Monday, June 30, 2014

IHRTLUHC: The Definitive Lawrence University Playlist 2004-2008

As described at the end of my last entry, a blissfully nostalgic weekend at my alma mater, Lawrence University, inspired me and two LU comrades (my friends John and Bob) to create a playlist of our favorite songs from our college years. A few notes before I proceed:

-We utilized Spotify for the playlist which therefore limited our options to artists available on there. As a result, there are a few glaring omissions. The first big one that comes to mind is Joanna Newsom, whom I fell hard for junior year (damn you Andy Samberg). She was definitely popular on campus, and I remember a co-op porch singalong of a Milk Eyed Mender song ("The Sprout and the Bean" maybe?) near the end of senior year. Another band that should be on this playlist is The Traveling Wilburys. My roommate John loved their first record, and a video exists of him dancing to the song "Rattled" in our Sage Hall dorm room junior year. I have just enough respect for John not to post the video. Also, Lawrence had an abundance of memorable on-campus bands that live on in our hearts but not on streaming media services. Most notably, this includes the legendary and inimitable Poop Sandwich, whose still-functioning myspace page gives just a small taste of the brilliance displayed in their heyday. My friends and I also spent much of Lawrence playing Super Smash Brothers Melee and Mario Kart Double Dash, and a truly comprehensive playlist would include the menu music from those classics. Last, The Beatles deserve to be represented on here because a) they were my favorite band when I started at Lawrence and remain as such and b) the poster below was featured prominently in each of my dorm rooms.
                                Foreground: Jesus christ did I never dust that TV?
                                Background: Bob rolls a cigarette as the Fab Four looks on

-I started off organizing the playlist chronologically, but it turns out meticulously arranging 125 songs is tedious. Who knew?! So, I suggest that the playlist be listened to on shuffle so that people can hear a smattering of songs from different Lawrence eras as they listen.

-Obviously, this playlist is just me and my friends' perspective amidst the Lawrence social universe. I'm sure there were popular songs on other parts of campus that were totally obscure to us (rumor has it the Sig Eps were HUGE fans of Karlheinz Stockhausen). Basically, the playlist represents a combination of what each of us were listening to, what we remember people talking about on campus, and what we remember getting played at social gatherings. However, if a song or artist one of us loved was totally irrelevant to the larger Lawrence whole, we tended to leave those songs off. In my own case, that means bands like Stereolab, Silver Jews, and Tindersticks-- all of whom I listened to incessantly senior year. In Bob's case, that means whatever weird ass, 25-minute long droney, noisey songs he'd play on our radio show while he went for a smoke break. For John, that includes Kristin Hersh and Watershed (I still don't know who Watershed are. Who are Watershed, John?).

-I am a mixtape purist, so that means that we only picked one song by each band. In a few instances, more than one song should probably be on there, but rules are rules. One such example is Radiohead, who had several songs that would often be played at parties (like "Idioteque" or "Where I End and You Begin") but also had a song ("The National Anthem") that would frequently be performed live by the band that would play at Sinfonia (a music fraternity) parties. Seeing as I can literally taste the Miller High Life when the opening bassline for that song comes on, the choice was obvious.

-Oh, and for you non-Lawrentian Static and Distance readers, the IHRTLUHC in the album title stands for "I Hereby Reaffirm the Lawrence University Honor Code." We had to write that acronym on every assignment we turned in during college, as well as on all mixtapes (that's a lie).

And now, without further adieu, allow me to take you on a collegiate aural journey. I will be describing my musical memories from each year at Lawrence, and then will reveal the full playlist in all its glory.

Freshman Year (2004-2005)
This was the least interesting year musically because I was still mired in my "if it doesn't get played on Chicago's 97.1 FM The Drive (read that with a whisper) classic rock station it is crap" phase. A few music-related memories from that year stand out, though. During "Welcome Week" (also known as the most awkward week of my life) at the start of Freshman year, I quickly had my "welcome to Lawrence" moment delivered in the form of a brass band version of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" ("I want to fuck you like an animal" refrain and all). This was performed at a university-sponsored event, no less! During that first week, I also recall being pleasantly surprised that there were not one but TWO Steely Dan fans on my floor; I'd previously regarded my fandom of The Dan with a tinge of shame, but now I shout out my love of "Deacon Blues" from mountaintops.

Another thing I remember about freshman year is that everyone loved the band Cake for some reason, and I believe two of my friends had Cake posters in their dorm rooms. Seeing as this was 04-05 that Modest Mouse album Good News for People Who Love Bad News was played frequently. Freshman year also marked my first exposure to The Black Keys, in the form of their gritty debut album "The Big Come Up"-- spun repeatedly by John. I saw them open for Radiohead a year later to a largely disinterested Auditorium Theatre crowd. Oh how things change. I would also be remiss to discuss freshman year without mentioning Muse, whose Absolution album was championed by Bob (this is amusing in retrospect). Last, thanks to Bob's yearlong obsession with that other Bob fellow, harmonica constantly reverberated throughout the halls of first floor Plantz (from songs like "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Desolation Row").

Sophomore Year (2005-2006)
When I think of sophomore year, one band comes to mind that is so profoundly influential they will surely be enshrined in the popular music canon and studied by our descendants for centuries to come: novelty Russian faux-lesbian pop act t.A.T.u. For reasons known only to himself, John became obsessed with these titans of pop music 5 years after their meteoric rise to fame. Having reunited as roommates for the last several months of the year after a disastrous stint living with the Nitrous Oxide-Addicted Roommate Who Shall Not Be Named, I recall t.A.Tu.'s "All the Things She Said" and "Not Gonna Get Us" (sometimes in their more authentic Russian-language versions) being blasted in our room on repeat. I also have to mention Wilco here, because by the end of sophomore year I was listening to them incessantly-- with playlist selection "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" even becoming my cell phone ring for a time.

