Tuesday, November 30, 2004

 

Skyband continued

God I love that album cover. If I could come up with a good excuse, I'd run it for the rest of this week.

Ok, so if yesterday didn't sway you to the side of Skyband, I'll add a few more reasons why you might be interested. I'm also going to post a fairly large chunk of the album because 1) I've been liking it more and more lately and 2) it's not on CD and not likely to be on CD anytime soon, and nobody ever seems to talk about it.

It's possible that a lot of Christina Aguilera fans don't know the long history of Skyband's Steve Kipner, who helped make Genie In A Bottle a reality (though it would appear that David Frank actually came up with the music part of that song, including that neat bass drum thing which is probably the most interesting part). Luckily, there's a great, great page here that details Steve's long strange trip from leader of the beat group Steve and The Boards to songwriter-to-the-stars. Interestingly, that page (and every other bio I've seen) glosses over Skyband.

The main things to be aware of are 1) the fact that Steve's dad was at one point the Bee Gees' manager and 2) the fact that Maurice Gibb produced and played on two albums by Steve's early 70's band Tin Tin (not to be confused with Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy from Duran Duran/The Lilac Time).

The final piece of the puzzle comes when you note that the production on Skyband was supervised by John Pantry (about whom I am far from an expert!). He was an assistant engineer on some Beatles and Stones albums, and an engineer for the Bee Gees and the above mentioned Tin Tin, and was a very Beatle/Bee Gees influenced songwriter/singer/etc. If you don't have a lot of money or time and want to investigate his catalog further, you'll probably want to pick up a semi-recent vinyl comp (scroll down) and a CDR comp (scroll down) of his work. The short version: he knew how to record things that sound like the Bee Gees.

So the point of all this is that there's a fair amount of Bee Gees lurking behind that Skyband cover photo. And, in fact, a lot of the album sounds very much like stuff from Idea or Horizontal. Need I mention that I really like the Bee Gees?

What's interesting about Skyband is that, on the one hand, there are these songs that sound exactly like Gibb brother out-takes, but there's also a completely unrelated, almost Bob Seger "rock and roll" influence on other tracks. Very occasionally the two sides collide in one song. I'd guess that the more raucous aspect of the band's sound is coming from Pete Beckett or Lane Caudell, but I really don't know.

When I first got the album, I loved Bang! Ooh! Ya Got Me! (posted yesterday) and thought the rest was better-than-average but not A-list. Over time, the other material has really been growing on me. It's not half-assed at all: the details in the performances and production are there, the lyrics are tight, and the singing is excellent. So here are seven more Skyband tracks, with very brief commentary. If you have a chance, check them out with headphones. Though not flashy, the production is really nice.

Me & The Raver: kind of like some of the Bee Gees' country influenced songs (e.g. Marley Purt Drive from the wonderful Odessa album). The singing gets a little excitable during the bridge, but otherwise I really like this.

Pie In The Sky: once the harmonies start, this sounds so Bee Gees! If you're only going to download one track today, this is probably the one.

Hollywood: (if Holly could, ba-dum, ching!). This would be my second choice. Actually, it's a close call. More country influence, tastefully deployed.

Dream Machine: this one's kind of interesting. Starts out in rock mode, then switches to almost-disco mode for the verse. Then back to rock (with fuzz synth) for the chorus. Very AOR vocals at times. I'm pretty sure I hear the phrase "Astral Taxi" during the chorus. Astral Taxi was the second Tin Tin album.

Spotlight On The Dancer: And then there's this. I kind of like it, but it's total bar band. You can almost smell the flat Bud Light emanating from this track. Southside Johnny could have covered it. Pretty good, nonetheless.

Cold Light Of Day: Lovely piano beginning, kind of like Bowie's Lady Grinning Soul. Note the totally ridiculous "C'mon!" during the intro. Then it turns into the Bee Gees meet...Kansas maybe? I know that sounds horrifying, but it's well written with nice harmonies. Two segments of the song are better than the verse/chorus: there's a wonderful bridge about halfway through, and then a very cool guitar solo outro that sound like something Mick Ronson might have done.

Roll It Over: Yet another Rock and Roller. On the one hand, it would only take a few tweaks to turn this into something kind of like a NY Dolls song, but they're pretty crucial tweaks. Again, nice guitar work, especially as the song goes on. Also, the sax solo is much better than it probably needed to be.

Comments greatly appreciated as always. As I said, it took me a little while to warm to these, but I did after 4-5 listens. For John Pantry completests, the one track he's credited for co-writing is Bang! Ooh! Ya Got Me! If anyone knows who "Cotton" or "Gibson" might be (they have some co-writing credits) I'd love to know.

