Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Astropop 3 - Light Years Away

Astropop 3 – Light Years Away 7”
Asian Man Records, 2000
Acquired: Asian Man Records Mailorder, New, 2003
Price: ~$.25

Oh man! This is an awesome little understated bedroom pop record a la the Softies and Harriet Records' Tokidoki. This sounds like a band Transmittens would like. There's the alternating boy-girl vocals. The sweet hooks, the reverb wash of the fuzzy guitars, the terrific chorus, “Light Years Away” is a lovable little jam that I'm excited to have stumbled upon and, more so, excited that I didn't sell it on the grounds of having not listened to it. The b-side “Agatha” finds songwriter Dan Villaneuva on lead vocals and he's just got that excellent male indie-pop voice that's hard to find. I'm thinking of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, who are constantly trying to get that Sarah Records male vocal sound (a la the Field Mice, St. Christopher, Brighter, etc) and while vocalist Kip Berman does a great job, and while I like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, it just doesn't sound nearly as honest and real as Villaneuva. Or maybe it's just the lo-fi production. He's got a little Stewart Copeland in him, which adds a little edge and keeps him from sounding like a wimp, which is nice in a world where wimpy music has found its own little home in the mainstream (I'm looking at you, Coldplay).

Here's a live video of their song "Nothing Without You."

The Amps - Bragging Party 7"

The Amps – Bragging Party 7”
4AD, 1995
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2006
Price: $.25

The Amps are Kim Deal's Breeders side project that sounds pretty much just like the Breeders to the point where the Breeders play Amps songs live. Rightly so, because the Amps one LP, Pacer, is fucking great, and the single “Bragging Party” is the fucking jam. It's a slow burn with a gorgeous, subtle little melody that tends to stick in my head. It's one of those songs I used as a touchstone of mid-90s college rock when I hosted Alternative Flashback on KJ, despite never being able to play this song on the radio. Actually, this 7” is an ex-radio copy, judging by the plain white cover with the hand scrawled “THE AMPS – BRAGGING PARTY DNP.” Why 4AD would have sent out a radio single that was strictly a DNP is beyond me, but I'm not complaining. Actually, the only thing I will complain about is that there's not a sick b-side, but having a righteous jam like “Bragging Party” on two sides of wax ain't nothing to be sad about, either!

Harry Nilsson - Son of Schmilsson

Harry Nilsson – Son of Schmilsson
RCA, 1972
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2010
Price: $2

It's funny how a guy who sings about singing his balls off in the chorus of the first song on this record achieved any sort of acclaim. I mean, I get his version of “Without You,” and every time I hear it I think it's some cheesy power ballad before realzing it's Nilsson and it's really endearing and heartbreaking, but “Coconut,” really? How is that popular! IT IS SO WEIRD! Anyway, speaking of weird, SON OF SCHMILSSON, which features Nilsson dressed as a vampire on the cover, which is why I bought it, because that is awesome. It's an incredibly indulgent record, but masterfully pulled off by one of the few people who can do indulgent because, goddamnit, the man is just plain gifted. Just look at the country twang of “Joy.” This should sound hokey but he delivers it with a faux-Johnny Cash drawl and great wit and somehow this works. Some day I will tell Jenny that “I want to make her feel all clammy inside,” which is both weird and kind of sweet...in a weird way. And then BAM the 70s soft rock greatness of “Turn on Your Radio.” It just hits. Nilsson's vocals are so smooth, warm, etc, and Richard Perry's production encapsulates it in a neat little sonic package, picking out the finger picked guitar and layering the woodwinds just right. Are there even woodwinds on that song? It sounds like there are. And then, another fucking amazing transition into “You're Breaking My Heart.” It's jarring as hell but again, it works because this off the cuff shit is Nilsson's great talent. “You're breakin' my heart/ You're tearin' it apart/ So fuck you,” he sings. Dig it. Sweet record.

