Undercurrents No.4: Liking and Listening Aren’t the Same

2019 was the year that I stopped caring about new music. 

That’s not quite true. I care, I do. It’s just that there are so many other things for me to care about now – things like stretching and bending at the knees and making sure to put the right number of scoops in the baby’s formula. 

It’s mostly the baby, of course. Her name is not really Kiki, by the way. Her name is Veronica. But that’s only her first name. Veronica is followed by each of our grandmothers’ first names, which are then followed by our last names – first mine, then my wife’s, no hyphen. I am so glad they didn’t screw up her birth certificate. All things considered, including our complete exhaustion and utter inability to do anything right during those first few days after her birth, it’s actually a small miracle that all seven names appear correctly and in the proper order. 

Why seven names? It started as a happy little joke between my wife and me, but, as time passed and the idea of having a baby became increasingly real, the joke itself became more and more attractive. Now we love the idea of our daughter having some direct connection to her female ancestors. In her name, she will have constant, quiet reminders of her cultural diversity, little clues about who she is and where she comes from. She can take from her names all the strength she needs to move forward and grow, while also stamping her own distinct path. 

Plus, girl power. Rah! 

If, when she is older, she asks why we gave her so many names, I will explain simply: “You were far too sweet and beautiful to be contained by just one.”

The Like Button

Speaking of girl power, there’s a lot of it in 2019 to sound-off on. If you’ve been following my work, then you know that I’ve pressed the Like button on a whole lot of albums this year. However, pressing the Like button is not the same thing as listening. I have listened to far fewer than I would have liked and fewer still than I have, in fact, Liked.  

So, what new albums have I liked enough to actually listen to more than once? Here are a few:

  • Black Midi: Schlagenheim (6/21/19, Rough Trade) It’s great – just really, really great – when two seconds into an album, you know – you just really, really know – that the album is going to leave a mark. That was the case for me here. Schlagenheim opens with all kinds of glorious, propulsive rage – precise and powerful like something out of Polvo’s Exploded Drawing – in fact, I think there’s a shared chord progression somewhere in there – and then it just keeps going in fun, unpredictable directions.
  • Mannequin Pussy: Patience (6/21/19, Epitaph) On June 21st, Veronica turned three months old. As it turned out, it was also a damn good day for new music. For a couple of hours that night, while lying in bed, praying for sleep, I went back and forth between Schlagenheim and Patience, tossing and turning and feeling delirious. This album is filled with big-ass old-fashioned fist-pumping riffs. It flies by in just 25 minutes and feels totally complete and exhausting. I love it.
  • Tropical Fuck Storm: Braindrops (8/23/19, Joyful Noise Recordings) And if you’ve been following along since my days at Stereophile, then you know that I’ve taken every opportunity to shed some light on bands whose names include the word “fuck.” I mean, there was a time when one might think these bands didn’t care. Today, one might think they do care. Who knows? In any case, even if “fuck” wasn’t a part of this band’s name, I’d love them. The album begins with a song called “Paradise” that’s so sad and drunk, it sounds like it’s twisting into itself. “Nobody out there loves you like I do / So if you’re thinking you’ll do better / Just know there’s nothing round here that a miracle won’t mend,” Gareth Liddiard cries. Everything bends and scrapes and squeals at once and it’s the most beautiful rock I’ve heard in a long, long time. I can listen all day. Later in the album, in the title track, there’s a cool moment when everyone screams “Veronica!” We like that.
  • Kim Gordon: No Home Record (10/11/19, Matador Records) While I have not listened to every post-Sonic Youth album that has been released by the band’s various members – the last Thurston Moore record I heard was so disappointing, so boring, that I may never listen to another – I’ve heard enough to say that this, Kim Gordon’s first solo album released under her own name, is likely the most vibrant and vital of them all. What is it, anyway? (Whenever an album makes me ask that question, it’s one I return to time and time again.) In this case, it’s industrial-dub-punk-art-rock, I guess. There are moments of straight-up scintillating Sonic Youthian beauty, for sure, but mostly it’s all Kim-Gordon sass and steam. And it feels real. There’s no obvious sense of pretense or superficiality.

Now Reading

  • Young Heroes of the Soviet Union by Alex Halberstadt
  • The Cool Bean by Jory John and Pete Oswald
  • Little Bird by Darcy Van Poelgeest
  • Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
  • Tiger vs Nightmare by Emily Tetri

volvic's picture

Some things you will learn as you go along, but once my little one started walking the turntables and gear all went up in the built-in. No way I could have the little guy rocking on the dedicated hi-fi shelf - it has been in storage for the last 5 years. Another issue, living in an NYC apt leaves little time for listening to music when sharing space with a toddler. Like you, I have hundreds of CDs and records waiting to be played but sharing space and school nights make listening to a rare occurrence these days. The little one has to go to bed early, which means no late-night music sessions. I suppose it makes one appreciate one's system and music even more. One word of advice; do not introduce her to the iPad she will discover YouTube and seek her own music, which is good, but you will find you will be competing with her. My son has found a love for hip-hop and my classical and jazz is no longer played as background music. Thanks for the recommendations, will give a listen. Happy listening and diaper changing. Ciao NL

grantray's picture

My son's two. We "play records" while we draw, play trains, paint, all of the above, at least a couple of times a week. he likes to watch me lift the needle, flips sides, or change albums, the whole ritual. All the preamp knobs are within his reach, but the tube amp is behind a door for safety. He doesn't bother with any of it.

My father had an early 80s Luxman system that he taught me to operate when I was maybe 8 or 9. Before that, I knew to look and not touch while the records and tapes played. Will I teach my son to play records with my SPU/GT cartridge? Nope. I picked up a Shure M3D for $70 to play when friends/kids are around. He'll still learn using the Garrard 301, though. I brought it back from the dead, and if he manages to break a knob I can easily replace it. No bigs.

The only major change I made when Leo was born was parting with my DeVore O/93s for a pair of Altec 846A Valencias, because I knew the O/93's delicate, French polish wouldn't stand a chance with any child of mine. He drives his cars all over the Altecs' grills and up the sides while making zooming sounds.

Having children doesn't mean the hi-fi must die, but it might need to adapt. And the music will certainly get more fun.

monetschemist's picture

My kids are 25, 25 and 27. Yes twins. Wonderful. "The stereo" was always in an armoire when they were little. When they got a bit older, let's say six-ish, and we would have friends over for dinner, they were invited afterward to join us in a dance fest in the living room. The kids would move the coffee table out and we would crank the tunes (New Order's Brothehood was a fave) and have the neighbours looking out their windows in no time at all.

Great memories, thanks for bringing them back, Stephen. Being a dad is the best job ever. Best of luck!