Monday, November 29, 2004

 

We are Skyband, and we have come from the sky, in our sky-headgear!! (And one of us looks more comfortable in his sky-outfit than the other two.)

As mentioned last Friday, you can draw lines from Skyband to the cult trash movie Satan's Cheerleaders which included Skybander Lane Caudell (who also turned up on Days Of Our Lives in the early 80's); to Christina Aguilera's hit single Genie In A Bottle which was co-written and co-produced by Skybander Steve Kipner; and to the enormous 70's hit Baby Come Back, written by Skybander Pete Beckett for his group Player (which even younger people might know, as it popped up on an episode of The Simpsons).

Pretty impressive for an album that doesn't even credit the band members.

On the other hand, the art director, the photographer, and the guy who designed that beautiful headgear do get credited. And they are...

Cover Photography: Earl Miller
If you read Penthouse magazine (I don't...I googled this), you're probably familiar with the work of Earl Miller. He has a NOT AT ALL WORK SAFE webpage here.

Art Direction: Frank Mulvey
He was RCA's art director at the time (1975) so he did a lot of stuff.

Skyband's Headgear: Jeremy Railton
Is there another album that credits the headgear designer but not the band? Jeremy Railton would go on to do design for a lot of rock 'n' rollers, including Rod Stewart and Cher (you never would have guessed that, right?). He also won an Emmy for his work on Pee Wee's Playhouse.

I'll have more reasons why this album is interesting tomorrow, but maybe it's time for a song. Before you get too excited, Skyband is not a great lost classic, but it is a good lost, um, record. Clearly the people behind the album had heard the advice about putting the best song first. Here's the album opener Bang! Ooh! Ya Got Me! Great title for a great and driving rock song that probably doesn't sound at all like what you were expecting after looking at the cover art (I know it took me by surprise). Note the bubble sound effects during the part about the deep sea diver...you have to love people who sweat details like this.

In connection with this mini-Skyband feature, it occurs to me that there might be a very few readers here who don't know what the Bee Gees sounded like before their disco days. Here's a demo called Mrs. Gillespie's Refrigerator...sorry about the sound quality, but you get the idea.

Skyband continued tomorrow...

Saturday, November 27, 2004

 
Ok, God's My Pal can be found here (click the "music box" link) for the time being (along with a link to what looks like a pretty neat compilation).

I haven't had time to pull out my Squirrelbait records to double check, but I'm thinking that God's lead singer sounds a little bit like Pete Searcy.

I was expecting their original version to be all tinny and thin and scrappy, and it isn't. It's not as over-the-top powerful as the Magic Dirt remake, but the vocals are (in my opinion, of course) better and the recording quality is much better than I was expecting.

I've impulsively ordered a used copy of their album For Lovers Only, which may or may not turn out to have been a smart impulse. I'll let you know. If you poke around gemm, though, there are a fair number of reasonably priced copies of it, as well as some other God releases. It looks like the CD may still be available from AuGoGo, but I'm not completely sure. [Someone from Australia wrote to inform me that AuGoGo is no more, so there goes that.]

Thursday, November 25, 2004

 
Wow, a kind reader has hooked me up with the original version of My Pal, by God (see this past Tuesday's post for Magic Dirt's cover).

It's really, really great. Much better than I'd expected. If all goes well, I'll link to it sometime over the weekend.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

 

Thanksgiving Cliffhanger

One of these guys wrote Baby Come Back.

One of these guys co-wrote and produced Genie In A Bottle.

One of these guys appeared in Satan's Cheerleaders.

I am so not making this up. Details next Monday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

 

So yesterday was probably my best shot at being the first mp3 blog to publicize a future top 40 artist, and you'd better believe I'm going to mention it for the rest of this week!

Meanwhile, maybe something heavier is in order.

Over the weekend I accidentally erased my iTunes music library (not the songs, but the index) and had to rebuild it. When it reloaded my iPod, I got a random selection that included some songs I'd forgotten I had.

How I forgot about Magic Dirt's killer non-lp track My Pal is beyond me. It's a cover of a song originally by an Aussie band called God whom I've never heard, and it comes from this soundtrack. It's from a time when Magic Dirt were probably at the top of their game. To quickly catch people up, Magic Dirt are an Australian band who, during their glory days, made a valiant effort to be Motorhead and Sonic Youth at the same time. These days they're still good, but in a much more radio friendly way.

