Friday, July 30, 2004

Like most bloggers, I check my referrers whenever I'm feeling bored or lonely.  Surprisingly, I don't get many of those weird google searches that make you wonder about the state of the world and its sexual proclivities.

What I do get all the time are 1) searches for Phoebe Summersquash and 2) searches for US Maple's vinyl-only track Favors Are Weird

I can't give you people Phoebe Summersquash, and I really don't understand why hardly a day goes by without someone googling her.  Yes, she's cute as a button (ok, that's not the best photo she ever took).  Yes, girl drummers are cool.   Yes, "Summersquash" is a weird name.  Yes, she played on that great Mascott album that came out last year.  But really...couldn't we just let a day go by without worrying about her?  I'm sure she's fine.

On the other hand, it was a little passive/aggresive of me to post Favors Are Weird way back when as an AAC file, so today here it is in mp3.  It's not the best song from their slightly disappointing most-recent album Purple On Time, but it's pretty good. 

I want to do an "All about US Maple" day sometime, so I'm not going to go into much detail.  The main thing that's really important to know about them is that they sound that way on purpose:  you go to see them live and it sounds just like the record.  Another thing that's probably worth considering:  it's my personal theory that people put down Al Johnson's singing style reflexively, without really thinking about it.  When you consider that this is a band that's trying to write songs without verses, choruses, solos, bridges, tunes, steady beats, or any of the other things that usually go into making a non-improvised song, it makes perfect sense that the singer would eschew talking and singing and shouting.  I give him credit for finding an alternative, and once you get used to it it kind of seems inevitable.

Here's the vinyl-only track Found A Place To Have My Kittens from their first album...the one that comes in the metal sleeve and sells for a fair amount on eBay.

BTW, their video for Stuck (from their first single) is still up here.  It's in Quicktime and takes a short while to load, and the picture is kind of small, but it's a pretty cool video and shows off the band's strange and smarmy affect.  It's probably worth mentioning that US Maple became much less coherent after their first single and album, so don't be put-off by the relative normalcy of the song (if it strikes you as disjointed and annoying, it's possible that you may not enjoy later US Maple).

If you decide to investigate them further, the best place to start is probably Talker, though Acre Thrills wouldn't be bad either.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Short post today...

Nightblooms, Nightblooms, sis boom blah blah blah...I've written about them a bunch.  I've also done a post or two on Safe Home, which is what former Nightblooms Esther Sprikkelman and Harry Otten are up to these days.  "Low profile" doesn't begin to describe Safe Home.

For the few who are still following this story, they've posted streaming files of five songs from their forthcoming album here.  Forthcoming when, where and how?  Who can say?

I'll be blunt:  I miss the days when they were loud and shoegazy or loud and glam-poppy.  But I do love Esther's breathy, lispy voice, and the new material is nice to listen to when you're in a mellow mood.  I still dream of, say, a Safe Home/Magic Dirt collaboration, but you take what you get in this world.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The great blog The Suburbs Are Killing Us (link is to the left of this page) has a song by Chumbawamba up called "Everything You Know Is Wrong" which reminds me that back when I wrote about Christmas (the band) I never posted a song of theirs called Everything You Know Is Wrong which comes from their somewhat loopy and great debut In Excelsior Dayglo.  Compare and contrast!

One feature that I really wanted to run, but won't be doing, was to post some issues of Gerard Cosloy's old Conflict zine.  For those who don't know, he's one of the guys who founded Matador Records (you know, the label that put out the Dizzee Rascal CD in the US).  Way before that, though, he was one of the founding fathers of a certain ultra-sarcastic/insider approach to writing about independant music with Conflict which he wrote/published/distributed.  If you search the internet you may be surprised to see how little of it turns up:  there's the odd excerpt here and there, but for the most part it's nowhere to be found, which is kind of surprising.  Now I know why. 

I had asked him for permission to reprint some issues, but he (very nicely) wouldn't ok it.  His reasons seemed good (basically he doesn't stand behind some of the material and he doesn't want someone else to screw up his work by putting it in a dumb context, etc.).  He mentioned that he might republish them someday in his blog or elsewhere, but that he doesn't plan to for now.

I'm kind of sad about that.  Conflict can be a little bit much sometime (when I said "sarcasm" I wasn't kidding, and some of his worship of GG Allin, etc. didn't age well) but it's an absolute treasure trove of info about 80's music and there's a lot in it that has never made it to the internet.   Copies show up on eBay from time to time (usually for a few bucks) and it's well worth getting ahold of them if you have any interest in non-major-label music from the days before everyone loved alternative.

