[mix tape] Marten Reed from Questionable Content Shares Some Sad Songs

September 11, 2009

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After undergraduate and graduate studies and years of on-the-job training, I’m more or less an expert in online procrastination and its hierarchy.  From what I’ve gathered, anyone who spends enough time behind a computer – e.g. those working a desk job or enrolled at a university – maintains a list in their head of 5-10 websites that they check on a almost-daily basis, not counting Google or Wikipedia.

Usually, the list starts with the same FAB three – Facebook, any news source (e.g. CNN, Yahoo, Fox News), and bank balance.  However, a person – we’ll say a “hypothetical” female – can only check Facebook, CNN, ESPN, or the balance in her bank account so many times before she faces the sad realization that she’s devouring much quicker than they’re refreshing.

This accounts for the high traffic volume of the next set of sites, which I’ve grouped together as “the entertainers.”  After the depression-inducing content that the FAB sites offer – pictures of exes, losing sports scores, the realities of unemployment – it’s imperative that web-surfers add sites like YouTube, Hulu, The Onion, College Humor, Gawker, and/or Dooce to their litany.  Those who prefer to stick with news sites will browse over to Slate, HuffPo, or the Drudge Report, politicos = Instapundit, Daily Kos, die-hard sports fans = nfl.com or its European ilk, etc.  While the sites on the list may range across demographics, their names will be familiar to the population at large – perhaps due to their Alexa or Technorati rankings – and their positive effects on their segment’s spirit and well-being, if not IQ, remain consistent.

After visiting one or two of their favorite, entertaining sites, many responsible people choose to return to their boring conference calls or their o-chem lab reports.  If they’ve already read TMZ, they find no need to read Perez Hilton.  They figure the faster they complete their work on the computer, the faster they can go outside and chase after butterflies or something.  Too bad they’ll miss out on gems like McSweeney’s and Jerks in Your Area.

Without trying to get anyone fired from work or cause anyone to fail one of their courses this fall, let me make one, small suggestion for everyone’s must-read sites: If your list of 5, 10, 25 must-read sites does not already include a web comic, find one that you like and add it to your rotation.


Updated anywhere from one to seven times per week, web comics provide a few minutes respite from whatever responsibilities you may have by offering byte-sized portions of illustrated, story development.  As opposed to most websites, especially blogs where news and fact or opinions on news and facts reign supreme, web comics work the imagination muscle by bringing fiction to the computer-screen.  (More posts about web comics and their relationship to blogging/journalism to come!  Interesting read here.)  Trust me.  The extra 10-15 minutes you spend online each week will add up to a lot of pleasure.  No excuses either.  There are web comics from every thinkable genre with vastly different styles out there.  I’m sure with a little digging you’ll find something you like.

…Which is all a very long way to explain how I got to know Marten Reed during my best years of web-crawling/most intense years of studying (a.k.a. law school).

Marten, the kind, gentle soul that he is, is the lead character from Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques.  Wikipedia classifies QC as a “slice-of-life” web comic.  Because I have no idea what “slice-of-life” comic actually means, I’ve included a reference for the uninitiated.

You’ll (probably) like QC, if you like…

…websites like Stereogum, Pop Candy, io9, and/or have a love/hate relationship with Pitchfork;

…graphic novels/comics written by Jeffrey Brown, Craig Thompson, or published by Vertigo;

…movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Rushmore, or I Heart Huckabees;

…sustenance like coffee, whiskey, or pancakes;

…books like Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, or A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius;

…shows like the Guild (also available for streaming), Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog (Hulu), Dead Like Me, Small Wonder, or Veronica Mars;

…clothes from Urban Outfitters, thrift stores, American Apparel, or QC merch store (NOT Hot Topic).

In other words, if you’re a hipster-hating-hipster who appreciates a good poop joke and/or a twenty-something with a penchant for booze and pop culture and a cynicism towards all sub-cultures (goths! emo kids! and surfers! oh my!), you’ll probably enjoy Questionable Content.

