Wednesday, June 30, 2004

 
So this is the last new post for at least the next month or so. Thanks for reading. It's been a fun experience, and I've gotten to know a whole lot more about my CD/record collection than I did before I started. Tomorrow and Friday I'm rerunning a couple of older posts, including that Lisa Suckdog one (I'm really glad someone requested that).

If you have a site that links to me, you might want to delete the link as there isn't going to be any action here for a while. I'm hoping to resume eventually, but it's not a sure thing.

When I started this, I had a list of bands that I wanted to make sure I covered. First, of course, there were the Dustdevils whose Struggling Electric and Chemical remains one of the ultimate used CD bargains (if you buy it give it a lot of time...it's absolutely not a love-on-first-listen CD). Other groups/musicians especially dear to my heart are Cha Cha Cohen, Sammy/Laptop, Magic Dirt, Swans (damn, I never did do much on them), a very specific period of Kim Fowley, Thou, and the Nightblooms.

Looking back, I realize that I never posted my favorite Nightblooms track. It's a long one, but it covers an incredible amount of territory. It's got breathy girl vocals, great melodies (quite a few of them), arena-ready production, guitar solos worthy of Brian May, and a fake ending that's so convincing that it took me years to realize that it was a fake ending. And a surprise ending when it really does come to a stop. Did I mention the talk-box guitar solo? I hope you like Shatterhand. If you do, the album that it comes from is called 24 Days At Catastrofe Cafe and, like that Dustdevils CD, it's a perennial bargain bin gem.

Special thanks to Paula Carino who asked me "So, do you have a blog?" one day last year. Thanks to Tofu Hut, TTIKTDA and Close Your Eyes for their early support, and to The Morning News for the Best Pop/Rock thing.


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

 
No protests, so here's another Band Of Susans track from their final album Here Comes Success. Yesterday's post has the details on Pardon My French. The lyrics are pretty good, including a Rolling Stones referencing line that goes:

I say Keith unroll the girl in the rug, you once were so cool but now you're fucked, when you wake up from this you'll need to look for new drugs

and another one:

We're stalking all the stalkers, our faith replaced our walkers, the Virgin's tears are real or the priest's a fast talker.

I mention this because you don't usually think of lyrics when you think of BoS (you think of slabs of guitar) so they're easily overlooked.

Even if you're not into this kind of music, that multiple-guitar trick at the beginning is really cool...I'd think that it would make any music fan at least laugh in admiration. Hopefully you'll either listen on headphones or in a situation where you get a stereo image.


******************************************

I never got very far with my "flawed songs" project. To recap, I was going to post a slew of great songs that are severely flawed by some defect or other. They're good enough that they should be heard, but the version in your head will always be better than the one on your stereo.

Love As Laughter's #1 USA was going to be a prime example. One single crippling flaw: no bass. The song is a great Stonesy rocker with neat interlocking guitar parts and a killer piano-stomping chorus. But it absolutely, positively, no-questions-about-it fails to kick into the necessary overdrive because the rhythm section is just the drums. Anyone want to see if Steven McDonald can help?

Monday, June 28, 2004

 
Prior to getting into Band Of Susans, I had wanted to post some tracks by a band called Neu and then by a composer named Rhys Chatham in order to establish some context. I wanted to do that because my first experience with BoS involved being told that they sounded like Sonic Youth (they don't) and then being horribly disappointed when I found out that loud guitars + feedback does not equal Thurston & Co. Time and space restraints mean I'm not going to be able to fulfill my evil plan, but if you ever feel like checking out Neu's first album and a box-set of Chatham called An Angel Moves Too Fast To See, it'll probably be worthwhile.

Interestingly, while I was looking around for info on the band I found an essay by lead Susan Robert Poss that's basically devoted to explaining that he had nothing much to do with Glenn Branca (famous guitar composer who was a major influence on Sonic Youth) and everything to do with Rhys Chatham (the other famous composer for guitar ensembles). I sense that this was a sore spot. It actually is important, because Band Of Susans didn't do much in the way of pop songwriting or dissonance, so if you have the wrong expectations you'll be let down.

I know I was. I'd bought most of their albums (a large portion of which is collected on a 2CD set called The Word And The Flesh) and been mostly unimpressed. I never much liked the drum production (I think gated reverb was the problem) or the vocals (too low-key, and occasionally on the goth side) and since the music struck-out on the pop/noise level that I was expecting, I gave up without giving the band enough of a chance. If you listen to BoS as guitar minimalism put into a rock context they make much more sense. There's one other key to BoS: one of the most unusual things about them is that their final album is likely their best.

I know of very few groups that went out with such a bang. On Here Comes Success (great title, in retrospect) they finally get their production just right (the drums and the guitars sound tight and the vocals don't sound bad) and manage to simultaneously focus their songwriting while extending the songs' length (which seems counterintuitive). They also finally manage to produce the guitars so you really can hear all three separate and interlocking parts. You can hear this best on a song called Pardon My French that takes a Rolling Stones riff, breakes it into three, assigns the sections to three separate guitars and then pans the three guitar players at 9:00, 12:00 and 3:00...it sounds really cool on headphones. Unless there are massive protests, I'm going to post that song tomorrow.

The song that's been wowing me lately is called Stone Like A Heart. It starts off with a methodical Bo Diddley-related beat that doesn't let up throughout the entire song, then sets up a pattern of two chords/silence. If you listen closely, you'll notice that the guitars play just about every variation possible on these two chords without ever repeating...I'm pretty sure they didn't just improvise this. The whole thing builds up an amazing amount of tension that finally releases with an arpeggio just as the vocalist sings, "There you'll be," followed by a well-deserved swell of feedback. I find that the more I listen to this, the more I get fascinated by the details. Great, great song.

One thing I'd intended to do was to try to show how production was key to BoS by posting three versions of a song of theirs called Hope Against Hope. It first showed up on their first EP and was marred by thin sound. They remixed it for their first album but added that horrible drum sound that I hate and murked up the guitars. It's sad: Robert Poss produced all of the band's records, so there's no one else to blame. And you can really hear the difference on the one and only CD that he didn't produce: The Peel Sessions. Here's Hope Against Hope from that...I like to imagine that this sounds like the Feelies on steroids and like you've stuck your head into the center of a donut-shaped guitar amplifier. Just as Stone Like A Heart builds up to one chord, this track builds up to one chord change in the middle of the song. Unlike Stone, that moment is followed by a full-on three minute feedback blowout that's utterly amazing. If you liked The Jesus & Mary Chain, you should hear what the pro's can do with a bucketful of feedback and a couple of notes. I highly recommend headphones and volume (but don't hurt your ears) as keys to getting the most out of this.

Not really trivia, but all the cool kids know that Page Hamilton of Helmet was in Band Of Susans before he became a big star. He's playing on this version of Hope Against Hope. Lida Husik's cousing Anne is playing on the other song.


Saturday, June 26, 2004

 
At the end of June I'm going to be taking a fairly long break. If there are any past posts that anyone would like to see re-posted(because you missed them while the mp3s were available) feel free to email me. If any days get a significant number of requests (more than 2), I'll put them up on Thursday and Friday.

This message will run each weekend (until I get sick of it). I thought it would be nice to explain how things work here, but I couldn't find an aesthetic way to work it into the format of the page.

