The Smashing Pumpkins: Drown

singles smashing pumpkins drown (full version)
From the soundtrack Singles (1992)

This song is among the earliest in The Smashing Pumpkins catalog, recorded in 1992 for the motion picture soundtrack Singles. The film takes place in Seattle and heralds the coming of that city’s grunge music, using the local scene as a persistent backdrop the personal and professional turmoil of a bunch of twenty-somethings. Allusions and references to the burgeoning scene abound within the movie. Soundgarden makes an on-stage appearance and members of Pearl Jam have a cameo as members of Matt Dillion’s fictional grunge band, Citizen Dick.

It been more than ten years since I saw Singles and I don’t really remember if it was good or not. I was a teenager enthralled by the music; the rest of the story mattered little to me. Once thing I do know for sure though is that the soundtrack is phenomenal. Not only is it a definitive statement about what the “grunge sound” was (and thus make it marketable to the mainstream), it features some of the best songs in the respective catalogues of the artists that appear on it.

Pearl Jam’s State of Love and Trust is easily one of the group’s finest compositions. Seasons is surely Chris Cornell’s greatest non-Soundgarden work. Screaming Trees’ Nearly Lost You, well, it just rocks. The real gem on the soundtrack though, is its closer: The Smashing Pumpkins’ Drown. It’s ironic that the album’s superlative song would be from a band that lives 1800 miles away from Seattle.

I’ve loved Drown since the first time I heard it. The song is so dreamy and peaceful, evoking a wistfulness which is surprising, considering the massive amounts of layered distortion that is piled on top of itself. It’s classic Billy Corgan, intimate when it needs to be, crashing to life at just the right moments. At more than 8 minutes long, it is an epic mind-bending journey.

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What I Love: Billy’s soft but confident vocals. The distortion-steeped solo/outro.

drown short at itunes short version

drown full at amazon full version

Soundgarden: The Day I Tried To Live

From the album Superunknown (1994)

One of the best songs from one of the 90s best albums (a 4.51/5 on my scale). The Day I Tried to Live is Chris Cornell and company at the tip-top of their game on an album that delivers smash after smash.

It’s not as frantic as Spoonman or as sour as Fell on Black Days, but more steadfast and determined in its manner of storytelling. The whining intro sets a cynical stage a sordid story of ambition and the depths one can sink to while trying to achieve a perverted definition of “living.”

What I find most interesting about this song is its unusual construction, which seems almost operatic in nature. Sure, it employs a contemporary structure, but not in the traditional pop/rock manner. From the speaker’s perspective, there’s clearly a conflict as shown by the contrast between the resolute, ominousness of the verses and the screaming, adrenaline-soaked choruses. As the song progresses, the conflict gets increasingly heated as both sides of the argument struggle for control. The verses get shorter and the screaming gets more intense, back and forth until he cast he final accusation.

This song is of the kind that sits in the back of your mind until one day, at random, its brilliance explodes into your consciousness. From there, it’s no going back.

What I Love: The song, on an Interstate at night, with windows rolled down and the volumed rolled up.

the day i tried to live at itunes
day i tried to live at amazon

No Alternative: A map of the universe

I came of musical age during the so-called alternative era, when "alternative" was more of an actual alternative to the mainstream rock/pop of the early 90s. However, due to my relatively young age and the relative cultural backwater of my hometown, the movement was well on its way to mainstream-ization by the time it swung through my burg. The year was 1993 and at the tender age of 14 I had already developed a healthy disdain for popular culture in general. Ah, teenage rebellion.

With the exceptions of Guns n’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion(s) and Nirvana’s Nevermind, I had paid little attention to popular music in the previous couple years. Glam rock had lost its appeal (and I had enjoyed Def Leppard as much as a pre-teen could) and I had never really gotten into hip-hop or R&B. All in all, I just didn’t listen to that much music.

But that changed during the summer of ’93. I had completed middle school and was well on my way to becoming a big, bad high school freshman in a handful of months. The prospect of a new environment with new people was a major catalyst for expanding my musical horizons that summer. But the most crucial factor was that my dad, after years of resistance, succumbed to the pleading of his children and subscribed to cable television at our house. I was then exposed to that bastion of cultural awareness… MTV.

I spent a good portion of that summer absorbed in the channel’s programming, from The Beach House to Alternative Nation (which was is full swing) to Real Word California (Venice).

