Homework


Band: Daft Punk
Album: Homework
Best song: The singles were great. “Da Funk,” “Around the World,” “Phoenix” and “Burnin'” are all amazing.
Worst song: “Teachers” is pretty bad.

This current project is something of a lesser execution of something I’d wanted to do for a while. Originally, I had wanted to put together a list of the best albums in each year of my life; I couldn’t really justify writing that sort of thing well. Like so much of the written word on the Internet, lists are easy to create and not as easy to flesh out/explain.

Which is to say that life intervened.

I’m not a particularly busy guy, but the last few months have been pretty hectic for me. Work has been especially busy and I’ve been taking on a little more responsibility. We moved offices — not a huge deal in and of itself, but for the fact that I also moved apartments, as well.

Getting older also factors into it.

I’m not a particularly energetic person and I generally need a great deal of time for relaxing/winding down. I often envy those who run marathons, craft, work and spend tons of time with their friends.

I cannot do this.

I work, I come home and I relax by watching TV on the Internet. Part of this is my own slow life pace, but more of it is probably my inherent lack of discipline; I don’t tend to do things that are not easy (unless I have to, of course). I would have to bust ass to be one of those achievers, so I’d simply rather go the slightly easier route. I probably should’ve gone to law school; instead I did two years of weekend graduate school for another journalism degree. Despite, you know, completely not needing it.

The things that end up suffering in this time crunch are the non-necessities. I don’t miss work because work pays the bills. I don’t miss softball because people are counting on me to be there.

I don’t say this as anything other than the maybe excuse away the uneven pace of postings, as well as the uneven writing inherent in this current project.

All of this is a revolving way to mention that I originally made a year-by-year list a few years ago and thought 1999 to be the best album year of my lifetime. While that year is oustanding, 1997 probably takes that crown.

I’d like to chalk it up to my being at a vulnerable time in my life toward great music — I turned 16 in early 1997 — but I didn’t even get into a lot of the 1997 records until later. In fact, a lot of the albums I enjoyed in 1997 aren’t much now, but I adored them when I wat 16. Depeche Mode’s Ultra, for example, isn’t much of a record as compared to the band’s earlier albums. But, a 16-year-old just getting into alternative music and learning about the 1980s synth sound, Ultra‘s diad of “It’s No Good” and “Barrel of a Gun” were unstoppable.

The same for several other albums. I probably haven’t listened to an Everclear record since the 1990s, but I was completely in love with So Much For the Afterglow, partially because the band filled a post-Nirvana rock trio void in my life and moreso because Art Alexakis was a frequent guest on Loveline.

(I adored Loveline and remain a fan of the Carolla LL years because I learned a lot about sexual responsibility, the nature of human experience, class warfare and comedy from that show. Also, from the myriad of sex ed classes that we had in high school.)

Part of this is all because the latter half of 1997 had me as music director of WNTH, my high school’s radio station. I spent so much time in the station’s library, simply reading liners and looking up band members to connect incestous cross-pollination. I got lucky sometimes in being able to e-mail and call record label people, getting on guest list for shows in Chicago. I even got to interview Ben Folds, which has kept me a fan of 1997’s Whatever and Ever Amen, a generally mediocre album otherwise.

Retreat from the Sun from that dog fell into my life through the odd connections that labels, radio and the like made in the mid-90s. The band was on DGC with Hole, Beck and Nirvana. So, in getting a DGC sampler at WNTH, I found myself listening to that dog records and devoured Retreat from the Sun like a starving man. I listen to it now and find it pleasant, but it’s hardly a classic record.

It was at WNTH that I found Stereolab. Though not the band’s best record, I had become enamored with the producer of Dots and Loops because he was the drummer in my new favorite band, Tortoise. When I saw John McEntire’s name in the album notes, I bought the album. “Miss Modular” is still a favorite song.

It was at WNTH that I developed so much humor, as well. Wesley Willis — who I would later meet at a show in college — released Fabian Road Warrior in 1997 and it remains a beautiful love letter to the power of art to heal a troubled soul. But, as much as a 16-year-old can have empathy — which is to say that he can’t — I mostly laughed at Willis’ record. Similarly, the band Anal Cunt released the joke record (all of their records were a bad joke) I Like It When You Die in 1997, complete with a spot-on parody of the song “Down” called “311 Sucks.”

It was in 1997 when my romantic salad days were near their peak — stories for another day — and I used to joke about my love for one album as solely based on catering to ladies. I would joke that I only listened to Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing because it would get me chicks, painting me as sensitive and deep. In truth, it’s a deeply moving record evidenced by its use as the music for Humane Society Ads that continue to make me cry. “Adia” is a classic, as are “Angel” and “Sweet Surrender.”

WNTH gave me the opportunity to get more into the previous one-hit wonders that were the Smoking Popes. The band’s 1997 Destination Failure album is riddled with great, poppy songs accented with crooning vocals. In some ways, it was emo before emo existed. I listened to that album thousands of times, temering my post-rock tendencies with overtly obnoxious songs about love from fellow Chicagoans.

It was in the fall of 1997 that I saw the Smoking Popes open up for the Foo Fighters, touring to support the amazing Colour and the Shape. I tend to find the Foo Fighters to be a pretty awful band — arena rock has its place and Dave Grohl is not the man to put it there — but that album is striking in its vacillating between an imitation of Dinosaur Jr. and an imitation of the Germs.

