Monday, September 30, 2013

Hornet Leg - Blood Trilogy 7"

Hornet Leg – Blood Trilogy 7”
K Records, 2008
Acquired: KJHK Music Staff, New, 2008
Price: $0

At least I’m pretty sure I got this one at music staff. Otherwise, I don’t know where the heck it came from since I only ever ordered LPs by bands I loved via K Records mail order. As the title suggests, all three songs on this 7” have blood in the song titles and blood in the lyrics. The music is pretty routine mid-fi garage rock and nothing to write home about. It’s just the sort of ubiquitous indie rock K Records has been releasing without filter for a while now and while there’s nothing wrong with the music, Hornet Leg does little to differentiate itself from the rest of that garage rock revival pack that roamed the college radio airwaves in the late 00s (and really, continues to roam the airwaves to this day because it seems like everyone and his mom is in a garage band). Of the three tracks, "Covered in Blood" is the most effective. There's something about that wailing chorus that I really dig. Depsite all of the quasi-hate I harbor for the garage rock revival, I'll admit a lot of it is plainly satisfying. Plus I can never truly legitimize my hate because garage rockers usually churn out songs that clock in around the two-minute mark and it's really hard to stay mad at a band that keeps 'em short and simple.

"Covered in Blood" 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Gut Feeling: Ola Podrida - Ghosts Go Blind

Ola Podrida – Ghosts Go Blind
Western Vinyl, 2013

Ola Podrida’s third album is hauntingly beautiful, and I’m not just saying that because it’s called Ghosts Go Blind and features myriad references to ghosts. Ok, maybe that’s part of it, but the rich atmospherics David Wingo brings to these folk-rooted indie rock songs makes Ghosts Go Blind sound like the sort of music one should listen to while driving around on Texas backroads in the middle of the night. Wingo is a Texan, of course. With all the backwards, bible thumpin’ tendencies of the Lone Star State, it’s easy to forget about that little liberal oasis called Austin. Wingo’s day job consists of scoring the films of Austin-based filmmakers David Gordon Green (going back go Green’s debut George Washington) and Jeff Nichols (whose most recent movie Mud is easily one of the best films of 2013). In a way, you could consider Ola Podrida a side project, and considering how busy Wingo stays on the film scoring front, it’s amazing that he was able to craft an album as rich as Ghosts Go Blind.

After a dozen listens, it becomes apparent that Ghosts Go Blind is an exceedingly tight record. It’s full of big, atmospheric guitars (Wingo recently worked with fellow Texans and atmospheric post-rock juggernaut Explosions in the Sky for David Gordon Green’s latest film Prince Avalanche, and it sounds like maybe some of their effects pedals rubbed off on him), somber songwriting, and gorgeous little melodies shepherded along by Wingo’s plain yet incredibly affecting vocals. It’s a beautiful record. Have I mentioned that already? The excellent opener “Not Ready to Stop” is a little deceptive. It’s got a little swagger to it where the rest of the album is often quiet and fragile at times (like track two, the achingly gorgeous and sad “Fumbling for the Light”). Album highlight “Staying In” is probably the most representative of what Wingo and Ola Podrida are trying to accomplish. It combines the rich, wall of sound-ish atmospheres, sad aching beauty, and a toe-tapping tempo. Ghosts Go Blind is a thoughtful, elegant indie-rock record that seems destined to be overlooked despite standing amongst the best albums of the year.

"Staying In"

"Not Ready to Stop"

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Honeybunch - "Count Your Blessings" 7"

Honeybunch – “Count Your Blessings” 7”
K Records, 1994
Acquired: K Record Mail Order, New, 2009
Price: $3
“Count Your Blessings” was one of my favorite songs from my indie rock era. I played it consistently on my radio show—“Pop Rocks”—and though the song isn’t as flashy as other pop hits, it has tremendous replay value. Lots of little subtleties worm their way into your brain. They’re not afraid to break out sweet guitar solos here and there, which puts them on the Teenage Fanclub side of the pop spectrum. The back cover notes that Dave Auchenbach recorded the songs. Why does that name sound so familiar? I thought to myself. That’s right! Dave Auchenbach was in Small Factory, who I have been thinking about a lot lately via recent write-ups of Small Factory offshoot the Godrays (which notably did not feature Auchenbach, presumably because he wanted to record other bands from his native Rhode Island and establish a classic “Rhode Island Sound”). Alas, I’m a sucker for members of bands I like working with other bands I like. 

