Samstag, 2. April 2011

The Endless Summer Vol II, track-by-track


Fellow blogger Kendall Wondergem (a.k.a. „The Grateful Yogini“) tried to characterize herself in terms of musical genres a while ago. While i haven’t really figured out how to describe myself that way, the following tracklist might just be my answer. For a few years now, I’ve been giving away self-compiled samler CD’s each Christmas, usually to people who had a significant impact on my life during that year, and filled with songs that bring back some good memories.

This year, i've been taking my sampler on the road and given it to people who helped me on my epic American adventure - fellow yogis from Bikram Yoga Teacher Training, old American friends i reconnected with, and couchsurfing hosts who provided me with much more than just a place to crash. Fitting the occasion of a 6-month-sabbatical in the US, this year's sampler has become my longest so far, filled with 33 songs and 2 hours of music by (almost exclusively) American bands. For all those who have received or will receive a copy, here’s why each track landed on the CD!

1. Millionaire – QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
QOTSA record in the mysterious „Rancho de la Luna“ studios, which are located somewhere in the heart of Joshua Tree National Park, the first of 10 parks on my 2-week National Park Loop. The intro to this song (the opener of their successful „Songs for the Deaf“ album) with its fake „KLON Los Angeles“ radio DJ makes it the perfect track to start our road trip into the Mojave Desert. And hey, maybe we can even find the studio and hang out for a few beers & tequilas on the porch!

2. Screaming Eagle – DESERT SESSIONS
Another Rancho de la Luna gem, featuring Josh Homme and late KYUSS members cranking up the volume like during one of their famous "Desert Sessions" around Palm Springs (where they would create a cult following by dragging their generator-powered amps out into the surrounding desert and jamming away until dawn). KYUSS were known for their bulldozer-like instrumentals, with Josh Homme usually driving his guitar through a bass amp. Listening to the song, I can almost see that „screaming eagle“ floating through the Canyons against a red sandstone backdrop while we’re making our way into Monument Valley…

3. Full Clip – GANG STARR
Hip Hop is maybe the first thing that comes to mind when you think of contemporary American music. Videos with thugs, jewellery, bouncing cars (and boobs) are all over European music channels these days, and although i find them lame, it was pretty clear from the start that rap music had to be on my sampler, too. Keith Elam, a.k.a. GURU, who passed away with cancer a few years ago, not only is the man responsible for the the legendary JAZZMATAZZ records; his duo GANG STARR was (and still is, even after his sad demise) one of the most respected HipHop outfits the country has ever produced.

4. White Trash Beautiful – EVERLAST
To the surprise of many, Former House of Pain frontman Everlast managed to successfully merge his Hip-Hop background with his love for folk music, exchanging the Mic for a steelstring guitar. His first solo record Whitey Ford Sings The Blues (featuring the radio hit „What it’s like“) impressed critics & fans alike. While his follow-up LP White Trash Beautiful failed to be equally successful, its title track still is a catchy tune oozing that same street-credibility.

5. Beverly Hills – WEEZER
Rivers Cuomo and his fellow geek-rockers sing about feeling out of place in the high-end neighborhood of Hollywood (their video even features a funny guest appearance of Mr. Playboy Hugh Hefner). As an Austrian generation X slacker on a yoga course in Los Angeles, I can certainly relate to this song. I hope we have as much fun there as Weezer obviously had when shooting the video.

6. L.A. – ELLIOTT SMITH
Another song about LA and another tribute to a dead artist. Elliott Smith had his 15 minutes of fame when his song „Miss Misery“ was nominated for the „Best Song in a film“ Oscar (losing, of course, to Celine Dion’s „Titanic“ theme) and his live performance during the Oscar ceremony, dressed in a white suit and only with his acoustic guitar in hand, remains a youtube favourite. I can almost see him humming the unusually bright, beatle-esque „LA“ as he walks the sunny streets of Los Angeles, perfectly blending in with the street bums that often appeared in his bittersweet songs.

7. Dani California – RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
The quintessential LA band who started out in Fairfax High School in the 80’s, only to become maybe THE single most successful alternative rock band on the planet. With the band logo (an asterisk) on my wrist, a must on my USA sampler. Apparently, Dani California is the same girl that already appeared in their hit song Californication years earlier. Anthony Kiedis‘ name-dropping of places and US states fitted the idea of my journey (although, contrary to Dani, i hope to „make it up to Minnesota“), and the song features, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest outro guitar solos ever by John Frusciante.

