Envelopes. Paper clips. Photocopies and stamps. Tiny scraps of paper with hastily-scrawled numbers on them. Waiting on an uncomfortable chair in a large white room for what seems like at least an hour but then looking at the watch and oh man it’s only been about 10 minutes. That joyful moment when it’s your turn to actually talk to someone… who then inevitably gives you a stamp and redirects you to another similarly large white room. For more waiting.
If you’re living in a foreign country for an extended period of time (like I am) you’re probably going to have to do your share of tedious, bureaucratic office-hopping–a dehumanizing ordeal where you go from branch to branch, authority to authority, department to department gathering paperwork like some sort of sick, demented scavenger hunt. And for all the astoundingly petty displays of beadledom, for all the money spent or time wasted, the one thing that really drives me mad is the interminable waiting. Waiting to get a document signed, waiting to get my name called by some office clerk, waiting to see my number on that big digital scoreboard from hell.
I recently had to go through the horrible ordeal of getting my Argentinean residency renewed, which altogether took about three whole days of my life. It would’ve been excruciatingly tedious if I hadn’t had my trusty little iPod with me. These are 5 albums that were with me when I needed them, keeping me focused, encouraged and… well, sane.
Crooked Fingers- “Red Devil Dawn”
Eric Bachmann’s crowning achievement. Now, I love Archers of Loaf as much as anybody– you can’t beat Icky Mettle for that energetic, pseudo-angsty, just-indie-enough 90s mall-rock sound (granted calling them “mall-rock” might be a tad unfair but I will always associate them with the Mallrats soundtrack, so take it up with Pavlov), but Crooked Fingers– and, specifically, their third album– has just the right combination of hook-laden pop choruses, folksy instrumentation and lyrics just oblique enough to sound brainy, not pretentious. This is a perfect early-morning album, and most of my horrible paperwork had to be done very early in the morning.
Bomb the Music Industry!- “Adults!!!: Smart!!! Shithammered!!! And Excited by Nothing!!!!!!!”
A seven (well, six and a half, really) song blast of snarky, self-aware and self-deprecating ska/punk (without sounding like any of the shitty ska/punk bands you know), this sprightly and thoroughly entertaining piece of work is, at just over 21 minutes, short enough to be digested in its entirety while waiting for a turn. It’s also a great album to get your fighting spirits up, which you probably need if the turn you’re waiting for is to beg and grovel for permission to stay in the country for a little while longer. Not that I’d ever do that. I’m a valuable and respectable contributor to Argentine society. Why would I have to justify myself? Get out of here with your silly accusations and your judging eyes.
Shugo Tokumaru- “Exit”
A brilliant companion to the sound of two dozen computer keyboards tapping away in the background, and that strong coffee smell that somehow permeates every corner of the Immigrations office in Buenos Aires– this album is an absolutely beautiful piece of art. Every song a 50-track marvel of tiny, subtly melodic and deliciously rhythmic touches. This album is wistful, uplifting and bizarre all at once, and helped me through the most intimidating of my paperwork dalliances– obtaining my criminal background check. Oyy.
Bill Frisell- “History, Mystery”
Bill Frisell is one of the last living jazz guitar geniuses, and this sprawling double album of silent-film weirdness is an exciting, invigorating piece of work. It really is remarkable that he’s still producing music as vital and exciting nearly 40 years into a career that has led him through paths as wild as John Zorn’s Naked City and as subdued as his Nashville album. An incredible player with an exceptional songwriting gift and a beautiful ear for orchestrated melody, this particular album finds him rediscovering his classic chamber-jazz sound and doing something new and inspiring in every track. The fact that it’s so long also ensures you’ll be able to take your headphones off at any time, talk to the office jockey for as long as it takes, then go back to listening to some absolutely beautiful music without ever hitting pause. He’s still there, waiting. Like a lover. Wait… what?
The Weakerthans- “Reconstruction Site”
John K Samson is probably indie rock’s best lyricist. I know it, he knows it… everybody knows it. But more than his lyrics, what makes this album such a great companion to bureaucratic paperwork is the beautiful melodies in these songs, their Epitaph debut and third album overall. A collection of uplifting, slide-guitar lullabies and rockers, The Weakerthans find the humanity in the stale and insipid,in the small corners and office appliances, in a letter of resignation of a cat to its owner. This is a fantastic record, one that’s been with me for many years and one that’s incredibly comforting. And yeah, okay, it also contains lyrics like “pulled along in the tender grip of watches and ellipses/ small request: can we please turn around?”. Well… can we?