A few more Magic Dirt tracks that you might not have heard: here's a live version of Sparrow (the original is from the utterly essential Friends In Danger CD which you can probably find used for less than $1) and here's a live version of Rabbit With Fangs (the original is from the not quite essential Young And Full Of The Devil CD, which will probably cost you too much unless you're already converted, in which case go ahead and buy it). I'm not 100% thrilled with the vocal part of Rabbit With Fangs, but as long as the guitars are doing what they're doing, Adalita can knock herself out singing jingles about vegemite for all I care.

Finally, here's an earlier Magic Dirt track called Ice. Take note of the exploding effects pedal at the end! This is probably as close as they got to the Sonic Youth-like college radio hit that Warner was hoping they'd have in them.

Monday, November 22, 2004

 
I wanted to post a quick note that John of the wonderful Tofu Hut was gracious enough to interview me this week. It appears on his site, and should eventually show up at Better Propaganda as part of their series on mp3 blogs. If you go to the Tofu Hut interview, you'll also get to see that wonderful Pixies t-shirt that my wife brought me back from France. It really does garner an awful lot of compliments, which makes me feel slightly guilty sometimes since I don't actually like the Pixies all that much.

Somewhere along the line, the editing elves changed one of my answers, and until it gets fixed I very much want everyone to know that Michael Duane and Jaqi Dulany were supposed to be listed as "most overlooked geniuses" not "most overrated useless pieces of trash to ever offend my ears." God, they're going to kill me!

Seriously...everyone go buy a copy of The Dustdevils' Struggling Electric & Chemical CD. You can probably find it used for less than $4, and it's, like, the great lost classic guitar noise album.

 

I'm kind of rushing today's post because I selfishly want to be the first mp3 blog to write about Alison Breitman. As far as I can tell, she has a much better-than-average chance of being a household name in a year or two.

I found out about her when she sent me an email, in which she refreshingly didn't claim to be a huge fan of my blog and didn't drop any names as influences. Her extremely minimal web page is here, and on first listen to the mp3s there, my take was that she was probably too mainstream to write about here. I wrote back and told her that I was kind of interested in hearing more, but couldn't guarantee that I'd write anything.

So, of course, I got her (self-released) CD in the mail last week and here it is Sunday evening and I've spent the past weekend emailing an mp3 of her song Heavy to everyone I know, and we're all kind of speculating on whether she's going to be the next...Bangles? Edie Brickell? Claire Hamill? Joni Mitchell? That Dog? Cat Power? Some other top-40 singer who I've never heard of? I really can't tell. Her CD The Game points promisingly in a bunch of different directions. It's produced well enough that you can enjoy it without apologies (and in fact, I've had it on pretty much constantly) but you can also hear where big-time production might take her, both for good and for bad.

Heavy is an obvious choice to post, but I'm still having trouble deciding on a second song. The mp3s at her website break down as:

Get In The Game - kind of Bangles-like circa Hero Takes A Fall. Check the bridge, especially. This track has grown on me a lot. It's a cute touch that while it starts with audience noise, it doesn't end with applause.

Unknowing - one of the more mainstream sounding songs, and not one of my favorites, though it's still pretty strong in the grand scheme of things.

Running Unsteady - comes from the same general place as Heavy. There's an Edie Brickell-sounding "la la la" section near the end that I wouldn't mind seeing snipped, but otherwise this is also fairly great.

I guess I'm going to go with Say Hello, because even though six-minute-long ballads are usually frowned on as far as hyping someone, it's the best showcase for how great her voice is (and to the somewhat thrilling way she manages to avoid any number of irritating vocal affectations that normally afflict people working this type of territory). Say Hello is also a fantastic song, assuming it makes it past your girl-folk firewall.

I'd especially like to get comments today. I'm aware that it's a long road from playing on Bleeker St. to the top 10, but I'm kind of excited about this CD. You can buy it from CDBaby here.

As part of my effort to not drop names that nobody knows: Claire Hamill (who I've posted about before) was an English Joni Mitchell type whose second record was an incredible folk-rock album called October. After that, she got picked up by Ray Davies of the Kinks who failed to make her a star on his Konk label, despite his promise to do so (which you can hear on the Kinks' BBC Sessions CD). My favorite track of hers is the first song from October, called Island, which might appeal to the Linda Perhacs fans in the audience.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

 

While we're on the subject of Drag City promos (see yesterday)...they are kind of neat. Above is the promo for Scott Walker's wonderful Tilt album, for which Drag City did the US release. Here's what the Fontana logo looks like:

I have a few other Drag City promos, though the two I've posted (yesterday and today) are my favorites that I've seen. If I had a lot of money and a lot of time to waste, I'd probably try to collect a complete set.