I gave up on trying to find a way to upload and share "Count Your Blessings" so here's another one of their excellent singles, "Mine Your Own Business." Both tracks can be found on their terrific career retrospective Time Trials via Summershine. Honeybunch are one of those great little forgotten indie pop/twee bands from the 90s who never really got their due despite crafting subdued songs that could hang with the best of Sarah Records.

And while we're at it, I might as well add on "Hey Blue Sky." Because it's wonderful.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

High Risk Group - "Flag" 7"

High Risk Group – “Flag” 7”
Harriet Records, 1989
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2009
Price: $1
Through the 1990s, the Cambridge, Massachusetts based label released almost exactly half as many 7”s as Sarah Records. They brought us the Magnetic Fields, the Mountain Goats and the Extra Glenns, Tullycraft, Vehicle Flips, and Hulaboy. While Harriet’s releases were much more varied than the uniform, rainy day pop of Sarah, I still want to collect as many as I possibly can. It was pretty easy to find all of the Sarah Records releases on the internet, but the Harriet Records 7”s are near impossible to track down in digital form (or they were the last time I tried to find an MP3 version of that amazing Ampersands “Annabelle Bleach” 7” I own) which makes hunting down the vinyl all the more thrilling. Though I usually associate Harriet with indie pop, their first release—High Risk Group’s “Flag” 7”—is a hearty slice of DIY post-punk. The music is repetitive, bass-driven, and the band attempts to carve out interesting sonics with their guitar sound but it gets lost in the shoddy mixing (especially on the B side tracks “Tapped” and “Katrine”). Ultimately it’s the title track that feels like the best distillation of High Risk Group (go figure, huh). It’s a murky, serpentine and lulls you into that dark, post-punky sound with its cycling minute-and-a-half long intro that consumes half the song. Hilariously, I played this at 33 1/3 because I’d noticed side two was designated for that speed. What I got was borderline sludge metal and even when the vocals finally kicked in, I still couldn’t tell I was playing it wrong. That’s versatility right there!


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Heavenly - "Space Manatee" 7"

Heavenly – “Space Manatee” 7”
K Records, 1996
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2010
Price: $3
Heavenly know how to get it right. Every single is a total joy. They’re like the clutch hitter who knows when to come through when the game is on the line. In my head, I just uttered the line “Heavenly are the Evan Gattis of twee pop.” I got baseball on my mind. The Royals are in the wild card race and have a legitimate shot of making the playoffs if they stay hot! This is new to me! I’m so used to my lovable losers being light years away from the playoffs in September, my fantasies are running wild. Granted, my fantasies involve the Royals getting that second wild card slot and losing in five games to whoever they would have to play, but still, it’s somethin’. Today I was thinking about how I like sports the wrong way. Whenever I have to talk to a real Man about sports, I feel like I’m doing it wrong. I care about stats and numbers and the beauty of Chris Davis’s swing and admire the real effort Eric Hosmer shows when he tries to run out an infield groundout. Most sports fans don’t really give a shit about this stuff, at least in my experience. I like sports like a sensitive loser in my own private little way. But back to Heavenly, who are pretty much the end all be all of indie pop in my book.

