Radio Bliss '67: 3 ½ Years of Audio Mayhem

In the fall of 1999, I set foot on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus for the first time as an enrolled student. To the little country boy from BFE, Indiana, it was a total culture shock. Different races everywhere you looked. New friends, new modes of transportation, a whole new way of life. Total Culture Shock.

But, we human learn to adapt quickly, and I was no exception. I quickly had a new group of friends, and I never, ever wanted to leave. I also learned how to spread the word and communicate with your fellow college students: sidewalk chalk. Every fall and spring, hell, every day at IU, the sidewalks are covered with messages – join us tonight for the annual Korean Christian BBQ, don’t miss Dr. Lear’s lecture tomorrow at 8 pm at Ballantine Hall, come see Danagas and Homonculus throw down at the Bluebird this Saturday night!, and so on.

One such message caught my eye that fall – want to be a college rock DJ? Why, yes… yes I do. And thus I found myself in a lecture hall days before my first college class had even started – signing up to be one of the many, the not so proud – the DJs of WIUS, AM 1570 Student Radio.

Little known fact at the time: newbies get the short end of the schedule stick. There are only so many spots available, divided into two hour timeslots. I was the lucky winner of one of those time slots – only after at least one person passed on it before me. The time? Tuesday mornings… 4 AM to 6 AM.

That was ok – I was a Freshman, which meant my first class every Tuesday was a 8 AM anyway. Rudimentary Music Theory, as it was – literally M100. This wasn’t Music 101. It was Music 100. But you see, I had a class of my own to teach – lecture time from 4 AM to 6 AM, every Tuesday morning.

And thus my career as a DJ at WIUS began. Two things to remember about this first semester as a DJ: one, fall turns into winter, and two, WIUS doesn’t have the best broadcast radius nor listener base, not even on campus (the yuppy lite-pop FM station, that completely sucked, took those honors).

So, the first thing. When fall became winter, 4 AM became hard. Have you ever been on campus in Bloomington? The studio was a good 10 minute walk from Wright Quad, the dorm where I was staying. And that’s in sunny weather. In the winter, in the cold black of night with snow on the ground? Or worse? Total hell to get from Wright to the station house. Once there, it was up the creaky metal staircase on the outside of the building to the studio loft on the second floor, where you had to bang on the window to get let in – if you were lucky. No keys or codes for the peons – bang on the window, hope for the best, pray you don’t freeze while the 2 AM guy is jamming out to whatever tripe he was listening to. Oh, and the studio isn’t really that heated…

Second, WIUS was AM 1570, and had a transmission radius of a few miles. Basically, on campus, maybe a few streets north or south, but not too much farther. If you were at the mall, or over by the rec center, or ever on Fountain Square… you weren’t hearing much. On campus, it really wasn’t much better. Sure, we had a channel on the campus cable system – WIUS played as background noise as a slide show of announcements went by – but the only people who listened were your friends (hopefully) and other people that had shows at the station (if they weren’t dickheads, which was about a 50/50 chance).

So, cold as hell temperatures, early morning timeslot, no one listening. Can you guess how many shows I didn’t show up for? None. Not a single one. In my whole time, not just that semester, as a DJ for WIUS, I never missed a single show. I loved being on the radio that much, and besides, I had the face for it. My friend Rob sometimes got up and joined me, and we talked about “emonauts” and “sorostitutes” and played bad music. And so it went that first year.

Long story short (or at least, shorter), I made it through fall semester, and the spring. Later, my sophomore year, I was caught up in a delimma – still considered a peon, and with too many returning DJs (who always get first crack at show times), I was left with a choice. I could either take another bad time slot – something in the 2 AM to 8 AM range – or accept a slot in tandem with another DJ (and either splitting the timeslot, or doing the show together).

The poor bastard on the other end that got offered this same opportunity must have pissed off the student station manager. Josh was a Senior, and he still got asked to share/split a time slot? Really? I took the opportunity – it meant a 10 to Noon timeslot, on Wednesday afternoon – and so did he. And so I met Josh, Senior IUB student, lover of jam rock (Phish, Dead, moe., etc.), and my new partner in crime.

Josh and I had almost completely different tastes in the rock and roll spectrum. I loved grunge, alternative rock, metal, blues. He loved jam bands and electronic music.

It ended up being a match made in heaven (sigh). We combined our powers to introduce each other to so much new music. It was almost as if we were playing the radio show for ourselves (which, essentially, we were). Our friends dropped by, and some days we had a collection of hangers-on in the studio – girlfriends, roomies, musicians we played with – and other days it was just us. A full year of the buddy system. It worked, it worked gloriously, and it was the best of my time at WIUS.

One day, early on during the first semester of my Sophomore year, we were in the studio, on the air (as in, speaking during a break in the music), bantering back and forth. We were looking at the schedule, at the names of the other DJs’ radio shows. We had been requested to provide a name for our show – so far it just said “Dusty and Josh’s show.” That was lame. We needed a name. A cool name.

That day’s show was spent, trying to think of a name. We were getting nowhere, both on and off the air. Then, during one on-air break, Josh commented on one of tracks we had just listened to. “That was radio bliss,” he said.

“Wait, that’s it!,” I said. His quizzical look drew forth my explanation. “That’s the name of the show – Radio Bliss.”

“I like it,” he said. “But it’s missing something.”

“How about a number?,” I asked. “You know, like White Zombie’s ‘Thunder Kiss ’65.’ Something like that.”

“69 is too conspicuous,” Josh said. “Split the difference?”

And there you have it – the birth of this beautiful monster we called Radio Bliss ’67.

It all culminated during Finals Week (cue loud, intimidating drums), when the station didn’t go offline so much as control of it was turned over to “DJs by Committee” – all time slots were open, and you could sign up for any time. Josh was graduating and wanted one more giant crack at the mic, the turntable and the disc player. Was I in? Bet your ass I was in. And so, the last blast of Radio Bliss ’67 (at this point, in the year of oh-one) went out over the airwaves – on a Thursday night/ Friday morning – 11 PM to 5 AM. No rules – the FCC technically wasn’t listening between the hours of 1 AM and 5 AM. Lots of guests/friends/hangers-on. Six hours of Radio Bliss… and then it was all over. I asked if I could keep the name, and Josh of course said yes. Then, just like that (blows wind off of fingers…)… he was gone.

I carried on, of course. I had other friends help out – Cory, Katey the Radio Mime, and Robbo. The next year saw the birth of Radio Bliss ’67, Part 2: Revenge of the Emonauts. My Senior year, it was just Radio Bliss ’67 (part 3).
But the bliss rolled on and on. I had discovered so much new music, stuff I never would have dreamed of were it not for that strange college rock radio station.