Actually, this seems like the sort of thing that rock/pop-culture scientist Adam Kempa might do well at documenting. Anyone want to try to get him interested? Not sure if he's a Drag City fan. You'd think there'd be a website devoted to this, but I haven't been able to find one yet.

And since I've posted a photo of the CD, here's the lead track Farmer In The City from Tilt, which is one of those strange and unclassifiable albums that you'll either love or hate. To the best of my knowledge, there's no other band/artist that sounds like this, which is probably worth something in this day and age. In other words, if you like this track...tough! To hear more Scott Walker, you might want to go here and download the mp3/click on the links.

[I should probably clarify: there are other songs that sound like Farmer In The City, e.g. things by the Divine Comedy, etc. The rest of Tilt is much weirder.]

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

 

News, current and not so current

U.S. Maple fans will probably be happy to learn that the often irritating eMusic has a live album available for download. No new songs, and the sound is ok but not "you are there." It's handy to have on hand, so that the next time some idiot tries to tell you that U.S. Maple don't know how to play their instruments and are just making noise, instead of having to drag your dumb friend to a show you can just play them the live tracks. Which are, pretty much note for note, identical to the album versions.

(If you're reading this and don't know who U.S. Maple are, the main point is that they often sound like a band collectively falling down a flight of stairs but they are not a noise/improv band, and in fact have some pretty catchy hooks in an extremely non-obvious way.)

I keep meaning to do an intro-to-U.S. Maple feature, but short of giving you all a Vicodin, I can't think of a really good way to start. Instead, here's their cover of Dylan's Lay Lady Lay from their most recent album Purple On Time. It's not my favorite song of theirs and POT (hmmmm) isn't my favorite album of theirs, but this is a relatively faithful rendition of a song most people know. So maybe it is a good introduction after all. (But it really is far from their best.) Ok, you know what. Here's a track called Tan Loves Blue from POT. Even though it's still much more normal sounding than the contents of my favorite U.S. Maple albums (which would be Talker and Acre Thrills) it's pretty great.

In other news, Boyskout, the new wave goth lesbians (as lazy reviewers across the US will probably refer to them when they get famous, so let's start now), made a WFMU appearance the other day. I continue to love their 2004 debut School Of Etiquette, and am really looking forward to whatever comes next. If you still haven't heard them (they've been featured here and at several other mp3 blogs) go straight to their website and listen to the mp3 for Back To Bed.

Something to start looking forward to: Enon have details up about their next album, to be released in 2005. I'm especially happy that they'll be including a DVD with the CD. The video for their great song In This City is extremely slick and wonderful and deserves a wider audience. It's included on a CD EP, but there it's compressed for computer. I am so hoping that Enon will bounce back from the kind of meh Hocus Pocus.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

 

Spent a lot of time at the vet last night with a little sick kitten, so not much time for posting. As long as I'm on the subject of bands with singers who might not appeal to everyone, maybe I should throw up a couple tracks by Yo.

I don't know much more about them than what appears at Hyped2Death (scroll down) and this small page devoted to the band.

I originally bought their Charm World lp at the Store That Sells Albums From The 80's That No One Has Heard Of for $2.99 Or So (which you're probably getting sick of hearing about) because of the back cover (see detail above). "Surely" I thought "that stylish, Naomi Yang looking chick in the middle must sing."

"I'll bet," I continued thinking, "this'll sound like the Donner Party or Damon & Naomi or something cool like that."

Sadly, the stylish Naomi Yang looking chick (Sally Engelfried) doesn't sing. Note to every band in the world: let the girl sing. It almost always helps.

In actuality, the scrappy 80's buzz of The Donner Party isn't that far off as comparisons go, but Yo don't have the Donner's humor, which makes for a huge difference. And Yo do have a lead singer who sounds like he's thinking of becoming Irish, or like he ate some Irish food, or something like that.

Anyway, I don't love Yo, but I do find track number one on side one Heard It All Before popping into my head fairly frequently. It would be nice if someone wanted to cover it. I'm not clear on which tracks are currently available from Hyped2Death, but I'm pretty sure that House of Sorrow is. It may be that both tracks I'm posting are on the Homework comps. Since they're my favorite ones, though, I'll run the risk of duplication.

Charm World came out in 1985 on Deadbeat Records in Oakland, in case you're looking. Check in the $1 bin. It's not on CD.

