Posted by: cousinbrandon | November 11, 2014

“Happy” Veterans Day

Happy Veterans Day.

What a strange and wrong-sounding sentiment. To greet a veteran and wish him a “Happy Veterans Day” seems like the wrong expression of gratitude. There’s nothing “happy” about war. There’s nothing to be celebrated. There’s nothing heroic about war. There’s no “winning” a war.

By no means am I implying that we shouldn’t thank and honor and appreciate our men and women who put their hands up, went overseas and served our country. Of course we should be doing just that. If you see a veteran today, thank him. Buy him a cup of coffee. Buy him a meal. Shake his hand and step outside of yourself. Realize what he gave up, and what he continues to give up. Appreciate that the war is still inside him. Appreciate that he may be (though hopefully isn’t) struggling still. Honor his sacrifice for you and your family.

But to wish one of these men or women a “Happy Veterans Day” seems like the incorrect greeting. I’m not the first person to say it, but while I don’t support our wars, I sure as hell support our soldiers. It’s a miserable business they enter into. It’s something beyond their expectations. And I say this not as someone with any sort of military background or first-hand experience on the battlefield, but as someone whose step-father served. As someone who’s brother- and sister-in-law served. As someone whose uncle served. As someone who’s seen the effects of war not “over there,” but back here. As someone who’s watched a man quietly eaten alive by what he endured in Vietnam — who carried the war inside of him and, only once, drunk and angry, let me in to tell me that the soldier to his right had his head blown off in combat.

For years I longed — anguished — to understand what was going on inside of my step-dad, who I loved. I had already fallen in love with the poetry of Bruce Weigl and the books of Tim O’Brien and Larry Heinemann and others. My fascination with the literature of the Vietnam War made me want to know and understand my step-dad in a different sort of way — it made me want to ask him what happened, and why he was how he was.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I tried once, but it was clear he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) talk about it. So instead I bought him some of the books I read. I thought to somehow engage him through literature might help. Honestly, I doubt it ever did. We connected in many ways, but this was not one of them. There just was no way in, because he, like so many of our veterans, can’t talk about the war they bring home with them. For those who can — who can seek out help and counseling to unburden what they may have done and/or encountered — I am thankful. Their families are thankful. But for those returning soldiers like my late step-dad who don’t know how to deal with what they carry home, I can only hope that we all of us can find ways to help them. We owe them as much, and so much more.

Thanking a soldier today might not be everything, but it’s something. The idea, though, is to make every day Veterans Day — to reach out to someone who needs help. And I am as complicit as anyone. By no means do I write this and point the finger, asking, “What are you doing to help?” What am I doing to help? Not enough. At the present time, an obscene 22 returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are committing suicide on a daily basis. Extrapolate that number over a year. Horrifying.

I thought I’d include a wonderful and heartbreaking poem by Iraqi War veteran and poet Brian Turner, from his collection Here, Bullet:


It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient
because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more.
– Sa’di

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.

Maybe we abandon wishing veterans a “Happy Veterans Day,” and instead say, “Thank you,” or “What can I do to help?” I wish I’d done that with my step-dad sooner and more often. I wish we all did.

Thank you, veterans, for your service.


Posted by: cousinbrandon | September 19, 2014

Versus: The Poetry of Cousin Brandon

Yeah, I’m well aware that it’s been a while, but so what. I owe you nothing.

My dad’s been sick for a while. Years, really. He’s suffering from an affliction called Frontotemporal Dementia, which is pretty much what it sounds like. His short-term memory is pretty much shot, and his ability to speak is challenged, at best. The disease manifests itself in vocal tics — loud screams that sound somewhere between a shout and a laugh. His ability to walk is hindered, and he sleeps all the time. The bright side, I suppose, is that he doesn’t realize the condition he’s in. He’s my dad, but he’s a stranger all the same. Worse, still, is my resistance to spending time with him. I don’t know how to interact with this person who raised me, who I’ve known for 39 years. I see him, only I don’t see him. He is someone else entirely, and to pretend that everything is okay seems beyond me. I don’t know how to be with him. I ask him questions that go unanswered. I speak and hear my words drowned out by his screaming. He is declining rapidly, and because of that I know I should be present. Selfishly, I’m not. I rationalize my absence by telling myself he doesn’t know the difference, which he most likely does not. Still, I know my rationalization is just that, and it’s my own shortcomings that need addressed.

I began this poem roughly nine months ago, and still I don’t think I’ve gotten it right. Not yet. All the same, I guess I thought by sharing it was to acknowledge my dad, still here, now.


According to the rules of the world
I must love you. And I do love you.

I love you as any son loves his father —
not because you made me

into what I am today,
but because you made me at all.

I owe you for that. A phone call,
at least. Or maybe I stop by the house

for a bite or whatever beer you’ve got
tucked away into the corner of the fridge.

Some sort of thank you for the middle school
drop-offs and afternoon pick-ups

on those rare nights I didn’t sleep at mother’s.
A card, even, for all the times

you unleashed my brother and me
upon the pristine shopping mall, armed

with enough singles for an afternoon’s
worth of pizza and the flash-bulb bleeps

of the arcade, where we washed ourselves
in the static hum buzzing from every screen,

bathed in the glow of Galaga, Tempest and Joust.
We elbowed our way through the tiny riots

thick with the sinewy bodies of boys
too eager to hiss Fuck! at the cartoon villains

who bombarded them with bricks and hammers,
who stole away with their women, who teased

their dumb, young brains into believing
any of it mattered. We pushed forward,

my brother and me, because we wanted it, too,
and wouldn’t give in until we fed every last

quarter into the games’ slim, black mouths.
Our bellies sick with pizza grease and loss,

we’d head for the mall’s exit, waiting for you
in the cold while trading stupid jokes and punches.