One of the duties of being a DJ at WIUS was to play both “Top Shelf” material – the latest and greatest independent records, usually reviewed and recommend in several indie magazines and the wonderful College Music Journal (at the time, the best read in indie rock) – and plenty of “Local” bands.

“Top Shelf” was about 80% crap, and 20% great stuff. It was here I found Guided By Voices, via their Hold On Hope EP. But most of the stuff was bad – lots of British electronica and weird bands from Nebraska who farted on snare drums.

The Local section was a different story, thanks mostly to some really amazing bands in town, and the fact that the Secretly Canadian record label was headquartered in Bloomington, making all of their bands “local.” This would start my obsession with Songs: Ohia.

The there was the in-studio library – a few shelves of the best of the best indie rock (and, I am convinced, the worst of the worst). That was just the beginning – the upstairs library was incredible, if not organized at all.

Then of course there was the legendary TDs CDs and LPs – literally a hole in the wall, or rather floor, basement record store. It’s probably smaller than your master bathroom. Tom Donahue was the nicest man, who made you deals, always smiled and always had a great story or three, and who had absolutely ANY underground record you could think of. If he didn’t have it, he’d find it.

This was bad. I came to college with about 150-200 CDs. I left with about 650-750 CDs, and probably 50 or so 33s and 20 or so 45s (records, people – viva la vinyl) and the turntable to go with them. No shit – my record collection (I call all of my stuff, CDs and LPs, my records) grew and grew and grew. Of course, All Ears record store didn’t make it any easier, or Tracks, or the Den… hell, even the Borders by the mall played it’s part.

Friends at the station introduced me to new bands. The aforementioned CMJ was always a bastion of knowledge, and was clear enough to know which bands I would like and which ones I would think sucked.

There were shows at the station house and the yearly Culture Shock festival. Lots of shows, from local bands and visiting indie bands – Bloomington had great luck in landing even nationally known recording acts big and small. Local bands set up and played during tailgate parties at the football games, and afterwards at house parties. The Taste of Bloomington Festival and Lotus World Music Festival were two other great opportunities to hear new music.

Campus was alive with music. And I did my best to stay right in the middle of it. I kept collecting records, I became the jazz beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student (among other writing opportunities), I played in bands on and off campus, and of course was right there for the explosion of Napster and lesser-known but much-better AudioGalaxy. It was all at my fingertips, and I ate it up.

So now, as the decade that introduced me to so much music comes to a close, I celebrate the time with my definitive collection of the music that started it all. I have second-guessed my second guesses for tracks to be included, and watched the project grow from two discs to three, and still feel like I have missed so much, and forgotten more.

But, the fact remains that if you had turned on your television to the campus updates channel, or were listening over the internet (even in those days – we were pioneers! – except it only worked about 30% off the time), or just happened to be flipping through the AM channels on your car stereo while driving through campus during one of my shows, this is what you would’ve heard.

The chronicler in me demanded there be some order to these discs, so they are presented here in like-minded format – these songs sound like one another, or close enough for comfort. The truly enterprising among you are welcomed to cut these up and rearrange them however you like. Certainly, putting all three discs’ worth of songs on “random” would more like approximate the sound of Radio Bliss ’67 – especially if you can somehow find some snippets of Indiana University WIUS Public Service Announcements, and either me or Cory singing the weather, and some crappy, trendy indie rock band’s hit at the time, and the spoof of the song “Scrubs” by TLC used as station identification.

This is it. This is the best of the best of Radio Bliss ’67. If I am feeling up to it – and I most likely will at some point – I might even make up a cutting room floor disc, the songs that got left behind, were to weird or unlike any of the others to make it in, or some of the more mainstream stuff I played on the radio program. But, barring that now semi-promised jewel, this is it. The Platinum Collection.

3 ½ Years of Audio Mayhem.

A Decade of Consequences.

The Best of Radio Bliss ’67.

As always, happy listening and good lucking hunting for these gems.

This one’s for all you Emonauts out there listenin’. We are so bringing the rock. And remember to always, ALWAYS play with their minds.



