Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Kurt Vile - Childish Prodigy

Kurt Vile – Childish Prodigy
Matador, 2009
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $7.50
 
Childish Prodigy is far and away my favorite thing Kurt Vile has released. It’s also my favorite fall record. There’s something here that just feels unfuckwithably autumnal. I think it’s the way the finger picking sounds on “Blackberries” that really does it for me. Somehow that song sounds like sitting around a campfire when it's fifty degrees. Every fall, I burn off a new copy of Childish Prodigy and it takes up residence in my car stereo’s rotation for three months. Honestly, it probably just has to do with the fact that I listened to this album non-stop in Fall 2009. It was obsessive. My assistant music director at KJHK was a big Vile fan and had pushed his first couple records (Constant Hitmaker and God is Saying This to You) into KJ’s rotation but I paid them little mind with the exception of “Freeway” from Constant Hitmaker because holy shit what a jam. I was all over Childish Prodigy though. From the title to the cover art to the free MP3 of “Overnite Religion” Matador release in advance of the album, I was pretty much already sold. And then to be so thoroughly sold, I embraced it like true love. And still, I didn’t buy it. It was shortly after the prices of new vinyl had jumped from $14 to $17 (I think Matador led the way on this, and really it’s no fault to them, the economy had just tanked and times was tough) and as much as I wanted it, I was fucking broke and fresh out of college and working 12 hours a week at a shitty property management company (in my review of Vile’s latest album—Wakin on a Pretty Daze—I went into great detail about the role Childish Prodigy lead-off track “Hunchback” in my getting pumped up to get fired from said shitty property management company. For some reason I find that story particularly joyful and that song is the soundtrack). 

Finally, after years of waiting, it waltzed into HPB and I jumped on it like a mad dog. The reviews seem to imply that Childish Prodigy was a bit uneven but the rough edges were smoothed out on his follow up Smoke Ring for My Halo and further refined on Wakin on a Pretty Daze, but I think Childish Prodigy has more spark and energy than both of those records combined. It’s the rawness, I’m sure. The unrestrained qualities of “Freak Train” that cause Vile to stretch the thing out for seven minutes of repetition but to make that repetition sound totally fresh all the way through via saxophone skronks, guitar meltdown hysterics, and shouted expletives. It’s like a meditation in gritty slacker rock and it’s fucking magnificent.

Outside of the grooving and vital “Freak Train” and the ass-kicking “Hunchback” (there are at least like 12 version of “Hunchback” scattered over Vile’s myriad early releases but this one is clearly the version that song was always meant to be) most of the album is relatively quiet. A place for Vile to let his songs spread out, sing his weird lyrics, and show off his distinctive guitar stylings. “Blackberry Song” is so beautiful and hypnotic I get lost in it every time. His cover of Dim Stars “Monkey” is joyful and bright, the brightest spot on the album, and the track that really won me over (it didn’t take much). The thing practically shimmers. The quiet and/or mysterious tunes like “Dead Alive,” “Overnite Religion,” “Blackberry Song,” “Heart Attack” and “Inside Lookin Out” (which, with it’s out of control effect-laden harmonica, isn’t so much quiet as it is the psychopath at the bar who seems calm enough but might unleash and fuck your shit up at a moment’s notice) that paint Childish Prodigy’s landscape and the big, majestic jams fill the landscape with fucked up characters and sounds. After almost four years I still can’t find any flaws and while that’s probably just because I’m too emotionally attached to the album, I’ll take emotional attachment over critical prowess any day.

"Freak  Train"

"Blackberry Song" 

"Monkey" ("I swear I held my own hand pretending it was yours" is a lyric that gets me every time)


*Note: I just realized that I already featured a write-up of Childish Prodigy on this blog! Way back in 2009 when the album came out. It's amazing how my brain keeps track of my opinions on music, which is to say I've written pretty much the same details about my relationship with this album word for word. However, my opinion has shifted (for instance, I no longer find the "Freak Train" boring) a bit. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

End of D - 7"

I’m wondering how much it would cost to insure my record collection. After logging the A, B, and C portions of my LPs, I’ve become convinced that most of my records are selling at roughly what I paid or have appreciated in value. It makes me feel a whole lot better at blowing what is now over $3000 in records. Plus as I stated in the write-up for Village Green, this is basically my the inheritance of my future children, which, considering my wife is pregnant, is something I need to seriously think about (amongst a million other things!) Regular Monday-thru-Friday posts until I run out of records to write about (and considering I’ll be taking over the LPs at HPB in a couple weeks, I don’t know when the hell I’ll ever run out of records to write about).

Running Total: $2972.75

New Total: $3083.25

Here are this week's jams:

Mount Eerie - "Stone's Ode" 
In which Burzum has never sounded so beautiful, as a small chunk of the lyrics at the end are from Burzum's "Dunkelheit."

Baroness - "Take My Bones Away" 
In which I dip my toes into the shallow end of the dark pools of metal. Not that Baroness are shallow, but they're "safe." (I listened to that Burzum song lyric-checked in the Mount Eerie song and got really creeped out because I am a weakling and feel like metal dudes would know I spent a year and a half making fun of black t-shirts and long greasy hair every time I wrote about a metal band for the Pitch Music Newsletter). 

Mixtapes - "Like Glass"
In which I might as well just give up on finding music for myself and keep reading Nick Spacek's blog. Though my tastes changed, my heart cannot deny smart pop-punk with some of the most satisfyingly hooky choruses I've heard all year. 

