Posts Tagged ‘Mike Doughty’

Re-imagined, Reissued, Remixed, Recovered

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

My original plan wasn’t to review these two albums together, but when the synergy hit me I couldn’t pass it up.

Nirvana & Mike Doughty somehow managed to intertwine themselves with my musical DNA years ago and haven’t ever let go. Nevermind was my first favorite album and the one that pretty much made me who I am today. Doughty’s Skittish solo record dethroned it when I’d tell everyone I knew that “the guy from Soul Coughing has this amazing acoustic solo album!” Both artists left a heavy stamp on Timely Persuasion. By my unofficial count Nirvana got 14 allusions and a subplot about a time traveler trying to stop Kurt’s death, while Doughty got 21 allusions (10 solo & 11 SC) and his handwriting font used on Local Boy’s setlists and retirement letters. (Yeah, I’m not fanatical…)

And now they both put out records a week apart that let me revisit my misspent youth in new and interesting ways. Nirvana’s In Utero gets the 20th anniversary deluxe treatment highlighted by a new nifty alternate-history style Steve Albini mix. Doughty hits the reset button on his past band by re-imagining 13 songs from the Soul Coughing back catalogue in solo form on the greatly titled Circles Super Bon Bon Sleepless How Many Cans? True Dreams Of Wichita Monster Man Mr. Bitterness Maybe I’ll Come Down St. Louise Is Listening I Miss the Girl Unmarked Helicopters The Idiot Kings So Far I Have Not Found the Science (which are the names of all the songs included, but not the actual running order…).  Re-issues and re-covers in general tend to be a mixed bag with a touch of a bad name, but these manage to pull it off in differing ways.

When I heard about the In Utero deluxe edition I was more excited about spending some 20th anniversary time with the record than actually buying it again. I’d already bought it thrice in my life (on the day of original release, then again 6 months later when I found an import copy, noticed something was off about the back cover tracklist and excitedly realized it had a bonus track!, and finally about a year later when I found a bootlegged version billed as the Pachyderm Sessions with Albini’s mixes), already had all of the B-Sides (pre-box set from singles and compilations — I confess I bought The Beavis & Butt-head Experience the day it came out so I could hear Nirvana’s “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” song…), and never really found remastered or remixed versions of anything all that compelling. But when details of the mysterious “2013 Mix” started to emerge I was pretty intrigued.

The idea was pretty cool. This remix would be more about “exploring the roads not taken” by subbing in different guitar solos, vocal takes, and backing parts recorded originally but not used. Sort of an alternate history, second chance at mixing the album with 20 years of hindsight. The changes are relatively minor in the scheme of things, but I still smile when I catch one of them. “Serve the Servants” has a different guitar solo. “Dumb” no longer has a cello. “Heart-Shaped Box” has an extra harmony on the verse. “Very Ape” adds some more guitar feedback to the intro. But my favorite part of all are Kurt’s screams on “Scentless Apprentice.” I’ve always said that “Spank Thru” had my favorite studio version of a Cobain howl, but now there’s a new winner.

While the In Utero 2013 mix is about small differences, Mike Doughty went for some bigger changes with his album of re-imagined Soul Coughing songs. Soul Coughing covers used to be a big part of his solo shows, but they slowly dwindled as he had more of his own material until they evaporated altogether. Doughty later started discussing more openly how much he really hated his time in Soul Coughing and how the old songs brought back that pain, culminating with the release of his memoir, The Book of Drugs.

After reading the book I felt guilty about often referring to Doughty as “the guy from Soul Coughing” (as I did at the start of this post), but later realized that wasn’t really such a sin. I wasn’t calling him “one of the guys” from an old band, but specifically “THE GUY” — as in the one and only. In the eyes of my younger self it was his band, they were his songs, and he can and should take them with him to do whatever the heck he wants with him. So I was especially excited to learn he was taking them back in an attempt to reclaim them for himself and purge the demon of a dark time in his life.

The differences in the new Doughty versions vs. the old Soul Coughing versions vary a bit, but all in all I’m really digging the re-done versions. “Sleepless” loses the lo-fi intro I never really liked and gender swaps the personified sleep character to make the lyrics work better. I have a vague recollection of sitting in a car outside a party listening to the original “How Many Cans?” when a friend said “this song would be awesome if the music part was better.” Seems he was right. “True Dreams of Wichita” has always been one of my favorite songs by any artist, and the new version further cements it for me — even improving on it by nicely retconning the awkward “stand on the corner and bellow for mush” lyric with the far better “stand in the branches of a juniper bush.”  (Plus I love the inclusion of “I Miss The Girl” since the line “going down to Baltimore, going in an off-white Honda” is among the top utterances to slip out in my lifelong battle with lyrical tourette’s.)