That was a long story without much of a point, but I thought I'd talk about that because one of the bands that he hyped the hell out of in Conflict (and on his record labels) was...Christmas.  Now you know.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

No mp3 today, but I have added three blogs to my list and I thought I'd explain why.

Spoilt Victorian Child has assumed the position (vacated by the apparently defunct Classical Gasp) of blog that almost always posts tracks that I like instantly.  If you don't have the Jesus and Mary Chain's version of Vegetable Man, I'd hustle on over there.  He's also had an uncanny knack lately of posting original versions of songs that I only knew via covers.  He even managed to post a Talking Heads song that I like (a neat live guitar rave-up Psycho Killer), and that is some major acheivment!

Six Eyes deserves my gratitude for revealing that some of those 7" only Sugarplastic tracks are available for download on their record label's website.  The place to find them is here, and they're pretty good.  I'm regretting not having subscribed to the series.  (Quick reminder:  Sugarplastic are in XTC territory and my original post on them is here.)

An Idiot's Guide To Dreaming seems to focus on accesible weirdness:  weird stuff that's actually worth checking out.  Go there for Shaggs, Merzbow, and lord knows what's to come.  His list of current favorite albums includes Comus, Spacemen 3, Momus and Tallulah Gosh.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Hi, I'm back.  No design changes.  No format changes.  The only real difference is that I'm going to give up pretending that I'm a twenty-something year old with time to post every day.  From now on, this is going to be one of those annoyingly sporadic blogs.  I'm thinking one/two posts a week.  We'll see.

It's tempting to re-start with something dramatic, but instead I'm going to go with Kevin Tihista.  I've long believed that people don't buy music by bands/artists with unpronounceable names, so the first order of business is that "Tihista" is pronounced to rhyme with "siesta" as in "Tee-esta."  I now know that it's a Basque name.  The Basque language is a weird language that's not related to much of anything, so it makes sense that the pronunciation is so strange.

Prior to his solo career, he was involved with various Chicago acts, including Veruca Salt and Tobin Sprout, but no one (in the grand scheme of things) paid any attention to him until his major label debut record, Don't Breath A Word.  It came out of left field in 2001 on a subsidiary of Atlantic and a surprising number of people missed it at the time, though most reviews were good-to-great.  I was lucky enough to hear it in a record store and snapped it up on the spot.  Fans of orchestral pop (I'm one) and Elliot Smith should have been elated, but the major label thing didn't work out, the album turned into one of those used-bin fillers, and I was fairly sure that Kevin Tihista would take his place beside Yum Yum in the pantheon of unexpected orchestral pop from Chicago that fails on a major label.  (Ok, Kevin is better than Yum Yum who I'll talk about shortly).  From the first album, here's  Sucker.

Luckily, the nice people at Parasol rescued him, rereleased Don't Breath A Word, and then put out a second album called Judo which has a very similar feel:  as I understand it, the tracks for the two albums were all recorded around the same time and only divided up later.  For a while Kevin had a website at and was posting unreleased tracks and so on, but it abruptly vanished.  After several bouts of unsuccessful googling, I assumed that I'd heard the last of him.

Once a month or so, I do a check-up on defunct bands that I'm still curious about.  I google "Dustdevils" and "Daughters of Albion" and so on to see if there are any new developments.   Happily, the most recent time I did this, I learned that Kevin had a new album that came out this month.  It's called Wake Up Captain, and I'm happy to say that it's another winner.

It'd be easy to miss in a record store.  It looks like this:

and, while nobody asked me, I'd say that, if you have a difficult name and a low profile, it might be wise to put a little more thought into the promotional potential of your artwork.  I actually asked him about this and, to paraphrase, he's not exactly thrilled with the CD booklet and it's not really his fault.  In case you're wondering if I've altered the colors or anything:  no, the text is every bit as hard to read in real life.  When you go to buy this, better to just ask for "the CD with a capsizing ship on the cover."

The main new development is more imaginative production that moves beyond the standard orchestral pop strings 'n' horns.  On Family Curse (which reminds me a bit of blur's Clover Over Dover) there's even some noisy swirly guitar at the end.  I honestly like just about everything on the album, so the second song isn't chosen as a highlight, but rather for variety.  Here's Oh, which was one of the songs that Kevin said he liked best (be aware that the tempo of this song picks up after about a minute).  I'm sensing more assurance in both the performances and the production on the new material, compared with his earlier albums.  While his first two records sounded like they were inspired by some classic 70's pop, Wake Up Captain comes close to sounding just plain classic.