It was 1997 that I got most into indie rock, again, thanks to WNTH. I would listen and enjoy anything from the Chicago, Pacific Northwest or New York big indie scenes (Drag City, Touch & Go, Thrill Jockey, Kill Rock Stars, Sub Pop, Matador, etc.). It led me to The Sea and Cake and The Fawn. I didn’t have any idea as to what the album sounded like — I think I described it as “Tortoise playing Nintendo,” which sounds moronic now — but I knew that I adored it. It remains my favorite album by TSAC.

I’d been introduced to Yo La Tengo a few years earlier and I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One had the benefit of “Autumn Sweater,” the most post-rock YLT song ever recorded.

My love affair with Smog started in 1997, as I first bought Red Apple Falls with Chanukah money. The album was interesting to me solely because it was on the Drag City imprint, but I would soon learn to adore Bill Callahan’s music, feeling it echoed my own experiences (it didn’t). Red Apple Falls has a strong narrative and is the lovely transition between lo-fi and the mid-fi of Callahan’s more recent work.

I’m not a big Get Up Kids or Guided by Voices fan, but I’ve seen both bands mulitple times and they released albums in 1997. Mag Earwhig! had “Bulldog Skin,” my first experience with GBV as the video was played on whatever MTV’s “alternative” show was at the time (without looking it up, I’m thinking 120 Minutes. Yep. Looked it up. It was 120 Minutes.). On the other hand, Four Minute Mile was introduced to me via a girl I’d met at the Everclear show and I listened to it. If only because I’d thought it was super indie.

Sleater-Kinney was already of some consequence when Dig Me Out was released, but I knew little about the band other than its riot-grrl roots. Oddly, it remains one of my favorite albums of the punk genre — of any gender. Again, it’s a product of 1997 that I love the album and can sing nearly 3/4 of the record without really understanding it.

And then there were the records I wouldn’t appreciate until far after they were released. Mogwai’s one of my favorite bands now, but I didn’t know they existed when I was in high school. I discovered Young Team when I was a freshman in college and was so surprised at its post-rock constructions and hard edges, I fell in instant love.

Death Cab for Cutie put out an album I thought mirrored my own life in 2000, but in 1997, the band released its demo tape on cassette, You Can Play These Songs with Chords. I was such a fanboy in college that I actuall bought said demo tape, though I guess it now exists on CD.

Despite its major-label-ness, I didn’t get into Built to Spill’s aptly-named Perfect from Now On until I was in college. The record is sublime in its wankiness, from the lyrical homages in “You Were Right” to the guitar god outro of “Broken Chairs.”

I would end up seeing Blond Redhead live in college, but it’s a little shocking I wasn’t aware of Fake Can Be Just as Good when it was released in 1997. The album’s Franco-Japanese is an oddity, on some level, yet I found it to be perfect while in college and tearing through the band’s back catalog. Somehow, I missed it.

Life After Death is a bit bloated, but nevertheless a classic. I ignored it in high school mostly because of the mainstream acclaim it got as well as the popular support of Puff Daddy’s Police sample nonsense. Basically, anything connected to that disaster was not in my brain at the time. Which is silly, because my freshman year roommate later introduced me to “Notorious Thugs,” maybe B.I.G.’s best song ever.

I’ve already written about two of my favorite three albums from 1997 somewhere on the Internet. Elliott Smith’s Either/Or is one of the greatest albums ever recorded. Beautiful in its intimacy and striking in its accessibility, the lofi confessional sounds fresh every time I listen to it.

The closest thing a modern band has brought to Pink Floyd is, likely, Radiohead’s OK Computer. With a lead single containing no real structure, the album skirts most conventions for pop record-ness. Robots. Direct rejection of fame. Falsettos. Yet, still hook-laden and guitar-based. OK Computer pushes and doesn’t break.

The least of my three favorite 1997 albums is not even a great album, really. Daft Punk’s Homework is repetitive, simple and uneven. Even fans of electronic music — a group I don’t count myself among — consider Daft Punk to be kind of low-grade dance music.

For whatever reason, though, Homework is a moment in time for me. The artwork had the 70s nostalgia that I found to be exciting at age 16. I loved the notion that these two guys were never photographed without helmets (and just writing that, I can see how the previous generation actually thought Kiss was cool). I loved the idea that my music fandom wasn’t just American and wasn’t just guitar rock.

But, moreover, I’ve never embraced a group of singles like I embraced the three main singles from the album. “Phoenix” is simple without being annoying. “Around the World” is an exercise in construction and deconstruction, with parts of the arrangement coming in and out of the mix.

And… “Da Funk” remains my theme song.

As a 16-year-old suburban idiot, some of my friensd used to joke that we had “posses.” I am not kidding. Taken somewhat off I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, I felt the need to cop Keenan Ivory Wayans’ notion that a hero should have theme music. It came down to two songs: “Green Onions” and “Da Funk.” “Da Funk” won out and it remains a favorite song of mine. I’d play it in my car when approaching a gathering of friends, like some awful non-existant world modeled after Happy Days. I’d listen to it throughout the halls of our high school, as though scoring a terribly angsty film.

I still listen to it and reminisce about the friends and times in high school.

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