Serengeti - "Directions" 
In which Kenny Dennis drops some knowledge.


Dura-Delinquent - Light Sound Motion 7"

Dura-Delinquent – Light Sound Motion 7”
K, 1999
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2008
Price: $1
 
This 7” sounds a bit like a precursor to that whole dirty rock n’ roll period that swamped alternative rock radio in the early 00s. But it’s better than that garbage. “Head Over High Heels” is a murky, saxophone-laced late-night slowburner. It’s not terribly thrilling or original, but it is serviceable. I feel like they’re trying to do gritty but they sound too clean. They’re just not gritty enough! The sax adds some wonderful sleaziness to the songs though is the best thing Dura-Delinquent have going for them. Both “Head Over High Heels” and b-side “Hitman’s Lament” sound like a million songs you’ve heard before and are pretty forgettable, but they are still better than Jet and the Vines and all of those awful bands that took that dirty rock n’ roll mantle to new lows. Not that I am comparing Dura-Delinquent to Jet and the Vines, because no one deserves that. That would just be cruel.

Here's a tune from their 1995 debut. They mostly just sound like this all the way through (although I think I like this one more than either of the tracks on the 7").

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Kinks - Are the Village Green Preservation Society

The Kinks – Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Reprise, 1968
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $12.50
 
The Kinks are waiting for me. At some point—once Dadhood finally sets in—there will be weeks and months and years of digging up and internalizing the intricacies of British pop and rock music from the 1960s and 1970s. At this point, all I can do is keep dangling my toes in the water and collecting the accepted masterpieces. I really like the Kinks, but do I really like the Kinks? I can’t talk about their line-up changes, their cultural impact, or Ray Davies’ solo career but I sure do love Lola vs. The Powermanat the Money-Go-Round. The only other album of there’s I’ve listened to is the US version of their debut. There are six albums between Kinks and Lola, and the only one I’ve listened to of those six is Village Green. And really, I’d only listened to it once all the way through up until this afternoon. “Someday,” I said to myself when the deluxe edition of Village Green came into the store. “Someday I’ll read the Kinks entire Wikipedia page and dive into their discography album by album and be able to appreciate the b-sides and rarities.” I like having background information. Sometimes it becomes prohibitively necessary for me to fully enjoy an album. I’ve listened to Village Green three times this morning and I’m over the moon about it. It’s one of the most inventive pop albums I’ve ever heard. It’s fun and funny and the composition, orchestration, and songwriting is out-of-this-world great. But I know I could appreciate it more.

But none of that matters because I can just put on Village Green and go about my morning routine and enjoy the pleasant, inventive, and eccentric tunes, which practically ooze nostalgia. There are all sorts of thematic mourning for England’s bygone days that feel universal now, then, and forever. Plus there’s just pure pop majesty in the melodies. The way that chorus for “All My FriendsWere There” sneaks up on you is just so fucking gorgeous. The way the title track never, ever wears out. That might be a fun experiment, because of course you’ll get sick of a great song if you hear it enough times in a row. But how many listens would it take for someone to get sick of “The Village Green Preservation Society”? I bet quite a few. Plus there is so much going on sonically that you would always be picking up new little things you missed before. I love the Kinks because they never seem preoccupied with being hip or cool, which seems to be the defining trait of many a modern mainstream Britpop band. I think I should probably listen to Arthur. I find it insane that I’m running a music blog and fancy myself some kind of rock music nerd and have never listened to Arthur. But that’s half the fun, I suppose. I’m quite partial to that “How have I gone my whole life and never listened to this great record feeling?” It keeps you humble and coming back for more.

My copy of Village Green is a second US pressing from the mid-70s. It is in fantastic condition, which means that it will someday be destroyed by my future children. I can see it now, and it is terrifying. My parents never had much of a record collection when I was growing up. By the time I was old enough to know what music was, the ancient turntable had been buried in the basement with a stack of Eagles, Olivia Newton John, and greatest rock hits of the 70s LPs piled on top of it. There was one Beatles LP: a thoroughly scratched up copy of Revolver. I’m fairly certain there were two Rutles albums, which is insane. No Led Zep, no Sabbath: Just a bunch of stuff that you usually find sitting in the corners of basements, garages, and attics. Pretty much every record buy at HPB is like this (the collections have varying degrees of mold and mustiness and are quite honestly the bane of my existence). The kind of stuff that thoroughly annoys a teenager looking to experience music in a tactile form because the cassingle of “Whoomp There it Is” does not count. So the teenager is left to plug in the record player and spend an hour trying to figure out how to hook up the massive wooden speakers. And then the teenager puts on some record and proceeds to play DJ and scratch the shit out of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” which is the only song he knows and is track one on one of the myriad best of the 70s compilations. His father gets pissed even though the records are worthless. That was me, that teenager, but unlike my father my record collection has some real gems and all I can do now is fear and dream of a locked glass cabinet and severe groundings for trying to mess with Dad’s records. And at the same time, I want my kids to inherit my record collection. It feels like an investment, but it’s not about the money (although they are sort of an emergency fund). I want them to learn to take care of nice things that have appreciating value.