Mystical Beast usually posts 2-3 mp3's a day, although when I find a worthwhile link I may point to it instead. Mp3's are archived for as long as they appear on the main page. Once the main entry gets archived, the mp3's go away. If you came here looking for a particular song but got here too late, feel free to write to me and I'll see if I can help.

I greatly appreciate comments, especially corrections. In general, I try to concentrate on bands that weren't particularly obscure, but somehow got lost in the shuffle. Although it's tempting to post rarities, I find that rare tracks are often rare for a reason, so I'll often post the songs I like the best.

The title of the blog comes from Alison Farthing's strange children's book "The Mystical Beast." The book was not particularly hard to find, but its author seems to have been especially successful at evading the internet's grasp.

Friday, June 25, 2004

 

So after a week of Cherry Red/El Records related class and style and pomp and flair, I had thought that a no wave band would make an especially nice change of pace for today. I changed my mind when I got a CD in the mail a few days ago. This is just too perfect, but Bleach (the Japanese band that I mentioned briefly a few weeks ago) turned out to have a CD on...Cherry Red Records, with the design by El Graphic. How great is that? It came out last year and it's called Three Girls From Okinawa.

Just to warn you, this will take the paint off of your teeth.

My favorite song of theirs remains the glorious Shikai No Haba. I now know (thanks to the translated song titles on the Cherry Red CD) that this means something like Width Of A Field Of View (I've also seen it translated as "Field Of Vision" which makes more sense). The other track of theirs from the Japan Nite Sound Sampler (where I first heard them) isn't on the Cherry Red CD but it's also great. So here's Otoko Icchyokusen (that's the spelling I have; the website I've seen spells it differently).

Three Girls From Okinawa is basically three songs from Bleach's first album and the entirety of their second album. I've finally found a good page with info on the band here, including lots of photos and an interview. I feel kind of lame for being several years behind on their discography, but I try not to order CDs from Japan when I think they might get US/UK releases in the near future. It seems possible. I'm kicking myself for missing their recent US tour. Ouch!

Here's one track that originally appeared on their second CD. The English title is Trembling Flower. There's one part (15 seconds left in the song) where it sounds like she says "Riot Girl" but I'm pretty sure it's just a sound-alike Japanese phrase that means "Don't touch my moustache" or something like that.

Another great thing about Three Girls From Okinawa: it includes a short video. The quality isn't amazing, but this band has some serious charisma, and there's really nothing like watching a cute girl wearing a kitty-ear hat while she and her pals make Unwound sound like the Free Design. Even on a tiny little Quicktime screen, this band kicks ass. It's like one of those Japanimation moments where a cute little space kitty suddenly shoots a nuclear blast out of its tail that destroys a planet. Go Bleach!! The majority of American rockers should take a moment to hang their heads in shame for failing to kick such ass. Go Bleach!!

(They have one song called The Night Story, and I swear there's one spot where it sounds like she's screaming "Pikachu!" I don't want to know if I'm mishearing that.)

(I've seen this mentioned elsewhere, but I can't overemphasize: the cover art of Three Girls From Okinawa is extremely misleading. Don't be mislead. Bleach ain't pop-punk.)

Thursday, June 24, 2004

 
I didn't have time to write a really thorough post last night, and I'm also unsure about today's band's current activities. It'd be really nice if someone wanted to fill in the details in a comment. C'mon! It'll be fun!

Girlfrendo are/were? a Swedish band who sound like an English band to most people. They're a good example of a group bearing a Mike Alway influence. I didn't notice this when I first heard it, but the first track on their first full-length Surprise! Surprise! It's Girlfrendo could have teleported off of a Death By Chocolate album. Ok, I really didn't notice it because the Girlfrendo album pre-dates Death By Chocolate as far as I can tell. The song is an abecedarium called Homework, and I actually prefer it to DBC's attempts at same, probably because the music is less cheesy...maybe more skillfully cheesy is a better way to put it.

Girfrendo manage to cover a lot of styles, none of which fall outside the boundaries of That Which Is Twee. A lot of what they do sounds somewhat like Comet Gain stripped of the pseudo-political content (it's probably no surprise that they were touring with Comet Gain when I caught their disappointing live show -- as I mentioned, they had a cold) but they also have the affect of an El label band: a certain je ne sais quoi that hovers somewhere between put-on and homage to the swinging 60's. As a part of this, the female singers occasionally project a Cockney accent that can take some getting used to. Elsewhere, they often sound like Jennifer Tilly trying on European accents. I tend to like the less strident songs the best.

Dodging that issue entirely, here's Surprise, Surprise which is one of the few tracks with a male vocal. You might expect it to be a stinker; it smacks of a sop thrown to the Ringo of the band or something. Actually, it's a very nice fake soul bit that fans of Orange Juice, etc. will probably like.

Surprise! Surprise! came out on a Japanese label (I don't know why, but all of the music I've featured this week seems to be big in Japan) called Bambini, but it was licensed by a US label called March Records so it wasn't hard to find. On the other hand, their follow-up So You Are Here Again Shadow never got a US release and you'll almost certainly have to mail-order it (Allmusic has yet to acknowledge its existence). Same with a number of singles that the band has put out. I had read on Gullbuy (a great source for info on interesting new releases) that the post-Surprise! Surprise! songs weren't so hot, but I don't really agree. Here's the Metrics lesson 10,000 Kilometers and here's their heavy metal song Quiet Riot. (Ok, it's not heavy metal. I lied.) It's less effervescent than the early material, but arguably more tuneful. Suffice it to say that I like both CD's.

One of the stranger things they did was a cover of Spacemen 3's Walking With Jesus. Not that their version is particularly weird...it's just an unexpected choice of a song to cover. If I had to be brutally honest, I'd confess that I prefer this to just about all of the Spacemen 3 covers on that overly-serious tribute that came out some years ago.

If any of my Swedish readers (I know you're out there) can tell me what these people are up to these days, I'd be really grateful. Their web-presence seems to have largely disappeared.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

 

Most of the time when people refer to Mike Alway or to the record labels that he's been involved with (el, ...if, Reverie, Blanco y Negro, Cherry Red) they say something like "The legendary Mike Alway and his famed and influential cult label..." and then go on to talk about whatever they were going to talk about (lately that's usually been Death By Chocolate). If this just happened once in a while it would be ok, but as the "legendary" thing comes up again and again and again it starts to get really irritating. Ok, I get it. He's a legend. Fantastic. And by "legend" I assume you mean "person who no one in America has ever heard of"? Would it be a terrible bother to explain why he's a legend, if you please?

So, if you don't know who Mike Alway is or what he's done, here are a few interviews that give some actual details. Yay!

Ok, so he's into made-up bands, style and art, the 60's and England. And, during the 80's and 90's, he acted as a powerful opposition to the forces of evil that are known as "borecore" in some parts. And he has a long history with Bid (guy from the Monochrome Set, see yesterday). Their relationship took a slight hit when they disagreed about the direction of the Songs For The Jet Set series, and starting back in 1999 Bid began releasing albums in the guise of a very Alway-esque fake band called Scarlet's Well. I'm writing about Scarlet's Well because they released an album this year that might actually have some appeal outside of the usual Alway crowd, but more on that later.