And then, at last, you’d arrive, your red Dodge
grey as the Pennsylvania sky, windows

steeped in bird shit, the back
passenger door that wouldn’t lock, not once.

I sparred with my brother. I gave up after-
noons with you for the din of the arcade,

or was it you who gave them up
so that you might live some other life,

away from us, where there was no such thing
as children, and there was no such thing as loss?

Whatever. It happened one way
or the other. Who can remember?

I grew old and watched your brain go black.
I look at you and wonder if you wonder,

if you recall one iota of this life we shared
or if you’d even want to. I traded away

my memories for whiskey and beer.
You traded yours away for nothing.


Posted by: cousinbrandon | December 19, 2013

“The Mixes” Series: Positive and Negative, 2013

Musically, I don’t know how best to describe 2013 other than to say that it was, well, above average. I realize that’s a less than enthusiastic summation of this past year’s output, but albums on the whole seemed to suffer. Yes, there were plenty of great songs that emerged, which is pretty much always the case. But like I’ve said in years’ past, there were a bevy of records in 2013 that lacked “staying power.” In other words, there wasn’t a whole lot of “great” in 2013. This doesn’t mean, however, there was no great; there was.

Maybe it was my fault? I mean, 2013 was an odd year, to say the least. Aside from getting hitched (which was, of course, the highlight of my year), a lot of, well, terrible things happened. I’m not convinced it has a damn thing to do with the whole “13” business, as that’s plain ridiculous. Rather, a shitstorm of bad news came down upon my collective family. I suppose the abundance of awful would have been enough to reflect nothing but sad bastard selections for my mixes, but that wasn’t the case at all. The music was independent of the bad tidings, and, in fact, provided an escape as opposed to a hole to climb deeper within.

Last year was dominated by what I referred to as “Garage Pop.” This year was certainly a bit more eclectic, despite an even greater influx of Doom Metal, Hip Hop and New Wave circa 1982. The other common thread that seemed to dominate 2013 was “older” bands releasing new — and very good — records. In other words, I don’t think 2013 was flooded by strong debut records, but by established bands either returning to form or continuing their habit of releasing grade-A material. Well, except for one band, that is, who blew the fucking doors off everything.

So, without further adieu, here’s a look back at the music that did its thing in 2013…

Album Cover of the Year:

SavagesSilence Yourself

Best Vocal Moments of the Year:

Of Montreal – “Imbecile Rages” (At the 3:27 mark of the closing track of Lousy with Sylvianbriar, I nearly lost my mind. Kevin Barnes’ sustaining note of the word “anymore” is beyond piercing; it’s astounding. He holds (and affects) it for a mind-blowing 16 seconds. To say I’ve listened to it repeatedly is a wild understatement.)

Connections – “Finally” (It’s not that this song featured a stand-out moment, per se; rather, it’s that Connections immediately channel Guided By Voices better than, well, Guided By Voices on their debut, Private Airplane.)

Song I Heard Once and New Immediately It Would Be On My Year-End List:

Swearin’ – “Dust in the Gold Sack” (You can check out the studio version — the one that’s on my actual mix — below.)

Most Overrated Record(s) of the Year Based On the Critics’ Picks:

Kanye WestYeezus (To be fair, I can only assume this is among the most overrated records of 2013, as I haven’t heard it and have no intention to.)

Okkervil River The Silver Gymnasium (Are you fucking shitting me, Magnet?! There’s one good song on this record. The rest is a total snooze. I adore Magnet, which is what makes their choice of Album of the Year so depressing.)

Worst Comeback Record By a Band Whose Comeback Record I Was Highly Anticipating:

The Dismemberment Plan – Uncanney Valley (What an unbelievable piece of dogshit!)

Video of the Year:

Arcade Fire – “Afterlife

Ten Honorable Mentions of 2013 (in Alphabetical Order):

The Baptist GeneralsJackleg Devotional to the Heart
California XCalifornia X
Mikal CroninMCII
The NationalTrouble Will Find Me
The Octopus ProjectFever Forms
Palma Violets180
UpsetShe’s Gone

Top Ten Records of 2013:

10. Lady Lamb the BeekeeperRipely Pine

9. Throwing MusesPurgatory/Paradise

8. Swearin’Surfing Strange

7. Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City

6. WaxahatcheeCerulean Salt

5. Of MontrealLousy with Sylvianbriar

4. The MenNew Moon

3. Arcade FireReflektor

2. ConnectionsBody Language

1. ConnectionsPrivate Airplane

Wait a minute. Did Cousin Brandon really just list two records by the same band as his best and second best records of the year? He sure as hell did!

Columbus, Ohio’s Connections absolutely killed it in 2013. Their debut record, Private Airplane, was as old-school Guided By Voices as a band can get without actually being GBV. It had all of the GBV anthemic staples, in that the album was both fuzzed out and wrought with singalongs and hooks. Body Language was nearly as perfect, but I had to give the edge to their debut in that it was the first of the two I heard, and I was floored instantly. Connections completely spit in the face of my diatribe above, in that I declared this the year of established bands. I’m completely happy to contradict myself in this case, though, as I would officially consider these albums “great.”

As is my way, I made two CDs worth of music this year, which once again forced me to leave several well-deserving candidates behind. I listened to an absolute shit-ton of albums I listened to this year before narrowing them down to the 26 and 22 finalists on Positive and Negative, respectively. Interestingly (and perhaps for the first time ever), both mixes open with an identical band, then close with an identical band.