Now here's one of the greatest summertime jams you will ever hear. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Dubrovniks - "My Coo Ca Choo" 7"

The Dubrovniks – “My Coo Ca Choo” 7”
Citadel, 1988
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
 
The Dubrovniks’ are surprisingly versatile! On this 7” they tackle Alvin Stardust’s 1973 glam-rock single “My Coo Ca Choo” with aplomb and sound like T-Rex in the process. The b-side “Girls Go Maniac” blends a little of the rockabilly displayed on “If I Had a Gun” with some straight up, good time, slightly trashy, and quietly rollicking rock and roll. As with the “Fireball of Love” 7” (which was also released in 1988), the production is clean and not corny, the songs are short, replayable and fun, and while these guys don’t really blow you away with their originality, they are fantastically capable at making catchy little tunes. The extensive resumes of the members of the Dubrovniks can be found on Wikipedia, which is kind of a fun read considering that Oceanic bands tend to be incestuous and prolific (it’s also a rabbit hole to go down if you want to see if you can chart the aforementioned incestuousness of Aussie rock bands). Drummer James Baker and guitarist Raj Radalj were founding members of the Hoodoo Gurus and everyone in the band has about a hundred connections to other Australian rock bands with amazing names (The Punjabbers, Love rodeo, The Smokin’ Eldorados, The Eternal Teenagers, The Beasts of Bourbon, Spectre’s Revenge, the Surfin’ Caesers, and that’s just a few from the dudes in the 1988 line-up (the Dubrovniks’ had a few personnel changes over the years and the dudes in the band also had like five side projects a piece)).

Here's Alvin Stardust's original version of "My Coo Ca Choo." Look at that LEATHER!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Dubrovniks - "Fireball of Love" 7"

The Dubrovniks – “Fireball of Love” 7”
Citadel, 1988
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
 
I feel like I can’t say enough nice things about the alternative rock that came out of Australia and New Zealand in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Not all of it is great or terribly original, but almost all of it is at least good. Australian alt-rock always seems a bit more conventional than New Zealand’s (which is quirkier and has more willingness to experiment) but there’s this sort of wonderful tone to all the records that came out of Oceania at that time. The Dubrovnik’s hailed from Sydney and take their name from the Croatian town bassist Boris Sujdovic and guitarist Raj Radalj we born. “Fireball of Love” and B-side “If I Had a Gun” sound remarkably fresh for being recorded 25 years ago. Maybe I’ve been listening to too many 7”s that sound like they were recorded in basements, bedrooms, and closets, but the production on this one is very clean and manages to avoid almost all of the cheesy production maneuvers that plague mainstream late-80s rock music. “Fireball of Love” has only the slightest bit of that soft-focus feel, but it also has real pianos peppering the choruses instead of synthesizers and the vocals aren’t processed to death. “If I Had a Gun” has a rockabilly vibe that really works because the song is so short (1:40). Both songs are really short, and I’ve become sort of a lobbyist for economical pop music in recent years. Unless you are pulling out some stylistic tricks, there is really no reason to keep repeating verses and choruses until your song hits the four-minute mark. Or the three-minute mark, even. If your song repeats on itself after two minutes (give or take a bridge to make it sound like you’re not just stretching the thing out to beat the melody into the head of the listener), just cut it off at two minutes. I find that crafting a short song with replayability value is much more desirable than making a long song that is going to make someone never want to listen to it again because it’s boring. Even though the Dubrovniks break no new ground, I listened to each side at least four times and wanted to go back for more.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Flying Burrito Brothers - The Gilded Palace of Sin

The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin
A&M, 1969
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $5
 
Gram Parsons is like the John Cazale of Rock and Roll. John Cazale made five movies in the span of six years before his tragic death from cancer at the age of 42 in 1978. Those five movies—The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather: Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, and the Deer Hunter—are all considered masterpieces. Despite Cazale’s genius, he was only nominated for a lousy Golden Globe for Dog Day Afternoon and is one of those unsung geniuses of modern cinema. Though unheralded, you could argue that his presence in those films pushed them into that higher realm of cinema. Someone who’s influence and consummate professionalism raised the bar for everyone around him (this according to Meryl Streep, whom he was dating at the time of his death).

In 3/5 of his films Cazale plays a sort of foil to Al Pacino. They were best bros, etc. However, as brilliant as Pacino is (especially in Dog Day Afternoon, my favorite of Cazale's films and a film you should seriously watch asap because it is magnificent), you get the impression that Cazale is kind of raising the bar for everyone around him. 

Gram Parsons made (or was involved with) five albums in the six years before his death via drug overdose in 1973 at the age of 26. Though death by drug overdose is a bit less tragic than cancer, it’s tragic nonetheless, especially if you factor in Parsons’ influence and youth. Though one of those five aforementioned albums (International Submarine Band’s Safe as Houses) isn’t a widely acclaimed masterpiece, the other four—the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin, and his two solo albums GP and Grievous Angel—are like the ten commandments of alt-country, country rock and pretty much anyone who sings with a little bit of twang. (He also dated Emmylou Harris who, in my head, is sort of like the Meryl Streep of country music).

