Music preference is largely subjective. You can argue about technical and compositional proficiency, but at the end of the day, great music exists without it and incredibly boring music despite it. So, here’s the first guest playlist. The parameters of the request were pretty simple: make a playlist of things you like.
Paul Bruno runs the Unblinking Ear label and podcast. It originally started a blog in 2007. The podcast began in 2008 and eventually there was less blogging and the podcast took over. He launched the label a year ago with a 28 band compilation called Serious Rockers. Since then, the label has released records from Big Quiet, SWIVS, Kerbivore and a solo album Jared Lebowich of the Zoltars. Unblinking Ear is currently working on a second comp called Office Supplies, which is being released as monthly name your price digital singles and should be comped up by the end of 2016. Paul also fills in as a DJ for WFMU (whose fundraising marathon is coming up soon, help them out).
We asked him a bunch of questions, read ’em and listen to his selects below.
What does “punk” mean to you?
There’s a lot of probable answers for this and I’m sure most of the them are terribly cliché so I’ll do my best to refrain from those. Mainly, I think it’s two ideas: that passion is more important than prowess and that artistic expression is more important than commercial viability. Not that technical ability and/or market success are incompatible with punk. they’re just not raison d’etre in and of themselves.
In a lot of ways, the playlist I assembled exemplifies punk to me. The 80s underground was a blossoming of punk’s many ideas, taking them in interesting directions long after punk had been pronounced dead by the outside world. Few of these bands were conventionally “punk” in the Ramones-derived ramalama sense. But all recognized punk. Some used it as a starting point. Some as a refinement of what they were already doing. All used it as a means of expression in the face of mainstream indifference.
I focused on the American Underground because I tend to think it gets the short shrift. When most people think “post-punk,” it’s reflexively English bands they think of. There’s been little written about the 80s U.S. underground other than “Our Band Could Be Your Life.” None of the bands covered in that book are here. Not that I don’t love them (some I do very much) but I figured that door was open for most of your readers. This playlist is a further peek inside. It’s by no means definitive. Just a bunch of tunes I like.
If you had to live with one album on repeat for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
That’s the sort of question it’s really unfair to give to a die hard record collector. I’m always looking for the next platter. It’s insatiable. But if I had to choose one… Love’s Forever Changes. That answer could change.
What was the last show you saw? What’s the next show you are seeing?
I saw Kerbivore (yes, they’re on my label) play with SAVAK at Union Pool last week. Terrific show that I can only imagine would have been even better if not for the impending blizzard.
I’m seeing Richard Papiercuts and Rathaus at The Silent Barn (though that may be past tense by the time this is published)
What was the most memorable live show you’ve ever attended?
I saw Guided By Voices play Irving Plaza circa 1994. They got completely smashed. A full bottle of Jack Daniels was brought on stage and empty by the end of the night. They were still brilliant and managed to play three encores. It left quite an impression.
What’s your “going up to bat” song?
As in what song would play when I came up to the plate in a baseball game? I’m not sure since it would only be a 5-10 second excerpt. Though I can tell you if I were a pro wrestler, my entrance music would be “Divine Horseman” by The Flesh Eaters.
If you could insert yourself into any band (dead or alive), which band and what instrument would you play?
Playing keyboards for Neu! seems easy and fun.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about the local music scene?
I’ll start with least favorite because if I end with it, I’m likely to get strung up. I find there to be a lot of very musically unambitious bands in Brooklyn. Too many don’t any real vision or aesthetic of their own and are all too content to regurgitate whatever they think is good or cool music. Too often they merely ape the sound and neglect to write any memorable songs and their performances are totally bloodless and dull. If you’re in a band to have fun, get drunk and get laid, that’s fine but if you don’t care about the music you’re producing then why should I? The “D” in “DIY” stands for “Do.” Make an effort.
Favorite things? Well, there will never be a dearth of live music in New York. Every band you could want to see will play here at some point. And there are always venues for up and coming bands. If you’re smart enough, your band can even find one to play that won’t rip you off. There’s also, oddly enough, a sense of community in New York’s scene. I can go to a show alone and there’s an excellent chance I’ll run into someone I know. Being a music lover has a language of its own. When you find someone else who can speak it, that’s an instant pal.
Press play below.