I love this band, and while indie pop gets an unfair rap for being frivolous or without substance (haters gonna hate, I spose), Heavenly served up some of the best singles of the 90s (or any decade for that matter). They didn’t get any radio play out side of college stations, but they totally won my heart with Amelia Fletcher’s wonderfully normal yet incredibly appealing vocals and the sort of pop hooks that makes you want to stop everything and sing along. They managed to be sweet without being cloying, which is the hardest line to walk in indie pop. “Space Manatee” is culled from their final full-length Operation Heavenly. It’s a brilliant little gem that’s maybe not as memorable as “Our Love is Heavenly” or “C is the Heavenly Option,” but it hits all the right buttons and adds a nice twist with a bass line that sort of pummels you through the intro and verse and makes the chorus all the more powerful once it comes crashing in. The b-side features covers of the Flamin’ Groovies’ “You Tore Me Down” and the Jam’s “Art School,” both of which are the sort of fun and enjoyable covers that are nice to find on the b-side (opposed to finding more tracks from the album which really, what’s the point?).

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lemuria - The Distance is So Big

Lemuria – The Distance is So Big
Bridge Nine, 2013
Acquired: Mail Order from Lemuria’s Website, New, 2013
Price: $14
I really don’t think 2013 has produced a better song than “Brilliant Dancer.” I’ve listened to that song a hundred times and I’m sold. Song of the Year. Hand’s down. No one else even comes close. Jenny loves it too, and I often find her singing it around the house, in the car, etc. It does everything right. It’s got a breezy intro with Sheena Ozzella’s pleasing vocals before Alex Kerns’ drums pummel their way in and the chorus totally sweeps you away. It’s like being on a boat, rolling with the waves. Imagine the empty heart meter on a video game getting filled to the brim. And the thing is, I’d be totally content with the song if it just repeated the verse and chorus for two and a half minutes, but halfway through everything switches up and Lemuria do everything they can to make it sound like a totally different song while keeping it rooted to the first part of the track. The pianos come in on the refrain of “brilliant dance dance dance dancer” and punch it into your brain and Ozzella, despite having those beautifully plain not-a-singer-singer vocals reaches absolute transcendence after that first refrain. This is what pop punk sounds like when it grows up, and it’s exhaustingly great. And that is the first fucking song on the record. What follows is the sort of tour de force that restores my faith in indie rock. This band is wonderfully inventive and has so much depth, and yet they still seem to be having a lot of fun. The hooks are like pure joy. The vocal interchanges between Ozzella and Kerns is playful and effective, and it’s one of the most replayable and straight-up fucking enjoyable albums I have had the pleasure of listening to in 2013. 


"Oahu Hawaii"

Note: Every time I listen to this record, I pay a little debt to Nick Spacek, who has been responsible for introducing me to three of my favorite albums of the year via his blog Rock Star Journalist. Of all the people on earth, he is the person whose taste in music I implicitly trust the most. So while the Internet is great for letting you listen to anything you could ever want to listen to at any time, I still find it refreshing to navigate that morass of MP3s via the recommendations and/or blog post nudgings of a friend.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Gut Feeling: Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt

Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Don Giovanni, 2013
Cerulean Salt is a small album. It clocks in at just over thirty minutes and most of the songs hover around the two-and-a-half minute mark. Those are the sorts of stats that make my eyes light up, and Katie Crutchfield’s understanding of concise songwriting is what really makes this album work. It makes frequently often heart wrenching songs that much more potent, and while Cerulean Salt may not be my favorite album of 2013, it’s one of the albums I have listened to the most because Crutchfield’s (mostly) quiet songs are just the sort of thing I like to listen to late at night.

Crutchfield seems to have a lot in common with Laura Stevenson. Both have played in pop-punk bands, both have released albums on well respected DIY labels (No Idea for Stevenson and Plan-It-X for Crutchfield), and both are signed to Don Giovanni records. That’s really where the comparisons end (other than the obvious fact that they are both supreme tunesmiths). Stevenson is more soulful and more idiosyncratic where Crutchfield is fragile and hits you straight in the gut with her confessional lyrics. Her songs oscillate between acoustic and electric guitar, but they almost always feels hushed, stripped down, and spare with the exception the punk-tinged pop tune “Coast to Coast,” the jaunty “Lips and Limbs,” and “Peace and Quiet,” which highlights what the album does best via its quiet verse and big catchy chorus. The quiet little songs are where this album lives and breaths. Though the songs feel small, they’re never slight. Crutchfield has one of those beautifully plain voices that really works to sell the humanity of her songs. Cerulean Salt’s most potent asset is that you feel like you’re sitting right next to this person spill their guts onto the floor.

