Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why? - Elephant Eyelash

Why? – Elephant Eyelash
Anticon, 2005
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2010
Price: $10

Why? was one of those discoveries that made me love music again. I probably already went on and on about this in previous write-ups of this album’s younger siblings, Alopecia and Eskimo Snow, but I’ll say it again for the sake of a brief background. I’d never heard of Why? when I went to see them at the Jackpot in the fall of 2008. I sat with Nick Dormer (who’d encouraged me to attend) at the bar and watched on the video screens because the place was too crowded. It was a pure enjoyment sort of thing. Letting Yoni Wolf’s words create these little somersaults in my head. He crafts that powerful sort of songwriting that you always want to find. He’s on the same pleasure barge as David Berman and John Darnielle and all of the other modern masters. It helps that these are all effectively pop songs under the guise of alt-hip-hop. Destructive tunes like “Gemini (Birthday Song)” and “Whispers Into the Other” establish this as one of the more punch-in-the-gut break-up records I can think of. “Gemini” especially. I even covered it when I was forced into a solo-acoustic show in the Taproom basement the night I asked Jenny out the first time. She didn’t see the set, but she loves this album even more than I do, which is nice because Why? is on in the house a good percentage of the time music is on. Why? still sounds like the freshest thing I’ve heard in a long, long time. Even after listening to this record and the two that follow it dozens and dozens of times, there’s a deeper appreciation for Yoni & co’s fucked up depressive genius pop music. It's an album that's maddening to actually try to talk about because the things I love about it are the sort of inexpressible joy I glean from the themes, the words, the instrumentation, etc. It's a cool record. Like legitimately cool in execution and form. One that should be listened to repeatedly by anyone who you know, likes albums that are real real good. No lie.

Various Artists - Vive Le Ska

Various Artists – Vive Le Ska
Unicorn Records, 1989
Acquired: Half Price Books, Lawrence, 2010
Price: $2.5

For some reason, this was an irresistible acquisition. Something about a French ska compilation that warranted at least one listen through, if only for novelty value. Aaaand, it’s pretty much what you’d expect: a bunch of mostly really bad or poorly mixed/recorded two tone delivered in broken English. Still, it’s kind of quaint and it is always kind of fun peeking into another culture’s take on another culture’s music. In this case it’s less Caribbean, more British, so you get layers of strange influence. Influence that prevents it from sounding really French or unique. It’s cute, but the wave of upstrokes, horn blasts, a hep heps gets old real, real fast.

The Dream Academy - "The Love Parade" 12-Inch

The Dream Academy – “The Love Parade” 12-Inch
Blanco Y Negro, 1985
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $0.25

A couple years back I bought the Dream Academy’s self-titled LP to satisfy Jenny’s affinity for this band, notably their hit “Life in a Northern Town.” “The Love Parade” is a single from the same album, and much less lovely and whimsical than the previously mentioned “Northern Town.” It’s almost dark, if this sort of cheesy mid-80s dreamy synth-pop can be dark. It works, though. It’s repetitive as all hell, but uses it in a sort of hypnotic way that’s nice and mysterious and a bit lush. Sensual. Something like that, which makes sense since the song is about fucking and stuff. The B-side carries a 7-Inch version of “The Love Parade” that sounds pretty much exactly like the A-side version and “Girl in a Million (For Edie Sedgwick)” which is naturally, much better than the actual single. Naturally because that’s the way these slick sounding 80s bands were. Make the singles sound really sharp, studio-heavy jams etc and the B-sides are a bit of fun. It’s a pensive little ditty about you guessed it, Andy Warhol acolyte Edie Sedgwick and it’s sad because of the mournful woodwinds and the droney infinite sadness synths. Good stuff. The cover design is by the legendary Peter Saville, which is neat and probably the reason I picked this up despite not learning that little tidbit til just now. Nice design.

Electric Light Orchestra - Greatest Hits

Electric Light Orchestra – Greatest Hits
Jet, 1979
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2010
Price: $1.50

HOLY SHIT I did not know that ELO had so many certified HITS. Listening to this while making dinner, it’s like “Oh yeah THIS song!” Certainly all of these jams were present on 99.7 KY or 101 the FOX when I was growing up, which were the radio stations that dominated my father’s car stereo. I picked this up at work months and months ago for “Livin’ Thing” and “Mr. Blue Sky” and have basically just reaped a wealth of pop genius courtesy of Jeff Lynne. He’s soulful, but not in that embarrassing I’m-trying-to-sound-like-a-black-person-even-though-I’m-white-as-a-sheet. He knows how to construct these epic sounding numbers with orchestras and all sorts of shit that is ornate yet never gets in the way of the simple, pure-pop majesty of the songs. There’s that crunchy 70s classic rock vibe about but it’s always kind of an undercurrent that never really dates the music too bad (except maybe “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle”). These songs aren’t totally timeless, but that’s what makes them so fascinating. They’re a product of the 70s, a time and a place and that’s what precisely makes them special. They’re nostalgic in the best way. They’re a little cheesy, but back to timelessness. I hear all these songs and they’re all instantly familiar from some time or place in my childhood and I’m listening to them now as a mostly adult and through the lens of 10 years of music snobbery and they’re perfect songs in a different way. This album is everything a greatest hits album should be, which is to say that a greatest hits album should be nothing but hits. This isn’t some career retrospective. It’s eleven unfuckwithable jams that inspire that “Oh THIS song” reaction, usually accompanied with the urge to bop around and say “goddamnit, this is a great track.”