As for the tracks below, I linked to studio versions of the songs and some live/alternate versions of the songs that actually appears on the mix, either because I couldn’t find the studio version or simply really enjoyed the live performance. For instance, I linked to the studio version of “Imbecile Rages” above, yet went with a live performance below. For some reason I couldn’t find any version of Upset’s “About Me,” so I spit on you, Internet. Again, apologies to all of those great, great songs I had to omit for the sake of space. Do better, Technology!

With that, I give you the 48 songs that comprise my 2013 mixes…

Positive front cover.

Positive interior artwork.

Negative front cover.

Negative interior artwork.

Positive (The Best “Fast” Tracks of 2013):

1. The Octopus Project – “Mmkit” (Fever Forms)
2. California X – “Mummy” (California X)
3. Connections – “Aimless” (Body Language)
4. The Thermals – “Born to Kill” (Desperate Ground)
5. Palma Violets – “Johnny Bagga’ Donuts” (180)
6. Upset – “She’s Gone” (She’s Gone)
7. Swearin’ – “Dust In the Gold Sack” (Surfing Strange)
8. FIDLAR – “Wake Bake Skate” (FIDLAR)
9. Wavves – “Gimme a Knife” (Afraid of Heights)
10. The Men – “Electric” (New Moon)
11. Deerhunter – “Monomania” (Monomania)
12. Iceage – “Rodfaestet” (Iceage)
13. Guided By Voices – “Xeno Pariah” (English Little League)
14. Wimps – “Nap” (Repeat)
15. Chastity Belt – “James Dean” (No Regerts)
16. Throwing Muses – “Sleepwalking 1” (Purgatory/Paradise)
17. The Joy Formidable – “Cholla” (Wolf’s Law)
18. Grooms – “Iskra Goodbye” (Infinity Caller)
19. Hospital Ships – “Joan of Arc” (Destruction In Yr Soul)
20. Superchunk – “Trees of Barcelona” (I Hate Music)
21. Mikal Cronin – “Shout It Out” (MCII)
22. Eleanor Friedberger – “Stare At the Sun” (Personal Record)
23. Vampire Weekend – “Diane Young” (Modern Vampires of the City)
24. Of Montreal – “Triumph of Disintegration” (Lousy with Sylvianbriar)
25. The Baptist Generals – “Broken Glass” (Jackleg Devotional to the Heart)
26. Arcade Fire – “Here Come the Night Time” (Reflektor)

Negative (The Best “Slow” Tracks of 2013):

1. The Octopus Project – “Sharpteeth” (Fever Forms)
2. Connections – “Mall Lights” (Private Airplane)
3. The Thermals – “The Howl of the Winds” (Desperate Ground)
4. Upset – “About Me” (She’s Gone)
5. Guided By Voices – “Islands (She Talks In Rainbows)” (English Little League)
6. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – “Crane Your Neck” (Ripely Pine)
7. Saint Rich – “You Ain’t Worth the Night” (Beyond the Drone)
8. Okkervil River – “White” (The Silver Gymnasium)
9. Islands – “Becoming the Gunship” (Ski Mask)
10. Rogue Wave – “Used to It” (Nightingale Floors)
11. Waxahatchee – “Lively” (Cerulean Salt)
12. Throwing Muses – “Triangle Quantico” (Purgatory/Paradise)
13. Crystal Stilts – “Nature Noir” (Nature Noir)
14. Hospital Ships – “Come Back to Life” (Destruction In Yr Soul)
15. The National – “I Should Live in Salt” (Trouble Will Find Me)
16. Swearin’ – “Loretta’s Flowers” (Surfing Strange)
17. The Baptist Generals – “Floating” (Jackleg Devotional to the Heart)
18. Dr. Dog – “Too Weak to Ramble” (B-Room)
19. Telekinesis – “Symphony” (Dormarion)
20. Of Montreal – “Imbecile Rages” (Lousy with Sylvianbriar) (NOTE: Go to 3:57 in the video link.)
21. Mikal Cronin – “Piano Mantra” (MCII)
22. Arcade Fire – “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” (Reflektor)

Well, folks, that’ll do it for 2013. A shit-ton of work, as always, went into this year’s edition. Now, I demand you do the following four things:

  1. In the comments section, let me know your picks for the best songs, records, and anything else music of 2013. What did I miss? What do you violently disagree with? What are you wholeheartedly in agreement with?
  2. Should you choose to (or if you have already) put together a Best of 2013 disc of your own, by all means send me a copy of the disc, or at the very least a track listing. I’ll do my best to post them on my blog.
  3. If you’re feeling nostalgic, go back and check out my Best of… mixes from 20122011, 2010, 2009, etc.
  4. You’ve got Twitter, Facebook, and a thousand other social media outlets at your disposal. Share this with the world, even if you only have two Twitter followers (and one of them is me).
  5. UPDATE: I’m on Spotify now, and I’ve actually curated this year’s mixes there. You can find me under the name “Jewdy Blume.” Shocking, no? I may get around to posting all of my past mixes there at some point.

Until the Best of 2014, have at it, you vultures!


Posted by: cousinbrandon | April 16, 2013

Versus: The Poetry of Cousin Brandon

I was living in Boston (Somerville, actually, near Davis Square) when 9/11 happened. I had been there for one week at that point, having just moved there to start my Master’s program at Emerson College. Classes started on Monday, September 10, 2001. On the morning of September 11, there were no classes. There were no trains. There was no traffic.

There was television. There were phone calls. There was the fear of the inevitable.