The back story of Scarlet's Well is probably enough to send a lot of people running for the hills:

SCARLET'S WELL - THE STORY

"I envisaged a village somewhere in the South-West of England. I called this little place "Mousseron" (a particular type of French mushroom), and further imagined a nearby magical well, called "Scarlet's Well". About a year after the release of the first album, I heard about a real Scarlet's Well near Bodmin in Cornwall. I seem to also recall that nearby Boscastle used to house the only witch's museum in the country. I am irritated by the fact that Real Life continually strives to emulate my twisted and bizarre psyche.


"In making these albums, I am walking through a thick fog, lit here and there by fireflies, and have little idea of where I'm going. Storylines develop between songs and albums, and I sometimes make an effort to guide them, but mostly end up following some silly sprite into a puddle.

""Strange Letters" is "set" in the village, with the penultimate song being about a ship sailing out to sea (thereby inadvertently establishing Mousseron as a port).

""Blue Flowers" is partly set somewhere off the coast of South America, with the crew of the ship from the previous album now on the trail of the lost Lord Fishgarlic, a native of Mousseron. Some of the words on that album are spoken by him, some by the girls sailing after his memory, and some have nothing to do with any of it! The penultimate song is the reading of a parchment written by Lord Fishgarlic and found on the floor of a temple by the girls, describing his opening of a secret doorway within and entry to a foul place beneath the earth.

"On "Underworld", Alice and her friends journey back to Mousseron through the Underworld." The Return..." is the ship coming back by itself. "Macaw" is about a ghost on the ship haunting one of the two macaws that sailed- this one flew back, after betraying the others. The other parrot walks back with Alice's (much reduced) party. Most of the other songs are about encounters and dialogues Alice has with the dead and the cursed. "Cerberus" sees Alice cheat the guardian of the Underworld and escape (by putting him to sleep, q.v. Orpheus and the Lyre). "Diary" is Alice's exit from the Underworld into the Mousseron annual steam fair, where she is unnoticed in the mayhem.

"In "The Dream Spider Of The Laughing Horse", a group of people sing songs and tell stories in an inn ("The Laughing Horse") on the outskirts of Mousseron.


To make matters worse, a lot of the singing is by English schoolgirls who sound like they've just returned from Narnia. My dad the classical music lover said, "her technique isn't the best" and we had to have a long talk.

If you're only considering running for the hills after reading all this, there's some solace to be found in the fact that Bid references the Magnetic Fields and The Divine Comedy as artists working similar territory to Scarlet's Well. Better?

Ok, good. Personally, I'd add Kevin Ayers and Slapp Happy to the list. Ray Davies in music-hall mode is probably in there as well: basically the whole "clever" contingent from England whose work often includes non-rock influences. Stephin Merritt is hereby voted an honorary member. One key point: you don't have to pay attention to the lyrics to enjoy the music. In fact, you can ignore the lyrics entirely and still have a great time (I mention this in case you're worried about having to be charmed by charming ditties about Lord Fishgarlic, etc.).

Here are a couple of tracks from the third album, Alice In The Underworld. First, the very Kurt Weill sounding My Mystery's Mother. And here's my favorite track of the moment, Death. You know, last weekend I went kayaking on the Hudson and after I finished I was lying in the sun listening to this album and I cannot imagine a more perfect soundtrack, especially given the sea-shanty aspects of some of the songs. It was wonderful. If you like the tracks I've posted, you should love Scarlet's Well. Run out and get everything!

On the other hand, I'm pretty aware that this sort of twee-little-English-girly stuff isn't everyone's cup of tea.

If you're one of those people, you might still like the new Scarlet's Well album The Dream Spider Of The Laughing Horse. It starts out in the usual territory, but by the end of the album it's moved into a really nice, slightly psychedelic early 70's mode -- I can imagine a Brian Eno/Kevin Ayers/Divine Comedy collaboration sounding like the last half of the album. Here's How The Cypress Made Apollo and I Walk In Endless Silence as examples. The latter track, especially, is a wonderful bit of neo-psychedelia that I could see appealing to fans of Robyn Hitchcock if they ever hear it. If Bid ever released a whole album in this vein I think it's possible that he might finally get an American label to put out his albums. Meanwhile, order from Darla or Tonevendor unless your local record shop is way cool.

Right now, Bid is busy touring some of the material, using guest musicians. Details are here, but the gist is that you form a band and fly him over and ta-da, it's a show. He doesn't seem to be coming anywhere near NYC yet, but I see that there are a couple of shows in California in a day or two.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

 
Following up on yesterday, here's The Monochrome Set with the original Eine Symphonie Des Grauens. The lyrics are here (scroll way down) in case you're curious. They're kind of creepy!

That song is from their second single. As it happens, that's also the point after which I get off of the Monochrome Set bus. I do like their first single, He's Frank, a lot. After these two, though, most of what I've heard sounds kind of like The Jazz Butcher (ok, it's really the other way around) and not the early Jazz Butcher that I like, but the more mature (i.e. on autopilot) Jazz Butcher. This is yet another opinion that I revisit from time to time so don't be angry if I've just shunned your favorite band.

While I'm not generally thrilled by the Monochrome Set, their lead singer/main writer Bid has been involved with some subsequent projects that I've liked a lot, including the extremely influential Songs For The Jet Set and the Reverie series on Siesta. Another one of his projects released a very nice CD not long ago. More later in the week. (I say "projects" because he seems to want to avoid the concept of a "band" for his non-Monochrome albums.)

Before I go off the air at the end of June I have a grab bag of unrelated songs that I want to post. Stratotanker were a Brooklyn band that I never paid huge amounts of attention to. They sounded something like The John Spencer Blues Explosion, but without all of the "it's fake but it's real but it's fake" baggage of that band. Stratotanker were decidedly fake, in a slightly fun and goofy way. I'm not about to argue that they were overlooked: they were, you know, half-way decent, like a billion other bands. I'm pretty sure that unless an ex-member hits the big time, they're going to be forgotten.

They do, however, have one song that I really love. It's from their album Baby, Test The Sky (one of those Homestead albums that you don't think of when you think of Homestead) and it's very JSBX'y. In a perfect world someone would re-do this with better production, but that's not going to happen, so use your imagination if need be. Here's Armour Of Gusto, which has a great off-kilter guitar riff and a fun falsetto ending. Fairly disposable, but I'm glad to know it.

Monday, June 21, 2004

 
Last week I wrote about the Dentists and today it's all about a woman who covered one of their songs, which is how I found out about them in the first place. Her name is Lida Husik and here's her version of Strawberries Are Growing In My Garden (And It's Wintertime).

I was doing some googling before writing about her and I found, to my surprise, that glenn mcdonald (of TWAS) has already just about perfectly expressed my feelings about her in his review of her album Joyride, whence comes the above song. His column is here, and it's one of a very small number of cases where he and I have similar opinions about anything relating to music. (By this I don't mean that I disagree with his opinions...it's more that we live in separate universes that might explode if they ever made contact). I'm thinking especially of his idea that the album is rarely quite as engrossing while you're listening to it as you thought it would be.