Effectively, I feel like The Gilded Palace of Sin is Parsons trying to make his own Sweetheart of the Rodeo (with ex-Byrd Chris Hillman in tow nonetheless). Half the time it sounds like a Louvin Brothers tribute album or a general love song to the sad bastards who invented country and western music, but then there’s all this weird shit like the marijuana leaves on Gram Parsons’ suit on the cover. Just look at these guys! WEIRDOS. That’s the first thing I think when I look at this record. A bunch of weirdos with some sketchy chicks. What was this photo shoot like? It’s all so posed. And what the fuck is Sneaky Pete doing? He LOOKS like a guy you would call Sneaky Pete (and not in a fun, affectionate way). He looks like he’s got some secrets. I prefer Parsons’ solo albums to The Gilded Palace of Sin, but I can’t really deny the album’s influence on a hundred or so bands I love. I went on a serious alt-country kick circa 2005 and I know Wilco/Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, and probably even up through the Silver Jews and any other band I love that ever broke out a pedal steel. Despite all of the throwback-filtered-through-new-weirdness vibe the album gives off, the insertion of socio-political subject matter (draft dodging on “My Uncle,” for instance) dates it in a really fantastic way. It’s really the era it was released in that makes this record so special. It’s modern and yet plays like a torchbearer for the country greats. 


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Make-Up - "R U A Believer" 7"

The Make-Up – “R U A Believer” 7”
K Records, 1995
Acquired: K Records Mailorder*, New, 2008
Price: ~$1
 
From what I can remember, this was part of a four 7” bundle that I bought because I was buying a sticker, a key chain, the Built to Spill/Marine Research Air Mail split and of course the K Records badges that adorned my hoodies from 2008-2011 (they have since rusted or vanished, but I think there is one still floating around in a box of stuff I can’t bring myself to throw out). I forget which other 7”s came with this weird little set, but I’m sure I’ll remember as I encounter them. I should note, this one was filed under D because it says “Dub Narcotic Disco Plate” at the top and since I just realized this mistake after I started writing, it’s just gonna stay in the Ds forever. Not that I am ever going to listen to it again. It’s basically useless. I can’t really say anything about the Make-Up’s discography as I haven’t listened to a single one of their albums and considering the big time indie rock royalty listed as producers on their Wikipedia page (Calvin Johnson (who I’m pretty sure produced this little number and appears on backing vocals on the b-side, which is just a different version of the utterly senseless “R U A Believer”), Ian MacKaye and basically the majority of Fugazi, Royal Trux, etc, etc, etc) they’re probably worth at least a damn. But this single is rubbish. But there’s also a whole heap of shit I don’t know about the DC post-punk/post-hardcore scene so I’m not really one to talk. My guess is that this cut is meant to be totally innocuous and obnoxious.

*There’s a little squid stamp on the sleeve, which makes me think that maybe this came from the Love Garden Shotgun Room, as the squid stamp is the way their mark for cheap, not-good-enough-to-put-out rekkids.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rodriguez - Cold Fact

Rodriguez – Cold Fact
Light in the Attic, 2008 (Originally released on Sussex, 1970)
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $8
 
One of my favorite feelings in the world is the "How have I lived this long without listening to this album 100 times? I feel like an idiot for not loving this all along!" feeling. Right now, that strong emotion is coursing through my veins in response to Rodriguez's Cold Fact. It's not like I was unaware that it was a cool thing when Light in the Attic rereleased it in 2008. I'm fairly certain it was all over KJHK although that whole period is a blur. I knew some folks who were way into Rodriguez. The MP3s were in my iTunes and for some reason the only one I ever played or put on mixes for myself was "Rich Folks Hoax,” which I liked but almost exclusively as a curiosity. I had gotten really into Bob Dylan and sort of flirted with the folk music of the 60s and 70s but never really gave too much of a shit to absorb complete discographies. It was a period of musical parasitism.

I feel like I’ve been living in a golden age of music appreciation since I left college. Not that working at KJHK was a bad thing, because if I could work there forever I would work there forever no question. It was my dream job, it still is my dream job. The problem was when I was 24 and 25 I tried to listen to too much music. It all got blended together and I could never really stick on one thing for too long. If I did, it most likely made one of my expansive year-end lists (and even then, the back half of those were albums I listened to a few times, really liked, and added to make the lists longer). I was lucky enough to get to this copy of Cold Fact before the rest of my record-vulture brethren at HPB St. Paul. Seeing Searching for Sugar Man a month or two ago, I was reminded that “Oh yeah, Rodriguez exists,” listened a few times on iTunes and basically said to the universe “Man, I wish I had this album on vinyl. Can you make that happen World Turtle?” And there you go. It’s a big, think, beautiful slab of wax. I know vinyl collecting is half fetishism, but having grown up on cassette tapes, CDs, and ultimately MP3s, it’s the only way I like to buy music. I can’t justify spending “$15 on a shiny piece of plastic” (quote: the hidden track on Limp Bizkit’s Significant Other, which I bought on compact disc when I was thirteen). Having Rodriguez on vinyl is total fetish though. My heart started beating faster when I saw it on the new arrivals shelf. And the more I listen to it, the more I am thankful that he didn’t become a superstar. He’s a brilliant songwriter, and his knife for social commentary is sharper and more believable than Bob Dylan’s. But in Searching for Sugar Man Rodriguez seems happy just to learn that he’s appreciated in places as remote as South Africa and Australia. Which of course makes him that much more legit. Someone who (at least in the film) gives all his money away. Someone content to just work construction and play music for himself. I feel like there’s some myth making at work in Searching for Sugar Man, but I still came away from it feeling like Rodriguez was kind of mythical. Which was awesome because so many people try to come across as mythical or enigmatic and they’re really just pretending, but since Rodriguez has no success to hang any fakery on, and considering that he still lives in a shit hole in Detroit, it seemed real. I’ll buy that myth any day.