8. Believe In What You Want – JIMMY EAT WORLD
Before „Emo-Rock“ was associated with young kids wearing black clothes and heavy makeup, this band from Mesa/Arizona defined the genre with their driving, emotional rock songs. „Believing in what I want“ was also crucial in signing up for Bikram Yoga Teacher Training and planning my sabbatical, so this kick-ass song is prone to send shivers down my spine and have me sing along out loud while we’re driving through the Arizona Deserts.

9. This Town – FIREWATER
This cover of Frank Sinatra’s classic appeared on Firewater’s collection of covers aptly titled "Songs we should have written". Of course it’s about New York, but frontman Tod Ashley (who himself is from Brooklyn) describes it in his booklet as a song „for anybody with a love/hate relationship with his home town“. Firewater have always been a personal favourite, and Tod A.‘s distinct rock voice feels just as home in this crooner classic.

10. Never Know – JACK JOHNSON
Known as the handsome surf pro who happens to play acoustic guitar, Jack Johnson is often overlooked for his surprisingly introspective lyrics and his impact as an environmental activist. He may be from Hawaii, but his gentle and relaxed guitar pop works just as nice on a San Diego wave, I suppose.

11. Big Sur – THE THRILLS
5 Irish lads paying hommage to the California Sound. Conor Deasy and his bandmates travelled through California and recorded what is almost a concept album in „So much for the city“, of which every single track (with fitting names such as „Santa Cruz“ or „Hollywood Kids“) could feature on this sampler. „Big Sur“ is no exception, a tune that is definitely gonna run on our old campervan's stereo, when my girlfriend & i are gonna cross that rugged piece of Pacific Coastline south of San Francisco.

12. Santa Fe – MAPLEWOOD
Another band of grown-up hippies (featuring Nada Surf drummer Ira Elliott) cultivating the West Coast Sound that i’ve had the joy of meeting personally after a gig in Vienna a couple of years ago. Santa Fe is another place i intended to visit, famous for its unique pueblo architecture, rich Hispanic heritage and colourful, historic downtown. Of course i never imagined i would be working in the parking lot of Santa Fe's annual Gay Rodeo... one of the most hilarious surprises on my trip.

13. Crystal Frontier – CALEXICO
Named after a border town of the same name, and based in Tucson/Arizona, Calexico are an obvious choice on a soundtrack for the American Southwest, with their cinematic sound and Mariachi elements in their music. Many of their songs are inspired by Mexican culture and life in the border region, and their video to „Crystal Frontier“ includes many fascinating snapshots of Tucson and the surrounding Sonora Desert, where i spent an entire week of my trip. I had already seen Calexico live 4 times in Austria, and added 2 more shows in the US, #5 in a beautiful amphiteatre in Saratoga, and #6 upon my arrival in Sacramento, even meeting singer/guitarist Joey Burns after the gig. I can truly say that Calexico have been the soundtrack of my life over the last 10 years (my first gig was in 2001). There's no other band i've seen that often, and each gig (always with different companions) has been memorable!


14. Tres Delinquentes – DELINQUENT HABITS
Another excursion into HipHop, this song was a radio favourite in the 90’s when Hip-Hop began to embrace Hispanic culture (or vice versa). I remember first hearing it on a hip-hop show on FM4, Austria's alternative music channel, which had just been born around that time. It may be the first popular song in Spanglish, and so it came as no surprise that i heard it again in Los Angeles, when i visited an LA Dodgers Baseball game - it was played in Dodger Stadium, each time the home team's star slugger Andre Ethier stepped up to the plate.

15. Welcome To Tijuana – MANU CHAO
Sex, Drugs & cheap booze are what attracts most visitors to cross the border from San Diego into Tijuana, Baja California’s northernmost city... and cheap dentists! While drug-related violence kept many tourists away in recent years, i still made it to Tijuana and even got a root-canal treatment done there. After the treatment, we played pool in a Tijuana poolhall, went for street Tacos, and browsed through the streets & stripclubs on our way back to the border. I've only been there for a few hours, but i feel like i can really connect to that song now. :)


16. Icky Thump – THE WHITE STRIPES
Detroit native Jack White, the extroverted half of The White Stripes, has not only garnered huge commercial succes and a worldwide cult following, but also given bluesrock a whole new twist and popularity. Recently impressed by their tour film „Under Great White Northern Lights“ at the Viennale film festival in 2010, i decided to use „Icky Thump“ for this soundtrack, since it provides a fitting transition from Mexican Mariachi music to Southwestern blues rock, as i’m cutting from New Mexico into El Paso/West Texas for some climbing at Hueco Tanks State Park.

17. Born To Rock – BRANT BJORK
Former KYUSS Drummer and Stoner Rock legend Brant Bjork has earned himself a loyal fanbase with what he calls the „brown sound“, a laid-back and marijuana-flavoured riff-rock. „Born to Rock“ is the longest track on this sampler, and the title says it all.