After several hours I made my way out of the apartment I shared with two other roommates. I needed space from us and the upstairs neighbors huddled around the TV, waiting to breathe, wondering if Boston was next. We were, like everyone else, terrified, and I couldn’t look anymore.

Emerson re-opened the next day. Moving to Boston was culture shock enough that I didn’t walk into class that morning with the “everything is different now” attitude that most people seemed to possess. My world was already different now; this was something else. This was surreal. This was make-believe.

We didn’t talk about literature in my first class that morning; instead, I’m sure we discussed what every other class discussed.

In the days that followed, even the New York Times was flooded with what I can only call “bad poetry” in response to the attacks. As someone pursuing my MFA in creative writing, I was obviously interested in the literary and artistic aftermath of 9/11. And, frankly, it was awful. It was sentimental and sappy. It was filled with a sense of immediacy in an attempt to capture the visceral response of what had happened as opposed to incorporating any real perspective. It needed to breathe, so to speak. It wasn’t poetry so much as an emotional diatribe. I disliked it so much that I swore I’d never write any sort of 9/11 poem.

And then, in 2011, 10 years after the attacks, I changed my mind.

Hang in there, Boston.

The Towers, In Boston

We sit motionless, slack-jawed, scattered
about the living room, glued
to the reverberating hum
of the television screen as we watch
the Towers burn. Nobody moves.
Nobody can move. We watch
people emerge from the tidal wave
of smoke – some swallowed up
completely, some just beyond its grasp.
They run like Hollywood cutouts
from the Blob, from a swarm of ants,
from birds. We watch them run.
We watch their faces painted grey
in rubble and ash scream out loud
for no one, for anyone. We watch them
stumble and trample the bodies
of others. We watch some of them
stand still. We watch some of them
twisting in mid-air, appendages
circling wildly as though exercising
their amped musculature
on machines that don’t exist.
We watch this dying for hours.
We watch this dying for days
until we finally dare to move,
step outside the miasma
of our own gasps and fling ourselves
into the streets of downtown Boston,
tip-toeing through the Commons,
tilting our heads slowly forward
as we spy down Boylston,
down Newbury and Beacon,
moving like this amidst the church bells
until finally we are looking up
at the blue sky empty of everything
but birds beating their black wings
against it – looking at Hancock Place,
at the Federal Reserve Bank Building,
at Prudential Tower, and asking, When?


Posted by: cousinbrandon | February 1, 2013

Versus: The Poetry of Cousin Brandon

With the exception of Chicago and Boston, I’ve hated every place I’ve ever lived while actually living in that place. I say with the exception of Chicago because, even then, I loved it, and even now it remains my favorite US city. In the case of Boston, I never felt comfortable there, and today I still feel zero sense of longing for that town. (My apologies, Bostonians, but I find it to be an awful, stick-up-its-ass, racist, impossible-to-find-your-way-around kind of city.) In the case of the rest of the cities I’ve called home — Santa Fe, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and, of course, Harrisburg, PA — there is a certain nostalgia that pretties them up for me, despite my never loving any of them when I lived inside their respective dorms, apartments, and houses.

Philadelphia was just “Filthydelphia,” a place that reeked of piss and was littered with trashy streets and even trashier people. Pittsburgh was cold and unwelcoming. It was grey and confusing. It was in a cloud of anesthesia not provided by the old steel mills. Harrisburg? Please. It’s where I came from. It was equal parts suburban bullshit and inner-city crime haven. In fact (and this still may be the case), it had more crime per capita than Philadelphia! It was uncultured and tiny and dull. The people had no stories. There was no sense of adventure — of where people had been, or even where they wanted to go. It was a weigh station for mediocrity.

And then, finally, there was Santa Fe. I moved there at 21, poised to finish my degree in creative writing at the now defunct College of Santa Fe. It was 1996, and at that point “going west” was everything to me. The idea of leaving Harrisburg and its cold winters and shitty bars and shittier people and shittiest culture behind for the warmth and comfort of New Mexico was something preposterous, yet happening. I made that happen. I completed all the paperwork. I applied. I was accepted. And without ever having visited or even been to the state of New Mexico, and without knowing a single person there, I went. I didn’t so much leave Harrisburg as I left a trail of fire and skid marks in my wake. I couldn’t wait to begin the life that I knew I’d always wanted. I couldn’t wait to be “home.”

Pfft. Home. Not even. Aside from meeting a guy that very first day in Santa Fe who, even now, 17 years later, I consider my honorary younger brother, it was a bust. Not the faculty, mind you. Hell, I’ve written glowingly and spoken lovingly of the wonderful poet Greg Glazner, whose work still moves me now. No, not that. It was just — well — Santa Fe that failed me. I just never fit there, or it never fit me. As a college student with little money, I couldn’t find my way among the visiting celebrities and artists who adorned the Plaza, nor among the working class New Mexicans who, frankly, seemed undeniably lazy and careless. Yes, I had friends and peers who I absolutely loved, but the town itself wasn’t what I thought it would be. Not at all. It was like something out of a movie — like some kind of island with a bubble surrounding it from the outside world. It was quirky, yes, but that somehow managed to make it unreal and, therefore, phony. It just wasn’t me. And after two years in Santa Fe, I was, once again, gone.

But that’s the thing with nostalgia. It creeps up on you when you least expect it and goddamn if it isn’t powerful. Just ask Don Draper. For me it was about six months ago, as I was re-reading Greg’s book From the Iron Chair. I’d not read it for some time, yet immediately there I was, back in Santa Fe, among the arroyos and the lightning storms and the mountains and the black night skies littered with stars wildly bright. And just then I realized, god, how much I’ve missed it. I realized, too, that 21-year-old me wasn’t ready for Santa Fe. That is, 21-year-old me couldn’t appreciate it properly, and was instead just another nomad wandering the American west. It’s good, then, that we grow older, because it allows us to see things not as they were, but as we were. You don’t need to go west to find that kind of space; you simply need to stand still.