"Misery Over Dispute"

"Peace and Quiet"

"Lips and Limbs"

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hair Police - "Mortuary Servants" 7"

Hair Police – Mortuary Servants 7”
Gods of Tundra/Freedom From, 2002
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $1
Despite the awesome black metal font and design of this 7”s cover, Hair Police are a noise band. I was just curious. One of my favorite things about 7”s is that you can just drop a buck or two on something that looks cool. It’s not a financial investment or something that’ll leave you kicking yourself at the end of the day. This particular band of skronky miscreants hails from Lexington, KY. Their music sounds like Wolf Eyes. Pretty much all noise bands sound like Wolf Eyes in my head. This band features a former member of Wolf Eyes, so there you go. It also features members of Burning Star Core, which is the other noise band I know. I haven’t the finely tuned sense of musical adventurism it takes to appreciate this stuff. I recognize it’s function and its boundary pushing form, but I would never go out of my way to listen to this stuff. I think this is at least partially due to the fact that the big noise music advocate at KJHK was a colossal jerk and I was severely annoyed that he would push dissonant noise records into spotlight rotation. It struck me as extremely misguided. While one of KJHK’s functions is to broaden the horizons of its listeners and expose them to music they wouldn’t hear elsewhere, if I played the title track of this 7” on the radio I guarantee 99% of listeners would tune out. There is a place for noise music in the world, but that place is in some adventurous music nerd’s headphones or a venue where people know what they are getting into. On the radio it feels like being alienating for the sake of alienation. It feels weird espousing such conservative views about art, and I’m sure there’s a counterargument to the necessity of noise on the radio. For instance, there’s plenty of music that has noise-based elements or veers toward the more pleasant-sounding ambient spectrum that would be radio friendly, it’s just this extreme shit I’ve gotta beef with. That said, I don’t hate this 7”. “Mortuary Servants” is a violent electronic mash and I appreciate the band’s attempt to push their sound to the outer rings of the musical spectrum. The b-side “Rare Animals” is either designed to fuck with you via infinite locked grooves or my copy of the record is messed up. It’s probably the latter, although in this wild, weird world of noise music I wouldn’t put it past a band to fuck with me in such a way.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guided by Voices - "Bulldog Skin" 7"

Guided by Voices – “Bulldog Skin” 7”
Matador, 1997
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2010
Price: $3

Mag Earwhig! tends to be an album that gets overlooked in GBV’s discography. It’s the first album to feature Cobra Verde as the backing band. Classic Line-Up bros Tobin Sprout and Greg Demos were there too, but in a reduced role (Sprout’s “Jane of the Waking Universe” is one of the album’s highlights). Yet while it clearly depicts a sea change in GBV’s direction, it sounds more like its precursor Under the Bushes Under the Stars than its follow-up: the overblown black sheep of the discography Do the Collapse. While Pollard’s songwriting is as sharp as ever, the songs are glossier, moving closer to the rock star ideal Pollard always wanted. “Bulldog Skin” is a classic GBV earwormer that is about a hundred times better than the atrocious “I Am a Tree” which served as the album’s big single. The b-side hosts a deserving castoff, “The Singing Razorblade,” and a terrific electric version of the album’s “Now to War,” which is right up there in terms of quality with “Sad if I Lost it,” “Learning to Hunt,” “Little Lines,” and “Choking Tara.” It’s a simple, catchy little tune, and the sort of thing GBV does best: No frills indie rock with maximum rewards.

