I Might Be Wrong: The rewards of forgotten records: Thomas Function, Mogwai, Wye Oak and moreBy Colin St. John | August 16th, 2012 | 1 Comment »
I love lists. When music fans and critics make lists of their favorite songs or records, the overwhelming outcome is tantalizing conversation. Pacts of agreement are struck, arguments ensue and Pavement and/or Joy Division comparisons run rampant. Still, the end result of end-of-the-year lists (and their rabbit-rate offspring) is that new music is discovered.
But, a reader or pal finding out about a record he/she hasn’t heard isn’t the only consequence of such rankings. The list maker, hopefully, finds tunes to rediscover. And so it went with my attempt to construct a catalog of my favorite records from the past 15 years. I’m still not entirely clear what Pitchfork’s People’s List is all about, but –being a glutton for over-analysis of the sonic past — I went ahead and put one together. 50 quickly became 150 and I had to cut a few dozen to sharpen my list up to 200 picks of my favorite records from 1996 until 2011.
A lot of “Oh yeah, I gotta listen to that again” and “Wow, that record is 15 years old; I am twice its age…” thoughts popped into my head, but an even more abstract notion came into play. The great arbiter of indie-rock discourse for the past decade, Pitchfork (and a sponsor, Converse) built an impressive database of records. Still, I couldn’t find a few. And one that had to go on my list was Thomas Function’s “In the Valley of Sickness.”
It got me thinking: How do some fantastic records slip through the cracks? Any time a group of albums from a decade or even a year are assembled, lots of great music isn’t praised. It boils down to some combination of idiosyncratic tastes, short-term memories and awareness. Surely, no one can listen to every album released in a given month or even week. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t try.
Thomas Function is from Huntsville, Ala. and, as far as I can tell, hasn’t been too active as of late. But the group had its moment, at least for me, on that one record in 2009. It’s poppy, warbling and aggressive. It’s, of course, not for everyone and it hasn’t been: Josh Macero’s nasally vocals strung throughout the hiccupping progressions and punchy keys. When I went to search through Pitchfork’s database to enter it onto my list, it wasn’t there. For one reason or another, that made me smile.
There are plenty of other records that either didn’t get enough attention when they were released or have been forgotten by most. When I was reviewing Death Vessel’s “Nothing Is Precious Enough for Us,” in 2008, I wrote, “No, that’s not a woman’s crisp voice; it belongs to a singular man with a Farinelli-esque register, a rich history (Berlin to Kennebunkport to Boston … ) and plenty of pithy yarns to spin … [Joel] Thibodeau’s odd tales and arrangements — and that voice — usher in a Carrollian trippiness absent from pop since the passing of Tiny Tim.” I loved the Ponys’ “Turn the Lights Out” when it was released in 2007 yet even I forgot to list the Chicago troupe’s blasting rock tour de force this time around. Whoops.
Other recent records of note that weren’t overly praised by critics or spun on too many bar jukeboxes in their time include the Rural Alberta Advantage’s “Hometowns,” Mogwai’s “Happy Songs for Happy People,” Future Islands’ “In Evening Air,” and Wye Oak’s “The Knot.” And while it may be true that music snobs and critics seek out obscurity, none of these are completely off-the-radar. Still, I doubt they topped many best-of round-ups and they deserve to be heard again–preferably by fresh ears.
I’m not a huge fan of dangling carrots for comments, but I’m genuinely interested in this case. Are there any records you think are deserving of the proverbial second spin? I’d like to take a listen.