Remembering Santa Fe

I re-read my professor’s book
lifted from the bookstore
my first semester in Santa Fe –
when I tucked it deep inside
my waistband and bolted
for the exit – and only now
do I discover what beauties
I didn’t even know I loved,
tracing my finger over the raised
bump of every letter as though
a palimpsest, as though
tracing a street map
of Santa Fe itself.

I am in
the Plaza now. I am on
St. Michael’s Boulevard,
on Canyon Road,
on Cerillos.

I am wandering
the Agua Fria schoolyard,
stilled by the arms of tall grass
that envelop me before driving
the hot miles out of town
to Albuquerque on I-25,
past mountains, past
Indian casinos that pop up
sparingly in the redbrown
glaze of desert.

I am walking
within the walls of the arroyos
sick for water, filled
with the promise of death
for whatever Loon
or Ring-necked Pheasant
may have thought to sidle up
and stick its long beak
into the chipped rock-face
teeming with dust.

I breathe
in deep the Piñon and listen
as bats chirp invisibly
through the towerless backdrop, wings
slicing through the void
of New Mexican sky,
waiting at any moment
for me to stop reading
and give back to the world
what I called my own, but wasn’t.


Posted by: cousinbrandon | January 7, 2013

“The Mixes” Series: Gas and Brake, 2012

If 2011 was the year of female vocalists and fuzzed-out power pop, 2012 was the year of Garage Pop. (Is that even a thing? Who knows.) The point is that there was a massive (and welcome) influx of raw, indie, power pop bands in 2012 who absolutely destroyed my iPod. In fact, in putting these mixes together, I was stunned by the fact that there’s a steady stream of tracks on Gas that could very well have been recorded by the same band. Now, I realize some might argue that similarities of this sort are a bad thing, in that there’s a lack of originality to distinguish one band from the next. But like I always say when it comes to music, good is good. All I care about is the bottom line. I have no problem with a band being derivative provided said band does its thing well. And in the case of 2012, plenty of bands did it well, so much so that I was able to craft a top 20 albums of the year (of sorts).

In addition to the Garage Pop and, once again, strong female vocalists who seemed to rule the 2012 landscape, I’d be remiss if I failed to point out the unbelievably prolific nature of one of my all-time favorite bands, Guided By Voices, who dropped three — three! — new records on our collective asses in 2012. The albums — Let’s Go Eat the Factory, Class Clown Spots a UFO, and The Bears For Lunch (released in that order) — seemed to blend together at times, but I found that somehow comforting. Featuring GBV’s “classic” line-up, all three records managed to capture their early Matador sound so often recognized on, say, Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. By no means am I saying these new contributions are akin to those classics; rather, there’s a sensibility in these new releases that’s akin to those early releases that put GBV on the indie map. Do I have a favorite among the 2012 triumvirate  Of course. Do I like all three records? Damn straight.

So, without further adieu, here’s a look back at the music that meant something to me in 2012…

The Album Cover of the Year:

Sleigh BellsReign of Terror


The Best Vocal Moments/Lyrics of the Year:

Swearin’ – “1” (At the 0:21 mark of the opening track of their self-titled album, I knew Swearin’ had me. There’s 20 seconds of spastic fade in before 23-year-old Allison Crutchfield unleashes the record’s initial lyrics, “Blood on the road / I’m asleep in the back seat.” You can check this track out below.)

Daughn Gibson – “The Day You Were Born” (At 1:27 in, Daughn Gibson sings in his weird, truck driver, country-tinged voice, “Anger, I’ll tear you asunder.” That line stuck with me all year. Both witty and amazing.)

The Song I Heard Once and New Immediately It Would Be On My Year-End List:

The Men – “Open Your Heart” (heard below)

The Most Overrated Record of the Year Based On the Critics’ Picks:

Cat PowerSun

The Four Best Videos of the Year:

Chairlift – “Met Before
El-P – “The Full Retard
Explosions in the Sky – “Postcard From 1952” (Note: the song is from 2011; the video is from 2012)
Aimee Mann – “Labrador

The Top Ten Honorable Mentions of 2012 (in Alphabetical Order):

Angel OlsenHalf Way Home
DustedTotal Dust
Godspeed You! Black EmperorAllelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Guided By VoicesThe Bears for Lunch
Guided By VicesLet’s Go Eat the Factory
HowlerAmerica Give Up
JapandroidsCelebration Rock
La SeraSees the Light
SpiritualizedSweet Heart Sweet Light

The Top Ten Records of 2012:

10. AUBoth Lights

AU edit

9. PAWSCokefloat!

PAWS edit

8. Guided By VoicesClass Clown Spots a UFO

Guided-By-Voices-Class-Clown edit

7. Dan DeaconAmerica

dan deacon edit

6. WintersleepHello Hum

wintersleep edit

5. IslandsA Sleep & A Forgetting

islands edit

4. Cloud NothingsAttack on Memory

cloud nothings edit

3. The MenOpen Your Heart

The Men edit

2. Royal HeadacheRoyal Headache

Royal-Headache edit

1. Swearin’Swearin’

Swearin copy

Was the self-titled record by Swearin’ really the best record of 2012? I don’t know. I don’t care, really. All I know is that no other album made me prick up my ears more quickly. Upon my initial listen, I was hooked. The Brooklyn/Philly band had me and never let go. There’s something so completely Doug Martsch-esque of Kyle Gilbride’s vocals, as the record reeks of equal parts Built to Spill and Superchunk. I can’t recommend it enough.