I've now re-written this post several times...I keep changing my mind about which of her albums I like the best. Popular opinion usually goes with Joyride and Fly Stereophonic, but I was listening to her debut Bozo for the first time in years the other day and it has some rock energy (especially on the tracks that she recorded in 1989 -- 2/3 of the CD is w/Kramer, 1/3 is earlier stuff recorded at Inner Ear Studios) that's lacking on her other albums. Since Bozo is probably ever-so-slightly harder to find I'm going to post a few tracks from that, but I'd still recommend Joyride or Fly Stereophonic as the places to start. Just so you know, as I go to press you could purchase almost all of Lida's discography (including every CD I mentioned) for a total that's well under $20, via half.com. In fact, you could buy Bozo, Joyride and Fly Stereophonic for under $10 total, with shipping. Good to know.

Probably the most intense track on Bozo is Farmhouse, which has an urgency on the chorus that she never really revisited. The "Who you wanna talk to sample" comes from here, and if you're a fan of The Simpsons you may want to click that link. I also really like Snow, and (getting bonus points for the title) Hateful Hippie Girls.

Finally, for reasons relating to some things I'm going to be posting later this week, here's Lida covering a song called Ein Symphonie Des Grauens (google "Nosferatu" to make that title seem less strange) which was originally by an English band called The Monochrome Set. Lida's version appears on Fly Stereophonic. I honestly can't think of any other songs, by anyone, that really sound like this one. It's not a difficult song, but the way its dissimilar parts are seamlessly joined together is a thing of wonder. Ok, maybe the lyrics are just a little bit on the strange side. As far as I can tell, it should be "Eine" but maybe there's some reason for the "Ein" that I don't get. Any German vampire movie/Monochrome Set fans out there?

Trivia: Lida's cousin Anne Husick [spelled correctly] was at one time a member of Band of Susans, a group that should be showing up for a No Wave friday any time now. Anne's web page is here, and she has very cute cats. I wrote to her to ask if she knew anything about Lida's recent activities: she didn't have much info, but was under the impression that Lida has retired from music.

Friday, June 18, 2004

 
No Wave Friday

(But just barely.)

For next week I have a day or two planned where I'll be posting songs that are flawed in some major way. Why? Because they have a great riff or a fantastic melody or something that makes them very much worth hearing, even if the production or the performance or the nature of the band gets in the way.

For today, though, I have a song that probably wouldn't be at all interesting except for one single element that completely transforms it. This is an aspect of recording that I find it kind of fun to speculate about: you have a song that's pretty good but it's missing something. What do you add? Maybe a tambourine during the chorus? Maybe a cow-bell during the intro? An extra harmony part? A weird electronic effect? Backward guitar solo? Or maybe you could do what the Y-Pants did on That's The Way Boys Are.

(For info on this No Wave descended, all female, occasional toy-instrument playing gang go here and here and here.)

Someone wrote and asked if I could re-post Hilly Michaels' Calling All Girls, and I decided to do that today because I've been regretting not posting one other track from his album: Close Encounters. Love that "outer space" reverb on the vocals! The original Hilly Michaels post is here.

Do I have space left? Yes I do. Continuing from yesterday, Soda Pop is another great Grifters non-album single, though I believe that this one did make it to a Shangri-La (one of their labels) CD compilation. It's one of several Grifters' songs that seem to begin with the song crashing to a halt, before someone (in this case the drummer) decides to forge onward. This one really grows on you, with a skip-beat chorus that epitomizes great/dumb rock lyrics: "Bop, Bop, Soda-Pop!" Again, hope you like it! As is often the case with Grifters singles, it sounds better loud.

Last thing: I got an interesting comment yesterday. If you're a fan of Crash or Mark Dumais, or of Magnetic Fields-related projects, you might want to go to this post and read the comment. I also learned that there is a Crash CD called Everything Under The Sun (I had no idea). Back to eBay...

Thursday, June 17, 2004

 
Ok, I'm going to try to hang on until the end of June (especially because I'm still waiting for something that I want to run on a No Wave Friday) but then I'm taking July off...I'm just much too busy. Sorry. I'd send you over to Classical Gasp as a superior replacement, but he seems to have had the same vacation idea (unless he's come back since I wrote this).

The Grifters. I sometimes wonder if they could have been as big as Guided By Voices if they'd just had better timing. GbV had the good fortune to release their best album (Bee Thousand, and let's agree to disagree if we must) just as interest in the band was peaking, and the rest is history. When fame beckoned, the Grifters released a kind of watered down version of what they'd been doing all along, with a from-the-album single that sounded just like Guided By Voices, and then limped off of the field after one more (good in spots) album.

Not that they usually sounded like GbV. Often compared to Sonic Youth and (with even greater inaccuracy) to Pavement, The Grifters sounded more like Sonic Youth's older cousin from the southern branch of the family: the one who actually had hair on his chest and liked cars and beer and sports and knew how to hunt. There's something manly about them, or maybe that's just because they were from Memphis. An early Grifters single was titled Daydream Riot, so I'm not going to argue that they never heard of Sonic Youth. But, even at their most abstract, the Grifters sounded like guys with Gibsons playing rock in a swamp somewhere. This cannot be said of SY or Pavement.

Getting a handle on the Grifters isn't all that easy. They wrote songs that could veer from chaos to pop in a second. They could be lo-fi or well produced. Their best CD may very well be an EP that has influences ranging from Springsteen to the Beatles to Royal Trux. While Sonic Youth worked noise and feedback into the structure of their songs, Grifters tunes often seemed to be accidentally coalescing out of background sludge, hiss and feedback.

You know how a lot of bands talk about the compelling little accidental details on the demo versions of their songs that they're unable to replicate in the studio? Like an interesting guitar buzz or a perfectly intoned vocal yelp or an unrepeatable noise solo or the drummer knocked over a bottle of beer at the exactly perfect moment? I think that capturing these little items was the Grifters' raison d'etre, and on their best tracks there'll be any number of odd details that could never be on purpose: sections where the song falls apart in a fascinating way, or where the guitar players are playing completely separate songs that somehow work together.

One problem with this is that the Grifters weren't Talk Talk, i.e. they didn't have the budget to hang out in a real studio for years and wait for these things to happen. So most of their good albums are mid to lo-fi, and when they did move to real studios on a regular basis (especially for their last two albums) they lost something.

Blah, blah, blah. Another thing about the Grifters is that they just loved to release fantastic songs as vinyl-only singles, and they never have had a decent collection as far as I know. And I doubt they ever will, since their branch of musical experimentation seems like a closed case these days. I'm not going to do a one-day summary of the Grifters, but I may drop in on them from time to time.

In 1994, they dipped a toe into the Sub Pop waters with a single that featured Queen Of The Table Waters b/w Return To Cinder (a different and, IMHO, inferior version of Return To Cinder would appear on their first Sub Pop LP a couple of years later). As far as I know, the single is uncompiled, though it does appear to still be available from Sub Pop.

I think that that first song is probably one of the best things they ever did. It starts with a strange intro where a little kid sings about sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening and sugar at suppertime, then the band comes in singing a chorus of "Spit out the gems!"* as the volume slowly builds and then boom we're off as one riff gives way to another, with periodic breakdowns and stumbles before a final "yeah, yeah, yeah" and boom the whole thing explodes and it's done. It's pretty breathtaking, and it's really hard to pull this sort of thing off. Hope you like it!

*no lyric sheet, so I'm assuming that's the line.



