I wouldn’t make my next mix CD (there were no more tapes) until 2001. However, at some point I went back and made three more that were intended to bridge the gap between the 20th (Do Not Mock the Powers of Hell) and the 21st one in 2001. This is the first of those three, and we’ll go ahead for the sake of the “story” and keep up the pretense that it was actually made next.
It is important to note two major occurrences that happened during this gap: the emergence of both the mainstream World Wide Web and the mp3 file format. United in the form of Napster, I was no longer confined to just the music I owned or could borrow from friends. This greatly extended the possibilities of what could be included, though as you can see I haven’t strayed too far from the mainstream here.
Going back to school was exciting for me. I was back in an environment where I knew what I was supposed to do, how to go about doing it, and when it needed to be done. I started out at Parkland, a community college in Champaign, and did very well, acing all my courses. I was, of course, a “nontraditional” student, but at a community college I was hardly alone in this.
At this point I was mostly taking math courses, with a smattering of other core courses, such as history and psychology. The math stuff I was sailing through. I got nervous when Trig came along, since I had failed it spectacularly in high school, but upon revisiting it in college I found myself baffled at how I could have done that. There are only about six things you need to know for the entire course! Even Calculus, which I had once referred to as like having sex with a goat (you could do it, but why would you want to?) was a cinch for me. I really felt like I was in my element at last. I was even able to work as a teaching assistant for one of the professors there.
Back home, though, things were tough. Of course, I wasn’t working, so we lost a big chunk of income. I had tried to get a student loan, but got dropped almost immediately as I was working on a second Bachelor’s degree. Becky was preparing to take her Special Fields exam, which was enormously stressful, and the financial strain on top of that wasn’t making things any better. Things were getting rocky.
Since I was working with the benefit of hindsight here, it wasn’t hard to make this one “all killer, very little filler”. Although I tried to keep things somewhat chronological, this collection and the next two pretty much ricochet all around the years 1998-2000. Although, as I said above, I was regularly raiding Napster for things by the time I actually made this, during the span of time it is supposed to cover I was still pretty much pinned to the radio as my main method of hearing music.
- Len – Steal My Sunshine
There are perfect summer songs, and then there are songs that are obviously trying to be the perfect summer song. This is the latter, but it’s just so much fun I can’t possibly dislike it.
- Fountains of Wayne – Radiation Vibe
I simply can’t overstate how much I loved FoW’s self-titled first album. It’s just great from start to finish.
- Nerf Herder – Vivian
I picked up Nerf Herder’s self-titled debut because, of course, of the Star Wars reference (it’s possible I had heard “Sorry” on the radio as well.) It’s got some great moments on it (“Annalee”, “You’re Gonna Be the One Who’s Sorry”, “I Only Eat Candy”) but for the most part it’s a little too goofy for me. This song, of their How to Meet Girls album, is three minutes of retro pop perfection.
- Barenaked Ladies – One Week
Hey, it was a mainstream song that mentioned the X-Files, Kurosawa, and Sailor Moon. Of course I loved it, as overplayed it eventually came to be.
- Matthew Sweet – What Matters
Matthew Sweet put out three great albums in a row, and then put out Blue Sky on Mars, which is…not good. So when In Reverse came out, it was easy to overlook it…and a lot of people did. It’s not fantastic, but it has some really good moments on it, and is worth checking out if you skipped it.
- Size 14 – Claire Danes Poster
No idea where I heard this little gem. For some reason the line “Sometimes my stomach hurts” cracks me up.
- Fastball – The Way
Part of the small wave of little pop bands putting out fun little songs amid a lot of the dreck of the late 90s. This whole first album isn’t that bad, actually.
- Master Cylinder – Jung at Heart
This song represents the dramatic possibilities the Internet provided. It’s a song from a Volkswagen Jetta commercial. I was able to find out who did it (“Master Cylinder” is a/k/a Pete DuCharme) and download a copy of the entire track.
- Depeche Mode – It’s No Good
The other decent song off Ultra.
- Soul Coughing – Super Bon Bon
I picked up Irresistable Bliss because I heard that these guys had some kind of They Might Be Giants connection. I admit that it caught me off-guard, and I was sort of unsure about the whole thing, but there was one moment where it just “clicked” for me and now I love it.