I had emailed Kevin some questions and he responded really quickly and was extremely nice:

Is "Kevin Tihista's Red Terror" a band yet, or are Ellis and Tom Clark still officially just helpers on the album.  Do they play with you live?
I do have a live band, although I have played with Ellis and Tom a couple of times. Mainly it's just me and Ellis in his basement studio playing the instruments to a click track.  Then Tom will come in and lay down the drums and then we just hire whatever strings or horns that we need.

Are any of your additional musicians involved in anything of note? 
Yes they are.  Two of the guys, Steve and Gary Vermillion (who are identical twins) have a new band called "Pheasant."  They were also in a band called "Front of Truck."  Randy Diderich is in a band called "Sunday Runners."  He was also in the band "Front of Truck."  We have all been in Tobin Sprout's (Guided By Voices) band.  They still play with him, but I don't.

The website doesn't seem to exist anymore (I had been checking it regularly...when it vanished I assumed you'd left the music biz, so the new album was a great surprise).  I see that it's mentioned in the new album's liner notes.  Is a website on the way? 
I let my website expire.  It was so out of date and I hated the way it looked. A new one is in the works.

Any touring plans?  I've read that you're not very comfortable with live performances:  true, false, working on it?  Coming to the east coast anytime?
The only touring plan I have so far is that I am probably going to England sometime between now and the end of September to do some shows.  Yes, it is true about the stage fright thing but only about 75% of the time.  I have been known to walk out of classrooms if ever called on to read, but once I am up there I am fine. It's just getting up there that's hard (sometimes harder than others).

It's tempting to compare your music to Elliot Smith's, since he's the person who readers are most likely to know who worked similar territory.  Is there anyone you prefer to be compared to?  Eric Matthews?  Older orch-pop bands like The Millennium, etc.?  Yum Yum?  (ok, don't get mad about that last one, but is there orchestral pop running through the veins of Chicago?).    
The only Elliot Smith song I had ever heard was called "Miss Misery" which I liked.  When my first record came out, every interview or article on me had his name in it, so I steered clear of his music because I just didn't want to know how similar we were and I didn't want to be influenced at all by his music.  Like thinking "I said that," or "I wish I had said this."  So I made sure not to listen.  It was only after he died that Ellis played a record for me, and to be honest I just didn't hear that big a resemblance.  The only thing I think we had in common is that we are both crybabys.  I felt he was a far better songwriter than I was.  It made all the comparisons very flattering, to say the least.  But, I still refuse to listen.  The only Eric Mathews I know is the stuff he did in a band called "Cardinal" (a side project with Richard Davies of "The Moles") which has amazing arrangements and mind blowing harmonies.  Please get this record (they only made one).  I have never heard of The Millennium, but will check it out.  Although I know Chris Holmes I have never heard "Yum Yum."  
I also hear some attempts to put the Beach Boys' sound into a less-whimpy context (as on the song Sweet) which I like a lot.
I can't stand the Beach Boys.  It's not that I haven't tried:  I have bought and sold "Pet Sounds" three times.  I think we just happen to like the same instruments.  
The melody on Family Curse actually sounds a bit like a blur track (from Parklife) called Clover Over Dover and the song ends with a guitar rave up that Graham Coxon probably wouldn't have objected to...anything to that or just one of those things?
I just listened to "Clover Over Dover" by "blur" to make sure i didn't rip them off.  I think I am pretty safe on that one (I won't tell them if you don't). 
In general, you seem to branching out a little bit on this album.  Is this because the material is new, or are these older songs being produced differently?  Both?  Neither?
Some of the new record is old stuff.   "It's Over" and "Yummy" were from the "Don't Breath A Word" /"Judo" sessions.   I have a pretty big stockpile of songs that I can pick from.  The next record [yay!] will probably have two or three songs from those sessions or this last one, from which I still have six or seven songs to choose.  Some songs I put on the waiting list.

You can buy Wake Up Captain directly from Parasol (I've ordered from them often in the past and they're great to deal with) and there are more sound samples on their site.  The more I think about it, the more I wish I'd asked Kevin if he likes Harry Nilsson, as a lot of the material on the album reminds me of that too.  Someday we'll find out who his influences are (besides Cardinal -- btw, he's right-on about that album being wonderful).