18. Long Line Of Cars – CAKE
Hailing from California’s state capital Sacramento (the last Californian city i visited, before heading up to the Pacific Northwest) this band is instantly recognizable by its specific sound (which mixes such diverse styles as rock, funk, jazz, rap & country) and the voice of singer John McCrea. An obvious pick on this sampler – it’s unlikely to find a cooler song on the dull subject of Californian traffic jams.

19. Missing Link – DINOSAUR JR. & DEL THA FUNKY HOMOSAPIEN
The 90’s were a great time to grow up musically. „Judgement Night“ with Emilio Estevez (brother of the more-than-ever-fucked-up Charlie Sheen) might have been a pretty crappy film, but the idea of pairing some of the decade’s most influental HipHop & Rock bands (Slayer & Ice-T, Helmet & House of Pain, Sonic Youth & Cypress Hill, to name just a few) to collaborate on the soundtrack was not only a great idea on paper, it also lived up to expectation. Seattle’s Dinosaur Jr. & Oakland’s Del Tha Funky Homosapien maybe weren’t the most well-known band names on the sleeve, but „Missing Link“ is clearly the hidden gem and arguably best song on the album.

20. Everybody’s Gotta Live – ARTHUR LEE
Another tribute to a dead artist and the first of a few „evergreens“ on this compilation, picked from Arthur Lee’s 1971 solo debut „Vindicator“, the closest thing you will ever find to a Jimi Hendrix record (as far as i know, Hendrix was even involved in the recording process). Similar to Hendrix, Arthur Lee was a superb Afro-American musician & vocalist ahead of its time. Unfortunately his lyrics in this song became all too true in 2002, with Arthur Lee succumbing to cancer. But his legacy continues to inspire other musicians, as evident in Calexico’s superb cover of „Alone again or“.

21. Just Dropped In - KENNY ROGERS & THE FIRST EDITION
This catchy psychedelic rock song has become inextricably linked to the movie THE BIG LEBOWSKI, where it served as the musical backdrop for Jeff Bridges' bowling-infused dream, where (amongst other things) he was handed a pair of bowling shoes by Saddam Hussein. "The Big Lebowski" also opened up my trip to the US - it was screened on my plane to Los Angeles...

22. Easy To Be Hard - THREE DOG NIGHT
Taken from David Fincher's ZODIAC, one of my favourite films in recent years, which i also loved for its great & diverse soundtrack. The movie opens with this song, as the camera glides through a street of Vallejo/CA, during the Independence Day fireworks. Most of the movie plays in San Francisco however, and since i watched the 4th of July fireworks on a balcony in San Francisco's North Beach district, it fits right in here. Due to Zodiac, many places in San Francisco felt oddly familiar, even the ominous street corner of Washington & Cherry outside the Presidio Park, where the Zodiac killer shot a taxi driver back in the late 60's.


23. Breakdown – TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS
Ever since Tom Cruise rode that ragtop cabrio in Jerry Maguire, singing his guts out to Free Fallin‘ over the car stereo, Tom Petty got rediscovered in Europe, even by people who were not familiar with his 80’s recordings. The cutting sound of his Fender Telecaster has certainly made an impression on me (i guess that's why i bought one myself this year) and nowhere is it more evident than in the catchy lead riff of „Breakdown“, my favourite Tom Petty song.

24. Walk Away – TOM WAITS
I must admit i’m neither an expert on Tom Waits, nor do i own any of his records (not even Swordfishtrombones, the classic everyone agrees upon) but there’s certainly something very American about this journeyman who mainly sings about losers, druggies, hookers or – in this case – criminals on death row (the song appeared on Dead Man Walking, another superb 90’s soundtrack). In fact, he might just be the most important US underground musician, who stays clear of the mainstream. Known mainly for his unusual percussion sounds and smoky, rasping voice „Walk Away“ proves that he also knows how to write a catchy tune.

25. Rock & Roll Records – J.J. CALE
Despite being idolized & covered by musical heavyweights such as Carlos Santana, Mark Knopfler or Eric Clapton, and even being credited with creating his own genre, the Tulsa Sound, (a laid-back melange of Country, Blues, Jazz & Rock) Cale’s legs always remained firmly planted to the ground, not tripping over the commercial or personal trappings of rock’n’roll fame. Though I won't make it all the way to Oklahoma, Cale’s groovy and wonderfully restrained music will certainly be on my playlist in the American Southwest.