Wednesday, June 16, 2004

 
Recently someone on I Love Music brought up the band The Dentists, and I pulled out their CD Dressed for the first time in a while and re-discovered how great it is, so I thought I'd share.

First, though, the brief story of how I discovered The Dentists, because I think that I'm probably not the only one this happened to:

I was a fan of this indie-folk-psych-etc. person named Lida Husik who started out on Shimmy Disc before shimmying over to Caroline and then to Alias. On her Caroline album Joyride, she covered a Dentists' song called Strawberries Are Growing In My Garden (And It's Wintertime) and her version is really nice. I'll post it soon. I went running out to the record store to check out the Dentists and found a cut-out copy of their Behind The Door I Keep The Universe CD. Sadly, it made no impression on me, and I didn't hear anything as good as Strawberries on it. From time to time over the next few years I'd encounter a Dentists' album or single, always used, always uninspiring, and I pretty much gave up on the group.

Eventually though I found a copy of Dressed, which collects their early recordings including Strawberries etc., and I was very curious to hear the original version of that song even though I hadn't liked anything else I'd heard. It turns out that Dressed is thoroughly wonderful. So if you've checked out the Dentists other albums and been unimpressed, I've been there too.

Even though they were English, I hear them having a lot in common with the New Zealand Flying Nun type bands. There's a lot of frantic strumming, scrappy drumming, simple lead guitar parts and catchy melodies with well-deployed harmonies: basically your well-worn mix of Velvet Underground (as in What Goes On), Beatles (as in She Said, She Said) and garage rock. When I think of that trio of influences I always think of the Feelies, but the Dentists were much looser (also their production isn't as good, and I think that the informality works to their advantage in the same way that Guided By Voices' quirks elevated their early material). Aside from Strawberries, other tracks that I love are Chainsaw The Horse and I Can See Your House From Up Here. The latter song reminds me a lot of The Moles if you took away that band's weird twists and turns and just kept the catchy parts.

I've refrained from putting up some other songs that are just as good (or better) than the last two. There are twenty-two strong songs on this CD and if you like the three I've posted you probably ought to go get them all.

Apologies to any fans of the Dentists who like their later work. I haven't listened to them in years, and I'm open to the idea that I might have missed something.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

 

Yesterday I mentioned that John Parish had worked with a band called Thou on several occasions, so I thought that today I'd write about a band who once released a CD that could easily be mistaken for P.J. Harvey's Rid Of Me, with potentially catastrophic consequences. If your boss is standing right behind you reading this, you might want to find some way to distract him/her while you casually re-direct to a page about boss things (as opposed to a blog about music by horrible people named Zowie Fenderblast and Dredge and James Meat, who seem to think that young girls and japanimation characters doing heroin is the height of wit, and who write songs with titles like Getting Wasted With The Vampires and Green Like The Color Of Blood).

For a history of the Lee Harvey Oswald Band, you can start with Allmusic, though after you think about it for a while and start to wonder why a band that formed in the 70's only released product in the 90's, and on Touch and Go, you might want to mosey over to Trouser Press for an alternate history.

One nice thing about the LHOB is that you can own everything they did by buying two CDs, both of which can usually be found cheap and used (how appropriate). Especially on their first CD A Taste Of Prison (which includes their first EP) they kind of sound like a bootleg recording of David Bowie jamming with the Stooges, except there's a real Urge Overkill "This is Rock And Roll, Baby" feel to the whole proceeding. I wish the album was a little bit...better. The idea of an uber-trashy Bowie-esque fake-relic is a great one, but when it's arguable that the rockingist track on your CD is the Wings cover, you might want to spend some more time in Badass Songwriting 101 and less time writing your liner notes in Japanese.

Jesus Never Lived On Mars is what I want them to be doing, but they only manage that level of quality a couple of times. A Taste Of Prison sounds cool, it sounds real, it sounds nasty, but it doesn't always sound good.

The second album Blastronaut has better sound (like a good bootleg this time) and better songwriting. The opening sing-along track The Greatest Man Who Ever Walked The Face Of The Earth runs smack into an extremely Man Who Sold The World sounding ultimatum called Surrender Earthlings, kicking things off in style. And, Rocket 69 (Hmmm, the first three songs on the CD are the three I'm featuring: that doesn't bode well!) is possibly the best thing they ever did, getting the proportions of beer, lust, and catchy chorus just right. Actually, the rest of the CD is pretty good, ok, fairly great if you're in the right frame of mind. Again, I want it to be faster, louder, and most of all funnier, but that's a "glass half empty" way of looking at a fairly strong album. I still think that the Dwarves and Urge Overkill did this sort of thing better, but LHOB carved out their own distinct niche in the land of fake (but real) Rock Stars.

Monday, June 14, 2004

 

I had a great feature planned for this week, but it was contingent upon me getting my scanner working and that didn't happen. So...

Back in January I mentioned that some day I'd do a feature on the Belgian group Thou, and today's the day. Another good reason to finally profile them: I ordered their 2004 release I Like Girls In Russia a long time ago, and last week it finally showed up, right when I was thinking I was going to have to hop on a plane to Belgium and kick some Thou butt!

(I don't think I've told this story: when their previous CD Elvis Or Betty Boop came out, I emailed the band trying to get a copy as it wasn't being sold by any store I could find, in or out of the US. They wrote back and basically wanted to trade me a copy in exchange for me getting Other Music to carry their CD. Besides the fact that that's kind of obnoxious, they couldn't have known how much I despise Other Music. Ironically, I ended up finding a used copy of the CD at...Other Music when I was there with my wife who wanted to look for something. I've never seen another copy since. There's probably a moral in there somewhere.)

Thou really should be better known, despite their poor customer service track-record. John Parish (see P.J. Harvey) is their pal and occasional producer, they were tight with Portishead, and they've put out some really accessible, forward looking rock and some nice trip-hoppy stuff. Together with Enon (one time label-mates) I thought they were going to spearhead a movement of bands who could do the rock thing and the groove thing, the girl thing and the boy thing. How all of this has failed so miserably, to the point where the only way to get their CDs is to have them delivered by tree sloth from Belgium (or to enter into indentured servitude) is beyond me.

After talking them up so much, I'm afraid that the beginning of the Thou story isn't so thrilling. Their first real release is a "promising" EP called Une Poupee Pour M'Amuser that was a real Belgian waffle to get ahold of. And of course, it wasn't worth the trouble. From it, here's the best track, which is pretty ok: Phony Sirleen. Lately copies have been showing up on gemm.com, so it's not really a difficult find these days.

They followed up with an album called Hello In The Sun, which is more of the same. Hard to find, interesting, promising, but no cigars are being smoked. There are a handful of good tracks on it (it kind of goes downhill after a strong start). From that here's En Route. Late in the album there's a song built around a sample of someone saying they were in Sonic Youth from 1981 to 1985. Bob Bert?

Then, as detailed previously in this blog, the clouds parted and Portishead looked down and blessed Thou with some unused backing tracks, and they got themselves onto a US label that was going to be huge and released an incredible CD called Put Us In Tune that remains one of the best albums ever that you can usually buy used for seventy-five cents or so on half.com or amazon.com. If you don't believe me, look at the reviews on Amazon, most of which have to do with someone buying the album because it was so cheap and then being shocked by how great it is. From that here's Amuse and (on the trip-hop side) Panic Breaks and (more of a combo) Okeh. I thought they were going to be huge!

