Soundcheck: Rainy Days

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Published April 10, 2009

It rained almost all week, which meant that I stayed indoors even more than usual. I only braved open air to buy coffee and my daily “Win For Life!” scratcher at the deli around the corner. All this time inside gave me the opportunity to catch up on important things like re-reading old books, ignoring my freelance assignments, and re-organizing (and alphabetizing) my music library. In doing so, I rediscovered some hidden gems (Ultra Vivid Scene!), came to terms with a few old loves (the first three Tori Amos albums. I said it) and faced the inexplicable (three copies of the first Coldplay album and a Mariah Carey Christmas CD!).

It also seemed like a good time to make a list of my top five rainy day albums that most people probably don’t own but definitely should.

1. Tram, Heavy Black Frame (Jetset, 1999)Tram were two dudes from London who were, to put it mildy, totally bummed. This record sits nicely next to other epic slowcore bands like Codeine and Red House Painters, but Tram were more dreamy and less deadpan than most of their minimalist counterparts. “Nothing Left to Say” and “When it’s all Over” are beautiful downers suitable for any day when it’s all about pulling down the shades and pretending the world doesn’t exist. If someone could condense a rainy London afternoon it into a playable 12″ vinyl album, this is what it would probably sound like.

2. Ganger, Hammock Style (Merge, 1998)As far as I know, Ganger were from Scotland and only released this lone album (at least here in the states). Though there is a definite krautrock thing happening here, these mostly instrumental songs are wistful and weird and play out like a half-remembered dream (songs titles like “Cats, Dogs, and Babies Jaws” should give you clue). This is good music to play when you wake up and say “Today I’m going to totally reorganize my entire life” and then you do.

3. Bedhead, Beheaded (Trance Syndicate, 1996)When I was going to graduate school in Kansas I used to drive three hours through the beautiful but desolate flint hills of Kansas to visit my friends and family on the weekends. This record was usually my preferred soundtrack. When you are making languid Indie pop music this spare and restrained, there is no room for mistakes and I still think this is a nearly perfect album. I also love that Bedhead were a couple of brothers from Texas, one of whom is named Bubba. I’m willing to bet this is the most beautiful music you’ll ever hear that was made by someone with that name. This band no longer exists, but the bros now make music as The New Year, which is almost as good.

4. The American Analog Set, The Fun of Watching Fireworks (Emperor Jones, 1996)What happens when you are a sensitive guy making music in Austin, Texas, in the mid 90s? You either join a band called Trail of Dead and take out your frustrations by smashing your gear on stage every time you play, or you recruit a bunch of equally sensitive people and make the most shimmery music possible. The American Analog Set made a handful of albums (all of which are gorgeous and sound kind of the same), but this is a sentimental favorite. The record opens with the sounds of exploding fireworks, a fun sound that this band manages to make melancholy. This is good music to play while journaling or drifting in and out of consciousness. This band also no longer exists, but frontman Andrew Kenny has a new band called The Wooden Birds that is excellent and will release its debut album, Magnolia, this week).

5. The Moon and the Melodies, The Moon and the Melodies (4AD, 1986)This album is a one-off collaboration between the Cocteau Twins (one of the greatest bands of all time) and composer Harold Budd. The album sounds, in most ways, like a Cocteau Twins album, but with less vocals and more piano. To say that this record is “atmospheric” would be a wild understatement. More than anything, the record is just wonderfully and brilliantly beautiful and, to this day, sounds pretty much like nothing else (except maybe the Cocteau Twins). Harold Budd and Cocteau guitarist Robin Guthrie reconvened a couple of years ago to create an amazing score for the film Mysterious Skin, but this album remains a crowning achievement for everyone involved. If it’s not raining when you put this on, it will be by the time the record ends. Trust.

The forecast calls for rain this weekend. Next week: happy songs that were recorded in this decade!