Hopefully there'll be less kitten trauma tomorrow.

Monday, November 15, 2004

 

A second day on Crash

If you're just arriving, I'm going to refer you to last Friday's post which will explain why you should be interested in Crash.

Ok, so there are a couple of flys in the ointment. I think that even the most fanatic Crash fan is going to have to deal with two things. One (the biggest problem) is that, to be blunt, Mark Dumais had trouble singing on key. His bandmates knew it and anyone listening is going to know it. He apparently didn't care. Whether that's a deal breaker for you or not is up to you. It's something that bothers me and makes me want to hear his songs re-recorded, but over time I've largely adjusted to the point where I can enjoy the original tracks.

Two, it's never very hard to tell who Mark was listening to when he wrote any given song. I'm not going to lie to you and say that he never heard of the Jesus & Mary Chain, for example, because there's really no pretense otherwise. Again, given the fact that the J&MC spent most of their career ripping themselves off, this doesn't seem like a fatal flaw to me.

Ultimately, I think that Mark Dumais was a pretty good to great songwriter who, had he had more time, could have developed into someone who wouldn't need any apologies at all. As it is, he died without getting to do so, so we'll never know what might have happened. His last musical project, Tangerine, has some interesting moments though it's in an early Creation dance-pop mode that doesn't appeal to me as much as the Crash stuff.

Last time I wrote about the band, I mentioned that there's a real divide between side one and side two of their lp I Feel Fine, with side two being the point where Mark discovers the Reid brothers. I must not have paid quite enough attention to the details of that side, as I didn't notice what a great track John Stood By is until I recently got the Everything Under The Sun compilation, where it stands out more due to the sequencing. Ultra Vivid Scene fans should definitely check out the guitar work in this.

A few other favorites: here's What I Found, probably inspired by the J&MC's Some Candy Talking stuff. Here's All I Get, which points to a sound that Crash might have claimed as their own. Finally, here's their last single, Bright Colored Lights, which has been covered a few times by the sort of people you might read about in chickfactor.

If you're planning on going to eBay or gemm or such to pick up some Crash, be aware that while there's overlap between their vinyl-only lp I Feel Fine and the CD-only compilation Everything Under The Sun, there are worthwhile tracks exclusive to each. I'd probably recommend looking for the CD first.

One thing to look forward to: L. D. Beghtol, who some of you Magnetic Fields fans may know (he's also involved with a group called Flare and another called The Moth Wranglers) is working on some sort of a tribute to Crash. I'll post about it as soon as there's anything to post. If you're on the west coast, you might want to go to the upcoming Moth Wranglers record release party and beg them to do Don't Look Now as an encore. They're also playing in NYC on December 2 (my birthday!) but it's a late show on a work night, so I'm not sure I'll be there.

Friday, November 12, 2004

 

Sonic Upgrade day

Thanks to hints from two readers, I finally managed to acquire a copy of the Crash CD compilation Everything Under The Sun without going broke. Since Allmusic can't be bothered to get this right, the details are Justine records, 1992, JUSTCD1. I've posted about Crash a few times before. The references are (depending on where you're coming from):

Before he formed Ultra Vivid Scene, Kurt Ralske played guitar in a band called Crash.

Better known for her fantastic cassette-only albums (much of which did ultimately get CD releases), Linda Smith sang backup on one of the best songs by a band called Crash.

In addition to playing in a band called The Woods with Linda Smith and drumming for a DNA related solo group, percussionist Brian Bendlin was an early member of a band called Crash.

Before forming the early Creation dance/pop group Tangerine, the late Mark Dumais helmed a band called Crash who often combined Jesus & Mary Chain guitars with Morrissey-esque vocals.

When not stinking up the joint with Fountains of Wayne, Adam Schlesinger occasionally appears in a reasonably decent band called Ivy who once had an album produced by Kurt Ralske, who played in a band called Crash long ago.

There's a few more, but you get the idea.

So, today I'm posting a few tracks that I've put up before, but this time ripped from CD. This is one of the rare occasion where I find myself appreciating a band much more on CD than on vinyl. Here's I Feel Fine, which is probably their best song and which would probably make for a great cover version. And here's Don't Look Now, which has been covered a few times. More on Monday.

(Is it me, or does that cover photo look slightly obscene? That never struck me while looking at the CD, but on my monitor... Maybe it's just me.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

 
I'll tell you once more before I get off
The floor don't bring me down.