And as usual, I was wrong. Their label folded and Thou went back to Belgium and self-released Elvis Or Betty Boop. It's a good album, maybe a step down from the previous one, but I still have no idea how to get a copy. May I suggest the Other Music used section? (If you feel like accidentally tripping one of their clerks while you're there, don't let me stop you.) From that, here's Yeah!Yeah!. Here the band starts to integrate its two sides, which has its good and bad points. The album is less schizophrenic, but I think that Thou were good at doing their two different things.

Which brings us to the present. I Like Girls In Russia is yet another good-not-fantastic album. Most of the trip-hop is gone, but the rock has mellowed and developed nicely. I wrote about it briefly here. You can still stream the album from their website and you can order it from this place if you have a month or two to kill. I hate to tell you this, but the CD does sound substantially better than the stream...it was worth the wait, at least for me.

If you go to the website, you'll note that there are all kinds of singles listed in Thou's discography. No tracklistings though, and I just refuse to get started trying to find them after all I've been through. Take that, Thou!

So my recommendation is: if you like any of today's tracks, buy Put Us In Tune (pay no more than $1) as it's great. After that, Elvis Or Betty Boop and I Like Girls In Russia are both good, the latter one probably being slightly better. Only get the first two releases if you're completely hooked and want to hear everything. There are decent songs on each, but not many. On the other hand, the bad stuff isn't terrible...it usually at least has interesting production.

Friday, June 11, 2004

 
Brief note: that mp3 blog with the long name (TTIKTDA, see link in my sidebar) has been really great all week, focusing on things from England. I'd like to especially recommend getting the song by Red Pony. That is all.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

 
Oh, I'm just not in the mood for a No Wave Friday. Let's start a revolution, join a youth club, burn down society and replace it with a new one based on love and books and passion and movies and soul! Just don't pay quite so much attention to our lyrics, if that's ok. Thank you. You're a dear. May I present Comet Gain!

Probably a band everyone should have as a part of their life. Rent that copy of Ciao! Manhattan? Like hell! Own it or nothing. Say no to strangers signing shrinkwrapped CDs at the Virgin Mega! I want the Comet Gain to play at my local club every weekend, every day, while I gobble deep-fried Mars bars and drink the local brew that'll never be English ('cause we're not in England) and talk about the things that matter with the girl who matters.

[We only get to see them at the Knitting Factory a few years back, when they swing by with Girlfrendo (who have a cold) and Sportique.]

Nonetheless, the show sears itself into my brain like the stripes on David's sweater and the gleam in his eyes and the light that reflects off of his nearly-tuned guitar, soaring back over the heads of the faithful as if it might escape onto Leonard Street, turn left, and forge a new beginning on the shores of the Hudson, far from home.

If they set a single toe back on our shores, I'll be camping out on the ticket line with nothing but a book on French cinema and a transistor radio, listening to crackly Northern soul classics beamed from a rickety pirate station somewhere in the unknown.

So let's Say Yes! for These Are The Dreams Of The Working Girls and they may very well be ours too. Grab my hand as we walk those final Steps To The Sea. Join me while we eulogize Pier Angeli and reveal those liars -- the ones who draw lines between twee and soul and twee and country and, um, twee and authenticity -- as the frauds we always knew they were. Join me on the Shining Path (Peru? Gesundheit!) and kick away those pills and taboos that drag us down (the booze must have gone to my head). God knows why, but Comet Gain believe in you and they believe in me.

And if someone wants to tear away the curtain, question our motives, and snarl that the production on all of the other albums could stand to be nudge better... "To hell with them!" we'll shout. You lose your whole band and make an album as feisty as Realistes and we'll have something to talk about.

To be continued...some glorious day.

[Notes: all today's tracks from Sneaky, which is the place to start. Photos here. Pitchfork is, sadly, right on the money with this, except for any references to Sonic Youth, which are bizarre.]

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

 


I've already posted about Boyskout several times, but their CD School of Etiquette just keeps growing on me, so here's one more...I'd really like to see them do well enough to record/release more material. If I had to grossly generalize, I'd lump Boyskout in the same category as the Cure -- they share the Cure's ability to break out of the goth trappings and write a catchy pop song when need be -- with some distant echoes of Sleater-Kinney and Romeo Void. There's probably some Joy Division in the mix as well, but since I don't know that band well and don't like what I do know, I'm going to pretend there isn't.

I think I previously mentioned that I originally didn't take Boyskout very seriously, but I thought that the video for their song Back To Bed (you can still download the video here) was kind of funny/sexy. After downloading the mp3 for Back To Bed at their site (at least one of the other two mp3's might not be the best choice to promote the band) I found myself playing the song over and over and finally decided to buy the CD just to have better sound. I didn't really expect this at the time, but said CD is still in heavy rotation. There's a slight quality drop-off about half-way through, but none of the weaker tracks are flat-out bad - there's a spoken part in one song (Girl On Girl Action) that comes very close to bugging me a lot, but it's over fairly quickly.

The track that's moved into pole position lately is Imaginary, though Jesse James remains a strong contender. Barring major late-year developments, this album is going to be an unexpected guest in my top ten.

I have a feeling that it's just a coincidence, but Imaginary reminds me somewhat of a band called Appliance who do a spin on Stereolab/droney Krautrock/Spacemen 3. It's not a case where one song sounds like the other, but Imaginary and a lot of Appliance tracks use electronic squiggles, short clean-toned guitar lines and have a droney, semi-motorik feel. Here's my favorite Appliance song, Pacifica , just to give an idea. Appliance have three CDs and various singles/ep's. I'd recommend their first album Manual as the place to start, and possibly as the place to stop: the main problem with Appliance is that they can't seem to write good vocal melodies, so many of their songs end up sounding the same with the enervated vocals running up and down a 3-4 note scale that always ends on the same note the bass is playing, which gets to be a drag after a while. On a one-track-at-a-time basis, though, they can be fun.

[The photo for this post comes from Jasper of this place, a very cool site with lots of pictures/info for local NY bands.]

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

 
One last day in bubblegum land.

Ron Dante (the voice behind a lot of things, including the Archies' Sugar, Sugar) left The Cuff Links after their first album and its hit Tracy (maybe "left" isn't the best way to put it...he stopped providing his vocals).

His lead singer spot was apparently taken over by Rupert Holmes, best known for the icky Escape (The Pina Colada Song), for a second, self-titled Cuff Links album that came out in 1970 (I don't think it's on CD, though vinyl copies are fairly cheap).

Included on the second record is a nice version of the Edison Lighthouse one-hit-wonder Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) which had been released in early 1970 (i.e. The Cuff Links didn't waste a second ripping it off). If you haven't heard it, be aware that the original version is one of the best one-hit-wonder things out there, and this version is very satisfactory.

I like the rest of the album a lot, with the exception of their anti-pollution song Mister Big(Oh What A Beautiful Day) whose rapier-like wit includes an outro where loud coughing partially obscures the chorus. Aside from that stab at social commentary, it's mostly about girls and love: Bobbie, Run Sally Run (I think Dante did backing vocals on this one), Jennifer Tomkins and Afraid of Tomorrow (hmmm, that intro sounds familiar).

