Klinger: Remain in Light. When you talk about Talking Heads, you’re going to have to talk about how great Remain in Light is. People love that album, and rightly so. Few albums have brought such a diverse array of musical styles into one funky intellectual gumbo of sound. After that, you’ve got to talk about those great early records—77, More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music. Bold statements that bring the daring of punk into tight focus while maintaining pop sensibilities. Smart, funny, fearless. Brilliant.
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“Sometimes I’m really weird, I know,” concedes Wolfgang Flür towards the end of our interview.
Certainly, his eccentricities precede him: for starters, and to get the obvious out of the way, Flür was a member of Kraftwerk during their classic ‘70s/‘80s lineup, along with Karl Bartos and founders Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. With 1974’s Autobahn (the first to feature Flür as a full-time member), Kraftwerk infamously drew a line in the sand between their long-haired, jam-filled psychedelic past, and their precise electronic future.
But that’s the past. And since his departure from Kraftwerk, ending a great run with 1986’s underrated Electric Café (since reissued under the originally intended title Techno Pop), Flür has taken the seemingly paradoxical turns of repeatedly and public distancing himself from Kraftwerk, and penning a memoir, I Was a Robot (2000), which namechecks his artistic leviathan in its very title.
Editor’s Note: This article was published on 14 January 2011.
Klinger: I gotta be honest with you, Mendelsohn. For years, I operated under the assumption that the only Bowie you really needed were the Changesonebowie and Changestwobowie compilations. Bowie just seemed like one of those artists for whom the hits told the story. That’s not a dig, either; I was inclined to lump CCR and Sly in there, too. But I was under the impression that anything beyond the FM playlists was strictly for people who showed up at parties wearing glittery unitards.
Eventually I came around and recognized that there’s a lot going on in Bowie’s deep catalog (I think it was Station to Station that did it for me, or maybe Hunky Dory), but even so, if you had played The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars for me during that time, I’m not entirely sure you would have changed my mind.
Mendelsohn: The Decemberists have a unique gift, Klinger. They are able to take a myriad of disparate genres, thematic material, diverse ideas and turn it into a cohesive work of art. And I’m not talking a little genre-bending or obscure references. The group’s 2006 album The Crane Wife is chock-full of historical and literary references ranging, in no particular order, from a Japanese fairy tale, tales of death and love lost covering the last 300 years — including a trip to colonial times, the Civil War and a modern day forbidden love not unlike Romeo and Juliet. There are also a songs about an an Ulster loyalist group from the 1970s, the World War II siege of Leningrad, and another one detailing a well-planned heist of unnamed goods. All of this is splayed out over some combination for folk rock, prog rock, plain old rock rock and some sweet pop thrown in for good measure. The Crane Wife is also the band’s debut on a major label, marking a shift from being indie darlings with a penchant for folk ditties to major-label players pushing a very diverse set of influences into the mainstream.
And, if that wasn’t enough, The Crane Wife comes off as a cohesive set, loosely connected through lyrical material yet widely divergent from start to finish. Maybe the most impressive part of the entire affair is that this album comes off as meticulously put together but never plays down to the listener who might have no idea what the Colin Meloy, the lead singer and songwriter of the band, is referencing at any given moment. I hope you were paying attention, Klinger, there will be a quiz later.
Someone find Zachary Cale’s birthday candles, please.
No, it’s not for the fact that the Louisiana-bred, New York-based singer-songwriter is about to celebrate his 37th birthday here soon. It’s to commemorate a full decade since Outlander Sessions first arrived in the world, that scrappy little debut album that Zachary Cale famously recorded on a simple four-track with a guitar that actually wasn’t his. As great an origin story as it is, that 10-song wonder proved only to be a sign of things to come, as over the years, Cale’s own guitar mastery continued to grow, soon opening his albums up to more elaborate, flourishing productions, at one point even forming a full-band rock outfit called Illuminations just to take his songwriting to a different place.