The music on Cold Fact is just fucking awesome. So fucking awesome. Unbelievably fucking awesome and diverse and full of lines that just make you want to tear out your hair they’re so good and relevant and timeless and smart. It sort of reinforces the fact that people make great music all over the place and YOU ARE MISSING IT. I have always loathed that idea that you have to move to New York or Los Angeles to make it in the music industry. Yeah sure you can be some neo-cock rock band or some soulless hype machine oiler, but honestly you can do this shit anywhere if your songs are good enough. And sure you might be forgotten, but if you have any talent and are willing to sell out whatever talent you might have for a Coke commercial you might as well just give up on anyone taking you seriously. I digress. The thing with Cold Fact is that this record is 43 years old and sounds fresher than any folk record that has come out in the past year. If you can even call it a folk record. It almost feels outside the realm of description. It reminds me a lot of Love’s Forever Changes, in that it does something familiar but in a wholly unfamiliar way and is thus seen as a sort of curiosity until years and years later when everyone realizes that Love and Rodriguez were haplessly playing the long game. The “They’ll only appreciate me when I’m dead” game, which is a noble game to play but a goddamn frustrating one to the bands who have to play it.

You can conveniently listen to Cold Fact in its entirety right here. Whether you've never heard it before or heard it a hundred times, I feel like this one is always a treat.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Drill - "Happy Home" 7"

Drill – “Happy Home” 7”
Flying Nun, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
 

Sarah, Harriet, and Flying Nun. If a 7” is on that label, I’m going to buy it if it’s not too expensive. Even if it is too expensive, I’ll probably still buy it if I want it bad enough (See: That Brighter single I paid $12 for. $12! For a single! I hate to imagine what would happen if I came across a Sarah Records single I really loved). One of my favorite things about Flying Nun Records is the sort of quality guarantee you get from the crudely drawn logo on the back of the sleeve. It might not be great, but it will at least be worth a listen. The best government-backed alternative pop music you’re gonna find anywhere! With Drill, the guitars chime just the way you would expect the guitars on a Flying Nun release to chime (on the b-sides at least, the main riff sounds like hard rock played by a dude with a chin beard). They don’t rollick as much as, say, Abel Tasmans and they don’t even bother with the anthemic qualities of The Clean or the Chills. What they do is sound like is a first-generation post-grunge band pitting hard rock and indie pop against each other. “Happy Home” is tuneful, but the verses are a little menacing (with that aforementioned chin beard riff) but the choruses lighten up (with the aforementioned chiming of guitars). The end result is something dated, but also pretty good. It’s of the quality I was hoping for when I was buying 7”s for a quarter. From what I can tell, Drill released a 17 song full-length a year later which featured the three tracks here. Of the trio only vocalist/guitarist John Pitcairn released anything post-Drill (with the Letter 5 and Ballon D’Essai, both on Flying Nun natch). Finding info on Pitcairn is difficult as he shares a name with a decorated British Naval Officer who is also, I must assume, has something to do with the Pitcairn Islands (note: It was his son, Robert, who was involved with the islands. John Pitcairn was involved with the Revolutionary War! There is a famous painting of his demise!) My friend Chris got obsessed with the Pitcairn Islands many years ago. “Look!” he would say. “They had a civil war over who had the right to distill their national drink: Sweet Potato Liqueur!” “Look!” he would also say. “The internet is only available at the top of a mountain!”

Since I can't find a single Drill recording or video (their name is practically unGoogleable), here's that famous Death of Pitcairn painting. That's Johnny Pits right there, all dying and stuff.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Charlie Dold - "Sins on My Shoulders" 7"

Charlie Dold – “Sins on My Shoulders”
Bus Stop, 1991
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
 

I think the tribal-art looking iguana on the cover of this 7” is what made me think Dold was Australian. That’s gotta be it. I like this record a lot more than the “Any Poet’s Dream” 7”. Well, “Sins on My Shoulders” is the best of the lot. The two tracks on the B-side grate a bit. The songs aren’t really any shorter, but the melodies remind me less of cheesy 80s pop. It’s an artifact from a weird era. The year of Nevermind, and here you have this dude from a Midwestern college town churning out these lo-fi poppy indie rock tunes that are kind of stuck between stations. I feel like kids today are trying to replicate the sound these songs have when at the time this was probably the best Mr. Dold could do. It’s a great sound. It sounds raw and a little disorderly but that’s what gives the songs their soul. Nowadays you record your song on your Macbook and dub it to tape to try to make it sound shitty. I think I read something about tape labels today. I must have. Every time I do I unconsciously go to this place where I just can’t understand why, and then I wonder if tapes possess the same sort of affectation as records. Or wanting to create something physical and analog because pressing to vinyl is expensive. Anyway, off topic because I don’t know what else to say about Mr. Dold.