Of course playing the comparison game sometimes exposes some questionable calls on the new takes. Does “Dumb” really benefit by taking away the cello? Was “Monster Man” really worth redoing when most of the lyrics were skipped? How would Kurt Cobain have felt about the whole reissue/anniversary type thing?  That’s a loaded question that’s pretty much impossible to answer. Doughty’s change of heart around revisiting his past illustrates that anyone’s perspective can shift — and that’s a good thing.

Of The Year – 2012

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

The Play ‘Em All experiment meant that I didn’t give new music the attention I usually do in 2012, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a top list.

(And yes, once again I was too busy/lazy to post this when I should have so I’m time traveling back to insert this post.)

1.  Boys & Girls – Alabama Shakes
Don’t you love it when your most highly anticipated album of the year satisfies that expectation?  Great record, pretty good live show. Not sure how long the band will last, but Brittany Howard is the real deal.

2.  Daytrotter Session – Mike Doughty
This might be on the line of violating my rule that an EP can’t be album of the year, but rules are made to be broken, right?  My favorite Daytrotter session of the year if not all time. The covers felt super random at the time, not yet knowing that Doughty had an all covers album cooking.

3.  Barchords – Bahamas
A little more rockin’ than Pink Strat and a strong follow-up. Also has the honor of being the last band I saw live in 2012 and the first band I saw live in 2013. Afie Jurvanen has a great stage presence and banter during his shows, right up there with Benji & Doughty.

4.  A Wasteland Companion – M. Ward
He just keeps doing his thing, and that thing is fine by me. Now when is that new Monsters of Folk record coming out?

5.  There’s No Leaving Now – The Tallest Man on Earth
Every time I listen to this I love it more. His gig at the Ford Amphitheater was my favorite of 2012.

6.  I Know What Love Isn’t – Jens Lekman
A little more quiet and a little less goofy than what came before, but I still dig. (And for the record I have nothing against goofy at all – that’s meant as a compliment.)

Of The Year – 2011

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

After a so so year for albums in 2010, this time around I actually have enough candidates for a proper top 10.

1. Pink Strat — Bahamas
This record came out in Canada in 2009, but just came out in the US in 2011. (Yay, time travel!)  Quietly snuck up on me as my go to album this year.  And I love that the band is named after a lyric in that old Wreckless Eric song.

2. Circuital — My Morning Jacket
Felt like a shoo-in for album of the year upon release and sustained that for most of the year. Majestic and fun rock songs that go really well together.

3. Fixin’ To Die — G. Love
G’s best work since The Hustle. Whenever I start to think he’s all washed up he goes and does something like this to win me back.

4. Kiss Each Other Clean — Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine & Electronica & Orchestration…and it works really well.

5. The Whole Love — Wilco
Some are calling this a comeback record or a return to form, but I don’t think Wilco ever really left.

5.5 An Argument With Myself (EP) – Jens Lekman
I have this weird and arbitrary rule that an EP doesn’t qualify for album of the year.  But if it did, this one would rank right around here.  Very excited for the new full length Jens to land sometime in 2012.

6. Rome — Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi
Super group alert! Danger Mouse continues his impressive run, while splitting vocal duties between Jack White & Nora Jones was just about perfect.

7. Yes and Also Yes — Mike Doughty
Not quite as good as Sad Man Happy Man, but Doughty is still the infallible band for me.

8. Celebration, Florida — The Felice Brothers
2011 will go down as the year I began to embrace the Felices on my own outside of them being my wife’s favorite band. This guy has a review that’s better than anything if have to say about this record, so I’ll let him speak on my behalf.

9. Rave on Buddy Holly — Various Artists
Heck of a compilation. Hearing Paul McCartney go crazy at the end of “It’s So Easy” might be my favorite individual moment in a song this year.

10. Minnesota — Mason Jennings
Had high hopes for this going in and initially felt a little disappointed, but warmed up to it more with each listen.  But just 9 songs?  More, Mason, more!

#1 Record

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

While trying to convince Jon Mack to listen to A Love Extreme by Benji Hughes last week I mentioned that it had taken over my favorite album of all time slot.  He immediately pushed back that it was a little early for that bold of a claim, citing that Music by 311 was once a favorite that went by the wayside.  (For the record, Music may have been in my top 5 at some point years ago, but never #1.  #1 is sacred…)

The whole exchange got me thinking about that fabled top slot, eventually yielding the realization that only 3 albums have ever held this title:

Nevermind — 1992 – 2000

Skittish — 2000 – 2010

A Love Extreme – 2010 – ?