I think this video is highly appropriate:

Fiery Furnaces - Gallowsbird's Bark

The Fiery Furnaces – Gallowsbird's Bark
Rough Trade, 2003
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2010
Price: $4

Man, this was such a huge record my senior year of high school, just not for me. I was just making my transition from punk to indie rock and this was on the docket. A big, highly acclaimed, apparently innovative indie rock record...that I thought was half awesome and half a couple of rich white kids messing around. And, seven years later, that's what it sounds like, but when taking the records the Fiery Furnaces have released in that time, well, this sounds refreshing. They seem to have dove head first into being weird for weirdness' sake and lost all the heart and joy that's on display on this album. Tunes like the carnivalesque opener “South is Only a Home” and the slow-burn lilt of “Up in the North” caught me, but the middle part of the album always feels way too long and way too unfocused. The siblings Friedberger most certainly know how to pen terrific pop songs, but it often feels like they're overloading their songs with too many ideas, weird or otherwise. Fortunately, the trio of songs that close the album--“Tropical Ice-Land,” “Rub Alcohol Blues,” and the woozy blues of “We Got Back the Plague”--are a masterful mini-suite. In the scheme of the Fiery Furnaces, this is still one of their best records. I never quite made sense of Blueberry Boat, and the EP that followed that album was pretty much their pop-peak for me. However, I didn't hate their grandma album, Rehearsing my Choir, as much as everyone else because it was at least endearing, but every album from 2005 on has had about 2 or 3 great songs and a mess of tangled weirdo blah. However, I say all this without having given a listen to their latest, I'm Going Away, so maybe all of this is wrong.

Not the album version, but love the video for Tropical Iceland"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Ampersands - Annabel Bleach 7"

The Ampersands – Annabel Bleach 7”
Harriet Records, 1996
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2007
Price: $.25

So, this is my favorite 7” and it cost me as much as a handful of Chewy Spree at the grocery store. Well, mostly just for the title track. It's hard to describe why I love it though. It's kind of like my platonic ideal of indie-pop. It sounds like a wimpy Australian guy putting together a brilliant pop song in his bedroom and then getting a few of his friends to help out and form a “band.” There's this organ thing that comes in on the last verse that just destroys me, every single time. Jenny just came home as I was putting this on and I was like “OH WAIT! Listen to this weird organ thing that comes in!” I'm obsessed with that organ part! It's carnival-esque, and you would think it was totally ill-fitting in this sweet little ramshackle pop song but it works so well. The titular Annabel Bleach was a member of the Ampersands fellow Aussies the Cannanes, which appeals to my love of bands who are friends referencing each other. The lyrics are weird and awesome and perfect. Someday, I will be able to share this people in the virtual world, but until then, it remains a secret treasure resigned to mixtapes and guests.

Alkaline Trio - Hell Yes 7"

Alkaline Trio – Hell Yes 7”
Lookout, 2001
Acquired: Hot Topic, New, 2002
Price: $1

Man, gotta love the Hot Topic bargain bin! This was at the heart of my Alkaline Trio obsession which lasted all throughout the last years of high school. I still love them, despite their latter day sins, all missteps were forgiven after catching their live show. Granted, they played almost exclusively old stuff, so I was easy to please. Anyway, this is one of those songs I can listen to ten times in a row, and that's no small feat! It dates back to the From Here to Infirmary sessions which featured ex-Smoking Pope Mike Felumlee on drums and really, it's still my favorite line-up. “Hell Yes” is Matt Skiba pulling off another brilliant bitter love song. I had this on repeat a lot during 2008, and I was usually sitting alone on my bedroom floor drunk. Perfect drunk heartbreak music, that's what this is! Dan's b-side, “My Standard Break From Life” is another pretty great track. Like “Hell Yes,” it's an awesome b-side that didn't quite fit in on the LP but seems perfectly at home on this 7”. Anyway, it's the bitterness in Skiba's voice and and the sweetness in Adriano's that gets me. That and how Skiba is my hopelessness yin and Adriano is my hopefullness yang. Something like that, if that makes sense...even though "My Standard Break From Life" isn't that hopeful, it's pretty sad, but you know...