I suddenly couldn’t get enough music and soon joined both the Columbia House and BMG Record Clubs. My first order of CDs included albums by R.E.M., Spin Doctors, Stone Temple Pilots and Blind Melon, all groups that were high on the charts that summer. It was a wonderful time of musical exploration. By the end of the year, I was acquiriing new albums at a rate of one per week, a pace I maintained throughout high school.

I fiercely bought into the "alternative ethos," particularly concerning issues of authenticity in music and the need to stay politically and socially aware. To this day, I endeavor to avoid overtly commercial aspects of American culture.

no alternative girl

I never did look good in flannel though.

But there is one record that had more influence on my musical directions for that year and those that followed. No other record comes even close to the effect that the No Alternative compilation had on me. It was like a map of the universe, a branching point for all that was well and good in the music world. Almost all the bands featured would go on to notoriety and in some cases, stardom during the subsequent years.

Matthew Sweet’s Superdeformed is an rousing punch of indie-pop-noise. The Smashing Pumpkins’ Glynis is a sweet sweet gem that ranks among my favorites in the band’s catalog. This album also introduced me to Sarah Mclachlan which would have made the album worth it alone. Soundgarden puts in an atypically-playful song with Show Me while Goo Goo Dolls present a misleadingly good song with Bitch seriously, I got bait-and-switched on that one. And even though I never managed to discover more of Pavement’s music (despite all the group’s cred), I still quite enjoy their ode to R.E.M.: Unseen Power of the Picket Fence.

Thirteen years later, this record still has power. In fact, a listen has stimulated a completely new and original interest in American Music Club, a band that never made it onto my radar beyond No Alternative.

And now that the term "alternative" has come and gone, been co-opted and is now as mainstream as it gets, I realize that the title is wrong. Alternative does exist, and it’s right here on this record.

Mudhoney – My Brother the Cow: mmm mmmm angst

my brother the cow

Mudhoney’s My Brother the Cow, I think, is a fitting bookend to the “grunge” era. And though I didn’t get into Mudhoney until the waning days of the movement, in retrospect it seems as though it was the most quintessentially grunge of all the big bands to come out of Seattle during that time. Nirvana was more pop friendly; Pearl Jam leaned toward hard rock; Alice in Chains and Soundgarden were imbued with a metal sensibility; but Mudhoney was the band the best encapsilated the grunge ethos.

My Brother the Cow was released at a time when the music world was leaving grunge behind. It was spring of 1995 and Cobain had been dead for a year. Post-grunge acts such as Better Than Ezra and Live were bringing a kinder, gentle form of rock to the masses.

But Mudhoney continued doing its own thing and produced this great album. I remember waiting especially eagerly for this record to come out.

In January of that year, I obtained a recording of "self pollution radio," a sprawling 4 hour radio show hosted by Eddie Vedder and friends. They had gotten together to spin some records and engage in intelligent conversation.

Those tapes three ninety minute maxells became my musical divining rod for nearly 2 years. The first song played was Sonic Youth’s Teenage Riot and I was instantly transformed from casually interested in the band to hardcore fan. As the set progressed, I was introduced to forms of music both new and strange.

I heard songs months, and in some cases, years before they were officially released, including some Dave Grohl demo songs that would eventually be released as Foo Fighters.

The best part of the tapes, however, were the live sessions. Besides all the vinyl spinning, Eddie and company had arranged for a bunch of their friends to play a handful of songs in a make-shift studio.

  • Pearl Jam itself put in 2 sets with mostly material from Vitalogy.
  • Soundgarden put in a set, delivering Kyle Petty, Son of Richard and No Attention, both of which sound better on this performance than the studio versions released 2 years later.
  • Mad Season was there too and their performance inspired me buy their album when it was released a couple months later.

Which brings me back to Mudhoney, whose performance really kinda blew me away. I hadn’t given the band much attention beyond their song on the seminal Singles soundtrack. but by the time the strutting bass line of What Moves the Heart had finished, I knew that I had to add this band to my collection.

I picked up Piece of Cake shortly thereafter and waited a couple months for My Brother the Cow. When I finally received it, I deemed it awesome and it quickly made its way into my frequent rotation. The music was great, but the thing that made it characteristically Mudhoney was the prankish sense of humor. My favorite part of the record was waiting for the last song to drain away to nothing, then come roaring back as the album started to play itself backward.