Seems to be a once in a decade event…

Keep in mind that this is different than “most listened” or “greatest ever recorded” — it’s a personal favorite at one moment in time, with the expectation that it will remain the defending champ until something you’ve never heard before comes along and dethrones it.

Random aside:  I’m not consciously trying to turn this into “A Blog of Benji Hughesuasion” — I just really dig this musician, as evidenced by all the posts and his claiming my current #1 slot from Doughty.  But typing “Hughesuasion” makes me kick myself for not thinking to use “Nelsuasion” as the secret word in Chapter 24 of TP.  Timely Nelsuasion anyone?

Apophenia

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Some things I’d like to think took inspiration from Timely Persuasion, but probably didn’t:

LOST – “Across The Sea”
The recent “Across the Sea” episode of LOST features two nameless main characters.  The only named character in TP is Nelson, the alleged bad guy. But is he really bad?  The only named character in this LOST episode is Jacob, the alleged good guy.  But is he really good?

Carter USM – The Drum Machine Years
On this live concert album by my favorite band, Jim Bob introduces the song “Spoilsports Personality of the Year” by saying “This song goes out to … a younger me.” Messages from a future self are a recurring theme in TP. Is Jim trying to reach his 30-something self?

Mike Doughty – Sad Man Happy Man
In the song “Pleasure on Credit” Doughty sings “I’ve got fun fun persuasion, smart girl not the crazy one.” I have this image in my head of him sitting on his couch while riffing on possible lyrics and noticing his copy of TP lying unread on the coffee table, giving inspiration to these words. Probably not true, but fun to imagine as a dramatization.

Delusions of reference aside, I do realize that these are all more than likely coincidences. However, I also know that Damon Lindelof, Jim Bob, and Mike Doughty are all aware of TP — I just don’t know if they’ve actually read it. So maybe… 🙂

Of The Year – 2009

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

I’ve always wanted to “officially” track a best of the year music list, and figured here would be the most appropriate place to do it.

1. Sad Man Happy Man — Mike Doughty

I had huge expectations going in after an interview said this would sound like Skittish & Rockity Roll, and Doughty delivered in spades. My sister calls it “Soul Coughing Unplugged” which is a decent description. Just Doughty doing what he does best and knocking it out of the park.

2. Dark Night of The Soul — Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse

The Wilco-esque tale of an album that nearly wasn’t might give this bonus points, but regardless it’s a masterpiece. Still a little odd when I get caught singing the song with my own name in it though…

3. Far — Regina Spektor

I’ve always kinda liked Regina, but now I love her. Heck of a live performance too.

4. Monsters of Folk — Monsters of Folk

Supergroups are tough. Always the best intentions, but hard to pull off. This one is greater than the sum of its parts. I especially loved the unexpected electronic feel to the lead track, defying expectations from the start and inviting a closer listen.

5. Up From Below — Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

A fun, whimsical, magical mystery ride. Much respect for an album that name-drops a Beatles song while really deserving it as a descriptor.

Mike Doughty’s Hand(writing)

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Had a couple of recent questions about the font on the setlists in the paperback, which caused me to realize I never blogged about the origin of that in any detail. Could have sworn I did, but a quick scan of the archives proves otherwise. Here we go:

Once upon a time a designer named Chank Diesel put together something called the Rockstar Font Project. He basically took handwriting samples from musicians and turned them into fonts.  Participants included Mike Doughty from Soul Coughing, Kelley Deal from the Breeders, Steven Drozd from the Flaming Lips, Mark Sandman from Morphine, and Everlast from House of Pain.

Being a big Soul Coughing fan I downloaded the Mike Doughty “Wichita” font shortly after it came out, messed around with it for 10 minutes, and then forgot all about it since I didn’t really have a practical use for it. (Origin story in Chank’s own words is available at WBR.com)

Mike Doughty's Handwriting, Ghostwriting for Local Boy

Mike Doughty’s Handwriting, Ghostwriting for Local Boy

Flashforward a decade. While working on the remastered layout of Timely Persuasion with Bryan Davidson we hit upon this idea of doing the Local Boy setlists in a handwriting font.  Originally we tried the Apple “Marker Felt” font, but it felt sort of cheesy and overplayed.  I suddenly remembered Wichita, and miraculously managed to copy it over each time I switched computers over the years.

I emailed Mr. Diesel regarding permissions and he was super cool about it, as was Mr. Doughty when I let him know of his inspiration.  And there you have it.

While we’re on the subject of Mike Doughty, check out his amazing new album Sad Man Happy Man.  I know this sounds odd coming on the heels of my Benji Hughes post, but this is another of those rare, expectation-defying albums I just can’t get enough of.  Beats out Dark Night of the Soul for my album of the year crown, and when the newness clears might even give Skittish a run for its money on the “best album ever” front.