Sometime this weekend, QC virgins and experienced readers alike should click over to the first panel and start reading.  Not only can you see how QC has evolved since 2003 but because Jeph includes short notes underneath most of the episodes, you really get insight into his writing/artistic process and publishing/making a living producing something you love on the web.  (For the truly hardcore, you can also read Jeph’s LiveJournal.)

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Jeph has always shared his music recommendations with readers and hinted at Marten’s “superior-than-thou” good taste.  (I kid.  Honestly, Marten is the nicest indie kid you’ll ever “meet.”)  While we’re looking forward to getting proved wrong about this in the comments, nonpretentious snagged an exclusive, one-of-a-kind mix-tape from Deathmøle‘s lead guitarist himself (if you’ve never given Deathmøle a listen, here are some tracks for download).  Without further ado, a mix by your favorite make-believe friend and mine, Marten Reed…

The Great Salt Lake -Juno

So this first song is by Juno who were an excellent band that never got a TON of recognition but had some solid albums (each marred by a single terrible track). This is probably my favorite song of theirs because it’s just super-bummed out and introverted and has that great reverby guitar interplay going on that Juno were so good at. This is what every depressed post-college dude wishes his internal monologue sounded like. The bit at the very end where his voice kind of breaks is pretty killer.

Take Me Somewhere Nice -Mogwai

Now, most people who have listened to Mogwai will be all “oh man Mogwai Fear Satan is their best song EVER!” But REAL Mogwai fans know that song was basically an exercise in dynamics and a blueprint for the even better songs they would write in the future. Also as much as I love Mogwai’s super-loud rocky stuff, it’s their quieter, sad songs like
this one that really stick with me. I think this is the best thing they’ve ever written. So richly mixed, perfect balance of guitars, super great quiet vocals…man. Man I am
getting bummed-out and blissed-out just listening to this. I’ll get back to you when the song’s over.

How Near How Far -…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead

This album was really honestly pretty overhyped, and it’s sad to see how kind of bad Trail of Dead have become since, but god damn if this isn’t one of my favorite songs.
Totally great guitar parts, awesome drumming, and the vocals and lyrics just completely catch in my throat. The part around 3:00 when the harmonized vocals fade in gradually
and the music just builds and builds and builds is so good.

Still Light -The Knife

Oh man people we are getting into the serious hardcore sad stuff now. It is really hard to do a song about attempted suicide and actually pull it off without being super callous
or pretentious, and this song just NAILS it. Like, even if I wanted to write a song about trying to kill yourself, I wouldn’t, because I know this song exists.

Five Hours Later -Castor

I will be so surprised if anybody even remembers Castor, I mean they were really just part of the mid-90s Champaign, IL scene that Hum and Seam came from but they never got
super popular and didn’t even stay together that long! But this song is a really great example of the kind of proto-emo mathy rock they did. Like a ballsier Sunny Day Real Estate
with crazier vocals. The lyrics are exactly like that one breakup you had- you know the one. Everybody’s got one at some point, and the sad fact is if it hasn’t happened to you
yet it will eventually. And then you’ll dig up this song and it’ll make sense and give you something to soundtrack your bein’ sad. Jeez, this playlist is kind of bumming me
out for real now as I write about it.

No Joy In Mudville -Death Cab For Cutie

I could probably have picked any song off of We Have The Facts and it’d have worked since it is basically (as far as I can tell) a concept album about going to the wedding of an
ex you still have Feelings about. So it dovetails pretty nicely I think with that Castor song you just heard, and I tried pretty hard to make the sequencing of this thing
make sense from a musical standpoint. But anyway this is probably the saddest song on that album, and it’s also the one with the fanciest lyric-work. I wish Death Cab had stayed with this kind of sound, they really never topped this album with anything they’ve done since. Dang the part where the ride cymbal kicks in just came on, and every time that happens it makes my skin tingle.