As always, I made two CDs worth of music this year, which meant omitting a lot of deserving candidates. As I do every year, I began putting 2012 music aside in January of 2012. I have no idea how many albums I listened to this year, but I sifted through nearly 7 hours of “Best of” contenders before narrowing it down to the 46/47 finalists on Gas and Brake. Now, why do I write “46/47”? Simple: I cheated. That is, I combined two songs into one for one of the tracks on Gas, because I simply couldn’t conceive of one being there without the other. As far as I’m concerned, “1” and “Here to Hear” by Swearin’ combine to form one fluid track. To omit either one felt like cutting the song in half, and I simply refused to do that.

As for the tracks below, I linked to both the album versions of the songs and some live/alternate versions of the songs that actually appears on the mix, either because I couldn’t find the studio version or simply really enjoyed the live performance. This, as you’ll see, is the case for songs like Dan Deacon’s “USA: I. Is a Monster,” in which I included a gripping live performance of the track. Additionally, I should point out that the link to Dan Deacon’s “USA: III. Rail” on Brake links to the entire USA suite, which makes up the second half of his album. While I only included “Rail” on the mix, I thought it would be nice to link to the entire four-part suite so you can listen to it in its entirety. Again, I apologize to all of those great, great songs I had to omit for the sake of space. It’s a cruel world we live in. Where are those 150-minute blank CDs already?!

With that, I give you the 46/47 songs that comprise my 2012 mixes…

Gas Edit
Gas front cover.

Gas Inside Edit
Gas interior artwork.

Brake Edit
Brake front cover.

Brake Inside Edit
Brake interior artwork.

Gas (The Best “Fast” Tracks of 2012):

1. AU – “Epic” (Both Lights)
2. King Tuff – “Anthem” (King Tuff)
3. The Men – “Open Your Heart” (Open Your Heart)
4. Mind Spiders – “You Are Dead” (Meltdown)
5. Howler – “This One’s Different” (America Give Up)
6. Japandroids – “Younger Us” (Celebration Rock)
7. Swearin’ – “1” / “Here to Hear” (Swearin’)
8. Royal Headache – “Never Again” (Royal Headache)
9. PAWS – “Bloodline” (Cokefloat!)
10. Titus Andronicus – “Ecce Homo” (Local Business)
11. Cloud Nothings – “Stay Useless” (Attack On Memory)
12. Eternal Summers – “Wonder” (Correct Behavior)
13. The Babies – “Moonlight Mile” (Our House on the Hill)
14. La Sera – “Please Be My Third Eye” (Sees the Light)
15. Hospitality – “Friends of Friends” (Hospitality)
16. The Spinto Band – “Keep Them Alive” (Shy Pursuit)
17. Fang Island – “Asunder” (Major)
18. Whirr – “Home Is Where My Head Is” (Pipe Dreams)
19. Islands – “Never Go Solo” (A Sleep & A Forgetting)
20. Guided By Voices – “Class Clown Spots a UFO” (Class Clown Spots a UFO)
21. The Mountain Goats – “Cry for Judas” (Transcendental Youth)
22. Wintersleep – “In Came the Flood” (Hello Hum)
23. Sleigh Bells – “Born to Lose” (Reign of Terror)
24. Dan Deacon – “USA: I. Is a Monster” (America)

Brake (The Best “Slow” Tracks of 2012):

1. The Men – “Country Song” (Open Your Heart)
2. Daughn Gibson – “Dandelions” (All Hell)
3. Dusted – “Dusted” (Total Dust)
4. The Avett Brothers – “Live and Die” (The Carpenter)
5. Damien Jurado – “So On, Nevada” (Maraqopa)
6. Angel Olsen – “The Waiting” (Half Way Home)
7. The Spinto Band – “Cookie Falls” (Shy Pursuit)
8. La Sera – “I Can’t Keep You In My Mind” (Sees the Light)
9. The Babies – “Mess Me Around” (Our House on the Hill)
10. Swearin’ – “Kenosha” (Swearin’)
11. Royal Headache – “Honey Joy” (Royal Headache)
12. PAWS – “Sore Tummy” (Cokefloat!)
13. Times New Viking – “Middle Class Drags” (Over & Over EP)
14. The Mountain Goats – “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1” (Transcendental Youth)
15. Divine Fits – “Shivers” (A Thing Called Divine Fits) (NOTE: Here’s the original version of “Shivers” by Boys Next Door.)
16. Wintersleep – “Rapture” (Hello Hum)
17. Guided By Voices – “Waving at Airplanes” (The Bears For Lunch)
18. Islands – “This Is Not a Song” (A Sleep & A Forgetting)
19. AU – “Get Alive” (Both Lights)
20. Heartless Bastards – “Marathon” (Arrow)
21. Screaming Females – “It’s Nice” (Ugly)
22. Dan Deacon – “USA: III. Rail” (America)

Well, folks, that’ll do it for 2012. A shit-ton of work, as always, went into this year’s edition. Now, then, I encourage – nay, demand – you to do four things:

  1. In the comments section, let me know your picks for the best songs, records, and anything else music of 2012. What did I miss? What do you violently disagree with? What are you wholeheartedly in agreement with?
  2. Should you choose to (or if you have already) put together a Best of 2012 disc of your own, by all means send me a copy of the disc, or at the very least a track listing. I’ll do my best to post them on my blog.
  3. If you’re feeling nostalgic, go back and check out my Best of… mixes from 2011, 2010, 2009, etc.
  4. You’ve got Twitter, Facebook, and a thousand other social media outlets at your disposal. Share this with the world, even if you only have two Twitter followers (and one of them is me).