I'm looking at the lyric sheet from the CD remaster of ELO's Discovery that came out a few years ago. In each of the other verses, the line is broken up the way you'd expect, but on the last verse they print the lyrics thusly. I wonder if that's intentional. Kind of changes the meaning a bit, no? I also always thought the chorus was "don't bring me down...vrooosh" or "don't bring me down... Bruce!" But it's actually "Don't bring me down, grroosss." Maybe I should read lyric sheets more often.

I'm thinking about ELO for two reasons. One is that I've been rereading the collection of '66-'73 Playboys that my wife gave me for Christmas one year, and the other day I stumbled across an old and unfunny ad featuring Don Imus, who I thought was absolutely hysterical when I was 10-11 years old (I didn't reproduce the whole ad...you're not missing anything). I should really send my dad a letter apologizing for forcing him to listen to that crap every day on the way to school. In retrospect, he (my dad) was really a trooper. Discovery originally came out in 1979, when I was 10 and 11, so there's that connection.

The second reason is that someone recently mentioned having trouble getting into ELO over at I Love Music, and the first thing that popped into my head was that I haven't heard The Diary of Horace Wimp in something like 20 years. God, I used to love that song with its little vocoder run amok. The spirit of Paul McCartney is all over Horace Wimp (and ELO), but I don't think Paul would've recorded something so overtly goofy (Paul's weirdness usually being a little weirder). I originally downloaded someone else's mp3 of the song, but somehow it didn't sound as big as I remembered, so yesterday I ran out at lunch and bought a copy of the CD.

(Incidentally, who would've thought that Borders on Lexington and 57th would have such a decent music section. I'm not saying it's worth a special trip, but I was not expecting to find a Merzbow selection on this particular shopping trip. I also finally got to hear that Rush covers album at a listening station, and it turns out to be somewhat good. Geddy's voice seems somewhat less piercing than it was in the old days, and their version of Love's Seven and Seven Is is kinda worth checking out. Not sure why the Amazon customers dislike it so.)

Even off of the remastered CD, Horace Wimpisn't quite the quadraphonic multi-hued blow-out that I remember, but 11-year-old ears have a way of doing that. It's still a great song, and I'm glad to be hearing it again.

At the end of the day, I was a little doped up on antihistamines and went walking down Fifth Avenue in midtown with Cover Me by Part Chimp blaring on my iPod, and it was lovely. BTW, Cover Me is the best song I've heard this year (it's not even a close contest) and I again extend my thanks to Spoilt Victorian Child for bringing it to my attention. It didn't come out this year, which is too bad as I'd love to make it my #1 single of 2004. The way the treble of the guitars is so suppressed during the verses reminds me of a song called "Go To A Party" by a band called the Fems (scroll down). I haven't heard that in a long, long time so don't be mad if I'm misremembering. I'm trying to track down a copy, but I don't expect it to be easy.

Monday, November 08, 2004

 

I'm very excited to finally have something to write about that actually came out this year, though I'm planning to plunge back into the nostalgia later this week.

Meanwhile, The Shebrews is the slightly dumb name taken by a team consisting of one ex-Legendary Jim Ruiz Group chanteuse named Stephanie Winter-Ruiz, a guy named John Crozier who's been in a number of bands that I've managed to miss completely, and their friends from Minneapolis (including Jim Ruiz). I've no doubt that Gail O'Hara owns every release by everyone involved in this project, which has been kicking around for years releasing the odd track here and there.

The new mini-album is called Off With Their Hearts and the label's website is here. Right off the bat, I can recommend this to anyone who likes the Would-Be-Goods approach to 60's styles (one of the weakest tracks on this album is a cover of a Would-Be-Goods track called I Want Cand...I mean Motorbike Girl). On the other hand, the Shebrews are less mannered, or foppish or...god, I don't know. It's not like they're out there playing Motorhead covers, but they're not quite as effete as the W-B-G's. It's a matter of shading that's hard to convey.

I can't exactly pick a typical track, as the styles are varied. There's a nice cover of Ray Davies' This Strange Effect, a very Jim Ruiz/loungy sounding track sung in French, a gentle Marine Girls/Tracey Thorne/EBTG homage, a surprisingly Scarlet's Well-sounding song, etc. If you're recognizing the names I'm dropping, you're probably already convinced. For the uninitiated, it's a relatively non-kitschy trip through some of the more "sophisticated" pop styles of the 60's, though without period production. Probably not for the people who came here for Zoogz Rift.