Monday, July 4, 2011

Built to Spill/Marine Research - Air Mail EP

Built to Spill/Marine Research – Air Mail 7”
K, 1999
Acquired: K Records Mail Order, New, 2006
Price: $4

Oh man! One of my favorite 7”s in my possession. The concept is that Built to Spill in Idaho cover one of Amelia Fletcher’s songs (in this case, Heavenly’s “By the Way” and Amelia Fletcher in England covers one of Built to Spill’s tunes with her new band, Marine Research (in this case, “Sick and Wrong”). I only ever listened to “By the Way” because it’s so good and Built to Spill make it better than the original. However, Marine Research’s take on “Sick and Wrong” is really, really nice. Amelia Fletcher has one of my favorite voices in music, any kind of music, not just indie pop/twee, and whattya know! They manage to improve upon Built to Spill’s original! Best of both worlds! Pure pop bliss from America and England, putting the true meaning of the International Pop Underground out on display!

Sadly, I can't find either of these jams on youtube, but I DID find this video of this high school girl who is SO SO SO cool because she smokes and put "Carry the Zero" over her rant about getting her expensive camera taken away by her parents and getting grounded. It's like some amazing post-art thing. "I went to bed at 9:30 yesterday. And I woke up at 6:30." Incredible.

Budgie Jacket - World's Famous EP

Budgie Jacket – World’s Famous EP
Parasol, 1993
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2008
Price: $1

Cute Japanese twee pop offa Parasol, one of those lovely little indie pop labels that put out a whole bunch of wonderful under the radar releases in the 90s. This one is pretty run of the mill twee. Extra high pitched girl vocals to account for the Japanese-ness and despite my general eh feeling about most things Japanese music (with the exception of Guitar Wolf, who are un-fucking-stoppably good), this is a really solid single. Also, I’m not sure if those are girly vocals because the inside of the sleeve has some shots of four young Japanese men in what can only be described as “promotional photographs.” There’s a little inscription on the back that reads “this is our second single named world’s famous ep put the soul in your rock ‘n’ roll aallrightt it’s ok it’s your right to choose who you listen to it’s rock you will find us in the middle of the road thank you.” It’s endearing, the idealization of what rock and roll is that seems to pop up in eastern culture. Like they get it MORE than we do, what it means over what it is. This 7” isn’t anything fancy, not great or earth shattering but it’s nice and it’s pleasant and the tunes have nice melodies and that’s nice.

Franklin Bruno - La Radia 7"

Franklin Bruno – La Radia 7”
Little Teddy Recordings, 1997
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2009
Price: $1

Some really excellent tunes from the Nothing Painted Blue frontman. I’ve been more and more interested in Mr. Bruno’s jams since he’s been known to pal around with John Darnielle. Well, if “pal around” means playing on all the recent Mountain Goats records and putting out Undercard, the latest Extra Lens record, and one of my favorite albums of 2011. Bruno doesn’t get to sing a lot on the Extra Lens records, but his guitar work shines through. I would be cool with him singing more with the Extra Lens, because he’s pretty good at it in his own way. All four tracks on La Radia are real good. Good in a sort of Robert Pollard way. A handful of songs that just kind of happened and now exist and they’re great little tunes that no one will ever hear. Granted Pollard’s got way more exposure and releases way more records, but this little 7” feels like a quiet little corner of the world of indie rock where you can relax with some lovely little ditties.

Nobunny - Love Visions

Nobunny – Love Visions
1234 Go! Records, 2008
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $4

So, a few years back I went and saw Nobunny at the Taproom when he was opening for Boo and Boo Too. It was just a dude in tighty whiteys with a crazy rabbit mask, gyrating with a microphone while his mega lo-fi garage rock backing tracks played on a portable CD player through the PA. It was pretty cool, but only because the songs were really catchy. When he played “I Am a Girlfriend,” I was hooked. That garage rock revival boom that happened a couple years ago was so oversaturated that finding the bands that were worth listening to was tricky. Subsequently, even the good bands sounded a bit watered down and samey but the really, really good ones knew how to actively kick you in the ass. Nobunny never really kicked you in the ass. Love Visions is a fun record, and “I Am a Girlfriend” is a super great track, but halfway through it all starts blurring together and sure, it’s good and it’s really really easy to love that lo-fi power pop shit but damnit, it’s just a blur of crunchy guitars. Fun, again fun fun fun, but maybe forgettable and maybe that was the whole point of that revival. To make records that were immediately satisfying that the artists actively knew would not stand the test of time. There’s some merit to that. Marble purple vinyl makes everything better though.