Charlie Dold - "Any Poet's Dream" 7"

Charlie Dold – “Any Poet’s Dream” 7”
Bus Stop, 1991
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
 
When I was relieving Love Garden’s shotgun room of its alt-rock and college rock 7” records, Bus Stop was one of the labels that I was familiar with and I ended up buying every Bus Stop record I saw. The label was based out of Iowa City, and for some reason I thought Charlie Dold was from Australia when he’s actually from Urbana, Illinois. I have no idea where that idea came from. The tunes on this 7” are a little strange. They sound like they’re slightly sped up but I know they’re not. It’s just Dold’s high-pitched register. It reminds me a little of Gene Ween on the early Ween records. The songs are this odd blend of lo-fi underground rock with melodies that recall pretty much every band on the Valley Girl soundtrack (The Plimsouls, Sparks, etc). I’m just spitballing here though. The problem with the songs is that they’re all too long. Were they contained to two minute bites of lo-fi pop they would really work, but “Any Poet’s Dream” feels like it goes on for ten minutes and with Dold’s not exactly dulcet tones, it feels a bit agonizing.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Julie Doiron/Calm Down It's Monday - Split 7"

Juilie Doiron/Calm Down It’s Monday – Split 7”
K Records, 2009
Acquired: KJHK Music Staff, New, 2009
Price: $0
 
Jenny is a HUGE Julie Doiron fan. When I went to SXSW in 2009, shortly after we started dating, I went to see Julie Doiron and I think Jenny was almost mad. So jealous. The hardest thing for a singer/songwriter isn’t writing the songs or being a talented musician, it’s separating oneself from the throng of singer/songwriters who threaten to swallow you up. Julie Doiron is good at the songwriting and musicianship bits and has a lovely voice that is both sweet and earthy, but I think it’s the production that allows her songs to have space. To let her voice really breathe. It’s that and the fact that she’s been working in the trenches for years and is a total pro. From Eric’s Trip to that jawdroppingly great album she did with Phil Elverum and Fred Squire (Lost Wisdom, check that one out if you haven’t). Both of Doiron’s tracks on this split are from her album I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day ("Oh Heavy Snow" and my favorite track from ICWWYDWYD "It's Nice To Come Home"), and since I don’t own that album I’m not bummed about that. It’s always a bummer when a single is just album tracks. SURELY YOU HAVE A B-SIDE SOMEWHERE! Even so, the Calm Down It’s Monday side is basically I two-track b-side (b-side like the song not like the actual side of the record) since it’s a duo comprised of Fred Squire and Julie Doiron. This was their only release. It’s really nice. Squire handles the vocals and I think he’s pretty good but it’s easy to see why he doesn’t sing much on Lost Wisdom (but Elverum and Doiron are pretty much vocal powerhouses in their own little way).

Here's the aforementioned "It's Nice To Come Home" which is a great example of the depth Doiron can achieve with something so simple.

From what I read, Calm Down It's Monday were working on a full-length that never materialized. Here's a live version of 7" track "Sweetest May," which is kind of sad because their stuff is really lovely.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Diskothi Q - "Massapoag" 7"

DiskothiQ – “Massapoag” 7”
Shrimper, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25

Whilst culling the Love Garden Shotgun Room for 90s alt-rock 45s, I had a weird series of guidelines. If it was on a label I thought was cool (Harriet Records, Shrimper, Sympathy for the Record Industry, Matador, K, etc) I bought it almost no questions asked unless it looked like real garbage. If I scanned the liner notes and saw a name I was familiar with and that name had positive connotations, I bought it. This one falls into the latter. The Peter in this band is Peter Hughes, bassist of the Mountain Goats. DiskothiQ are famous (read: Indie Famous, read also: They Aren’t Even Indie Famous) for doing a series of songs about every NFL team (those songs are pretty wonderful). The music is pretty much your standard dudes-with-guitars mid 90s college rock, but each 7” came with an individualized sand painting! To think, I just thought the derper who owned this previously got a bunch of sand stuck to the sleeve!

I can't find either of these songs on youtube, but here's their song about the Dallas Cowboys (which was recorded five years after this 7" and the quality is notably way better):

You can find digital versions of DiskothiQ's LPs (including the football ones, I can't stress enough, are wonderful) over at Peter Hughes's Five Tools  website. The site also has a whole bunch of entries about baseball games and some really fantastic photo diaries of Mountain Goats tours and recording sessions through the 00s. The afternoon I wrote-up this 7" I proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon flipping through them. The Mountain Goats' staggering discography is appealing to completest types, and I can only assume completest types would love seeing the place where Tallahassee was recorded and what the post-recording wrap party looked like. Also seeing familiar faces from other bands you love (Though process: "I wonder if they'll meet up with John K Samson in Winnipeg?" "OH MY GOD THERE'S JOHN K SAMSON! THEY'RE AT HIS HOUSE! THAT'S WHAT HIS HOUSE LOOKS LIKE!").

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Devo - "Uncontrollable Urge" 45

Devo – “Uncontrollable Urge”/ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
Warner Bros, 1978
Acquired: Salvation Army, Used, 2000
Price: $1

This is the oldest record in my collection. I bought it at that old Salvation Army that used to be up on Lone Elm Road. I distinctly remember buying it. I got a single of Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” too. Until that point my experience with DEVO was limited to seeing the “Whip It” video being made fun of on Beavis & Butthead. So “Uncontrollable Urge” (it’s cut down to 2:15 on the single) was a huge, brain exploding thing. I was just starting to get into legitimate punk rock (after a year of Blink-182 and Fat Wreck Chords bands which in my head is the equivalent of the minor leagues of punk rock and once you’ve made sufficient progress you get promoted to Black Flag and Bad Brains and all that other good stuff) and this was a sort of curveball (so many baseball metaphors, so little time). It kicked ass and almost sounded like punk rock but it wasn’t. Their version of “Satisfaction” threw me for a loop. It was a fucking weird as hell and disjointed version of a song I had heard a million times but it was so cool. It basically opened the door for me to get into Television and the Velvet Underground and any number of proto-punk bands that would have escaped me had I clung to late 90s skater punk. I got to see DEVO live at one of those terrible summer concerts 96.5 the Buzz puts on at City market and they were great. I mean, as great as a bunch of old dudes cashing in can be, but they deserve that payday as far as I was concerned. When they played “Uncontrollable Urge” I turned to Jenny and told her this whole story about buying this 7” and it blowing my mind and I got VERY sentimental. And even though “Uncontrollable Urge” is one of the most slap-in-the-face kick-your-ass songs of the late 70s it still never fails to make me feel sappy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Destroyer/Wye Oak - Record Store Day Split