Radio Bliss '67: Disc One

01.  "In Circles" - Sunny Day Real Estate – It’s perhaps a bit cliché to start with a song widely recognized as one of this seminal underground band’s greatest and most-cherished songs – but that would then belittle the fact that such praise is merited. Where as bands like Rites of Spring and Minor Threat are credited with being the precursors to the indie rock sound that became known as “emo,” it was Sunny Day Real Estate who would become the first true emo band. Don’t despair – this isn’t tight jeans and guyliner rock. This was the first wave, true, passionate, emotional rock and roll, played at eardrum-bursting and whisper quiet volumes, full of vocal acrobatics and guitar heroics. Punk’s energy fused with stadium rock’s amplifiers, with some very light salting of metal and progressive rock, and of course, the heart on the sleeve lyrics to lead the way.
02.  "Signal" - The Appleseed Cast – I can directly attribute my knowledge of this band to the drummer in my first college band, Frank Vernon. He was obsessed with them (what drummer wouldn’t like all of this cacophony?), and likewise, so became I. This is from their two volume opus, Low Level Owl, a suite of interconnected songs that weave together and create an enthralling tapestry. Unfortunately, most songs from those albums do not translate well to a mix-tape, but rather are meant to be heard in sequence. Nonetheless, this track stands out as one of the best on two album’s worth of stellar musicianship and songwriting, and a breathtaking etherealness that U2 only wishes it could achieve.
03.  "A Dethroned King" - Starflyer 59 – Another band I heard about from our drummer. You’d find Starflyer 59 records in a Christian book store, and yet they don’t follow the mold of most godrock bands – copy the latest alterna-rock craze and cash in. At least not on this record. Here, you find a band following their own muse, mixing pop, alternative rock, and “shoegaze” to great effect, rocking hard without being preachy. Too bad more godrock isn’t this damned good.
04.  "Target" – Snapcase – Credit here goes to the lead singer and good friend Wes Erwin, who was obsessed with hardcore bands and – no joke – Brittney Spears. No “hit me baby” here, though. Just pure energy, like a rocket taking off – in your face. The way this music sounds, it’s almost athletic. It’s in your face nonstop, it has a message, it goes for the throat and never quits.
05.  "High Noon" – Juno – I discovered Juno (on the CD and favorite track below) by accident – looking for the band Joan of Arc. Browsing the CD bins at TD’s CDs and LPs (rest in peace, Tom!), I came upon an awesome album cover, and the rest was history. This track made it easy to play an awesome band I loved, without killing 10 minutes of my Radio Bliss (see below).
06.  "Modern Gang Reader" – Ativin – I discovered Ativin in the “local bands” section of our in-studio library at WIUS. I pulled out a disc, dropped it in, hit play. What I found was some weird-ass angular skronk – on the fringes of “math rock,” perhaps, but something more. It’s sinister at times. Melodic at others. They were on Secretly Canadian at the time, and they were students/former students at IU. And they were some of the nicest guys you’ll every meet. I remember interviewing Chris Carothers for a project for one of my journalism classes, and came away with an entirely new level of respect for the band. Some of these gents will show up in a band later, but this was my introduction to Ativin, and is by far my favorite track under this name.
07.  "8" - Sunny Day Real Estate – You’ll notice a few repeat bands scattered throughout these albums. Note these as the very important ones, and you’ll do well at the test at the end of the class. I just can’t say enough about SDRE. Wes was instrumental in getting me into this song, off the album LP2, also known as the “pink album.” They broke up after releasing the pink album, with lead singer Jeremy Enigk announcing he had become a born-again Christian. It didn’t effect the glorious results of the music. And, thankfully, the band would reunite soon, and record more great music. This track stands out as one of my all-time faves by this classically underrated band. Of interesting note – my first college band “formed” on the way home from a SDRE show in Cincinnati. After an amazing performance, Wes, Frank and I made our minds up to form a band, to play this kind of music. Our friend Rob Chamness was kind enough to put up with our ramblings, then later helped us get our first gig. He was never the official road manager, but he might as well have been. The genesis was all right here, in the car ride back to Bloomington on a cold winter’s evening, with the echoes of amplifiers still ringing in our ears, and the warmth of one of the greatest concerts any of us had ever seen still burning in our hearts. Yeah, I make it seem sugary and poetic, but it can’t be said enough – this band was amazing, and there has never been a band labeled “emo” or otherwise that could come anywhere near close to touching the greatness and grandeur that was Sunny Day Real Estate.
08.  "Christmas Steps" - Mogwai – Instrumental math rock from Scotland. They like to play a while. There is something so beautiful in the way they build their songs. This track in particular is a magnum opus. I found Mogwai in the studio, and intrigued by the name, gave them a spin. It’s amazing how much music I discovered, in the studio and at TDs and All Ears, based on the title of the band or record or the artwork of the disc alone. The scope of records in my collection that were bought “sight unheard,” as I like to say, is amazing. Even more amazing is the fact that maybe 3% off those records sucked – the rest were solid gold. Anyway, Mogwai was a good band, and was an excellent way to kill time in the studio – put this 10+ minutes track on and go looking for more stuff to play! I do sincerely love this track, though – it has great feeling.
09.  "Only Shallow" - My Bloody Valentine – MBV are usually credited with beginning the “shoegaze” movement – so called because the members of the bands rarely looked up and out into the audience, but rather stayed transfixed on the floor or on their instruments and gear. This is the opening track off of the band’s definitive record, Loveless. The recording budget for this one record alone bankrupted the label they were on, and they never built on the promise of this amazing record – they have still yet to record a follow up record. Most figure that band leader/guitar maestro Kevin Shields couldn’t face the prospect of trying to live up to such a critically acclaimed record. It deserves all of the praise it gets – from Bob Mould, he of Husker Du and Sugar fame, to more lesser known acts such as Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins and Kurt Cobain from Nirvana. Eh? EH?!? You’re putting the pieces together in your head right now, aren’t you? The fuzzy feedback squeals all over In Utero? The complex army of layered guitars on Siamese Dream? None of it possible without Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. Before you dismiss this as samplers, synthesizers and studio trickery, remember one thing – none of those things are true. What you have here is four people, playing guitar, bass, and drums, and singing. Sure, there may be a keyboard here and there, but not as many as you’d think. No, the orchestral swells and symphonic strings are all the results of guitar work – standing as close to a large stack of amplifiers, cranked up as loud as they could go, and painting soundscapes. Which explains the other reason Kevin Shields never recorded a follow-up – he was nearly deaf after recording this album and taking the masterwork on tour.
10.  "The Sound of Waves" - Seki – This was one of those rare “top shelf” finds. I discovered “The Sound of Waves” and didn’t look back – it became a staple of my show that first year. I often dedicated to my friend Amanda, my first college crush. Smart, funny, sexy – she was everything a guy like me wanted… that is, until Rush Week. Sorority girls. Damn. Lost another one, another good fight ends in defeat. Regardless, this shares the same qualities as Ativin and Mogwai, and truth be told was likely my doorway into those bands. Dense and textured, it’s another piece of music that feels truly built and orchestrated – not just three chords and a song in the heart, but rather a vision of madness brought to stunning life.
11.  "Blueprint" - Fugazi – The flagship Do It Yourself (DIY) band. Fugazi set the stage for thousands upon thousands of independent bands to record and print up their own records, organize their own tours, and do things their own way. Plus, Fugazi never – EVER – sold out. Their mixture of dub/reggae rhythms, punk rock, and hardcore spirit still resonates with youth today, and the brilliant interplay of the musicians is typically jaw-dropping. Never ones to mince words, the band delivered message after message to their fans to stand up for their rights, don’t sell out, and be your own person. Featuring members of both seminal hardcore (and pre-emo) bands Rites of Spring and Minor Threat, Fugazi was like an indie rock super band – one that always lived up to its top billing.
12.  "I Would Hurt A Fly" - Built To Spill – Somewhere in a small Idaho farm town sits Doug Martsh, crafting ungodly works of staggering guitar genius. Another band that was simply brutal in concert (God, I love how many of these guys I actually got to see in their heyday!), Built to Spill was really just one man. That man plays the hell out of a guitar. Perfect From Now Own is a holy grail in the indie rock world, with good reason – no one else had yet took the blueprint that Neil Young set down with “Cortez The Killer” and ran with it.
13.  "JC Auto" - Sugar – After recording “File Under: Easy Listening” with his new band Sugar, Bob Mould had some left over tracks (one of these things is not like the others!) that needed an outlet. Where as FU:EL was packed full of punk-pop gems, the Beaster EP was a return to Mould’s previous form in Husker Du. What you got was one hell of an incendiary guitar tone, and a lot of attitude. I love the chorus, where Mould does his best Frank Black impression and shrieks his way through - "I'm not your Jesus Christ - I know, I know, I know, I know!" The song takes you for a strong ride, never letting up until Mould has shrieked his last please that he is not, in fact, your Jesus Christ. I know. And now, so do you, if you found a way to survive the buzzsaw guitar.
14.  "The Sea Looked Like Lead" - Juno - I have mentioned Juno previously - see track 5, on this here disc 1 - and here, they go to great lengths to please the masses of epic, sprawling guitar rock with this 8+ minute album closer. From the aforementioned album I bought on cool-looking cover alone - This is the Way It Goes & Goes & Goes. I like the way this song tells a story of betrayal, all calm and serene at first, until all hell breaks loose at the end. The band ends up cresting like a tsunami wave, never letting up until the bitter, arching, and epic end. My first band, Endolori, had a song like this - "Ocean of Ash, Dust, and Stars" - directly influenced by this track. I didn't quite pull it off, but the feeling was almost there. God what I wouldn't give for the chance to play and record music this epic, carefree, and devestating.
15.  "Bleeding Orange" - Snapcase - If you are angry at work, then this is the song for you. Work for yourself. Another split lip, another message delivered with savage fury. And that damned walking bassline in the intro kills me every time. These guys killed - KILLED - in concert, even when half the band had the flu and they only played a nine song set. They played this. I went nuts. Never was a big hardcore fan, but in my humble and now admittedly revealed not fully formed opinion, there was no better hardcore band than Snapcase. How they create these textures, this anger, this righteousness, I don't know. I know only that many, many hardcore bands fail to catch the thread, and sound like cheap pussy knockoffs.
16.  "Waterfront Park" - Killwatthours - This may or may not have been a Top Shelf find. It may or may not have been a sight unheard purchase. Either way, it was in the studio, and I did play the hell out of it. I so wanted this band to do more - I loved the interplay of the guitar and the piano. They remind me a bit of The Appleseed Cast. It's great driving music, or lounging around music, or cleaning house, or taking a nap music. It just... fits. Again, another band that out U2's U2.

