Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Human Sounds, annotated

June 7, 2014 // 8–10 pm

WMCN 91.7 FM Macalester College Radio St. Paul Minnesota

Human Sounds
// Send me a remedy for this thing I’m feeling. It’s hard to be (hard to be!) human again.

During my college reunion weekend last month, I did my first radio show since May 1, 2009 (according to my records). I’ve been under the impression that I’d have a recording of it to share at some point, but as that’s still beyond my control, I’m offering instead this narrated playlist. So, five years later, it continues…

Deerhunter – Cover me (slowly) / Agoraphobia

First, my 30-second GarageBand collage of song snippets, forming a semi-coherent introduction as told by Primal Scream (sampling Easy Rider), Possum Dixon, The Beatles, Elvis Costello, The Mekons and The Dils and accompanied by Prince, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Sleater-Kinney and M.I.A.:

Just what is it that you want to do? Radio-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh! (There will be a show tonight.) Welcome to welcome to welcome to welcome to HUMAN sounds HUMAN sounds HUMAN sounds HUMAN sounds HUMAN sounds HUMAN sounds. We’re gonna have a good time, we’re gonna have a party.

Second, the irreducible (WMCN’s current station manager agrees!) opening 4:43 of the greatest album released during my college years—no competition, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I claim on this night that “Rainwater Cassette Exchange” is the only Deerhunter song I ever remember playing during my original college run, but looking back through my playlists now (all lovingly preserved in Word documents; I’ve considered posting them during various moments of boredom over the years, would that be obscene?), I see that I also played “Never Stops” and, on the aforementioned final show of 5/1/09, “Microcastle,” which probably means I was well on my way to loving the album, Microcastle, by then, this process continuing over the remainder of 2009.

After the music, I prattle on for a while about my DJ resume. My WMCN shows, 2005-2009: Music Biscuit Flower Hour (2 semesters), Human Sounds (2 semesters; name and intro revived on this night), GOBS Original Artyfacts from the Punk and Post-Punk Eras 1975-1986 (1 semester), GOBS II Original Artyfacts from the Western Hemisphere and Beyond 1608-2008 (1 semester), Senior Service (2 semesters). It’s my intention to do some kind of historical overview of these shows, or at least to partially recreate my first ever radio show, from the night of September 30, 2005, when I opened with ABBA’s bullshit-clearing “S.O.S.” and then played a bunch of 80s punk, going so far as to include two Hüsker Dü and three Replacements songs, a sin of redundancy I’ll never replicate. The new albums I was really excited about were by Rob Dickinson and Supergrass. But two hours isn’t very much time, so on this night I never get around to looking back.

Instead, next I offer up a mini-playlist of “my favorite songs ever.” I’ve been meaning to do a blog post, “100 songs to be played at my funeral,” because “favorite” doesn’t quite indicate how serious I am. So, as a preview of that, I frame these next songs in that morbid way, imploring listeners to seek out my survivors when the day comes and ensure my demands have been met. Play these, please:

The Four Tops – Ask the Lonely
The Beach Boys – All I Wanna Do
Ben E. King – I Count the Tears
The Mekons – I Am Crazy

Subsequently, I notice I can also define these four songs in terms of great vocal performances. I’d certainly have included Pet Shop Boys’ “Always on My Mind,” except as I look over the previous DJ’s playlist I notice it’s aired within the hour (I marvel over her other selections, a rad arsenal of cover songs by the likes of The Wedding Present, The Feelies, The Avengers and The Stranglers, the latter doing “Walk On By,” the Isaac Hayes song?!). My next set of four begins with another of my funeral songs (which, as it turns out, I played on 2009’s final show; also, little did I know on this night that I’d hear it performed live by month’s end), and then follows a less coherent design.

De La Soul – Eye Know
—PSA: dog adoption—
Randy Newman – He Gives Us All His Love
The Chills – Frantic Drift
Stereolab – Cybele’s Reverie

All this time I’m making few connections between the music and reunion weekend, but at this point I do mention that “frantic drift” is what life has mostly felt like since graduation. And then, eager to play some new music, I devise a three-song set of my Songs Of The Year, 2011-13 (while lamenting my continued non-inclusion in the Pazz and Jop poll), as a way to bridge to 2014.

PJ Harvey – The Last Living Rose
Frankie Rose – Gospel/Grace
Marnie Stern – Year of the Glad

I still wouldn’t change my picks, and they sound great together. I mildly note that “Year of the Glad” is “awesomely spirited, to say the least.” Finally, it’s time for the latest and greatest.

Devon Williams – Deep in the Back of My Mind
La Sera – Losing to the Dark
Neneh Cherry – Spit Three Times
Wye Oak – Sick Talk

And then more of the latest and greatest:

Kishi Bashi – Philosophize in it! Chemicalize with it!
Owen Pallett – In Conflict
Withered Hand – Horseshoe
Real Estate – Crime

Zac (my studio guest) and I have just seen Kishi Bashi in Minneapolis, and Zac’s discovered a violin hero in the pop world. Elsewhere, “Horseshoe” is so good, you could pillage WMCN’s record library of mostly forgotten 80s indie rock for days and not hope to find a better song. I don’t have that kind of time on my hands, so instead I begin filling requests.

DJ Sammy – Heaven (requested by Zac Charley ‘09)
The Soft Boys – Human Music (requested by Aaron Mendelson ‘09)
Grant Hart – Morningstar
Julia Holter – Horns Surrounding Me

As new guests begin to enter the studio (friends and acquaintances from my graduating class), I lose my grip on whatever narrative I’ve hoped to “bring home” in the final hour of the show. But exciting as radio always is, initially, I’ve often lost my endurance after 90 minutes on air, anyway. But that’s not to say my cues aren’t still impeccable. They are! I even play “Morningstar” from the 7” Grant Hart gave away at a show last December, as it’s my first chance to play vinyl since then.

Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence (requested by Ian Boswell ‘09)
Erasure – Reunion
—PSA: cat adoption—
P.M. Dawn – Norwegian Wood

“Frantic Drift” gives way to “Reunion,” an obvious pick, but given how many times I played it on air and in my sophomore dorm, its relevance, generally, goes deeper than you might expect. Next, a guest asks for Bowie, so, Low being not on hand, I panic and play my other too-reliable Bowie tune.

David Bowie – Ashes to Ashes (requested by Mike Kyslinger ‘09)
The Everly Brothers – Bowling Green
Pete Rock and CL Smooth – They Reminisce Over You
Catherine Wheel – Strange Fruit

I hastily dedicate “Strange Fruit” to my hero/publisher/friend Jack Rabid, Catherine Wheel being one of an infinite number of bands his magazine The Big Takeover has introduced me to over the years, and writing for the BT website being the music-related highlight of my life post-college. Then I say hi to my sisters Emily and Erika, the latter of whom I know to be listening from Indiana. As it’s well past 10 pm and the next DJs have still not arrived, I cue a definitely non-obscene disc for continuous play—Soul Journey, by Erika’s favorite Gillian Welch—until the station manager tells me to switch over to the digital archive of old shows a.k.a. the storehouse of forgotten dreams.

All along I’ve meant to talk about how little the physical space of the radio station has changed in the past five years (although the new sound board is nice, and intuitive!), but it’s another thing I never get around to. Seriously, though, it’s still a heap, and my best of ‘06 playlist is still on the office door, with the graffiti I remember, as is a staff photo ca. 2007, with graffiti I don’t remember, a marker mustache on my blurry young face.

Dang, I forgot to play My Favorite.

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