Until the Best of 2013, have at it, you vultures!


Posted by: cousinbrandon | December 17, 2012

The “Miscellaneous” Mixes: This Shitsmas

After last year’s gangbusters mix, Fruitcake & Dreidels, the lady and I decided that we must — must — follow up that masterpiece with yet another collection of holiday-themed weirdness. We were inspired by none other than the great John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, who sadly failed to make the mix despite this banner effort.

So, without further adieu, break out those menorahs and mistletoe!

This Shitsmas front cover.

This Shitsmas inside cover.

This Shitsmas:

1. Twisted Sister – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
2. The Ramones – “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)
3. Herzog – “Fuck This Year
4. Pete and the Pirates – “Winter 1
5. Guided By Voices – “God Loves Us
6. Apples In Stereo – “Winter Must Be Cold
7. Superchunk – “Winter Games
8. Weezer – “Holiday
9. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Annunciation Day / Born On Christmas Day”
10. Fear – “Fuck Christmas
11. Whatever Brains – “Holiday Weekend
12. Archers of Loaf – “Assassination On X-Mas Eve
13. My Morning Jacket – “X-Mas Curtain
14. The Pretenders – “2000 Miles
15. Islands – “Cold Again”
16. Sufjan Stevens – “X-Mas Spirit Catcher
17. Prince – “Another Lonely Christmas
18. Chains of Love – “Strange Grey Days
19. Elvis Presley – “Santa Claus Is Back In Town
20. El Vez – “Feliz Navi-Nada
21. The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Coldest Days
22. The Avett Brothers – “The Once and Future Carpenter
23. Pixies – “Winterlong
24. Mogwai – “Hound of Winter
25. Sufjan Stevens – “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

Well, there you have it: 2012’s audio Advent calendar. Hope this inspires you not to blow your head off this holiday season.

That’ll do it for this year’s mountain of wreaths, trees and yule. Until next time, have at it, you vultures!


Posted by: cousinbrandon | November 21, 2012

The Angry(er) Alphabet: Things I Hate, From A to Z (T)

Turkey Day


It’s Thanksgiving, you assholes, not “Turkey Day”! What about those families who don’t serve Turkey on Thanksgiving?! (Granted, that’s nothing short of an attack, but you get my point.) The Indians at Plymouth Rock died for this shit. Quit fucking around, America!

Well, that’ll do it for the (long awaited) letter “T.” So, until “U” rises from the ashes like the proverbial Phoenix, have at it, you vultures!



Are you fucking high?!

I mean, yes, I’m sure you’re literally high, as you’re a group of college students who comprise one of the country’s largest student bodies, at one of the country’s most well-known universities, with one of the country’s biggest party scenes when it comes to college-aged individuals. So, yeah, I fully expect you to be stoned.

Moreover, I would like you to be stoned. That is, I would like to personally stand atop a mound of rocks and pelt you with stones Shirley Jackson-style until you bleed. But rest assured, I won’t be aiming for your head. No, I would instead prefer to have you bend over so I can somehow manage to cram those stones up your asses (which, as it turns out, is where your heads are, so I suppose I would be aiming for your heads) so that you might know what it’s like to be sodomized.

Here’s the thing: you’re trying to save a monster. Or his likeness, anyway. And for what? What could that possibly do for you, a bunch of 18 to 22-year-old kids, who may or may not have even witnessed a winning football season, let alone the a Penn State championship? Hell, were any of you even alive the last time PSU was crowned national champion? My guess is that you ripped enough bong hits to convince yourselves that this would be a good way to get on TV, to promote whatever sad need you have to make is the next teen mom or Snooki or Kardashian. What you fail to realize, though, is that the infamy surrounding Paterno will now be there for all of time, whereas you burnouts are a mere blip on the proverbial zeitgeist. Penn State is the machine, and your beloved JoePa is the ghost that will now haunt it for all of time.

The only thing that binds you stoners to Paterno is the likelihood that you’re A) from Pennsylvania; or B) related to a Penn State alumnus. Well, allow me to let you in on a secret: I’m both A and B, and yet I would never align myself with a person/statue/vigil that symbolized the rape of children.

And by the way, are you dummies so naive as to not even consider that perhaps JoePa was not only covering up these atrocities, but was a part of them? Here was Jerry Sandusky, a former player and longtime friend of Paterno, allegedly sexually abusing children as far back as the 1970s. That’s 40 years ago! And then there’s JoePa, who ran the sidelines at PSU for 61 years, and was privvy to everything Penn State (and, I would imagine) Pennsylvania-related. He knowingly covered up Sandusky’s disgusting body of work, and rewarded him with an office on campus, not to mention access to the Penn State box during games (and Penn State’s children after). He may as well have driven the boys to Sandusky’s house with a note pinned to their chests that said, “Have fun, JS!”

Look, I understand that you’re college students, and you’re of the age and at an institution of higher learning when and where you think you need to “take up a cause.” Fine! Rally to bring our troops home. Support a “Meat is Murder” campaign. Protest animal testing on campus like Brenda Walsh and the gang at California University. Hell, make sure Donna Martin graduates! Really, any of those would be better than clinging for dear life to a statue that has now come to represent evil, greed, sickness, shame and disgrace.

If nothing else, remember one thing: you’re college students! Go smoke a bowl and watch Harold and Kumar do something for the 2,000th time. But if your dedication to the “hero” that was Joe Paterno outshines all else, no problem. I’ll be right over with my bucket of rocks. In the meantime, fire one up. And bend over.