In case you don't know what to expect, I'd say that parts of Belle & Sebastian's most recent album are, oddly enough, in a very similar style to a lot of this (not including the vocals). I'm really impressed by the quality of the Cuff Links' second album: it's much better than it probably needed to be.

By the way, I had mentioned a long time ago that I expected to end this blog around May. It's still going, but I'm likely to get really busy in the near future. I think for a while I'll go to every-other-day or so if I can't keep up daily posts, though I've also thought of just taking the summer off (we should all be outside in the sun!). I'll see, but if you don't see updates in the near future, that's what's going on.

Monday, June 07, 2004

 
I'm taking a one-day break from the bubblegum before plunging back in tomorrow. Also, I need to conserve my mp3 space this week for my No Wave Friday (which is going to feature some longer pieces) so I just have a link today. Also, I seem to have exceeded AOL's transfer limit yesterday. Weird. It wasn't a particularly busy day. Ok, who streamed the Tra La La song over and over and over?

Wait, I also have a last minute concert review, courtesy of my wife who I think I mentioned is in France. [You should probably be aware before reading further that two of our cats are named Mogwai and Pixie, and neither one was named after a band.]

Take it away...

I just came back from the Pixies concert. Just to let you know how lame I am, I didn't recognize anyone. Four people came on and I was like, "Wow, they look totally different, did they change band members?" Then they made tons of super painful but strangely appealing noise that caused me to jam a cigarette filter in my ear for protection (worked really well for future reference) and I was like "Wow, I don't recognize any of those songs, like they've really developed their sound!"

So I turned to my friend [Lady X] and said, "I guess they're getting sick of the old routine. Wow, their new stuff sounds kind of like Mogwai. Or maybe I'm just missing my cat."

And then we watched for an hour feeling really ripped off 'cause the Pixies sounded like Mogwai and got rid of their excellent female vocalist.

Bet you can guess the punchline which goes something like "Mogwai was the opening band for the Pixies and we are idiots." What are the odds? It was a 2 cat venue. When the lead singer started talking about soccer I probably should have guessed, except that one was bald and they all looked really darn old. Otherwise their music hasn't changed a bit except for the ripping off the Pixies part. I thought about getting a Mogwai t-shirt in celebration of my cat but they looked kinda lame--a little like some of the old Gwar t-shirts -- drawn when drunk by some guy they met in a bar.

I did with much effort get you a Pixies t-shirt. The logo looks a little bit like the Strand logo and its a nice shade of brown that matches the dress that I bought because it was all [Lady X's] fault, I am an idiot, and I will be on bread and water only for the rest of the week I promise.

I was sadly unprepared for Paris, notwithstanding having been to other parts of Europe. It really is that pretty, that expensive, and that full of diversions. I was expecting another dirty stuffy hyped urban environment.

The Pixies put on a pretty impressive show. The sound was excellent and I was front and center, so only a few feet away from Mr. Black. This is because the French are very polite at concerts and pushy Americans are allowed to go wherever. They also appear to greatly enjoy singing all the words to songs while having absolutely no idea what the meaning of the lyrics are. This leads to some interesting expressionistic interpretations. And [Lady X] and I were the tallest people there. They use very big doors for such a tiny people.

Interestingly, in one number in which he used an amplified acoustic guitar there was a HOLE in the guitar that appeared to have been worn there by his pick (NOT a pickup--I actually do know the difference). You could see the "pick trail" wearing away into actual nothingness. Sure enough, when he started to pick that's where the pick went. Doesn't he make enough money to buy a new guitar? Do holes ruin guitars? I actually thought it sounded really good but I am an idiot with these things.

The other interesting moment was when the bass? guitar? player played the instrument with the drummer's stick. That was not the interesting part so much as that they threw and caught the drumsticks from a surprising and impressive distance, and after catching his returned drumstick the drummer didn't even miss a beat.

They all look like someone's frumpy parent, by the way.


Me again.

Icewater Scandal have the good fortune to have their new album produced by Lee Ranaldo, which always helps get attention. Allmusic compares them to Sonic Youth and The Dead C. I hear the latter, but not so much of the former. Personally, I'd add Jessamine to the "sounds like" list, at least in terms of the drone tendencies, wan female vocals and the focus on the drumming (and the keyboard on the track of theirs that I like the best). There are mp3s here. The one I really love is Free Advice which is long, a cover, and kind of atypical. It's live and there's a lot of crowd noise and it has its ups and downs, but overall it pays off if you stick with it.

I kind of want to add that I've actually listened to Free Advice six times now, so it's not a case where I listened to the first few minutes of a long piece and said "Sounds cool...I'll recommend it!" It seems to sound better on speakers than on headphones, maybe because there isn't much stereo image to the recording. Anyway, I hope you like it and I hope you're patient: it doesn't really get going until about 5-6 minutes in.

The original song Free Advice is much, much shorter and (trivia) was the b-side to the Great Society's Somebody To Love, a song later made more famous by Jefferson Airplane.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

 


As long as I've stepped into Bubblegum land with last week's Sugar Bears post, I may as well go with it. I have the feeling this has been done elsewhere, but oh well.

The Banana Splits were kind of the Beatles of the animated/wearing-fuzzy-suits world, and the bootleg CD that compiles many (not all, apparently) of their songs is worth tracking down on the merits of the music alone. I like the Sugar Bears, but the Banana Splits were much more rock 'n' roll. Less consistent than the Bears, but their best songs are classics.

There's a fantastic page on Bubblegum here, and lots of info about the Banana Splits can be easily googled.

Probably the best Banana Splits track is the psych-rocker I Enjoy Being A Boy (I strongly urge you to download this if you haven't heard it). I'm also really fond of In New Orleans (I keep expecting MF Doom to sample the opening with its great sitar) and Wait Till Tomorrow.

Finally, I guess it would be mean not to post the Tra La La song.

Friday, June 04, 2004

 
No Wave Friday

"I don't think music should be heavy handed like so many bands in New York. It should be physically moving, and at the same time invoke a certain claustrophobia or state of fear." -- Michael Gira

Not strictly speaking a part of the No Wave thing, Circus Mort was Michael Gira's band shortly before he formed Swans. I'll do a day (or two, or three) on Swans soon, but they're well-covered in Allmusic and the Trouser Press. I like them a lot. After Sonic Youth, they're probably the most successfulful (or at least well known) band to bear a strong No Wave influence. Thurston Moore played in an early version of Swans, and Gira played in one of Glenn Branca's guitar orchestras.

Gira doesn't like Circus Mort, and he's made it pretty clear that he has no intention of reissuing their EP. That's too bad, because it's neither great nor awful but, because it's out-of-print and never-on-CD, Swans fans will probably keep paying more for it than they should. I did notice that there's a website for the label that originally released the EP, and it seems to be saying that they're planning on reissuing it, but it's kind of hard to tell.

Anyway, Gira's lyrical style is already pretty much in place ("Gira says put your ass on the ground! Gira says move your body! Gira says you are filth!") but the music is more like dark 'n' danceable post-punk. I had this theory that if you play the EP (a 45) at 33, you get Swans, but I forgot to test the theory before I sold my copy. Maybe someone else can try it out. From the EP, here's Swallow You, Children Remember and Watch The Puppet.