"Bulldog Skin"

"Now to War (Electric Version)"

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Guided By Voices - Tigerbomb EP

Guided by Voices – Tigerbomb EP
Matador, 1995
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2009
Price: $4
The Tigerbomb EP feels like a convenient way for Bob Pollard to play revisionist with the two best tracks from Alien Lanes. The studio versions of “Game of Pricks” and “My Valuable Hunting Knife” are the first real step towards the clean, professionally recorded sound GBV adopted for the rest of its career (until last year’s classic line-up reunion). I don’t think it’s fair to be the sort of purist who wish GBV had just stayed in the garage recording pop gem after pop gem into a shitty four track, so I sort of love these re-recorded versions. Both versions of “Game of Pricks” offer something different. On Alien Lanes it crashes into the room and you just stand there like an idiot with your jaw dropped and hit repeat until your ears fall off. Still, Pollard knows it’s the best song he’s ever written, and the studio version amps everything up so that the song just fucking sparkles. You could play “Game of Pricks” on a child’s toy piano and it would still be a great song, because that’s how great songs work: no matter how you dress them down or doll them up, they always have that core of greatness that makes them shine.

I particularly enjoy the rerecorded version of “My Valuable Hunting Knife,” even though I think it works better in its stripped down version. The studio version brings some extra swagger to the table though. There’s a kind of reeling, drunken stumble to the track despite the crisp studio production. It’s borderline danceable! The middle chunk of this album is a strange tour through the weirder parts of Bob Pollard’s 1,000+ BMI registered songs. The title of “Mice Feel Nice (in my Room)” is better than the song itself which features future GBV guitarist Doug Gillard on guitar and is one of those Pollard tracks that sounds like he’s singing from the bottom of an empty can of Spaghetti-Os. “Not Good For the Mechanism” is a throwaway little shouter, but “Kiss Only the Important Ones” is a dusty gem. It sounds like a poorly recorded demo traced during some downtime at the studio, but it’s one of those quiet little heartstring-tuggers that Pollard hides in his discography like buried treasure.

Tigerbomb's highlight is Tobin Sprout’s lone contribution: “Dodging Invisible Rays.” When I first started listening to GBV, Tobin Sprout’s songs were always my favorites. They were the ones that made me stick around. Sprout sort of acts like the buddy who vouches for the drunken Pollard. “No, just give him a chance, I swear the guy’s a genius!” Sprout says with his psychedelic-pop tinged songs and their supreme, brain-melting melodies. I’ve always liked the idea that Pollard was the erratic genius, recording every single song that popped into his head and Sprout was the bespectacled nerd behind the desk weeding out all the crap and mining for gold. I barely even need to say that their dynamic is my favorite in the history of rock n’ roll. Fuck Lennon/McCartney. Pollard/Sprout forever. Anyway, “Dodging Invisible Rays” is the best song Tobin Sprout ever contributed to GBV. It’s just so loose and brilliant. I remember the first time I heard it, which was the day I bought this EP. I sat there on my floor in front of my record player at the Pink House and let it wash over me. And played the song five more times. When I joined a band, I made my band mates learn this so we could play it. Playing this track live to practically no one at the Replay Lounge was one of the most satisfying moments of my life.

I love Guided by Voices because there is so much wrapped up in these unassuming, often poorly recorded songs. In the band’s sprawling discography you can find everything you could ever possibly want to feel. There is quite literally a song for every occasion. Graduation? “Echoes Myron.” Summer Barbecue? “Dayton Ohio Nineteen-Something-And-Five.” Ok, I’m biased. But that’s ok. I tend to not trust people who won’t tell me their favorite band straight-up. The common tendency when asked this question is to say “I like a lot of music” and while that’s totally true, come on. Deep down, what is the song of your soul? If you put a stethoscope up to my heart it would probably thump out the beat to “Smothered in Hugs.” While it’s important to listen to a lot of music and love a lot of bands, I think it’s equally important to be obsessive about one. That was what was so great about working at a college radio station. I met people with these great obsessions who weren’t ashamed to say they worshipped Pavement or the Pixies or Wu-Tang Clan. Never be ashamed! God, I sound like an evangelist. I feel like an evangelist when I talk about Guided by Voices to the uninitiated. Just the other day at work some GBV CDs came in and one of my coworkers said they’d never listened to them but heard good things and I went off. It’s hard to contain, it’s weird and I get this crazy gleam in my eye whenever I get a chance to wax rhapsodic about GBV, and I don’t think that will ever change. And I don’t want it to change. For our anniversary my wife got me a signed, screen printed Bob Pollard poster purchased online directly from Pollard’s wife. It was basically the best gift anyone could ever give me. Like ever. For some people, reading the Bible and developing a personal relationship with Jesus gives their life meaning. For me, listening to Bee Thousand and developing a personal (I FEEL LIKE I REALLY KNOW HIM OK!) relationship with Bob Pollard gives my life meaning. And that’s alright with me. 