Radio Bliss '67: Disc Two

01.  "Stereo" - Pavement - Silly, irreverant, very relavent, all relative - Pavement was one of independent rock's heavyweights. Grand purveyors of slacker rock - the were lazy, sloppy, brilliant. This was one of my very favorite tracks, partly because of the zaniness, and partly because it rocks. But mostly because "the voice of Geddy Lee." I dare you not to sing along with that line - it'll get you every time.
02.  "Bulldog Skin" - Guided By Voices - THE GREATEST FUCKING INDIE ROCK BAND EVER. You better believe it. From the early lo-fi days up through their electrifying conclusion just a few years ago, no one did it better than Guided By Voices. Several line-up changes never tripped up the prolific Robert Pollard, who released countless other records through pseudonyms, side projects, his own name, and more, in addition to the GBV franchise. This was from the transition from "lo-fi" to "hi-fi" (read: GBV sold out, but it didn't f-ing matter, they still rocked balls), Mag Earwig. The transition wasn't seamless, and they got panned for the first album after this, produced by Ric Ocasek of The Cars fame. Didn't matter. Don't you understand? This is the greatest, most prolific, greatest drunken american bar rock band of all time. What more do you need to know? Crank it.
03.  "Naomi" - The Mr. T Experience – There are two ways into the track. The first was Robbo, via College Music Journal magazine. The second was my friend Liz, a Chicago native who I met in my first Journalism class (J144?), who was a complete Mr. T Exp. nut. Either way, you can’t deny the catchiness of this tune. Sure, the vocals sometimes sound a little off key, but who cares? The joy, the fun, the silly lyrics, the sing-along chorus… what’s there not to like? Quit your complaining and sing, bounce, have fun!
04.  "Happiness Is All The Rage" - The Promise Ring – The Promise Ring, to me, is the Holy Grail of punk-pop indie-rock bands. So many bands, great and terrible, would be nowhere without this band, and without this record, the unforgettable Very Emergency. Every song on the record is amazing. It’s full of energy, joy, wit, humor, and, yes, energy (again). Singer Davey Von Bohlen seems to have a bit of a lisp at times, but to me this just adds to the overall charm. Also, you trendy rockers out there might recognize this voice from those dorky scenesters, Jimmy Eat World, on whose record Bleed American Davey makes a cameo. And yes, JEW were almost just as important as The Promise Ring – the record Clarity is yet another holy grail of indie-rock, but someone has my copy. If you have my copy, damn it, bring it back! Go buy your own! And, while you’re at it, pick up a copy of Very Emergency – trust me, you will thank me a thousand times over.
05.  "The Company Dime" - The Get Up Kids – Obviously, this second disc has it’s own theme, and pop-fueled punk-influenced rock is the name of the game here. The Get Up Kids just had a sound that got into your skull. Something to Write Home About was another one of those records that was nearly perfect from end to end, start to finish. This was a studio find, I think. What’s funny was how many records I bought after I found them at the studio… and I would bring them with me to my show. I always carried a backpack on campus (which is probably why I still have a bag – a pack, a man-purse, or whatever, to this day), and on the day of my show, my pack was always filled with records. We’re talking 20-30 CDs… even ones that I knew were in the studio. I would also write down my set lists, and would occasionally tape the shows, too. Sorry, back on topic… The Get Up Kids really rocked. They’ll pop up later – sort of – on another disc…
06.  "Moving Trucks" - Bob Mould – Bob Mould showed up on disc one, with the band Sugar. Here he plies his trade on his own. This was a Top Shelf selection (ok, so maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remembered… but then again, I was there for four years and the Top Shelf changed every two weeks or so, so there was bound to be some gems in amongst the crap, right?). I was immediately hooked. This song, and this record, The Last Dog and Pony Show, lead me to all kinds of Bob’s goodness. I am a fan – hell, I even stole the title of one of his records as a primary, oft-repeated lines in one of my songs. Mostly, though, I love his guitar sound, and those devastatingly personal lyrics. The songs sound like chainsaws, but that’s actually the safe outer coating – it’s the words that really cut to the bone.
07.  "Artificial Light" - Rainer Maria – Alternative rock in the ‘90’s wasn’t rife with girl bands, or bands fronted by women. Indie rock, though, was filled with them, and many of them were excellent. Rainer Marie – named for poet Rainer Maria Rilke – was one such female-fronted, excellent bands. This song captured me from the get go. And yes, I think this was also a Top Shelf selection. But I love the driving sound of this song. The band made really beautiful, powerful music. Plus, Rainer Maria really kicked ass in concert. We saw them at the same Sunny Day Real Estate show that caused the formation of Endolori. Great band, great show!
08.  "Longwall" - Early Day Miners – Another local band – this one related to Ativin. Contains members of both bands. I think I grew to love Early Day Miners more and more. The created such atmosphere – like Ativin, but a different, more subdued and ethereal kind of atmosphere. This track was originally on disc one, but found it’s way here to give disc two some space and room to breathe. And really, that best describes this song – space, and room to breathe.
09.  "Is Patience Still Waiting?" - The Juliana Theory – This was another band I heard about from Rob. Another Christian act to. And, I believe Wes and Frank knew about them, all around the same time. We became fans. I think this song has a great sound. The breakdown, the bridge or whatever you’d like to call it, is awesome. It adds a great gravity to the song. Another band who could mix drop dead gorgeous pop melodies with wall of Marshalls guitar sounds.
10.  "Leaving Ohio" - Brandtson – Pop-punk abandon at it’s finest. Brandtson went from being a heavier, early Emo-tinged punk rock band to a poppier punkier alternative band, to a moody, absolutely fantastic post-rock band, to something more electronic and stranger all together. This song is from their poppier, punkier period. They obviously had a fantastic sound. I love the story-like nature of the song: “I got a letter saying I’m doing it all wrong. I think that I’ll write back, and find out how it’s done.” And I am in love with this lyric: “We all fall down, so pick yourself up from the dirt, because after all, you take a bitter fall but it’s the getting up that hurts.” After all of my bittersweet love stories about Ohio (seriously, Ohio and my love life just never mixed, and I think Ohio should be dismissed from the United States), this song can be considered somewhat of an anthem for me. I always return to it when I am down, and it always picks me back up and helps me get back on the right track.
11.  "Sugarcube" - Yo La Tengo – Yo La Tengo are deserved heavyweights of the indie-rock world. They were another band that could reinvent themselves when necessary or desired. I found this song on a Matador records compilation – in fact, five songs in this collection come from that compilation, Everything is Nice, though I own most of the recordings in some other format (in fact, several of the “cutting room floor” tracks were also taken from that same compilation). Regardless, Yo La Tengo got played on the radio, probably a lot at WIUS. This was one of my favorite tracks by the band.