Hell Yes.

AND! "My Standard Break From Life" solo!

Airlines - For Richard 7"

Airlines – For Richard 7”
Susstones, 1989
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2007
Price: $.25

Oh man, the best thing about buying all those random 7”s from Love Garden is all the random awesome shit I've stumbled onto. For instance, Airlines features Chicago music critic Jim DeRogatis on drums! Knowing that one of my rock chump icons actually plays in a band ups his cred immensely. This is a weird 7”. Really weird. “For Richard” is a pretty derivative deep dark Joy Division imitation and the b-side, “Road” is a proto-indie rock Nick Drake cover! It's nothing to write home about, but an interesting artifact nonetheless.

Air Miami - Fuck You, Tiger 7"

Air Miami – Fuck You, Tiger 7”
Teen Beat, 1995
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2008
Price: $2

Oh man, this is a pretty big departure from the quite Unresty “Airplane Rider” 7” and not nearly as good. Where are my jangly, chimy guitars! WHERE ARE THEY! I understand the concept of progress, moving forward, all that, but “I Hate Milk” sound so dated. Like the worst part of the mid 90s. “Warm Miami May” is a synthesized snooze, “Afternoon Train” sounds like a Young Marble Giants parody (minus any sort of artsy charm) and “See Through Plastic” is...well, really fucking good. The guitar is back, and it's a slow, pretty little ditty that really makes me wonder what the hell was going on with the first three songs. I mean, you get a guitar tone that good, you oughta use it as often as possible! Anyway, this 7” sounds like a sonic experiment and while I absolutely love the title, there's only one song here I'd ever listen to again.

The album version of "I Hate Milk" is a little better, but the video oh man.

Air Miami - Airplane Rider 7"

Air Miami – Airplane Rider 7”
Teen Beat, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2008
Price: $1

Well, it's on Teen Beat and the guitars sound exactly fucking identical to Mark Robinson's in Unrest and wouldn't you know! It's an Unrest off shoot! And that is most certainly not a gripe! The record also features fellow ex-Unrest member Bridget Cross contributing vocal harmonies on the title track and singing lead on “Stop Sign.” “Airplane Rider” has that perfect pop bliss of a song like “Make Out Club” and is a goddamned gem, but sadly, “Stop Sign” is a bit of a monotonic drudge...but at least it's short. Come to think of it, “Airplane Rider” is pretty short too. And that is the extent of my musical criticism of this 7”: “It's short, and the second song wasn't very good but the first one was pretty good.” And basically, this is just an extension of Unrest after their drummer quit and it sounds pretty much like Unrest but a little brighter.

The jam!

Aberfeldy - Heliopolis by Night 7"

Aberfeldy – Heliopolis by Night 7”
Rough Trade, 2004
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2008
Price: $1

For some reason, I thought Scottish indie-poppers Aberfeldy were descended from late Sarah Records sweethearts Aberdeen, but I was wrong. Still, this looks like something I would like, and something I definitely would have played when I was hosting Pop Rocks on KJHK a few years ago in the heart of my indie-pop obsession. Sadly, I don't like this much at all. Actually, strangely, the twangy faux-country b-side “Jennifer” is short, sweet, simple and affecting and will certainly find its way onto a mixtape for Jenny one of these days. “Heliopolis by Night,” however, is pretty annoying and seriously dampens the “Scottish pop bands can't do anything wrong” since I fell into my obsession with Teenage Fanclub. It's twee in a bad way, in that it sounds like a song written for third graders and just kind of stutters along until it eventually ends.

BUT! Check out this cute spaceship insert!