The Misfits - Legacy of Brutality

The Misfits – Legacy of Brutality
Plan 9, 1985
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2010
Price: $3

Happy Birthday America! To celebrate, I’m going to listen to one of your finest bands: The Misfits. Anyone who disagrees is wrong. OK, that’s not exactly true, but folks who like to dismiss the Misfits as mere novelty are sorely mistaken. The marriage of insanely catchy melodies and disgusting, brutal, and horrorshow lyrics could only have worked if the band followed through with their image and stage show, which was particularly ghoulish. The Misfits’ discography is really, really weird, and Legacy of Brutality is basically a bunch of songs from the Static Age sessions that had gone unreleased (on singles and such). Apparently, Glen Danzig overdubbed most of the album in an effort to avoid paying the other band members royalties, this being after the bands 1983 dissolution. Maybe that’s why these songs sound like alternate versions of some of my favorites. They still sound way good, though, although since most of these are on Static Age, which I already have, I can’t remember why the hell I thought I needed this. Oh yeah, my undying love for the Misfits. That’s why. It’s got the monster hits, it sure does. “Angelfuck,” “Hybrid Moments,” “Halloween,” “Where Eagles Dare,” “She,” “TV Casualty,” OH MAN! To be fair, if every record had a tune as good as “Hybrid Moments” on it, the world would be a better place because goddamn, goddamn, goddamn. Give me a list of my top ten favorite songs of all time and that one is firmly planted in the top five.

Neil Young - Comes a Time

Neil Young – Comes a Time
Reprise, 1978
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2010
Price: $1.50

I’ve never listened to Neil Young with any seriousness. Sure, I have a couple of his records, and without going back to read those write-ups, I’ll guess I probably said something along the lines of “You know, I never seriously listened to Neil Young.” But I have always kinda liked him! BUT, I’ve never ever heard Comes a Time. Never once, except for this time right now. Maybe now that I’m becoming an adult, getting married and all, maybe I’ll have my Neil Young renaissance sometime soon. Unfortunately, this record is kind of fucked. The PHYSICAL record, that is. It cracks and skips a bit at the beginning of each side despite not displaying any obvious flaws. It’s just old, and used, and I got it at the store for cheap. The actual album is really great. His melodies are some of my favorites. They’re simple but hit exactly where they’re supposed to, like that chorus on “Lotta Love.” The songs sound rough in the best way. Like they came to be at the spur of a moment around a campfire or wherever. On the spot. “Human Highway” is the track I probably bought this record for, as I’m a big fan of Nick Thorburn and Jim Guthrie’s project that’s named after the song. And that song is excellent. Another simple and subtle melody that creeps its way in. Can’t wait til five years from now when I’m probably obsessed with this record.

Hospital Ships - Lonely Twin

Hospital Ships – Lonely Twin
Graveface, 2011
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2011
Price: $10

Oh man, I love that I live in a town where I get to see Hospital Ships on a pretty much weekly basis. At least bi-monthly, and furthermore, monthly if I’m too broke to go to the Replay or the Jackpot and blow hard-earned on cheap beer. Lonely Twin is a grand step-up from their debut, Oh, Ramona, but only in that it’s more concise and has a definite flow that creates this intimate portrait of Jordan Geiger balancing vulnerability with a goddamned finely tuned sense of songcraftsmanship that makes him come off like a total badass (even through his warbly Daniel Johnston-esque falsetto). Lonely Twin feels like a product of Lawrence, despite being recorded at five different studios in the Bible Belt. The video for the monster jam “Galaxies” features a tour of winter Lawrence that would make even the most steadfast of “I’ll never be a goddamned townie” Lawrencians nostalgic for their own town (the part where he buys coffee from Adam Lott at LPT made me go “OH MAN YES I HAVE TOTALLY DONE THIS I IDENTIFY WITH THIS SO MUCH YES!” It was a good feeling. Good because lately Lawrence has been feeling a bit noose-esque and my desire to leave leave leave for greener, colder, not-Lawrence pastures has been growing and growing. But listening to this album, I feel pretty OK about Lawrence. I realize that despite the politics of Kansas (which, as you no doubt know or suspect, are totally, irreparably fucked and getting worse every day), it’s flawed to look at Lawrence through that lens all the time. Mostly because Lawrence has some really awesome shit that other places don’t. It’s got some excellent people too, and it has some really damn fine bands via the wonderfully incestuous music scene that’s been developing over the last four years or so. Anyway, I wrote a proper review for this over at the Pitch that’s about the music and stuff. Mostly though, there’s something about the sound of this record that sounds like where I want to live, or where I live right now, or wherever. And, my copy of the vinyl was strawberry lemonade colored, which makes me thirsty every time I look at it.