it beats a sharp stick in the eye

From Banta to Battles

November 20, 2020 — Gideon Mayhak

After completing my CD ripping project, I decided it was time to listen to my 264-disc collection all over again. I haven't listened to some of these albums in their entirety for years, and I wanted to revisit some of those less-worn tomes. I figured it might be nice to write a little about them as I go, but don't expect top-quality music journalism or in-depth song analyses.

The madness

I'm going to listen to these albums the way I have them organized on my shelves: alphabetically by artist with albums in the order of their original releases. Artists are alphabetized by last name when a person's name is involved, even if it's also a band name (yes, I put "Ben Folds Five" under "Folds, Ben"; sorry). I also ignore "The", so "The Cars" goes under "Cars, The".

The method

I'll probably be listening to most of these on headphones plugged into my phone. Be assured I've heard them all several times before. Every time I get a new CD, I listen to it at least once on good speakers and then daily in some way for at least a week. It's just my way of really taking it all in and giving all the tracks a fair shake. I've found sometimes that my least favorite song on an album upon first play becomes one of my favorites after I've heard it a few times.

The Bs, part 1

Okay, with all that out of the way: let's talk music. I don't have anything by any artists that start with "A", so the far left end of my first shelf has a couple CDs made in Central Wisconsin.

Banta Bros. & Co. and Larry Banta

These are dear to me because John Banta is a good friend of my dad's (and mine); and while I think I only met Larry once, John's brother left a lasting impression on me. Their music is great; a mix of folk and rock. My dad helped with the recording in John's home studio, and you can see him in one of the pictures in a case insert.

They released one album as brothers, Merchants & Bankers, and one under Larry's name, Welcome to My Kitchen. If I recall correctly, they were recorded and released about the same time (they both show a 2009 copyright). John and Larry are both competent songwriters, but Larry's lyrics really shine. They're that kind of people whose great talent comes in part from the same reason you may have never heard of them: small-town values and work ethic.

I won't try to wax poetic about it any more than that. If you ever have a chance to listen to these guys, please do. And if you ever need septic service in the Wisconsin Rapids area, look up Goodwin Septic (John's septic cleaning business) and tell him Gideon sent ya.

As something of a footnote: I also want to mention that John is the one who turned me on to Joe Jackson, one of my all-time favorite artists who will feature prominently in the Js, as well as greats like The Kinks (unfortunately, I haven't gotten around to buying any of their CDs yet; I'll work on that).

Barenaked Ladies

I currently have four Barenaked Ladies albums on CD: Gordon, Rock Spectacle, Stunt, and Maroon. You may recognize these as "the hits". I'm sure at least one of these was purchased from a Goodwill.

Not much needs to be said about Barenaked Ladies: I believe they deserved their fame based on their songwriting and musicianship. They also have a knack for producing good albums and not just singles. By this I mean they know how to open and close a record, such as how Stunt opens with the punch of "One Week" and closes with the veritable lullaby of "When You Dream". Listening to one of their albums start-to-finish is rewarding in that way.

I'm not always in the mood, but I've enjoyed them since I was a kid when it was a rare treat to hear the live version of "If I Had $1000000" on the radio. They're a band I grew up with, and some of their biggest hits came along when I was listening to pop radio the most.

Interestingly, I'm pretty sure my copy of Rock Spectacle came from John Banta when he was clearing out some of his CD collection several years ago.


I remember very clearly where I first heard Battles. I was still in college, and I would listen to WWSP 90FM during lunchtime where "Atlas" from the album Mirrored played daily and slowly bored its way into my brain. I had to hear more from this band.

I currently own their first three albums on CD: the aforementioned Mirrored, Gloss Drop, and La Di Da Di. I won't even begin to try to describe their genre, in part because they are so good at defying any kind of definition. Math rock? Mechanical jazz? I have no idea. Sometimes frantic, always interesting. If you like to try new kinds of music or just generally like things that are "different", check them out.

To me, their music is very cinematic. Consider Mirrored's bookend tracks "Race : In" and "Race : Out", or Gloss Drop's opener, "Africastle". They could be the opening and closing credits for a film. Some of this could fit into a Danny Elfman soundtrack; some might be more at home in a horror film. Gloss Drop finds them collaborating with several guest vocalists to great effect, and La Di Da Di has them continuing to experiment with new sounds and production techniques in a purely instrumental outing. All of their albums have superb artwork as well.

My first introduction to them took a few listens to actually enjoy, y'know? That's probably true for most of their output: give it a few listens before you draw any conclusions. There's a lot there to process, and a lot to love.

Come to think of it, they have a fourth album out now. I should get that.

Next time on...

If you peek at my CD collection, you'll have an idea of what's coming next. Keep an eye out for "The Bs, part 2".

"For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it is good, or whether it is evil."

Ecclesiastes 12:14, WEB

Tags: cd-listening, cd-ripping, music