26. Man Of Constant Sorrow - THE SOGGY BOTTOM BOYS
The Coen Brothers are known for their taste of music and great choice of music in their films. "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" (2000) is no exception, with its blues/bluegrass/country soundtrack, that featured George Clooney as a member of the "Soggy Bottom Boys" actually performing this old country classic in the film (of course he was only lip-synching in the film, the voice actually belongs to country singer Dan Tyminski). I'm not planning to the travel into the Bible Belt, but i have a soft spot for country music and felt there need to be at least one up here.


27. Washington – SARAH HARMER
Realizing that i hadn’t put a single female musician on my sampler, i quickly turned to Sarah Harmer, who‘s probably my favourite female singer/songwriter these days. OK, she’s Canadian, but she sings about not having gone to Washington (whether the state or the city, i don’t know) and instead „having wiped the floor“. Well, i’d have no problem wiping the floor of some yoga studio, but i do hope to get to Washington (the state!), for some serious backcountry hiking on the Olympic Peninsula!

28. Gone For Good – THE SHINS
One of the earliest tracks I chose, since The Shins are not only from New Mexico’s state capital Albuquerque (where I’m expecting to pass through) but also one of my favourite contemporary American indie rock bands. At a time when the term Indie Rock started to become more of an insult than an accolade, The Shins managed to retain all the qualities we loved about Indie Rock in the 90’s, its raw energy and sweet melodies. James Mercer looks like Kevin Spacey’s twin brother, and he seems to have just as much talent. Gone for Good, with its melancholic country-twang, reminds me that every relationship, every CD, and every epic trip must come to an end…

29. Caught In The Rain – PRESTON SCHOOL OF INDUSTRY
While the Preston School Of Industry apparently is a reform school outside of San Francisco, the band of the same name is led Scott Kannberg (better known under his moniker Spiral Stairs), co-founder of the 90’s indie-rock band Pavement. Although Kannberg might lack the indie-rock-fame, handsome looks & commercial success of his his former partner Stephen Malkmus, he proves to write the catchier tunes, always well-hidden behind a thick layer of Telecaster noise, which is why you will never hear this on commercial radio. „Caught in the rain“ is a sweet indie pop tune , that might just cheer me up when I’m caught in the rain of the Pacific Northwest!

30. Decatur – SUFJAN STEVENS
Once claiming to write an album for each of America’s 52 states, multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens has apparently lost interest in the task, leaving us only with Greetings from Michigan and the brillant Come and feel the Illinoise, which dazzled the listener with its eclectic instrumentation, wide range of song topics (UFO sightings, bone cancer, a mass murderer, US Warfare, and Abraham Lincoln, to name just a few), and ridiculously long song titles. Decatur (its full title actually being „Decatur, or: a Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!“) is a remarkable little piece of music about a pretty unremarkable city in Illinois. It grabs your attention with not much more than a simple Banjo riff and some great vocal harmonies. As someone suggested on the web, the city of Decatur should probably consider giving an award to Sufjan, simply for writing a song about it.

31. Pneumonia – FOG
FOG’s music is (or rather: was, the band has meanwhile disbanded) produced largely by Andrew Broder from Minneapolis/Minnesota, combining traditionally performed instruments and turntable-derived samples. I still remember hearing that song on the radio and being stunned by the fusion of acoustic guitar and turntables. Since my „Endless Summer“ shall end by crossing the northernmost part of America (Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota & Wisconsin) with the long-distance train from Seattle to Chicago, it also made perfectly sense to include this song towards the end, with its cold, electronic feel and depressive title & lyrics. I only spent about 20 minutes in Minneapolis (during a service stop of my AMTRAK train) on a windy mid-September morning, but i caught a glimpse of how awfully harsh the winters up there must be.


32. You Were The Last High – DANDY WARHOLS
Looking for another song featuring electronic elements, but trying to end on a more upbeat note, i rediscovered this song by The Dandy Warhols (actually written by Evan Dando, according to the liner notes) who originate from Portland, my gateway to the Pacific Northwest. I've actually seen them live in Vienna a couple of years ago and still remember some of the obnoxious stage banter by frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor. Although their album Welcome To The Monkey House marked a surprising departure from guitar-driven psychedelic rock to electro-pop, „You were the last High“ proves that this didn’t keep the band from writing catchy tunes.

33. Via Chicago – WILCO
I’ve been to 2 impressive live shows last year: one was a Pearl Jam gig in Berlin in the summer, and the other one was Wilco’s first gig in Vienna in early October. I bought the ticket on short notice, not knowing the band very well, and it turned out to be a crucial decision in more than one way: first, it made me an instant fan of Jeff Tweedy & his band - i don’t think i ever got more musical value for 24 EUR (the beer at the Gasometer was stale, though, but that’s not Wilco’s fault). 2nd: with my return flight booked from Chicago on October 16, there couldn’t be a better line than „I’m coming home via Chicago“ to close this compilation.

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