In just over 4 weeks, I will be a Nashville resident.  There are still so many goodbyes to say...boxes to pack...and New York moments to be done for one last time.

If you were going to leave New York, what would be the things you would have to do one last time?

I feel like I've done so many amazing things over the years...such that my list is actually not very lengthy.  There are museums I always wanted to go to, but never did.  But, it seems that at this point, if I didn't go up until now, maybe I just didn't really want to go.

One thing that we will FOR SURE be doing is going back to Red Rooster Harlem for one last Sunday Night Jazz dinner...and to Madame Claude's in Jersey City for one last Thursday Night Gypsy Jazz dinner.  I guess I'm a sucker for great food and great music.

068: Portishead - Dummy (1994)

This album hit the US during the first semester I went to Berklee.  I was, like so many others, very taken with their first single "Sour Times"--you know, the Nobody Loves Me song.

I had never heard anything so mysterious or pained--combined with such interesting and deep beats.  I bought the CD and spent a good bit of time with it on repeat on my walkman (yep, I'm old).  I fell even more in love with their sophomore, eponymous record--to the point where I kind of forgot about this record.  So, I was happy to revisit it this week.

The first two times I listened to it (through Spotify), I was taken by how great a record it was as a whole.  It took that second listen to ask myself whether I'd even heard "Sour Times".  Turns out Spotify doesn't let you download the three strongest songs on this album: Sour Times; Wandering Star; and Glory Box (although they do let you stream the full album).  So, I turned to my own collection to listen to it the album total.

If it was strong without those tracks, it is perfect in total.

I read the 33 1/3 book about this album this week.  It was the longest volume of the 30 or so I've read in the series, clocking in at over 200 pages.  I enjoyed it immensely.  It goes so deep into the making of the record, the reception, the over-exposure, and trip-hop--the genre this album (in part) created (along with Massive Attack and Tricky).  It goes deeply into their sampling process and other production methodologies in a way that was very interesting.  One example: the producers would find samples they liked from old Italian film soundtracks or soul records, and would then (most times) re-record the sample with a live band in a destructive/lo-fi way that would recreate that old sound--a way to capture the vibe without getting caught in the copyright litigation trap (like De La Soul did, as one example).  

My favorite tracks:

  • Mysterons
  • Sour Times
  • Strangers (love the ambient break in the first verse, and the scratched trumpet part)
  • Wandering Star
  • Roads (perhaps my favorite)
  • Biscuit (love the slowed down sample of Johnny Ray's "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" vocal)
  • Glory Box


066: Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979)

If Dummy is dark and moody, this album took me even lower.

I didn't know anything about Joy Division other than the song "Love Will Tear Us Apart".

Upon the first couple of listens to the album, I was struck by how spare Unknown Pleasures is...and how modern.

I turned to the Joy Division documentary to get some background.

Once I finished the Portishead 33 1/3 book, I cracked open the (thankfully) shorter volume for this album.  In hindsight, I would have been better just sticking to the documentary--most of the book was a rehash of similar information.

I must have heard the legend of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division.  That he was epileptic...with an unparalleled onstage presence.  That he killed himself before their second album ("Closer"--further up this very list) was released.  I must have known that the band went on in the absence of Curtis to form the band New Order.

I must have known this...and yet, it was a bit before my time.  I had slightly older friends that loved Joy Division...but I didn't follow suit.  

I know now.

It's very interesting to learn that Joy Division started playing just a year before this record was recorded...inspired by a Sex Pistols show they'd each attended.  They were each terrible at their respective instruments (save perhaps the drummer)...but grew into the seasoned musicians that recorded this album within the year.

One thing I noticed early in listening to this record was the vast space between each track.  Normally, when sequencing an album, you keep the space between songs to a minimum to sustain people's attention throughout the record.  You only make it a lengthy gap if you want to give people a chance to absorb the song that preceded the space.  Perhaps the message here is that you need time to absorb ALL of these songs--attention span be damned.

I love the vibe of this record...even as I felt that the more I listened to it, and read more about the band, the more I felt pulled into the sadness of it.  When I was younger, I felt the romance of that pull.  Now, if I'm being honest, it scares me a bit...and I try to avoid it.  Too much darkness is just too much darkness.  I've got my own darkness, thank you very much.  OK, maybe not that dark.

The band were inspired by Kraftwerk and David Bowie (around the Low period).  You can definitely hear bits of that here.

I really like the tracks:

  • Insight
  • She's Lost Control
  • I Remember Nothing (my favorite)





These are not happy albums.  

It's interesting to think of whether sad or moody albums make you more sad or more full of mood...or whether their heft makes you lighter by some form of transubstantiation?  Do you listen to these records because you're sad--or are you sad because you listen to these records?

I am grateful to have remembered an old love for Dummy...and to find a new album in Unknown Pleasures...though I will have to handle each with care.


up next

065: Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)

064: My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1991)

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed?  Check out the full list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.