12.  "Flowers" - Cibo Matto – I discovered this band, oddly enough, thanks to the song “I Know My Chicken,” courtesy again of Rob and CMJ mag. I ignored them for the most part, until Rob, his freshman dorm roommate Aaron, and I went up to Indianapolis during that first freshman semester to see the band Live play at the Murat Temple. Not at all sure why, because their music has literally nothing in common with each other, but Cibo Matto was the opener on that leg of The Distance To Here tour. These two tiny Japanese women, backed up by Sean Lennon of all people, came out and rocked the shit out of the crowd. I was blown away. So I went home and purchased both of their records on Amazon. Then I found said records in the studio, and… whatever. Their music is this odd amalgam of pop, funk, hip-hop, rock, metal, and other stuff. Not so surprising if you’ve heard other Japanese bands – they don’t quite suffer from the same pigeonholed mind set as American bands and record labels. Also, fun fact: the band’s first album was mostly about food, and it is rumored that this was because the two primaries (the tiny Asian girls) didn’t speak English quite so well, but loved food, so they simply sang about what they knew. I know my chicken, you’ve got to know your chicken.
13.  "Mr. Raven" - MC Lars – I feel like little explanation is needed here. MC Lars put out a simple little six song EP, songs he made on his laptop while going to school in England. The songs all kicked ass. This song is obviously a novelty, but who cares? It’s catchy as all hell, it’s wittier than anything you’ll ever hear on a normal radio station, it sticks surprisingly well, lyrically, to the Edgar Allen Poe classic… I mean, this is English Lit 101 put to good use, people. Celebrate and sing along – I dare you not to.
14.  "Race For The Prize" - The Flaming Lips – This was one of those songs you couldn’t escape at the station house. The Lips were a heralded underground band, this album was considered their masterpiece, and even ordinary rock fans recognized the band thanks to their one-off alternative rock radio hit, “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Obviously, this song puts in to perspective how one-off that one song was – The Flaming Lips were capable of creating sonic masterpieces. I know this song gets a little repetitive, but if you listen closely, in those repeated passages are little aural gems, an instrument changing octaves here, or a different instrument playing a different harmony here and there. It’s really quite something, but it’s so listener-friendly that you might never notice – and therein lies the beauty of this song.
15.  "In Open Plains" - For Stars – I bought this album after going back and listening to tapes of my shows, and trying to track down some of the bands I hadn’t bought any records of while I was in school. This song is a great example of why so much of independent rock stays independent – the singer’s “twee” voice, for instance, or the strange, off-balance time signatures here and there throughout this song. Still, I find this track an enjoyable listen, and, after all, I did play it on my show, because I obviously tracked this band down at some point.
16.  "Cross Bones Style" - Cat Power – A strange, lilting tune, this song could almost be an Irish folk song in another life. You can hear it if you listen hard… but that’s always been a part of Chan Marshall’s charm. Under the name of Cat Power, she’s challenged conventional thinking time and again (her covers records can be quite brilliant). This track was another one off of Everything is Nice.
17.  "You And A Girl" - Marine Research – Funny story about Marine Research: I actually picked up this disc from my local Karma Records store in Mooresville, Indiana. It was a freebie, picked it up on my way out of the store (probably after buying a shitty-quality Pearl Jam bootleg CD – this was back before they released all those amazing, professional “bootlegs” of their shows). Low and behold, I found the record at the station, and having thrown my copy in a pile somewhere and never having listened to it before, I gave the studio copy a spin. I fell in love with this particular song, less for the Brit-Pop vocals and much more for that angular, angry guitar and bass interplay that closes the track out.
18.  "For The Love Of My Country" - Poor Old Lu – Frank the drummer was responsible for me loving this band. He put this song on a mix CD he made for me (we did this a lot back then), and I really dug this song. I bought a “career retrospective” disc down at TDs, and fell in love with all kinds of tracks from the band. They were another Christian act, which was fine by me. Better yet, their pedigree has spread – there are all kinds of links to this band and the fellows in this band. Best of all, the music just rocks. The crashing, reckless nature of parts of this song brings me so much joy – it sounds like a band that really enjoys playing together.
19.  "Eye On The Finish Line" - Pedro The Lion – Like much of the music on this disc, this was in the studio, but I knew of it because of Wes and Frank. Yet another so-called Christian band, one that certainly went beyond just simple messages. There has always been plenty of meaning in Pedro The Lion’s lyrics. This tune comes from Winners Never Quit, a concept album about a pair of brothers – one, an alcoholic screw-up, and the other the golden son politician who cheats to win his office then kills his wife when she finds out and threatens to blow the lid on the scandal. So, you know, good Godly-themed music. No, this is mature music for mature people, and thinking man’s lyrics aside, the band rocks, too.
20.  "The Official Ironman Rally Song" - Guided By Voices – From Under The Bushes, Under The Stars, this was GBVs last collective gasp from the “golden years” lineup featuring Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, and Kevin Fennell. This wasn’t quite yet the hi-fi GBV of later years, but nor was it the lo-fi band of Propeller or Bee Thousand. It’s somewhere in between, which is also where this song is – it’s a balance of hi- and lo-fi, a balance of indie sensibilities and a big rock sound. The song does in fact sound like a rally cry. In truth, this whole record could’ve been one GBV song after another – I play them enough to merit that, and I’ve been an ever-growing fan since then. Don’t ever try to get into Guided By Voices without a guide – there are hundreds, yes, hundreds of releases by this band and other pseudonyms. If you want more, just ask.
21.  "Emergency! Emergency!" - The Promise Ring – It feels like to include two Promise Rings tracks. If the song before didn’t convince you this band was great, then this song should. This song illustrates everything great about this band. This WILL get stuck in your head if you give it even half a chance. This song, even more than Guided By Voices, truly defines the music on this disc. Truly, this song could probably define this entire collection. The Promise Ring were the perfect band for this era – an escape from the direness of grunge and the shittiness of boy bands and Brittney Spears. This song is the call to arms for a great generation of underground rock and roll.