"Dodging Invisible Rays"

"My Valuable Hunting Knife" 

"Game of Pricks" 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Greenhorn - "Liars' Song"/ "Lovers' Song" 7"

Greenhorn – “Liars’ Song”/ “Lovers’ Song” 7”
3 Beads of Sweat, 1993
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
Greenhorn illustrated that the long-reaching tentacles of grunge got as far inland as Columbus, Ohio. I shouldn’t be surprised, as I’ve previously noted that the last house we occupied in Lawrence housed at least two different grunge bands/bands capitalizing on the post-grunge boom in the early 90s (fun fact: Behind the house there was a shed that served as a carport and the always open door to the shed bore the logos of Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys in spray paint, thus leaving behind the legacy of the punk bands that lived in the house before the grunge bands moved in). The grunge comes through in full-force on the A-side “Liars’ Song,” but B-side “Lovers’ Song” is more of a tender, jangly pop number that redeems the 7” even if the bass is mixed way too high and goes on about a minute and a half too long.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Godrays - Songs for TV Stars 7"

The Godrays – Songs for TV Stars 7”
Vernon Yard, 1996
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
The title track from this double 7” is probably the most impressive song in the Godrays’ tiny catalog. I can’t guarantee this, as I haven’t heard their full length—also titled Songs for TV Stars—which amazingly only features two tracks from this 7”. I totally expected this to be a selection from the forthcoming album but nope! The Godrays know how to do an album proper! Strangely, the real overlap comes with “Crummy,” which appeared in a different form of the other Godrays’ 7” I own. This version of “Crummy” was recorded into a four-track, features only front man Alex Kemp, and isn’t nearly as good as the version on the “Crummy” single. Partly because the pretty little synth line gets way distorted into obscurity, but mostly because Phoebe Summersquash’s backing vocals make that song. It’s not bad, it just pales in comparison. I wonder which version shows up on the album? Oh yeah, I was talking about the impressiveness of “Songs for TV Stars.” Kemp suckers you in by laying out a serpentine bass line at the outset and littering the track’s empty space with spare little guitar notes. And then he just hammers you with the chorus and its big wall of guitars, Summersquash backing vocals poking through, and a mightily satisfying melody. “No Arms are Good for Holding” and the brooding instrumental “Film Music 2” stray from the pop-tinted glow of their first 7” and Small Factory’s entirely blissful output, but Kemp and Summersquash handle this newfound heavy indie rock with aplomb.

Willfuly Obscure is once again the only place that has the Jams.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Godrays - Bed Spins 7"