They Move On Tracks of Never-Ending Light -This Will Destroy You

This Will Destroy You come from the Explosions in the Sky school of post-rock, but they have richer guitar tones and more variety and really tastefully sequenced electronics
too. It’s kind of lame to try to put specific images or meanings to instrumental music but the vibe I’ve always gotten from this song is lying half-awake in the grey light around
five in the morning on a cloudy day, and either you’re alone and you’re okay with that, or you’ve got a lady (or dude) by your side, but you’re still alone in your head at that particular moment, and that’s okay too. Everybody needs some alone time.

(one time I tried actually playing this song at five AM but Dora got mad because she was trying to sleep, so use caution if you plan to test out my sound-theory)

Apollo -Hum

Okay this song actually has a specific meaning which you will know if you are as into Hum as I am. Basically this song is about how Matt (the singer) couldn’t really do the
touring band thing anymore because of conflict with his wife and family and stuff. He’s the astronaut going out into space when his lady wants him to stay. It’s pretty poignant
since this is on Hum’s last album- basically saying “look guys I know you like my band but this has to end, I can’t do this anymore.” When I saw them live Matt wasn’t quite hitting the notes exactly on key and that just made it that much sadder to listen to.

Autopilot- Seam

I guess one of the sub-themes of this mix is “underrated bands from the mid-90s” because Seam are seriously in my opinion the most underrated band of that decade. They put
out three albums of absolutely fantastic indie rock before sort of dissolving. This particular song is about having a panic attack as I understand the lyrics, and the whole song
just conveys this feeling of total defeat, like you just can’t handle what’s in front of you and you’ve got to leave. Most of their stuff doesn’t sound like this, but that makes this song
stand out that much more.

Home- Low

Oh god now we have reached the point of total desolation. Secret Name is probably Low’s best album ever, and this song is just the absolute pit of slowcore despair. Dude isn’t even really PLAYING his bass, he’s just whacking the strings and then letting it feed back, and then Alan Sparhawk comes in singing about how “everybody wants to go home, even when they’re old, even when they’re small” and you’re like oh shit, this is it, everything is over. You can’t go home, and this song knows that, and knows you know that, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

In Mind- Do Make Say Think

Okay so those last few songs especially were such downers I felt the need to close things on an up note, even though the up note is still a song about dying. Do Make Say Think have gradually morphed from Tortoise into Broken Social Scene in terms of sound over the years, although they’ve always been more pastoral than either band. This song is one of those “peaceful acceptance of mortality, seriously chill out and enjoy the sunshine while you’re above ground ’cause you won’t be able to when you’re in a pine box” kind of songs.

Anyway that is my mix, now that I have thoroughly bored you with my paragraphs and bummed you out with the songs I have chosen you probably hate me. I’m sorry! I listen to sad music!


http://nonpretentious.com publishes mix tapes every Wednesday in its [mix tapes] column. Our goal is to create a digital version of trading mixes, sharing music, etc. AND also publicize the work of “common people” (i.e. not superstar celebs but celebs nonetheless) who are doing cool things around the globe.
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11 Responses to “ [mix tape] Marten Reed from Questionable Content Shares Some Sad Songs ”

  1. Charlie Thomas on September 11, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    I’ve been reading QC addictively for about two years. Best webcomic EVER!!!

  2. Angus Jung on September 11, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Not a huge fan of the comic but I love the mix!

  3. Sheila on September 12, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Love the comic =) Love some of the songs on the playlist, the rest I’ve never heard and look forward to listening to!

    I also got some good book recommendations!


  4. and that's why she's not allowed on the internet anymore on September 12, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    I have an unhealthy love for QC.
    The idea of Marten’s mix-tape made my heart go all a twitter from the start, and once I started reading it I was hooked. The fact that you included Hum in the mix makes me forever yours… whether you like it or not. I am a rabid Hum fan even now, after all these years they remain excruciatingly relevant to my life.
    It has come to pass that I may now have an unhealthy love for Nonpretentious as well.

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    Interesting to see many of the web page stories and occurrences, ideally we are going to get some new threads that will encourage more and more people to lead.

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