Radio Bliss '67: Disc Three

01.  "Sick Of Goodbyes" - Sparklehorse – Mark Linkous, he of Sparklehorse, defines weirdness, even on songs like this, a cover of a Cracker song. Battling illnesses, putting out strange records and stranger EPs, and being a bit reclusive, one could see Linkous as a mad genius. Either way, he had a knack for writing a melody, and his weird outlook and strange lyrics never got in the way of a great song.
02.  "Catching On" - Son Volt – Rising from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, the band largely credited with creating No Depression/Alternative Country (whatever that means), Son Volt was primary Uncle writer Jay Farrar’s next band. Picking up where he left off in UT, Farrar and Son Volt crafted warm tales of life on the road and life in the boring-ass Midwest. A perfect mixture of rock, country and blues, Farrar’s music came to life under the expert musicianship of the Boquist brothers. Whereas Farrar’s partner in crime in UT, Jeff Tweedy, would go on to be a critic’s darling while Farrar stayed the course, didn’t sell out, and came closest to capturing real true-blue cosmic American music.
03.  "Blue" - The Jayhawks – The Jayhawks were my first foray into Alternative Country (whatever that is). If I remember correctly, this album (Tomorrow The Green Grass) was bought at Borders, in the bargain bin, one of those discs with the “Best Value!” stickers on it. I am almost certain that I had this in high school, though I am not sure how I would’ve got connected to this kind of music back then. Regardless, this song is great. The vocal harmonies alone are enough to break your heart into a million pieces. That is reason enough alone for me to listen.
04.  "Fall On Me" - R.E.M. – I was obsessed with R.E.M. in college. They epitomized college rock – they literally were college rock, the very definition of college rock. Though they would achieve worldwide fame and break into the mainstream, the band still had a solid following in the indie-rock world, and I became a huge fan of the band. We still spun R.E.M. vinyl at the studio, which was good, since we have crates of it. I always found this song sad but not in a terrible way. It’s very resigned and beautiful, and it really captures R.E.M. at their early creative peak.
05.  "Can't Stand It" - Wilco – Jeff Tweedy was shocked when Jay Farrar left Uncle Tupelo, and he and the remaining members – who, at the point, were record company appointed studio musicians – picked up the pieces and formed Wilco. As Uncle Tupelo was about to gain more than a small degree of notoriety, Farrar took off with Son Volt to stick with the roots rock tradition. Tweedy and Wilco would eventually go on to sell out and become utter corporate rock whores (it’s true and you know it). But for a few albums, the eased their way away from Alternative Country (whatever that is) and towards being the record company’s bitches and total rock and roll tragedy stories, complete with the drugs and failed relationships. Before their epic face-plant/total hosejob/career defining and critic’s darling work Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, they actually committed the last good music of their career to tape on their third album, Summerteeth. This was thanks in no small part to the late Jay Bennett (r.i.p.), who took the band from being also-rans to near superstars. “Can’t Stand It” is an epic, reaching, grand-sweeping track. It also stands as the last great song Wilco would do, before completely putting their mouths of the cocks of critics everywhere and selling out faster than an American Idol contestant. God, I hate this band. But dammit… I really, really love this song.
06.  "I Only Play 4 Money" - The Frogs – It wouldn’t be college rock without humor, and bands like the Frogs brought humor in spades. These brothers – rumored to be gay and sexually involved with each other – spun tales of rape, sex in the park with geriatrics, bondage with sailors, and their grandparents’ genitals. If you couldn’t laugh at them, you were most likely disgusted. Otherwise, though, they could write a melody, and not all of the songs were so gross as to be unenjoyable. Take this tasty track – alliteration aside – and really realize that rock and roll was made to have a sense of humor. This is like Spinal Tap, only these amps go past eleven.
07.  "Advice to Aces" - Songs: Ohia – I found Songs: Ohia right where I should have, in the Locals section of the studio. On the Bloomington-based Secretly Canadian records, Songs: Ohia, really just a name for Jason Molina, told bleak tales of Midwestern woe and eerie stories of living in the tip of the conservative bible belt. A true working-class hero kind of band. Molina could switch from acoustic to electric pretty quickly. Some records were sparse and very open, while others were dense organ-drenched affairs. Above all, though, they were good. This quick song captures the typical, one voice and guitar structure of so many of Molina’s songs, and is as good as any place to start appreciating a truly unrecognized Midwestern talent’s work.
08.  "Slate" - Uncle Tupelo – This captures the true beauty of the No Depression movement – the loneliness and ache, the fire and defiance. Uncle Tupelo was a herald of great things to come. They melded ripping guitars and punk energy with country’s lyrical content and working class values. Though none of the songs on this disc showcase the louder side of Tupelo, the band broke ground. Then, once they amped things up, they turned things down and went acoustic. Along the way, they recorded some of the best batch of Americana music you’ll ever here. This is simply a primer song, one of their greatest and yet just a window into the soul and sound of a fantastic American band. Everything – from the harmonies to the traditional instruments to the strange lyrics that just sound right – is perfect here. This would be their swan song, but what a song it is.
09.  "Glory & Consequence" - Ben Harper – Harper wasn’t quite the well-known artist he would become yet when he released the album The Will To Live. A songwriter who could capture rage and anger in the same breath as love and wanting, and convey them both back at you in equal parts, Harper’s songwriting is strong throughout this album, and peaks with “Glory & Consequence,” which also captures one of his most scorching guitar solos, a truly breathtaking piece of work that reaches for the stars and actually gets there.
10.  "Goodbye" - The New Amsterdams – Matt Pryor didn’t quit his day job as the frontman for the Get Up Kids when he made his first album under the name of the New Amsterdams. But, he almost could have, as good as the record was. You can see the similarities between the two bands – same voice, same songwriting – but the quieter, reflective material here lends itself well to the acoustic and personal nature of the whole project. And the New Amsterdams are, to this day, my preferred of the singer’s projects.
11.  "Sweeter" = Julie Doiron and Wooden Stars – This track was one of those miracle discoveries – walking through the studio library, I was pulling out records I thought looked like they might be fun to play. I wasn’t prepared for the gulf of emotions in this song – nor the harmonic contrast between the two singers. “Sweeter” is possibly the greatest sad love song ever written. It somehow perfectly captures the feeling of being paralyzed when you bump into an ex-lover that you are still madly in love with. The bittersweetness, the hurt and hopelessness, the gripping, cold fear in your heart, and the melancholy joy of seeing your loved one again… it’s all right here.