Friday, July 23, 2004

Hi.  I have a new post coming on Monday, but I thought I'd warm up with a link.  It's pretty much only for the converted.

I've posted about the Belgian band Thou several times before.  Lately it's looking like they won't be touring the US anytime soon (their profile here in the States is pretty darn low) so I was happy to find four videos from a live show.  And boy did I have to wade through a lot of non-English sites to find them...I deserve a medal!  None of these are likely to blow anyone away, but it was interesting to me to see Thou performing songs from their 2004 album I Like Girls In Russia, and it'll probably interest all ten of their other fans in America.  So go here.  (I recommend Roam as the best choice if you only have time to watch one.)  I wouldn't call their stage presence "electrifying" but you take what you get...

Monday, July 12, 2004

Wow, so I stop posting and my hits go way up. Totally perplexing until I found out about the USA Today/Metafilter/etc. thing. Having thought about it, I realize that the main problem was trying to keep up those daily posts, which is a real killer for those of us not in our twenties. I'm busy researching a few pet projects and now the plan is to return in August. Just not as a daily. See you in a few weeks.

Friday, July 02, 2004

[This blog ground to a halt on June 30, 2004. For the last two days of this week, I'm rerunning old posts. I decided to end with some of the rarer albums I covered. That's kind of contrary to the original intention of the blog (which was to point out overlooked albums that aren't rare) but c'est la vie. In the grand scheme of things, nothing I've covered is particularly rare. Today's column originally ran on March 10, 2004. I've added a couple of mp3s that I didn't have room to host the first time around.]

I've given a lot of thought to trying to figure out how best to explain Kim Fowley, but in the end I realize that it's just beyond the scope of this blog. And when I think about it, he was just a name to me when I first bought his album Sunset Boulevard (as a cut-out from the Vassar College bookstore...the tentacles of Kim Fowley extend everywhere) and that didn't stop me from realizing he was something special. I guess the important thing to keep in mind is that "special" doesn't always equal "good," but at the same time, it's overly simplistic to assume (as the Allmusic reviewer of Sunset Boulevard does) that Kim's appeal lies solely in his weirdness. In a way, I like to imagine that if Lou Reed had never formed the Velvet Underground, but had instead remained at Pickwick as a staff songwriter (and therefore never decided that he was an Artist) he might have produced albums something like Kim's solo records (assuming that his bosses let him do whatever he wanted). Oh, you'd also have to invert Lou's proportion of talent/bullshit, though in recent years Lou seems to be taking care of that himself.

I have a relative who actually worked with Kim Fowley in the seventies, and the owner of the dearly departed Holy Cow record store was a friend of Kim's as well. Despite this, I don't have any good stories about Kim Fowley. The response I usually got to my questions was an eye-roll and something to the effect that Kim was an "interesting/weird guy." I get the impression that he seems sort of surreal to the people who've met him, and that when they try to explain him in the light of day, they feel like they're trying to explain a dream that they had. His web site is here, and it does a good job of 1. showing the scope of his involvement in the music industry over the past four-plus decades and 2. demonstrating what an inveterate name dropper and self-promoter he is.

Enough introduction. Most of the Kim Fowley solo albums that are currently available on CD are interesting for their crass and exploitative nature, with the occasional good song seeming more like an accident than anything else. But clearly you can't stay in the music business for four decades without some talent, however strange and twisted that talent may be. International Heroes came out in 1973 and it's by far Kim's most normal (and competent) solo album. Some of this is probably owing to his collaborators (I'm especially curious about Kerry Scott, who co-wrote some of the best songs). Some of this is probably due to the fact that Kim mostly eschews his habit of singing in a funny/creepy/"rock-and-roll" voice, and just sings like himself (which basically sounds like someone trying to imitate Iggy Pop trying to imitate Bob Dylan, or vice versa). Here's Kim's original version of International Heroes, a reasonably inspired homage to All The Young Dudes that was later covered by some remnants of Mott The Hoople.