Ad Astra Per Aspera - Party Bones

Ad Astra Per Aspera – Party Bones 7"
Love Garden, 2008
Acquired: 7” Release Show at the Jackpot, New, 2008
Price: $5

What a perfect record to start off the 7”s! For one, it's a local band, and the pride and joy of the Lawrence music scene in the mid to late 00s. It's the band that everyone likes because they're just really, really fucking good. Second, it was released by the record store where I buy a significant portion of my records. Third, it's unique because the first batch of these had a printing error, in that the labels from the first Ad Astra 7” on Love Garden were accidentally placed on these, so all that stuff is scribbled out with sharpie and arrows reading NOT THIS. It's charming. Fourth, it plays to my only frustration with 7”s: NOT KNOWING WHAT FUCKING SPEED TO SET THE TURNTABLE AT. Granted, this one has 33 RPM on it, but in my perfect world I can just keep it set at 45 forever. In a lot of cases, I'd say most cases, the speed isn't anywhere on the record and it's a crap shoot. Usually I can guess by looking at the thing, but you know, still a pain to sit down and realize it's playing at the wrong speed...like I did with this one! And you know what, I didn't notice until the vocals started about halfway through “Party Bones Pt. 1,” which I guess is a testament to how good Ad Astra are in that they can put out a record that works at both speeds. Ok, so Ad Astra work best at pulling off the slow burn tropical-laced punky noise rock with great precision. Sadly, this 7” (and it's predecessor, which for some strange reason I do not own) was released right before a few of the members moved to New York and the band went on indefinite hiatus, now only playing around Christmastime when everyone's in town. However, from those pseudo-ashes rose Ad Astra Arkestra, which is basically Mike Tuley's re-tooling of the band's songs into absolute chaos...and if they're often a tipping point for going to a show if they're on the bill because, you know, it's just a fucking blast. Their live show, like this record, is just plain ol' good fun. And while this 7” isn't as awesome as the “Dangerbird Blues” 7” (seriously, why the hell don't I own that?), it's still way good.

Here's some Arkestra for ya!

Beginning of 7"s!

After a nice break, it's time to move on to the 7" portion of my record collection. I'm excited, because I'm pretty sure I've listened to less than half the records in it. Most of them come from three sources:

Source 1: When I was 17 or 18, I was hopelessly in love with punk rock. One of my favorite labels, Asian Man Records, had a big vinyl giveaway featuring a box of LPs and 7"s for $25. I remember finding it on the front porch upon returning from school one fateful afternoon. Since then, I've sold off most of the LPs (with the exception of the Broadways, the Chinkees, and a few others that showed up in the LPs portion of this blog). However, I didn't sell any of the 7"s because well, it's harder to justify selling them unless the two or three songs are really just godawful. Even if the song is decent, it's usually worth keeping around. So, there are a handful of those to come.

Source 2: Once upon a time, I think it may have been 2007, maybe 2008, or hell, maybe 2006, I really can't remember, I spent a good couple hours sitting on the floor of th Love Garden Shotgun Room poring over scads of alt-rock 7"s that were a mere 25 cents a piece. Shortly after spending $25 on a big stack of records, some dude came in and wiped the whole thing out. I still haven't listened to a lot of these, but I managed to get through a big handful and there are some fucking gems in there, and I dare say, my favorite record in my whole collection was purchased in this buy. That one comes fairly early, alphabetically, so more on that soon. I wish I had a USB turntable to rip some songs, or even just the Harriet Records stuff, because I can't find this stuff anywhere. That said, IF YOU HAVE ANY HARRIET RECORDS 7" RECORDS YOU ARE LOOKING TO SELL OR GIVE AWAY OR WHATEVER, I WILL BUY THEM OR TAKE THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE GREAT.

Source 3: The rest are mostly stuff I randomly bought at Love Garden because it was either marked down or because 7"s are just cheap and it's easier to take a chance if a record looks cool. Sadly, I can only buy the marked down stuff now because, like with LPs, the price of 7"s has shot up a couple of bucks and spending $6 or $7 on two or three songs is no longer worth it. However, once those get marked down, hell yes.

This section of the blog will also be interspersed with any new LPs I acquire, mostly stuff I'm picking up at Half Price Books now that I work there and my employee discount is making it very hard for me to resist randomly picking stuff up to try out. There's a small stack I'm going to try to work through once I get through the A 7"s. Yeah!