My favorite track is the lead-off Turning Red (bookending an album that ends with Turning Blue), which features much bigger production than the rest of the CD. It's also more melodically interesting than most things of this sort that I hear. I'd like to post a second track for balance, but there are only eight songs total, so that seems excessive. I think at this point you know if the record is for you.

The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group are probably now best known because [hick accent] "I saw this great movie called Oh Brother Where Out Thou and I ordered the soundtrack from Amazon and got this weird CD with a bunch of white bread city kids singing about their car." Apparently sales of the LJRG's first album (which pre-dates the movie) saw a real spike due to not-so-swift Amazon customers.

I've never been able to make up my mind about Jim Ruiz and his Group. Whenever I hear their CD, I have to look over my shoulder to check and see if Whit Stillman is DJ'ing. Kind of like The Jazz Butcher at times, but sounding more Republican, they pull off a very well-done take on some occasionally dubious genre exercises. I've seen their songs posted on other mp3 blogs, but never my favorite which succeeds with a swirly chorus and an odd lyric about a party that Jim found boring. Here's Glad They're Gone, which gets better and better and better as it goes along. And here's a pretty detailed article on Jim and his bands.

Friday, November 05, 2004

 
One final day of The Orchids. Like many, I discovered them after they'd called it a day. I don't think that they ever toured the US, so even if I'd been on top of developments at Sarah records during the band's existence, I still would've known them only through recordings. I'm sometimes tempted to delve further into the mysteries of the Sarah label, but then I think about the period when glenn of The War against Silence suddenly found out about Sarah and set off on a quest to retroactively participate in a moment that had ceased to exist. While the experience seems to have made him happy, I was always reminded of the Bradbury story "The Man" where a guy traipses the cosmos in a desperate effort to land on a planet concurrently with Jesus (in this story, every planet with a population gets a Jesus), always arriving a week, a day, an hour, or a few seconds too late. I also think about my own experience with Small Factory, a slightly Sarah-like US band that I followed intently at one time and now can't listen to without becoming catastrophically depressed. Then I start to think about the endless stream of people who arrive at this site after googling Small Factory drummer Phoebe Summersquash, and I wonder what exactly they're hoping to find. So I've never made a concerted effort to know all there is to know about Sarah, and I deal with The Orchids without taking into account their place in a small and largely forgotten English cult.

Given that, to me they were a faceless band with a fairly non-descriptive name (and the album art doesn't give away much either). The only reason I bought The Orchids' double LP Epicurean - A Soundtrack when I found it -- at Holy Cow mixed in with a stack of 12" dance singles (typical Holy Cow filing system)-- was a combo of the Sarah name, unusually uninformative cover art, and the fact that it was manufactured in France (I'm vaguely predisposed to pay attention to albums that aren't made in Canada, the US, England or Germany, as you don't see many of them in Brooklyn). There are so many great records that I've bought based on flimsy evidence that I get a little nervous when I think about a future where there's only mail-order and downloading. I mean, if I only had Amazon to rely on I probably wouldn't have found out about those cute Drag City promo CDs. Just as an example.

I'm still surprised that The Orchids didn't make a bigger splash. I wouldn't call myself a rabid fan, but I swear I have a harder time deciding on favorite Orchids songs than I've had with almost any band of ever featured. They seem to have managed uncanny quality control for much of their career. I find this especially impressive because they didn't stick with the same sound throughout. They did English guitar pop (post-Smith's variety), moody psych-pop (like that track Yawn from a few days ago) and then dancier stuff, especially towards the end of their career. Having covered two of those three categories yesterday and the day before, I'm aiming today's tracks in the general direction of the well-meaning Belle and Sebastian fan who's just coming to grips with the fact that there ain't going to be another Tigermilk/Sinister. As with every band that "sounds like B&S" other then Camera Obscura, The Orchids don't really sound like Belle and Sebastian, but they occasionally seem to be working from a similar set of influences, and there's some resemblance in the vocals.

Here's a trio of songs from Epicurean - A Soundtrack, which compiles a slew of their stuff. I'd pick it as the place to start investigating the group if you don't want to wait for a reissue program, as it touches on a bunch of different styles and is, frankly, crammed with great songs far beyond the call of duty. It did come out on CD and the CD sounds very nice. First up is It's Only Obvious, which strikes me as something that would have been a huge hit if it had only been recorded in time to appear in a good John Hughes movie. Next, here's the anthemic (my mind briefly turns to U2, but a kinder, gentler U2) Something For The Longing. Finally, here's an uptempo track called Caveman that's kind of jangle-pop, though the production suddenly gets more interesting 35 seconds in.