- Harvey Danger – Flagpole Sitta
I heard this song on The Planet, where the DJ followed it by announcing that the rest of the album was crap and not worth getting. And then probably cued up that hour’s Pearl Jam track.
- Foo Fighters – Next Year
I really like the sort of sad, resigned sound of this song.
- Garbage – The World Is Not Enough
An incredible song with an incredible video that I would rather watch than any James Bond movie you can name.
- Moby – South Side (f. Gwen Stefani)
Moby catches a lot of crap, and it’s probably not without reason, but Play is a really solid album, and this is a good song that, yeah, as long as I’m sticking up for stuff, I admit Gwen adds to nicely. So there.
- R.E.M. – Hope
Oh man, R.E.M.’s Up album. Also known as the one where they decided to try to be Radiohead. It’s boring, it’s too long, it’s not at all what one goes to R.E.M. for, it’s almost more pompous than Automatic for the People, and it’s got one of their all-time absolute worst songs on it (“Lotus”). This and maybe one or two other tracks are the only saving grace from it.
- Fatboy Slim – Praise You
A fun track from a fun album.
- Lit – My Own Worst Enemy
- Blink 182 – Dammit
Once Green Day hit it big, the search was on for more of the same, and these were two of the bands who got tapped. Of course, Blink 182 was the one with the (slightly) longer life, and would even eventually inspire knockoffs of their own (after riding in the car with my nephew a few years ago, listening to the music he’d brought, I later described it to Becky as “Blinks 183 through 187”.) This sort of thing was, like Green Day, marketed as “Punk”, but it’s straight up power pop, so I was cool with it.
- Cake – Never There
As much as I adore Fashion Nugget, the follow up, Prolonging the Magic, didn’t really grab me. It’s a lot more subtle and sedate. This is the “hit” from it, and it’s even considered their most successful song, but it’s not one of my favorites. I’ve grown to appreciate this album more, now that I’ve heard more of their stuff and have more of a context for it. Does that sound pretentious?
- Ben Folds Five – Battle of Who Could Care Less
Ben Folds is strange because he can swing from some pretty sharp, biting stuff (like this) to utter maudlin sap. When he’s on, he’s on, but I’ve heard him described as “the alt-rock Billy Joel” and despite my history with Billy, I can’t really argue with that.
- They Might Be Giants – Doctor Worm
After the lackluster (to me) Factory Showroom, this is an awesomely fun song.
- Gas Giants – Quitter
This is some former members of the Gin Blossoms. It’s a goofy song, but I like the rollicking, non-stop nature of it, and it namechecks Stephen Hawking!
- Smash Mouth – Walkin’ on the Sun
Yes, they were overplayed. Yes, you don’t care if you never hear “All Star” again. Yes, they were kings among the “frat rock” bands of the time. None of that changes how good this song is.
- Weezer – Undone – The Sweater Song
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Weezer. I like the Blue Album just fine. But it didn’t change my life the way it did for some people I know. Maybe I was too old by this time? (Side note: this track is here despite my irrational distrust of any song with the word “song” in its title.)
- Suzanne Vega – Stockings
Another track off Nine Objects of Desire. It really is a great album.
- Semisonic – Closing Time
Finally, a good track from a band I really, really wanted to like. I had two Semisonic CDs and gave both of them thorough listens, but it just…misses. You can almost hear catchy songs in there, but they never completely surface.
The title dates back to when Kurt and I were rooming together. We had just moved in and had empty boxes all over the living room. As we sat on the sofa staring at them, one of us suggested, “We should fold up those boxes and then we can store them in that closet.” “Yep,” replied the other. “That’s a good idea.” Neither of us moved. Finally Kurt said, “Well, it’s enough that we thought of it.” That’s been a running joke ever since, and it was a perfect title for a tape that I’d meant to make, but didn’t get around to until much later.
I don’t know why there are bees and a treasure map on the cover, though.
Click on the player below to listen to this mix!
(xspf player courtesy Lacy Morrow and Fabricio Zuardi.)