The Godrays – The Bed Spins 7”
Vernon Yard, 1996
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
The Godrays rose from the ashes of the excellent little Rhode Island based indie pop band Small Factory. Following the departure of guitarist Dave Auchenbach in 1995, bassist Alex Kemp and drummer Phoebe Summersquash formed the Godrays and continued paying tribute to the rich tradition New English alternative rock. Considering that Small Factory’s “The Last Time That We Spoke” is one of my favorite, most criminally unsung alt-pop songs of the mid 90s (a song I should note I only heard after acquiring the 7” in the Love Garden Shotgun Room) I was absolutely game to finally listen to the Godrays. Of course they’re great. Kemp and Summersquash harmonize in that way that really great indie-pop bands harmonize, which is to say that while they aren’t Singers with a big capital S, when they harmonize they create that perfect human sweetness you love. A-Side “Crummy” capitalizes on those harmonies, and threads an airy little unobtrusive synthesizer riff throughout. Though Kemp has an average-dude voice, it is more than capable enough to deliver the melodic goods on the track’s catchy chorus. The B-Side, “Northless,” provides a nice counterpoint to the upbeat niceness of “Crummy” by setting the mopefactor to 11. It’s a short, downtrodden little tune that bursts into a cathartic guitar solo at the very end. This is one of those perfect little 7”s where a band you’ve never heard manages to blow you away and you realize that there are hundreds of bands you’ve never heard of and will probably never hear that have songs that would knock your socks off if only you stumbled across them in the bargain basement section of a record store.   


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Faces - Ooh La La

The Faces – Ooh La La
Warner Bros, 1973 (German Pressing)
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $2.50
Rod Stewart has always creeped me out. Not only did I hate his voice whenever “Maggie May” would play for the umpteenth time on the classic rock radio station my dad listened to, but when I saw his muppet-esque face on the album covers in the various record collections at various suburban houses, I was doomed to forever wonder WHY anyone would ever want this shriveled-looking man’s body and who would ever find him sexy? It was confusing. The British have an entirely different idea of sexiness, or maybe that’s just the seventies. Mick Jagger has that same withered homeliness and he’s a sex symbol too. Even the Beatles weren’t all that handsome (except for John, of course, and I suppose George if eyebrows are your thing). So as a 12-year-old grappling with the concept of handsomeness and sexiness, I was pretty much in the dark.

Now a bit further down the line, my fierce animosity toward Mr. Stewart has waned to the point of indifference. While I still think “Maggie May” sounds like it was sung by someone who had a whole box of thumbtacks lodged in his throat, I recognize that if anyone else sang that song I’d love it because it’s a great pop song. The hilarious thing about my acceptance of Rod Stewart is that it is linked to my false understanding that he contributed lead vocals to “Ooh La La.” The song most famously plays during the end sequence of Rushmore and upon watching that scene for the dozenth time, I was ready to make amends.

But of course, as I learned, it’s NOT Stewart who sings “Ooh La La,” but guitarist (and future Rolling Stone) Ronnie Wood. Fucking confusing. So now I’m laying into Ooh La La, the last album the Faces produced before tensions between Stewart and Ronnie Lane split the group apart. I’m still pretty indifferent about Stewart, who sings most of the tracks on the album’s first half, but the back half of the album really won me over. The second side features a weird jam-out (“Fly in the Ointment)” and the least irksome Stewart-led songs “If I’m on the Late Side” (despite the last verse implying that Stewart is going to have sex with someone, the sentiment is kind of sweet, but the thought of Stewart having sex with someone just made me wretch a little) and “Just Another Honky” (least irksome because they were penned by Ronnie Lane who’s softer side balances out the upbeat rockers of the album’s first half with the exception of the excellent “Cindy Incidentally” and Lane’s own “Flags and Banners") in addition to “Ooh La La,” but that’s in a class of its own. Lane’s pensive “Glad and Sorry” is my second favorite track on the album, and it’s the one I keep getting up to replay as I listen. Mostly I just nod my head and realize that British music form the 1970s is one of those great, gaping gaps in my musical knowledge that will hopefully be filled in as I get older and more persnickety. 

