary Chain reissues that I own have the curious distinction of being double-sided, with music on one side and a DVD on the other, featuring videos. Here’s an admission: Honey’s Dead is my favorite of the dark and stormy Scottish band’s records, though I’ll hang on to Automatic and Psychocandy as well. Keeping three, purging two.
Joan Of Arc: After Cap’n Jazz broke up—or maybe they were still sort of together, I don’t remember—Davey Von Bohlen went on to form The Promise Ring, and Tim Kinsella went weird with Joan Of Arc. I was (and am) good friends with The Promise Ring guys, and saw Joan Of Arc a ton at the beginning of their career. It was diminishing returns for me after a while—which had more to do with me than them—but I still love 1998’s How Memory Works, especially “This Life Cumulative.” Keeping one, purging one.
Daniel Johnston: It’s a fun question to ponder: “Which ’90s act signed to a major label with the least possible chance of success?” Bonus points if they were signed because Kurt Cobain liked them, which is definitely the case with Austin singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston. Johnston’s earnest, weird songs sprung from his schizophrenia, though it’s not just his illness that explains his appeal. For some reason the only one I own is a collection of early home recordings. I’m sure I’ve got Yip/Jump Music on cassette somewhere. Purging one.
Jonathan Fire*Eater: I found Jonathan Fire*Eater by lucky circumstance: I had gone to see a band they were touring with, Stiffs, Inc., in Milwaukee in 1995, and that band insisted that I also check out JF*E. It was—and still is—one of the greatest rock shows I’ve ever seen, a mix of swagger and power and songs that would’ve been at home in a stadium, even though it was in front of eight people in a dirty basement club. I struck up a conversation with the singer, Stewart Lupton, after the show; he was genial but also seemed like he was from another planet.
It turned out I wasn’t the only one excited by Jonathan Fire*Eater. I went to see them a few days later in Madison, where they were being pursued by A&R guys from major labels. They would eventually sign to the then-fledgling DreamWorks, which flew me and my co-publisher Jim out to New York to interview the band for Milk Magazine. (That was the first and probably only time we felt wined and dined.) The band’s major-label debut album was a commercial flop—maybe because it failed to capture exactly how intensely great the band was live. (For the best representation of their studio prowess, there’s a self-titled EP and the peak Tremble Under Boom Lights EP.) Their story has a decent ending, though, as three-fifths of the band regrouped as The Walkmen and made great records from start to finish. Keeping six, which includes a couple of import-only singles and the long-lost debut album.
Joy Division: I actually purged the regular Joy Division CDs once, a long time ago, after the comprehensive box set Heart And Soul came out. But I found myself rarely digging that one out, because it’s a weird package and the proper albums tend to start right in the middle of the discs. (A true CD-collector dilemma, I understand.) So when Rhino put out new individual discs—with bonus live tracks, no less—I hung on to those, too. But I don’t mind having multiple versions of everything, since the entire catalog was so formative for me. As a teenage sorta-goth, I loved the music. (I was never, in my defense, particularly invested in the suicide of singer Ian Curtis, though obviously his deep depression plays a huge part in the music.) Joy Division was hugely influential, but what came after—including New Order, the band its members formed immediately after Curtis’ death—often overshadows just how great these records actually are. Sure, certain things sound dated, but there’s a timelessness to enough of these songs that Joy Division ought to be in the classic-rock canon. (They never will be.) Keeping four.
Juiceboxxx: I remember Juiceboxxx from before he took the name—a shy Milwaukee teen who came to all the indie-rock shows. He blossomed into a ridiculous rapper representing the tony city of Mequon, Wisconsin, and it all seemed like a fun lark. But Juiceboxxx is still doing it all these years later, and I give him all the credit for living the dream, even if it means playing to a few dozen people a night. He got a little write-up in The New Yorker recently, so maybe, 20 years later, it’s going to happen. He’s clearly not going to give up. Purging one.
Julian Plenti: If you rank the Julian Plenti record as part of the Interpol canon—and there’s no reason you shouldn’t—it’s on par with the self-titled record and better than Our Love To Admire. Did I mention that Julian Plenti is the dumb nom de rock of Interpol frontman Paul Banks, and that he made just one record under that name (Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper)? I don’t think anybody bought it, because it wasn’t really marketed as “SOUNDS JUST LIKE INTERPOL.” And now it’s in a weird spot in my collection, and I never think of it, even though it’s decent. So goodbye, Julian. Purging one.
Junip: And here’s another unnecessarily confusing name change—that’s two in a row! José Gonzalez, the Swedish singer-songwriter I wrote about earlier, sometimes plays with a full band called Junip. Sure, it’s more fleshed-out than his solo records generally are, but there’s no reason to call it something else, to be honest. (I bet his record label, like Julian Plenti’s, would prefer he just used his own name. It’s hard enough to sell a damn record these days.) Purging one.
Damien Jurado: I own 10 Damien Jurado CDs, a number that I think even Damien Jurado might find excessive. It makes some sense, since wistful singer-songwriters from the ’90s are kind of my thing. And he’s been remarkably consistent over the years, managing to spread his wings here and there but generally returning to gorgeous sadness. I know I’m keeping Gathered In Song, because it features my favorite song of his, “Chevrolet.” And also Rehearsals For Departure. And And Now That I’m In Your Shadow. And I promise to come see you play next, time, Damien. Keeping three, purging seven.
Juvenile: It’s weird to me that an artist can sell as many records as Juvenile has—4 million copies of 400 Degreez alone—and never really seem to become a household name. Juvenile was a member of Hot Boys alongside Lil Wayne, though Juve’s hits were always a little less heady and weird. Still, “Back That Azz Up” and “Ha” feature a rapping style so mumble-riffic that it’s been often imitated, never duplicated. Not that I ever listen to either of those songs anywhere other than YouTube, though. Could a rap lyric be more amazingly dated than “You got a lot of Girbaud jeans, ha” though? Purging one.
The tally: 72 more out the door this week, for a total of 419. (Again, this number is probably off by a few.) We’re getting closer, and the closet that I’ve moved the rejects to is getting messier.
Personal Hall Of Fame (the discs that I’ll take to the grave, maximum of one per artist): Interpol, Turn On The Bright Lights; Iron & Wine, The Creek Drank The Cradle; Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking; Jonathan Fire*Eater, Tremble Under Boom Lights; Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures
Next up: How many K artists do I own? Exactly 12, from Kaiser Chiefs to Kraftwerk. So it’s those, plus a bunch of Ls.