I'll stop there, though I'm tempted to post song after song. Hope you like some of this, and I feel fairly sure that someone's going to reissue all of it sooner or later. Discography with album covers is here.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

 
So yesterday we checked in with Kevin Ayers, as the starting point for a trip back to Sarah band The Orchids, who really could use a reissue program.

That song by Kevin may pop into your head while listening to Weird Gear by a group called Ultramarine. The album that it comes from is called Every Man And Woman Is A Star, and while it hadn't turned into a rarity, it was somewhat out-of-print until a reissue from a couple of years back. Said reissue is supposedly remastered, though I haven't heard it. The original sounds fine, so I'm not sure how big a difference it would make.

I don't have any particular ethical objection to electronica/dance music/etc. but I'll admit that this blog is fairly damning evidence that it's a genre I don't tend to investigate much, and I'll be honest enough to admit that this is because I tend not to like what I hear. Every Man And Woman Is A Star is the big exception, and my experience is that it's an exception for a lot of people. Maybe it's the influence of the Canterbury scene, maybe it's the organic sounds woven in with the beats, maybe it's better-than-usual songwriting floating atop the grooves, and maybe it's the resolutely sunny atmosphere that permeates the CD. For whatever reason, it's a real favorite of mine, and seems to be one of the few CDs of its type that can cross the blood/brain barrier of almost anyone, regardless of their general taste. Here's another track from the album: Stella.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't help thinking that the song A Living Ken and Barbie by...yay, we're back to The Orchids, owes its existence to the above Ultramarine track. A Living Ken and Barbie comes from an Orchids CD (out of print, like everything they did) called Striving For The Lazy Perfection. If you downloaded yesterday's Orchids track, you may notice that this one sounds nothing like it. They went through a few phases, and were surprisingly successful at pretty much everything they did.

Tomorrow I'll post a few more tracks by The Orchids, probably more in their guitar/indie-pop mode.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

 
I'm writing this early on Tuesday evening, so maybe Bush/Kerry related things will be more exciting by the time you read this tomorrow. Meanwhile I'm sure a lot of us are bored with election news (especially if we live in states that are a foregone conclusion, as do I) so I'm celebrating the end of it (hopefully) with a big Yawn by Sarah band The Orchids. For those of you who vaguely know about the Sarah label as a home of twee, this song doesn't really fit that mold. It's more like slightly Jesus & Mary Chain influenced psych with exemplary use of minimal drum machine.

To date, the Sarah band that's seemed to get the most attention is The Field Mice. I was lucky enough to buy their compilation CD Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way back when it originally came out, avoiding the fate of subsequently having to pay $80 or so for it after it went out of print. Luckily, things are looking up. Most people who care about such matters probably know that a major Field Mice reissue campaign is in the works (which means you probably don't want to pay big $ for Where'd You Learn To Kiss anymore).

Personally, I like the Field Mice ok but can't say I'm a fanatic. The Orchids are the Sarah band that really get me excited. I'll have more on them for the rest of the week, but it's going to start out, oddly enough, with this track by Kevin Ayers, called Butterfly Dance. I love connecting dots from strange beginnings...

Ex-Soft Machine guy Kevin has been featured in a lot of other mp3 blogs lately, so I'll just refer you to Allmusic or to his website for further info. I'm not going to post it, but if you're a fan of Syd Barrett (especially his song Rats) I urge you to track down a Kevin Ayers track called Song From The Bottom Of A Well. It's creepy.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

 
Happy election day! In semi-concert with the terrific Lacunae website, I'm offering the Girls At Our Best! track Politics, which is the sound of an angry Girl-Scout troop making its feeling known! (It's a great, great, super-catchy song...I posted a GAOB! track last week, and felt like one wasn't really enough, so when opportunity knocked, I answered). There's a bridge that's less twee than the rest of the track, so I urge you to stick around even if you're a twee-hater (and may the twee gods have mercy on your poor lost soul). Nice thing about GAOB! is that if you're inclined to check them out, you basically (give or take a Peel Session) only have one CD to buy. It's called Pleasure and came out on the Vinyl Japan label in 1994. The bad news is that it's out of print, but it shouldn't be too ridiculously expensive.

As a further Lacunae tie in, here's a track by Scarlet's Well (Lacunae recently mentioned Bid -- that's a person -- of the Monochrome Set, who lurks behind Scarlet's Well these days). When I listen to River, it washes my cares away like nobody's business. I may be listening to it a lot during the next four years, depending on what happens today.

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