You know, given the nature of Swans, I was kind of expecting an early album that Gira hates to be a pretty embarrassing disaster. All things considered, Circus Mort isn't bad at all. I especially kind-of-like Children Remember, which has some echoes of Gang of Four, and if you're just going to download one track, that's the one I'd pick.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

 


I don't know about you, but when I'm feeling sad or blue there's nothing like a catchy song sung by a girl bear with blue eyes and go-go boots to lift my spirits. Too bad her boyfriend Sugar Bear hogs the vocals most of the time. Anyway, here's Happiness Train, It's A Good Day, Love You've Been A Long Time Coming and Feather Balloon (this is the track you should probably download if you're only getting one).

You know, that Honey Bear can really sing. With that voice, the hair, and those great Bette Davis eyes, I'll bet she could have had a career as a solo artist...

 
Today's post will be late...my wife's leaving for France for a week this morning and we're going out for breakfast before she has to go. Meanwhile, you could reminisce about 1995 while paging through the Pavement Boy calendar, if you wish. (Click on the text underneath the Pavement Boy comic book, and bless you Gail O'Hara for archiving this!)

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

 
Faithful Friends [Epic, 1969]

In case anyone is still wondering, this is one of the most useless groups in memory. They ought to be forced to play "A Whiter Shade of Pale" at a book party on Central Park South until they choke on their own hair, and Leonard Bernstein should be forced to embalm them. D


Wow. Ouch. That was Robert Christgau on the album I'm featuring today, Faithful Friends by the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble. My copy is on ATCO, btw.

There are a lot of Christgau bashers out there, but I'm not one of them. I don't usually buy records based on his recommendations, but I like his compressed style and about half the time I find his reviews making sense long after I initially didn't get them.

But, I think he might have been a little bit too harsh on Faithful Friends. I don't think he's the type to write back and explain his positions, so I didn't bother emailing him, but I'm guessing that there's a political explanation for the review. Here's my best guess:

I think it's probably an old review, from a time when the band was still around. I'm thinking that at this time, people who didn't like rock, or who looked down on it, might have put a group of Julliard students who mixed rock with Bach onto a pedestal. I'm thinking that Christgau was reacting against this. The thing is that 35 years later, none of this really matters much.

Things worth knowing: The NYR&RE did do a cover of Whiter Shade of Pale, and they were praised by Leonard Bernstein.

Allmusic seems to have the best write-up on the group, and I'll mention that the best-known member Michael Kamen died last year and that he was involved with a lot of questionable musical acts during his career, as well as some good ones (I didn't know until about five minutes ago that he has a co-write with the Flaming Lips) [Someone points out in the comments that this isn't really a co-write. My bad]. You've likely heard some of the other band members' subsequent music as well.

Faithful Friends has a kind of a "Broadway" tendency that could be off-putting, there's something lightweight and overly clean about the performances, and the second side is noticeably weaker than the first. On the whole, though, it's a nice orchestral pop album that's aged better than Christgau might have expected. Unfortunately, it's also not on CD.

From side one of the album, here's City, Asking Too Much (which segues into Trio Sonata No. 2 In G Major by "B-A-C-H-K") and Wait Until Tomorrow (a Jimi Hendrix cover that probably did a lot of the Christgau-pissing-off, assuming that Christgau had to deal with people insisting that the NYR&RE's version was better because it was coming from real musicians). I don't hear anything much wrong with these...I'd be interested to read comments.

From side two, here's the song Faithful Friends which sounds a lot like an outtake from Jesus Christ Superstar (I actually like this, but I can see how it would have played poorly with the hipper critics at the time) and here's the last song Brandenburg, which is the most overt mix of classical and rock. If you're taking this all as a serious artistic statement or as a cutting-edge joining of high and low, then yes, it's kind of silly. But as songs/arrangements go, these are all pretty strong.

The next NYR&RE album is a collaboration with a Greek composer, Manos Hadjidakis, that I don't like much...Christgau's review would make more sense for that one which is both a little pretentious and mostly-tuneless. (Part of me wishes that they'd collaborated with Iannis Xenakis instead, but I haven't heard anything by Manos Hadjidakis other than Never On Sunday, so I don't know what his "serious" stuff is like.) It's available as an import CD, if you're curious. There's a two-fer CD that collects the group's last two albums...I've previewed the records (haven't bought them, which means I might have missed something) but they sounded more 70's (it's weird how easy it often is to hear the difference between '69 and '72) and lacked Faithful Friends' charm. There's a first, self-titled album that I'm having trouble tracking down...it's not exactly rare or expensive, but it's getting harder to actually find a copy to buy. I secretly suspect that it's probably as good as Faithful Friends, but I guess I'll find out.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

 
Over the weekend I paid another visit to The Record Store That Sells 80's Albums That No One Has Ever Heard Of For $2.99, which is currently my favorite store in NYC. I didn't find anything as amazing as the Wayfarers album, but I did turn up a really weird mystery record. I'm hoping that someone will read this and shed some light.

The band is called The Upbeats , the record is called Pop Songs, and it's on Laser Records. It came out in 1986, and the address for the label is in Athens, GA, which says to me that someone must know more about these guys -- that's too much of a music hub to produce an unknown band. I can't find a thing on the internet. Well, I did find one store that's selling a promo copy of the album, but they gave no information. My copy is a promo also, in a plain black sleeve. I wonder if there are any "real" copies.

I bought it after previewing a song that should be better known. Here's Jello Party Mania, which I'm sort of stunned not to find on any WFMU playlists. This song breaks a number of rules: novelty songs shouldn't last over five minutes, you shouldn't include a piano solo in a novelty song (unless piano solos are part of the joke), songs about Fraternity theme-parties aren't funny, white people singing with fake accents aren't funny (it seems to include aspects of Athens, Jamaican and Italian)...I'm willing to put up with all of this because the song moves in such strange ways and the singers really do sound enthusiastic about their jello party. My wife is patiently waiting for me to stop playing it over and over...I give it another couple of days.

So by itself, Jello Party Mania isn't so weird. What's weird is the rest of the album. It kicks off with a Windbreakers style track called Just Another Pop Song that has an almost Game Theory-esque chord progression and a lead guitar part that sounds like it was influenced by the sound of a turntable coming up to speed. The production is mostly what you'd expect from an 80's bar-band's demo and the group doesn't seem to know what to do for a bridge and chorus, but somehow the verse is getting really stuck in my head.

Next track is a pretty straight cover of I Wanna Be Your Man, which makes no sense to me. Other tracks on the album include a classical piano piece called Nothing To Fear (you keep waiting for it to turn into a pop song, but instead it turns into a horrible fusion instrumental) and an absolutely terrible prog/fusion instrumental called Roadrunner. There's a pop song called The Laser Beam Boys that features kids singing, a catchy verse/chorus that they repeat over and over, and an awful wanky guitar solo that's straight out of Guitar Player magazine.

Finally, the record ends with two almost Terrastock style pieces: an instrumental and a kind of pretty folk/psych (but still with cheesy 80's production) track called Someone Like You.

I don't know if I've encountered anything, this side of Kim Fowley, that combines interesting ideas with garbage in quite the same way. Part of me wonders if the record is a compilation of different bands, but there's nothing to indicate that. I'd love to find out more about it. I can't say that Pop Songs is exactly good, but it's one of the most interesting things I've heard lately.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?