12.  "The Black Crow" - Songs: Ohia – Dark, lonely, epic. Before Jason Molina went full Alternative Country (whatever that is)/Americana on us, he was mining coal out of the Appalachia Valley hills. Cold is color in his world. Desperation is a fragrance. There is barely warmth enough to keep the bones from freezing, barely light enough to keep the wolves away during this song. But the ride it takes you on is well forth the feeling you go through along the way.
13.  "Jagged" - Old 97's – As ragged as Neil Young and as tuneful as R.E.M., the Old 97’s mixed grit and swagger with their melodic country rock. The band knew how to write a hook, and that was the stock they dealt in throughout their career. They were a great solid favorite of the second wave of Alternative Country (whatever that is). Rhett Miller, lead singer and primary songwriter, has gone on to have a mildly successful solo career on pop/AOR radio (“Come Around” is one of the best songs you’ve heard but can’t remember where or why).
14.  "Ten Second News" - Son Volt – Son Volt’s first album, Trace, was the perfect marriage of country and folk acoustics with classic southern rock’s electric sound. But it was on “Ten Second News” that the band broke new sonic ground – the kind that bands like Califone, Red House Painters, and others would go on to perfect in the years prior. Jay Farrar found ways to wrap his abstract tales around piercingly deep, spacious and simple grooves that get lodged in the head. His knack for real lyrical imagery is fairly unmatched in music today, popular or otherwise. He can tell you a story that you don’t understand, but it won’t matter, because the depth and feeling of his lyrics delivered by his emotive and plaintive voice is enough to keep you listening, over and over again.
15.  "Black Eye" - Uncle Tupelo – If I am at all honest, I must admit that it is this song, sung by Jeff Tweedy, that introduced me to the No Depression sound and movement, and helped me discover the fertile fields of Alternative Country (whatever that is). This achingly simple song is so good, so sweet. So plain, yet it conveys a depth of emotion (sadly lacking from the majority of Wilco’s later work). It’s youthful and earnest, to it’s very core… and as like as good an introduction to the world beneath your local country radio’s airwaves as any. Uncle Tupelo proved time and time again that great country music doesn’t have to be made in Nashville, TN, nor does it belong to it.
16.  "Dry The Rain" - The Beta Band – Movies play a large role in music, and vice versa. It was the movie High Fidelity that introduced this song to my musical vocabulary (via the famous “I will now sell 5 copies of the Beta Band EP by The Beta Band” scene). This song captures the folk-tronic movement before it even began. The Beta Band were doing this kind of folk rock mixed with electronic beats long before the latest craze of bands in Britain and the States were. And, quite frankly, they did it better. The original is usually better than the imitators, and so… folk-bop away, intrepid listeners.
17.  "Carlisle Wall" - Alisdair Roberts and Jason Molina – There is something breathtaking about this simple song. Irish folk, done to perfection, in my eyes. Ali Roberts not only played with band Appendix Out (who do some pretty sweet folk stuff of their own – again, a “cutting room floor” casualty), but was a frequent conspirator of Jason Molina during the days of this recording – something in the early ‘00’s (say that as “ots” – it’ll make you feel good). I had been dying, dying to see Songs: Ohia play. Despite being based in Bloomington at the time, Molina rarely played around town. Alas, on a chance visit to TDs CDs and LPs, I found my chance to see S:O/ Molina. Tom, the owner, told me about a house show, happening that night, as I bought the new S:O/ Scout Niblett 7”. Told me the place and time. I rounded up my girlfriend and best friend (what’s up, Cory), and off to the house show we went. They had, predictably, started early. Alasdair Roberts was playing when we got there… and we caught the end of his set, during which he played this song with help from Molina. And, by “this song,” I mean THIS ACTUAL RECORDING. We were there, I was there, when this piece was performed and recorded. It was hot and stuffy in that cramped little house, and so Molina decided to play on the porch… and so drug an amplifier out on the porch, plugged in an electric guitar, and played about 25 minutes for about 10 people, under the stars on a hot summer night. To this day, it was one of the coolest performances I’ve ever attended – an artists nowhere near his peak but most certainly on his way there, in a casual environment, acting like this was nothing more than a get together of friends (which, aside from a few outsiders like us who had heard of the show through word of mouth that day, it probably was), and playing some beautiful music. Was I naïve and dumb enough to ask Molina to sing the 7” record I had just bought that day? Of course I was… and you’d not meet a nice, finer fellow, who even had the time to tell me that his song on the record wasn’t very good, but that I should really pay attention to Scout, an up and coming artist. What a cool hot summer night.
18.  "Sandusky" - Uncle Tupelo – If one song ever lead me to pick up a mandolin and banjo, among other various Appalachian folk instruments, it was this. I have done you, avid listener, a disservice by not including the raging punk-country that Uncle Tupelo did so well, and that directly lead to the creation of the No Depression/Alternative Country (whatever that is) label for that brand of roots rock music. But the acoustic work of Uncle Tupelo is easily some of their best. This track, without ever saying a word, captures the essence and power of the band. These guys – Farrar and Tweedy, and drummer Heindorn – had a knack for melody. There was no denying the songwriting talent. Beyond that, they were able to craft great songs, even on instruments that really could barely play. It was all for our enjoyment. “Sandusky” has been used in movies and television a time or two, and for good reason – it’s obviously a very visual song. Melodic, moving and gorgeous, it aptly summarizes the band responsible for the biggest dreams and internal song monologues of this artist.
19.  "Say Goodbye Good" - The Promise Ring – This song has always reminded me of a closing – be it the close of the year, the end of something sweet and great, the end of an era. In a way, it was… for this was the Promise Ring’s last hurrah. Many fans and critics panned the band for their last album, Wood/Water, when it was a complete departure from the sound the band had made its calling card throughout its career. But to me, a band that knows how to mature and grow is a band worth knowing and loving. After having an aneurysm after massive touring behind Very Emergency, singer Davey Von Bohlen had a new lease on life and a new perspective. The band grew up… and it spelled the end for them. So, unwittingly, or then again maybe so, The Promise Ring waved goodbye with this last classic tune. With the slow, steady build throughout the song culminating in the sing-along chorus and gospel fervor of the ending, it perfectly caps the three discs of music representing my college radio career. I couldn’t think of a better song to wind things down than this. This is the close of the year, the end of an era. I hope when I look back, I will have been able to say goodbye in a good way, and still see something I am so proud of, and proud to have done. This has been but a capsule of my life, but in putting it together has really helped me realize just how much this time in my life was “my formative years,” where my musical foundations were laid, and my future self was made. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much I have. Say goodbye good.