Destroyer/Wye Oak – Record Store Day Split 7” 
Merge, 2008
Acquired: Kief’s Downtown, New, 2008
Price: $0

This was from the very first Record Store Day when so much stuff was free. Back before all the exclusive singles were like $7 a pop. The glory days, if you will. The Destroyer track “Madame Butterflies” is awesome. Everything a b-side should be. It’s very much Destroyer’s Rubies cast off but since that album is pretty much perfect and because I’ve listened to it a hundred times, I can see how this one might not fit. I don’t know, it would probably fit, but that is a long record and “Madam Butterflies” can stand on its own. It’s almost sounds like a better-recorded version of the mega lo-fi stuff he was doing on his first cassettes. It’s stripped, but it gets kind of wild towards the end. The guitars get wonky, and Dan Bejar sounds more and more like he’s singing in a submarine. The melody is pure, and by the end when his vocals devolve into dum-da-da-dum-da-da-dums it’s pure bliss. And then it’s over. And then I listen to the song like five more times every time because I don’t have an MP3 of this track. I never even listened to the Wye Oak track until today. At the time, I’d heard Wye Oak’s debut If Children and fallen asleep during their set at the Merge showcase at SXSW. Since then I’ve become a pretty big fan. There was a two-year stretch where they would open for some great band twice a year in Lawrence and their live shows were fucking fantastic. The duo have since taken advantage of pushing Jenn Wasner’s vocals and guitar into more epic territory, but the track on this split—“Prodigy”—is fucking simple and fucking gorgeous. I think I was just totally wrong about Wye Oak and that they were always good and my head was just up my ass. It was up my ass through most of 2008-2009 for a variety of reasons. I was tunnel-visioned to the things I liked fiercely and everything else kind of became boring. Working through Wye Oak’s discography is a real treat. It’s just so much fun to see a band grow and figure themselves out. Their latest LP Civilian is an absolutely towering piece of indie rock. But they started small, but even when they were small they were still obviously talented enough to blow the whole thing wide open. I still feel like I am atoning for the sins committed during my mega music snob years. The dismissals I handed out after a half a song. The opinions based on the idea that I didn’t like something. I’m on my fifth spin of “Prodigy” and I’m just thinking how great it is to experience real joy when listening to music.

Listen to "Madame Butterflies here. It also links to the Merge Records store where you can download the song for FREE. Absolutely worth the 3.5 megabytes or so it'll take up on your hard drive.

And here's a live acoustic version of "Prodigy." 

Desolation Wilderness - "Until Forever" 7"

Desolation Wilderness – “Until Forever” 7”
K Records, 2008
Acquired: KJHK Music Staff, New, 2008
Price: $0
 

My Desolation Wilderness 7”s were misfiled, however after writing up “No Tomorrow” it feels weird to try and pretend I’m reviewing “Until Forever” first. They are very different records, and the band’s evolution between the two singles is dramatic. “Until Forever” and its b-sides are pretty much sound collages with airy, distant vocals dumped into the mix. They are ambling, but not totally worthless. “Gloria” coaxes a ghostly quality out of its synthesizers and gains a haunting quality from the lo-fi production. It’s a brief little tone poem but intriguing. “4/4 Love Song” is the closest Desolation Wilderness comes to actually establishing a melody. There are no words, so the love song aspect has to be gleaned from the sweetness of the synths. It’s nice. It’s pleasant. But it has the feeling that there is something Zwart has yet to realize about his abilities. There is potential, but every song here feels half-done. Where I faulted “No Tomorrow” for being under the influence of Galaxie 500, I’m now impressed that in a year this band totally morphed into a band that could make a song-song.

Desolation Wilderness - "No Tomorrow" 7"

Desolation Wilderness – “No Tomorrow” 7”
K Records, 2009
Acquired: KJHK Music Staff, New, 2009
Price: $0
 

I think this came out right around the time K Records was sending us something new from Jeremy Jay like once a month. Jeremy Jay was so boring I got to the point where I lost some faith in my beloved K Records. Or at least quit getting around to whatever they sent to the KJHK music office. This 7” is good though! Desolation Wilderness has a sort of dreamy Galaxie 500 quality about them that I really enjoy. There’s more of a pop edge (of course), and “No Tomorrow” is a hazy and lovely little song. Of course, I namedrop Galaxie 500 and then notice that the little promotion sticker on the front sleeve lists Galaxie 500 as an RIYL. The more I listen, the more obvious that influence becomes and while it’s nice to be reminded of something (the ability to draw comparisons is one of the top-drawer skills of any music writer) if it’s too much it kind of gets to “Why don’t I just listen to Galaxie 500?” territory. B-side “Pacific Palisades” is less effective, and pairs the gauzy vocals buried in the mix with a shitload of reverb. I don’t know exactly what is being reverberated (I’m assuming guitars) and there are some synthesizers in there too but ultimately it’s a tone piece that stagnates. “No Tomorrow” is really nice, though.

