If blog posts had to mirror the album they featured, this blog post would be 2000 words long, as dense as Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo, simultaneously concise and sprawling, playful, irreverant, angry, political and downright brilliant. Unfortunately, I am writing it so it will be devoid of pretty much all these things, unless sprawling can be interpreted as waffly! When I introduced Double Nickels to the others at record club I stated that of all my records this is the one I would pull from the fire. Nick later paraphrased this as an admission that this is my favourite album. But in my mind they are not the same thing at all. My favourite albums (many of which have featured already at Record Club) would soon become irritating if they were all I had. But I relish the idea of having nothing other than Double Nickels to listen to – there is so much to explore in it, so many little wonders hidden away that I feel I am only just beginning to know (having owned the album for about 20 years now). Heck, I still don’t know the song titles; I can’t anticipate what is coming next as one songs ends and another begins; I don’t even know which side certain songs belong on if played in isolation. This is a million miles away from where I am with most of my collection – I like to really know an album, as in KNOW an album, get it all worked out, not because the end result is so attractive but because the journey to that point is so enjoyable. And that’s why Double Nickels is such an attractive proposition to me. I must have listened to it hundreds of times already over the years but I am still deep in the process of getting to know it. A few more pieces of the jigsaw fell into place during the run in to our evening but, to be honest, I am miles away from getting to that point where all is familiar and there are no surprises left to discover. As Rob said in his response to Slint’s Spiderland – he’s not sure he ever wants to work it out. Well, I have pored over Spiderland and I am pretty much there with that record…but the Minutemen’s amazing third album has a multitude of gems that still need to be unearthed by me, so many facets left to explore.
Initally I wasn’t all that predisposed to the idea of the Minutemen. At the time I was a big Husker Du fan and, knowing they were rivals of sorts, led me to place myself firmly in the Husker camp. It turns out the two bands had about as much in common as Blur and Oasis or The Beatles and The Stones – rivals for a similar demographic but musically a million miles apart. Expecting a Bob Mould style guitar onslaught coupled with pop hooks and harmonies, imagine my surprise when the first bars of Anxious Mo Fo lurched out of the speakers, all awkward and lean and shouty (not screamy!)…and nothing at all like New Day Rising!
In fact it is quite remarkable given the breadth of the musical vision that D Boon and Mike Watt demonstrate on the record that at no point in the 75 minutes of Double Nickels (all sorts of rules were broken at the club this evening) do they sound remotely like any of Husker Du’s output. As musical comparisons go, this one is the most crimson of all herrings.
So what does Double Nickels sound like? Practically impossible to sum up…but the overriding surprise to me on my first listen was just how groovy the album is – Mike Watt’s bass playing being nimble and inventive throughout and placing the music in a very different musical setting to much of the US underground around at the time. Another shock is how much space there is within the songs – guitars are spiky, individual notes discernible and clipped. Meanwhile Daniel Boon’s vocals and lyrics are never less than captivating, veering from mundane to political to heartfelt and poignant often in the course of one two minute song. And if, for some reason, you’re not keen on the current track, don’t worry – the next one will be around in the blink of an eye.
Admittedly, navigating a myriad ideas in the course of an hour and a quarter can be exhausting for a listener, particularly on a first listen or ten and, even after twenty years, a pause half way through does no harm. However, once the songs start to reveal themselves there really is no going back – as addictive records go, this is just about top of the tree for me. Unsurprisingly, this is the only Minutemen record I own – after all, with 45 songs of unimpeachable quality which are still evolving with each new listen, I feel that more Minutemen material would just be overwhelming. I am not claiming that Double Nickels is the perfect record but, for me, its imperfections make it all the more captivating. So do yourselves a favour and get yourselves a copy – you never know when the house may go up in flames!
Rob listened: I loved lots of the bands that learned from Minutemen, but it’s only in the last year or so that i’ve finally caught up with ‘Double Nickels’ and realised just how rich and influential this source material was. When I was living my life to the taut rhythms of Fugazi and NoMeansNo and Mudhoney and Nirvana and Sebadoh there were other bands, other names that hung in the background, just a little before my bands, just a little out of reach. Of those, I did go back for Husker Du but others, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, The Replacements, Black Flag, were left behind. Nowadays that just wouldn’t be possible but back then you had to know someone who could lend or tape you stuff, or to take a chance on a name half=remembered from an interview in an old edition of Sounds.
Now, when I finally get there, finally realise just how heavily the bloodlines of the records I did fall in love with at the time flow directly down from the spiky, lurching, free-ranging, tight, joyful, unafraid, funny, intoxicating, herky-jerky jumble of a record, it’s like one of those dreams where you find a record shop you never knew existed which stocks racks full of records you never knew existed by all your favourite artists.
It’s good, in other words. I think it’s really good.
Nick listened: I’m just gonna echo Rob – although this was massive and difficult to consume, it was also excellent and clearly very influential, albeit to a slightly different school of bands for me as for Rob; I certainly heard Fugazi’s DNA being formed here, but I also heard a lot of the Dismemberment Plan. Really enjoyable.
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