September 8, 2012

#2 House of Wires - You Are Obsolete

September 22nd 1998

I remember the day this record came out. I was fourteen years old and at the time I was playing keyboards for my parents band (I was really cool), a Crumar Performer and Roland Juno-6. We had a gig that night in a church basement or something. I bought the album before soundcheck and after soundcheck I went back to the car and listened to the whole thing from start to finish. It was typical Ohio autumn weather -- cool and crisp and I remember that it suited You Are Obsolete perfectly. There's something very cold about the album; the sounds were sparser than most electronic albums I'd heard by that point. It was less cluttered with sounds and that gave the whole thing a certain space and a distinctly lonely feeling. I'd never heard samples used so elegantly as they were here. There were so many different sounds but they were all so controlled. There are so many amazing songs on this album: Busy, Long Lost, Tree of Knowledge, Latency. But the song that really got me (of course it would be the most romantic of them all by far) was When Words Fall. I know the song wasn't written by House of Wires, but I don't think anyone else could have pulled it off quite like they did. I've actually tracked down a few Optic Rain (original writers of When Words Fall) demos -- they had their charms but they didn't quite get me.

I know Jon Sonnenberg has gone on to record better albums, indeed -- Fireworks by Travelogue is my favorite album of the year, no doubt! But I think You Are Obsolete is a testament to the consistent quality of all his releases throughout his career. You may argue that nostalgia has gotten the better of me (and this album certainly speaks to my nostalgia in a most extreme way!), but surly it can only do so much. More than a decade later I keep going back to this album "time and time again".

Here is an old video of Jon and Rob's pre-House of Wires band, Pivot Clowj:

* I've just been told that in the above video there are some projections of a grandmother dancing on Jon's shirt. It's kind of hard to make out but your imagination can fill in the gaps.


  1. Yes! I love "Obsolete." Don't forget Rob was half of the band ;) I got to see them live back in like 1999, in Alabama of all places. Great live show. They had those silver "space suits" back then, with the encircled H logo. I have the concert on tape somewhere, but I suspect the sound quality isn't great. They opened for Joy Electric (Christiansongs had just come out).

    The Pivot Clowj video is crazy! Looks like it's out in front of someone's house. And look at Jon's crazy hair! It's great.

  2. predictions for #1...
    kraftwerk - computer world or man machine
    embassy - futile crimes
    goodnight star - goodnight star
    joy e - white songbook or old wives tales
    soviet - debut album

    am I close?

  3. Yes, I saw them on that same tour in Akron Ohio. That is also the first night I met Jon. I actually just found a little interview I did with Rob from 1998. Perhaps I'll post it here latter.

    Anonymous fellow: you are close.

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