But just as this record seems to be the last defiant gasp of grunge, it was also Mudhoney’s last hurrah for me. I listened to them vigorously for a couple years, but by the time the group’s next album, Tomorrow Hit Today, was released in 1998 I had largely forgotten about them. But listening to My Brother the Cow again reminds me why I liked them so much in the first place.

tunequest week in review

for the week ending may 20, 2006.

stats: a superlative week here at tunequest. 394 songs played over 25 hours and 40 minutes. a further 5 songs were removed from the library for a net progress of 399, a new record. frankly, i'm surprised by the results. an afternoon braves game and a couple of extented meetings cut into my normal office listening time and i didn't really expect saturday's listening to be able to compensate. not that i'm complaining about it. i'm thrilled.

highlights for the week include sharing the chicago symphony's performance of mahler's no 6 with the neighborhood, revisiting some  grunge and post-grunge rock from nirvana's bleach and soundgarden's down on the upside, appreciating the smooth grooves of the well-pollished idm of to rococo rot's hotel morgen, getting funky with morton steven's very compelling tv score to hawaii five-o (best tv theme song ever!), and finally finally finally finally getting through all those babylon 5 scores* (it took 7 weeks, but i did it), as well as enjoying a host of other really great music.

also mixed in this week were a couple of james bond scores (john barry's diamonds are forever and david arnold's die another day. both excellent) and william shatner's has been. now don't laugh at this, but that shatner album is some powerful stuff. he's got a very engaging spoken-word delivery as well as some respectable collaborators. the result is 11 songs that pack more heartfelt sentiment than all the songs on top 40 radio in the past 10 years combined. i mean that.

it was also apparently "records that time forgot week" here at tunequest. i only covered 7 albums in that short-lived series, and 3 of them managed to pop up this week: can's ege bamyasi, louis and bebe barron's score to forbidden planet and martin denny's space-exotica extravaganza exotic moog. as soon as i track down that file, i'll post it.

see this week's complete list of albums in the extended entry.

*technically, i have one album left, a compilation called 'the best of babylon 5.' it's currently not eligible for play because the tunequest-ipod is into the I's and it's not smart enough to ignore the "the" at the beginning of album names. artists yes, albums no.

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the day of rock

started the day off with pearl jam's live show in katowice poland, from the group's massive bootleg dump in the year 2000. in high school, i collected a number of pearl jam shows (including one i had been to–what a treat!), but petered out after no code as my teenage devotion transformed into adultly-casual fanhood. when those bootlegs were released, i thought it would be a good idea to try to collect them all (like grungy pokemon). i think i got about 10 of the shows before it dawned on me that i really didn't need 25 nearly identical concerts cluttering up my music space, so i cut the list down to 3 shows: london, katowice and milan. then just last week, i further trimmed the lot by removing the london show; that recording just felt a little flat.

which brings me to katowice. this show is amazing, from the choice of songs to the gravity of the performance to the quality of the recording to the energy of the crowd. the show is more than 2 hours long and packs in nearly every great pearl jam song as well as the ol' standby: rockin in the free word.

update 3:44pm: continuing that seattle sound with soundgarden's down on the upside. it's a good record; too bad they broke up.

and if that's not enough rock for you, hum's electra2000 was next on the playlist. while not as complex or sophisticated as you'd prefer an astronaut or downward is heavenward, that album has some very good pounding, straigh-ahead rock. 'scraper' will blow your doors off.

rounding out the day was nirvana's classic debut, bleach, featuring 'love buzz' and 'about a girl.' i don't think anything else needs to be said about that one. 

One Hundred Sixty-Eight Songs (that’s 17 albums) in 3 days.

  • the flaming lips [ego tripping at the gates of hell]
  • the faint [danse macabre remixes]
  • david bowie [earthling]
  • the clebanoff strings [exciting sounds]
  • saint etienne [finisterre]
  • they might be giants [factory showroom]
  • chris cornell [euphoria morning]
  • cq soundtrack
  • nobukazu takemura [finale: for issey miyake men by naoki takizawa]
  • southern culture on the skids [dirt track date]
  • the chemical brothers [dig your own hole]
  • pizzicato five [couples]
  • mudhoney [five dollar bob’s mock cooter stew]
  • eyes wide shut soundtrack
  • the chemical brothers [exit planet dust]
  • yo la tengo [fakebook]
  • lalo schifrin [enter the dragon]

A very productive couple of days. in fact the past 6 days represents 8.6% of the playtime accomplished since tunequest began. not a bad performance. however, now i’ve got far too many tunes to write about here, so here are some quick thoughts:

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