Posted by: cousinbrandon | June 14, 2012

The “Miscellaneous” Mixes: Circa 2011, Utopia and Dystopia

Today I’ve got yet another best of 2011 mix for you, and only 6 months removed from 2011. This one once again comes courtesy of my bestest pal in the great Northwest, Mike, who is situated somewhere between The Killing and the actual setting for Northern Exposure. (Ups to Maurice, Mike!) Mike has previously contibuted Circa mixes (here and here), as well as his John Locke mix. Well, he polished off yet another gem in 2011, this time offering up Utopia and Dystopia.

As I’ve pointed out previously our taste has only grown further apart over the years. (His has gotten considerably worse.) In reviewing this year’s tracklist, we shared five bands/performers (Crystal Stilts, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Wye Oak, Real Estate, and The Antlers), the same total as 2010. Of those five common bands, we have only three shared songs.

Like Cousin Matt, Mike opted to include an introductory note to his mixes. An Artist’s Statement, if you will. Enjoy:

While some see year end mixes as needing to be a “best of” be it song, album, EPs yes/no or LPs etc. I tend to move into another camp.  As someone who has studied and practiced fine arts, one thing that I always loved was curating shows.  Whether these shows came into fruition or remained hypothetical, I love the idea of bringing art work together in one place.  Often, there were artists whose work I loved.   Sometimes there were only a few pieces from an artist  that caught my eye.  Sometimes the artists work that I loved had pieces that were amazing, but I couldn’t necessarily see them fitting within the flow of the gallery space, or it didn’t jive with the other work in the show.  Had I only included work which I thought was the artists “best work”  it just wouldn’t have created a feeling of wholeness and would have instead been disjointed, random and unappealing to the eye.

Since stepping away from the arts, I still wanted to create something similar to those shows I helped to curate…thus CIRCA.  The CIRCA mixes are more of a curation of music that happened that year or close to it.  It is about the flow of each song, as they move in and out of each other.  My hope is that the songs work as a whole while also highlighting them as their own unique entity.  Like at a gallery or museum, one goes from work to work examining each piece, but in the end one leaves having an opinion of the show as a whole.  That is how I want CIRCA to be examined, as a whole, as a sum of the parts, as a curation.

Well said, Mike.

Utopia front cover.

Utopia inside art.

Dystopia front cover.

Dystopia inside art.

[Note: the cover art features the photography of our mutual friend, Louise Ingalls Sturges, whose kick-ass blog you can find here. Also, I have to apologize for the weird sizing of the images. Photobucket pretty much sucks ass.]

Circa 2011, Utopia:

1. Crystal Stilts – “Sycamore Tree” (In Love With Oblivion)
2. Atlas Sound – “Lightworks” (Parallax)
3. PJ Harvey – “In the Dark Places” (Let England Shake)
4. Caroline Smith & The Good Night Sleeps – “Tanktop” (Little Wind)
5. Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Definite Darkness” (Lenses Alien)
6. Thee Oh Sees – “Carrion Crawler” (Carrion Crawler/The Dream)
7. Obits – “I Want Results” (Moody, Standard and Poor)
8. Black Lips – “Mr. Driver” (Arabia Mountain)
9. Ty Segall – “Imaginary Person” (Goodbye Bread)
10. Veronica Falls – “Beachy Head” (Veronica Falls)
11. Fungi Girls – “Hevrole” (Some Easy Magic)
12. White Fence – “Art Investor Collector” (Is Growing Faith)
13. Coke Weed – “Not My Old Man” (Volume One)
14. Shimmering Stars – “I’m Gonna Try” (Violent Hearts)
15. Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter – “Come to Mary” (Marble Son)
16. The Barr Brothers – “Beggar In the Morning” (The Barr Brothers)
17. The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Stamp” (Departing)
18. Typhoon – “Summer Home” (A New Kind of House EP)
19. Wye Oak – “Civilian” (Civilian)
20. The Caulfied Sisters – “I See Your Face” (Two Songs from Mohawk Single)

Circa 2011, Dystopia:

1. Big Spider’s Back – “Secret Chiefs” (Memory Man)
2. Loch Lomond – “Elephants and Little Girls” (Little Me Will Start a Storm)
3. Real Estate – “It’s Real” (Days)
4. Toro Y Moi – “Still Sound” (Underneath the Pine)
5. Destroyer – “Chinatown” (Kaputt)
6. Nurses – “Fever Dreams” (Dracula)
7. Pure X – “Easy” (Pleasure)
8. Other Lives – “For 12” (Tamer Animals)
9. The Antlers – “I Don’t Want Love” (Burst Apart)
10. Panda Bear – “Slow Motion” (Tomboy)
11. Ravenna Woods – “Graves” (Valley of the Headless Men)
12. Craft Spells – “Party Talk” (Idle Labor)
13. White Denim – “Drug” (D)
14. Milagres – “Glowing Mouth” (Glowing Mouth)
15. Sports – “Prizefighter” (Sports)
16. Deerhoof – “The Merry Barracks” (Deerhoof vs. Evil)
17. Blood Orange – “Sutphin Boulevard” (Coastal Grooves)
18. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Ffunny Ffriends” (Unknown Mortal Orchestra)
19. Weekend – “Hazel” (Red EP)
20. Widowspeak – “Puritan” (Widowspeak)

Well, there you have it. Yet another year-end collection to grace these here pages. Thanks a heap to Mike for taking the time to put this beast together. Until next time, have at it, you vultures!


« Newer Posts - Older Posts »