The second song on the record, E.S.P. Reader, actually manages to be pretty -- something that it's almost impossible to believe Kim to be capable of. And here's the last song on the album, Dancing All Night, which is a really great glam-rocking song with fantastic female backing vocals. There's really only one song on the whole record that displays Kim's usual tendencies: So Good, Wish You Would features Kim on free-form grunts, enlivening an otherwise relatively normal pre-disco ode to a "woman" who's "got the groove" 'cause she's a "sister that has to move." (I wouldn't want my praise for this album to be construed as a claim that it's bullshit free). [I have room to host the song now. Hurrah! - MB 7/2/04]

I've read that this record was a big influence on David Bowie in his glam period, but I'm not sure that that makes sense chronologically. Certainly Bowie didn't take any sartorial advice from Kim Fowley: the photo on the back of the album is a really funny shot of Kim wearing a T-shirt that says "Space Age," platform shoes, blue hip-huggers and a fur coat, and looking like someone who was given five minutes in the Salvation Army to throw together a "glam-rock" costume. When you think about what Kim might have done with the concept of a space-age-moondream type record, it's even more amazing that International Heroes is as good as it is. International Heroes isn't available on CD, but you should be able to find a copy of the record for $15-$20 at the most. Honestly I'm not sure I'd want to see this on CD... some records are meant to be records. Also, the cover face-shot of Kim wearing make-up deserves to be as large as possible.

[Before I settled for the strained metaphor of "Mystical Beast," this blog came within a mouse's whisker of being named Teenage Death Girl, in homage to one of my favorite Kim Fowley songs. Here's the track, which originally appeared on a great Fowley album called Sunset Boulevard.]

[You're still here. Ok, today is a Friday and long-time readers know what that means. Here's a teaser from a No Wave Friday that I planned to run upon my return. The song is called Let's Compromise. I'll give more Information when/if I write the piece, but let's just say that you'd be much more likely to know this if Brian Eno hadn't been brainwashed into deciding that he could only fit four bands onto a certain album documenting a certain music scene. Just so you know, some of the other songs on the tape that this song comes from can really give you a blinding headache.]


Thursday, July 01, 2004

[This blog ground to a halt on June 30, 2004. For the last two days of the week, I'm rerunning old posts. This is a section of a piece that originally ran on February 5, 2004. I've included a few mp3s that I didn't have room for the first time around.]

Given that this blog is getting more hits lately, this is probably the wrong time to focus on Lisa Suckdog, but I noticed this article the other day and figured "now or never." I hope you'll read the article first [I assume that the fact that Lisa Suckdog may not be work-appropriate surfing is self-evident]. God, it's incredible to think back and realize that there was a time when Spin devoted an entire feature to Suckdog related projects. How times change!

Basically, I agree with a lot of what the author of the article has to say. He gets a little dramatic, but that's part of the fun in writing about "bad" albums. The aspect that needs to be emphasized is that there really is something compelling about Drugs Are Nice. If I had to pick a moment that kind of metaphorically describes the experience of letting the album into your life, it would be this segment [now it's the full track - MB 7/1/04] from The Song of the Flying Cats of the Stars. A knock at the door, an introduction and then...

The idea of picking "songs" from Drugs Are Nice is silly since the record (it was also available on CD, but that's really silly) is more of an experience than anything else. I was going to just rip all of side 1 as one big mp3, but then decided that that was being controlling, plus there are some bits from side 2 that I wanted to include. Without further ado, here are Your Dragon (Lisa introduces herself and sings the only thing approaching a normal song on the record), Beasts of the Night Gather Together (there is a bit of a Where The Wild Things Are subtext to this record), Alligators Lurking (normal drugged up trailer trash kids wouldn't have come up with "breathing through their nose") and The Number of the Priest (I now have trouble saying Harrison Ford's name in the correct order thanks to this). I'm leaving out Oh Mighty Pigeon and Ugh Ugh Ugh only for space considerations. Then with side two we get Lisa's artistic statement: Jokes About Women (their ankles...hah hah). Damn, I don't have enough room for her Chaka Khan tribute Being In Love [now I do - MB 7/1/04]...why did I feel the need to rip these at 128k? Also, sadly, I don't have space for the album-closer Brontes In The Attic which is kind of sweet: Lisa and Rachel (coming down, from the sound of things) murmer along to a slowly-running-down music box as rain pitter-patters in the distance.

So what's left to say after that? I hope you'll trust me when I tell you that I genuinely like this album and don't just keep it on hand to torture people with. Like the author of the article, I probably play it a few times a year, but I have a big problem with people who choose their "favorites" based on what iTunes tells them they listened to the most. Some records are too special to play every day. The worst record ever made? Obviously that reviewer has never heard Welcome Interstate Managers.

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