Pan American (self-titled) and Pole 1

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Album covers for Pan American (Self-Titled) and Pole 1

It’s a beautiful spring afternoon and I’m in the drive-thru at Taco Bell in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. It’s 1998 and I’m thrilled to finally have a Taco Bell in my neighborhood. I’m bored with the stash of CDs in my pickup so I’m flipping through radio stations when a sound I’ve never heard floats into my ears. A lazy beat gently pushes a dubby bassline as a guitar hovers like a cloud of smoke.

I buy Pan American a few hours later. It survives several smash-and-grabs that deplete those CD stashes in my old truck, as well as a few ruthless purges that cull what’s left. It keeps me company through a couple of college degrees, a couple of marriages, a couple of career changes, and one nasty pandemic. It is an old friend.


It’s a cold winter night and I’m in the electronic section at Sound Garden in Baltimore. It’s 2020 and I’m thrilled to still have my favorite record store in the midst of the pandemic. I’m bored with what I’ve been listening to so I’m flipping through titles when I see a box set of the first three Pole albums. I’ve never heard Pole but his latest album was on a few “best of 2020” lists so I blindly try it.

Pole’s first album, 1, came out a few months after the self-titled debut from Pan-American. As I listen to Stefan Betke’s fractured beats for the first time, I’m transported back to that New Jersey Taco Bell where I heard Mark Nelson for the first time. The two albums are different, but not that different. If I had heard 1 as I ate my burritos 23 years ago, it might have been the friend who kept me company on this journey.

I am fortunate to have found so much music throughout my life, but for every album I’ve heard there are dozens I’ve missed. Now that I’ve heard 1, I know it will be with me as I muddle my way through the next 23 years. That means I’ll listen to Pan American a little bit less than I did before: the curse of new things is there’s a little less time for old things. An old girl scout saying comes to mind, something about friends and silver and gold.

I’m not sure which is silver and which is gold, but I’m thrilled to know both Pan American and Pole.

Pan American, Pan American, released March 23, 1998
Pole, 1, released July 27, 1998

“Personal Stories” is a series of posts about artists, albums, concerts, and other experiences that permanently changed our relationships with music.

About Chuck

Chuck is a lifelong music lover. He spent his 20s working as a professional musician before discovering he enjoys listening to music more than playing it. He knows a little bit about most genres, though electronic dance music, rock, and hip-hop are his favorites. Eleven albums/shows that transformed how he sees and hears the world (in order he encountered them): Fleetwood Mac Rumours; Van Halen Fair Warning; The Cure Standing on a Beach; John Coltrane Crescent; De La Soul Three Feet High and Rising; Puccini La Boheme (de los Angeles, Bjorling, Beecham); Everything but the Girl Walking Wounded; Carl Cox, Twilo, NYC, May 2000; Godspeed You! Black Emperor Yanqui U.X.O.; Grateful Dead. Fillmore East, NYC, April 1971; Taylor Swift 1989.

6 thoughts on “Pan American (self-titled) and Pole 1

  1. bobvinyl

    It is kind of a curse. It’s compounded not only by new releases, but new-to-us releases and sometimes even new-to-us genres.

  2. bobvinyl

    I have known you almost as long as you’ve been listening to Pan American. My only question is: Why have you never recommended it before? For such a mellow record, it has soooo much movement.

  3. Chuck Post author

    Wow. That’s a great question, and I have no good answer. I think it’s one of those things that is such a staple in my listening that I just forget about it. It’s like recommending ketchup. Who thinks to recommend ketchup?

  4. bobvinyl

    No one should ever recommend ketchup. That would be like recommending Tool. It makes everything worse.

  5. bobvinyl

    The Pan American record made me think of Thievery Corporation’s Temple of I & I which I love. If I had heard Pan American first, I wonder if Temple of I & I would have been so striking too me. They’re definitely not identical, but they have some sort of common ground that I think I like about both.

  6. Chuck

    I’ve never heard that TC record but I can see how Pan American and Thievery Corp might go hand in hand. TC never grabbed me, I liked the records I heard but I never found enough substance in their music for me to latch onto. Pan American, however, always felt more substantive to me, as if there were layers of depth and mystery woven into its subtle simplicity. To continue with the food metaphors, and one that’s probably more apt, Thievery Corporation always felt like putting ketchup on a sandwich whereas Pan American felt like you were adding a slice of fresh tomato from the garden.

    To your point, though, I heard PA a few years before I heard TC. It’s interesting to think about how the order in which we encounter artists influences how much we like and relate to them.


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