Remember Tapes 'N Tapes? Neither do I. But they were totally a thing on campus that year, with some of my friends traveling all the way to Madison to see them. And since I apparently have the least to say about sophomore year, I'll just talk about jazz here. Lawrence being primarily known for its music conservatory, I was surrounded by jazz fanatics throughout most of college. Personally, I never developed more than a mild appreciation for the genre. Most jazz is too meandering for my taste. Nonetheless, to discuss Lawrence University and not mention Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock and the like would be a tremendous oversight. Approximately 63% of all Lawrence students had a Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" poster in their dorm room. Moreover, Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" was a fixture at Sinfonia parties (fun fact! Herbie's Headhunters is the only jazz album I own).

Junior Year (2006-2007)
Junior year marked my full transition from classic rock nut to the indie rock fan America knows and loves. This metamorphosis occurred with the purchase of two albums from Second Hand Tunes (RIP) in Evanston, IL in December 2006: Broken Social Scene's You Forgot it In People and Sufjan Stevens's Illinois. This led to me buying albums by Beck, The Pixies, and Sonic Youth; within a few months I was voraciously consuming pretty much any album I could get my hands on, though it took me awhile to branch beyond "skinny, white, indie bullshit" as John affectionately(?) teased me about with regard to my music taste at the time. While I was busy retroactively discovering the bands everyone else had been listening to for years (Neutral Milk Hotel, Interpol) as well as new favorites (The National, Animal Collective, LCD Soundsystem), John had moved on from t.A.T.u. and had become an Avril Lavigne fanatic. John loved Avril's "Girlfriend" to the core. How can you not be touched by such poetic lyrics as "she's like so whatever?" Around this time I remember Ratatat getting played at basically every social gathering, and my group of friends and I collectively became obsessed with Elliott Smith-- his extra-depressing self-titled album especially.

I finally got on the Arcade Fire train that year, with several friends and I traveling down to Chicago to see them on the Neon Bible tour (with a then-unknown St. Vincent opening!). Me being a Bruce Springsteen fanboy, the obviously Boss-influenced "Keep the Car Running" was basically the best song ever at the time. Junior year was also when most of campus fell in love with the television show Arrested Development, with its brilliant utilization of Europe's "The Final Countdown" leading to its frequent use at parties. RJD2's "Ghostwriter" was another party favorite, to the degree where I instantly think "Lawrence" when I hear it more so than almost any other song. Last, I can't mention junior year without providing a tip of the hat to iconic '70s band Television, whose Marquee Moon totally blew my mind (still does). I had no idea a band from the classic rock era could sound so modern-- speaking to that band's influence over basically every indie band I was listening to at the time. The title track to that album also provided a great soundtrack to beer pong gatherings in Bob's room (aka the classiest beer pong gatherings ever. I think the rest of the collegiate universe was listening to Soulja Boy by this point).

Senior Year (2007-2008)
Ah, my last and best year at Lawrence. Let me begin by talking about something that was all too rare in my Lawrence experience: an awesome (non-student) band that played on campus. One of my major college regrets was not becoming involved in the organization that booked bands on campus. Whoever was in charge of that while I was a student did a...not good job. The "big event" bands booked during my time at Lawrence were Guster, Ben Kweller, and (ugh) Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers. However, some of the smaller bands that came to campus were decent, and one band in particular stands out: Inspector Owl. These guys (who still exist by the way!) performed on campus at least three or four times while I was at Lawrence, typically playing after parties at the Greenfire house. These Greenfire shows were always a blast. I remember giving the frontman an unintentionally condescending compliment after buying a CD from him: "hey, you guys are actually really good!"

Especially popular on campus that year was Caribou's album Andorra, which still sounds great. Senior year also marked my first exposure to two of my favorite musicians, Tom Waits (in the form of one of my friends playing "Hoist that Rag" constantly) and Nick Cave (Lawrence band The Beggars often performed a badass cover of "Stagger Lee"). Well, technically my first exposure to Tom Waits was via my dad playing Swordfishtrombones when I was 6 years old, at which point I remarked that he sounded like cookie monster, but I digress. I also must mention Captain Beefheart's "Safe as Milk" here because this was the year I joined Bob on our fabled radio program named after Mr. Beefheart's seminal 1967 album. Aphex Twin also deserves a mention, because Richard D. James had many supporters on campus and by the end of the year I had reversed my (laughably terrible) opinion that his music was "just a bunch of bleeps and bloops, man." As mentioned in my Bonnaroo recap, Cut Copy's In Ghost Colours was big that year, with the opening track "Feel the Love" being a personal favorite. Last, a theme throughout all four years of college was the semi-ironic playing of Coldplay songs. I'll support Coldplay for being a perfectly decent, if often unremarkable band who have a handful of legitimately good songs. I haven't listened in years but I'm pretty sure I'd still enjoy Parachutes. Regardless, Chris Martin's super-earnest ballads were ripe, as Martin's British compatriots would say, for taking the piss.

The Playlist
Now that I'm through with that overly verbose musical rundown of my years at Lawrence, on to the playlist! You may find it located in the handy dandy Spotify widget below. It turns out that you can't listen to playlist widgets on shuffle so to listen to this in its intended form, one needs to have a Spotify account and then follow this link, at which point you can shuffle the songs. It works okay as is, though it is front-loaded with freshman year songs before I aborted my attempt to place the songs in chronological order. Anyway, enjoy! (IHRTLUHC)

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