Waxed: Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago

I was a little late to the Bon Iver party. While everyone was raving and ranting, I was busy listening to other things. When For Emma, Forever Ago began appearing on the "best of the year" lists for 2008, I started to take notice. When Daytrotter trotted out an excellent few recordings, and a very interesting and enjoyable article to boot, I decided it was time to listen.

Unfortunately, I shared an office with someone who's musical tastes didn't exactly mirror mine. And since Bon Iver were not American Idol finalists, the first strains of the Daytrotter session that I began playing one day were met with fierce disapproval. Rather than try to listen through the haze of discontented slurs, shouts, and verbal dismissals, I bowed out. And then I went down to my local record store (I love you, LUNA!) and bought For Emma, Forever Ago. If this many people loved it... well, it didn't have to be good. The people are sometimes very, very wrong (I am looking at you, Rolling Stone magazine, and you, American Idol viewers and listeners).

But sometimes, the masses are right. Granted, most of the "masses" that I was listening to for recommendations are places like Heather and her Fuel for Friends blog, and Aquarium Drunkard, and of course Daytrotter. These are valued and reputable sources for good music, at least so aligned with my tastes. And in this case, my trusty sources lead me not astray. Bon Iver is the real deal, and For Emma, Forever Ago is by far one of the best releases of 2008.

My first listen, in my car, left me intrigued. Not yet impressed or excited, but very intrigued. It wasn't until I got home, put the record on a shelf, and returned to it. It might have been a cold, rainy day, and if it wasn't, it should've been. When I put the disc in my home stereo and hit play, that was when the record grabbed me. It hasn't let go since.

When that first rising crest of harmonized vocals in "The Wolves" hit, I was hooked. From the opening strums of "Flume" to the acoustic guitar fading out on album closer "Re: Stacks," For Emma, Forever Ago is a classic album. The album cover, with its wintery, dirty window look, is a perfect picture of what's inside, of the haunting melodies and found sounds and gentle acoustic strums that will soon grace your ears. Hipsters might call this Indie-Folk. I just call it great.

"Flume" begins the record with that gentle acoustic, along with slight keyboard flourishes and a strange, warbling sound that sounds like a stringed instrument being manipulated with a magnet. And of course, that voice, familiar and haunting, quiet and whispery and passionate. All manner of aural treats make this record a pleasure to listen to, be it buzzing strings or gorgeous and fresh-sounding vocal harmonies. It is a very organic record.

There are many twists and turns throughout the album, like the buzzing instrumental break in "Flume" or the lilting voices and volume swells in "Lump Sum." It's full of organic sounds. It is a folk record through and through, but something more new than old. It borrows from the rich folk lineage of American song, but not the songs themselves, as is so common with folk releases. Here are new tales of love and the cold and the Midwest. "And I told you to be patient, and I told you to be fine, and I told you to be balanced, and I told you to be kind," sings Justin Vernon (who is Bon Iver de facto) in "Skinny Love." "Who will love you, who will fight?" Is he singing to a lover who jilted him, or is he singing to himself? Doesn't matter, because it is affecting and effective either way.

I wish I could highlight a favorite track for you, dear readers, but I can't. I can't because every track seems to be my favorite - I feel like a kid in an aural candy store. Or an addict, and Bon Iver is my dealer of sweet nothings and electric highs. I wonder along with Mr. Vernon as he sings "What might have been lost?"

Who knows, really. All I know is that I am glad Justin Vernon retreated to cabin in Wisconsin to write and record this gritty collection of songs. Bon Iver - a mispelling in French of the term "good winter" - weaves tale after tale, in dulcet and majestic acoustic tones. The hushed vocals of "Blindsided" make is sound as if we're hearing a fairy tale, just one on one, in a room with the storyteller. The soft drums, chirping guitar, and drifting vocals are deceptive in "Creature Fear," as the chorus explodes (for this record, anyway) in a swell of chugging guitars and driving snare. There's even a hint of fuzzy electric guitar and bass in there to drive things along as the song segues into the track "Team."

For Emma, Forever Ago stays mostly quiet and reserved, it's nine songs much like a journey, like a walk outside to clear your head on a cool and crisp winter day, the cold biting at the tip of your nose, but your thoughts warm and comforting in your head. Other times, the music sounds like the perfect companion to brandy and a fireplace. Even when, in "For Emma," Justin sings "go find another lover to bring up, to string along," there's a warmth and joy built into the music. The horns accompanying "For Emma" remind me a little of "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel, and the comparison isn't a bad one - if you like Neutral Milk Hotel, you'll find some common ground here as well.

"Re: Stacks" might be one of the most straightforward songs on the album, but is also one of the best, a strong, vibrant piece of songwriting that breathes with energy and emotion, even as it is relaxed and reserved. It pleasantly reminds me of walking down cold Columbus, Ohio streets in winter, hand in hand with my lover, watching the world unfurl around us.

And I could say that for the whole record - it's like a cold walk with a loved on, or a warm fireplace by yourself, wondering why you are alone but not really worried how. It is a record of reflection and remembering. It is also a record worth owning, and listening to, over and over. After listening to it almost every day for the past two weeks, and a bit before that, too, I can tell you it's a record that reveals itself slowly, and only gets better the more your listen to it.

This isn't a record for your winter (or summer) of discontent. It's a warm, soulful record for walks and drives, for rainy days at home, for your own reflection. See yourself in For Emma, Forever Ago, and go and see the world through the eyes of a dirty, wintery window. It's about life and living it, and this makes for part of an excellent soundtrack to that great journey.