Descendents - 'Merican EP

Descendents  - ‘Merican EP
Fat Wreck Chords, 2002
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $.50
 
The Descendents are my favorite punk rock band. I don’t have to think about it, and I haven’t for ten years. Milo Goes to College is an unfuckwithable landmark in my musical history. Everything can be traced back to that album. It was poppy, it was clever, it had angst. The bass playing was technically proficient enough to seem crazy great but also fun enough that when I bought a bass guitar in high school I learned to play by printing out the tabs for all the songs on Milo Goes to College and jumping right in. I never really got the hang of the bass guitar, but I never stopped loving the Descendents. Their latest album—Cool to Be You, from which the first two songs on this EP are culled—came out the second semester of my senior year of high school just as I was branching out from punk after a deep incubation of a couple years. It was perfect timing because I revisited Milo Goes to College and all my favorite tracks from their discography. (Other than Milo Goes to College, I sort of played pick-and-choose from the rest of their albums and came up with about an albums worth of tiny masterpieces. “Get the Time,” “Silly Girl,” “Clean Sheets,” and “She Loves Me” pretty much cover the 35 years the band has been in off-and-on existence). Despite spreading six albums over 35 years the quality pretty much stays the same. There’s something ageless about these guys. Forever young, some shit like that. I also admired the fact that they were all just normal dudes and Milo really did go to college. The title track is probably the most political the Descendents ever got (the EP and album Cool to Be You dropped in early 2004, the year Bush was reelected) but it’s still good. Trademark style and all that. The first Descendents song I ever heard was “Wienerschnitzel,” which is about 16 seconds long and features the band placing an order at the titular restaurant at rapid-fire speed. These guys just sand about your usual shit and somehow managed to do it really well. They sang about fishing, biking, food, heartbreak, coffee, more heartbreak, and more coffee. They always sound like they really just don’t give a fuck but in that sweet way you want bands to not give a fuck. They’re not trying too hard because they don’t have to. And that’s what I always loved about them. And that’s why I love this EP. The other track on the A-Side—“Nothing With You”—is just a simple, totally fucking sweet love song (“I don’t wanna move/ I’ll just sit here in my living room/ See what’s on the tube/ While I’m hanging out with you”). “Here With Me” is more of a sad love song and “I Quit” is basically Milo’s reasons for quitting the band so frequently over the last three decades. The Descendents could put out an album next month and I feel like it would still be good, like all their albums. All and Enjoy are a little spotty, but All, Everything Sucks and Cool to Be You are solid and now that they’re reuniting again for festival shows, I’m holding out hope for another record because they very obviously know how to work their melodies and very obviously love playing together.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Anti, 2009
Acquired: King’s Road Merch Mailorder, New, 2013
Price: $20
 
When I first heard Middle Cyclone, my first response was: “More like Middling Cyclone.” I thought this because after falling deeply in love with Neko Case’s previous album—Fox Confessor Brings the Flood—I had high expectations. And I was enough of a dipshit to realize that my expectations had been met. The thing with Middle Cyclone is that it’s a long record. Or at least feels like a long record (the last half hour of the thing is just crickets and night noises, so maybe that adds to my perception that this is a long player in every sense of the word). Since Neko Case is pretty much Jenny’s favorite artist hands down (we are seeing her in Lawrence in October and every couple days she alerts me to this fact), I bought her this and Furnace Room Lullaby on vinyl for our anniversary. We listen to this one a lot on trips back to Kansas and every time I hear it, the more I like it. Still, it took until I listened to it on vinyl (the album is split over two LPs) that it really clicked. By segmenting Middle Cyclone into bite-sized chunks songs I’d totally ignored really popped. “This Tornado Loves You” and “People Got A Lotta Nerve” were my early favorites because they are the most straightforward, catchy numbers, but the middle part of the album kind of blended into a haze until “I’m an Animal” blew me away. But “Fever,” “Polar Nettles,” and “Magpie in the Morning” are these gorgeous little tunes. It’s not like you even have to be patient to enjoy them; you just need to be able to shut down and enjoy. Jenny’s favorite song on the album is “The Pharaohs,” which is another track I had ignored until she played it a thousand times. It’s outstanding and has a similar tone to Fox Confessor standout (and my favorite song of 2006) “Star Witness.” It’s got a mythic feeling, with knock-out lines like “You kept me wanting, wanting, wanting like the wanting in the movies and the hymns/ I want the Pharaohs but there’s only men.” Speaking of the writing, it’s great. But what else did you expect? Neko Case has a gift for weaving her songs together with wit and a deep emotional understanding that I feel is somehow underrated given how goddamn cool she seems. The more I think about that blend of humor and sadness makes her cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me” make a whole lotta sense (“I miss you when I’m lonely/ I miss the alimony too”). Anyone else writing a song about a tornado in love with a girl, chasing her from county to county leaving a wake of destruction in its path might write something gimmicky but Case just leaves you with that heavy feeling in your chest. Sure it’s a metaphor, but it’s told so literally and the images are so vivid and violent that the whole thing is just devastatingly electric. The album is laced with a theme of Mother Nature’s Fury/purity (most notably on the Sparks cover “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth,” the aforementioned “This Tornado Loves You,” “People Got a Lot of Nerve” right down to the goddamn crickets at the very end). And tornados. So many tornados. It’s an outstanding piece of work.