"Ooh La La"

"Glad and Sorry"

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Glo-Worm - "Travelogue" 7"

Glo-Worm – “Travelogue” 7”
K Records, 1995
Acquired: K Records Mail Order, New, 2008
Price: $4
Years back I was visiting a friend in St. Louis and as we were driving down the highway, Black Tambourine’s Complete Recordings drifted through the speakers. It was the first time I had ever heard of Black Tambourine, and the first time I would hear Pam Berry’s voice, which would become my absolute favorite of the indie pop realm for years to come. She went on to join or found bands that released a few 7”s and disbanded. Bright Coloured Lights, Veronica Lake, Belmondo, Seashell Sea, the Shapiros, the Pines, Powderburns, The Relict, the Castaway Stones (who actually had a full-length that is pretty good) and Glo-Worm. I think that about rounds it out. Glo-Worm had softer edges than Black Tambourine’s punk-via-Phil-Spector sound and the songs on this 7” are downright tender. I have always loved Berry’s voice because it sounds so normal. I think of that Silver Jews lyric, “All my favorite singers couldn’t sing.” Glo-Worm (and the Castaway Stones) are about as twee as twee gets. Sweet, softly strummed guitars, delicate little lilting melodies played on a keyboard, and a shaker supplementing the primarily snare-drum percussion. It’s lovely stuff. It’s also a fascinating counterpoint to what you expect from the traditional edges and angles of the DC music scene. Glo-Worm sounds like it was recorded on some lush, rainy paradise, which is fitting because this is sort of the ultimate rainy day music. Low-key, staring out the window watching the water pool in the streets music. Lovely and harmless and the physical embodiment of twee-pop.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Gut Feeling: Neko Case - The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Anti, 2013
When I heard the proposed title of Neko Case’s new album in an NPR piece about the record’s progress, I said, “please don’t change that title” under my breath three times fast. Nothing grates on me more than a boring album title. Still, no matter what Case decided to title the record, it would still be the most powerful and disarming work she’s crafted to date. These days it feels so rare to fall head over heels for a record on the first spin through and I was in love with this album before it was even done playing. There’s something really nice about having faith in an artist. While I felt her previous LP Middle Cyclone was a bit overstuffed, the songs were almost exclusively gems. This time around, Case is straight-up lean. The songs are brutally concise, honed like twelve little daggers that cut straight into that part of your gut that causes such exclamations as, “Holy shit, this is a fucking masterpiece.”

Neko Case stopped dying her hair. At least that’s what my wife said. She’s a Case superfan and our romance has roots in a New Pornographers mix I made for her four years ago (heavy on the Case-led jams). She says she read an interview about the hair-dying thing. It seems fitting; as if Case is somehow stripping away the aura of ineffable cool that has always surrounded her. Watching Case on stage the words “flame-haired chanteuse” always immediately come to mind. You get the impression that there’s a personal sea change at work, and while The Worse Things Get… is different from any other record Case has produced, it’s the deeply personal autobiographical content that causes the record to hit harder than any other album in Case’s discography. It’s not small feat, considering that Case is one of the strongest songwriters currently working. Maybe ever. I’d be willing to say that Neko Case is just as talented as Bob Dylan, and that you might as well start etching her name on the plaque at the pantheon of greats right now.

This thing is a lyrical blockbuster. You could throw a rock and hit a brilliant line (“I only ever held one love/ Her name was Mary Anne/ She died having a child by her brother/ He died because I murdered him” on one of the album’s rare fictional story-songs “Bracing for Sunday” is one of my favorites) but the music and the production is the sort of stuff that leaves you breathless. The specter of M Ward’s guitar work, the deftness of Kelly Hogan’s backing vocals which feel as much a part of Case’s records as Case herself, and the gorgeous idiosyncrasy of Case’s melodies that play so perfectly with the words she wraps around them. There’s the a capella “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” which details maternal neglect in such terrifically sad detail I wept the first time I heard it. And then there are the horns that push the magisterial closer “Ragtime” into the stratosphere and leaves your head spinning. There’s the hushed tenderness of “I’m From Nowhere” and the sadness embedded in long distance romance in “Calling Cards” and then there’s the rollicking attack on gender identity “Man” and the vibrant pop majesty of “City Swans,” which is the sweetest, most tuneful track on the record. There is no dud. Where Middle Cyclone’s b-sides were as much a part of the fabric as gems like “This Tornado Loves You” and “I’m an Animal.” Like the best albums, when The Worse Things Get… ends it feels like it’s over all too soon and immediately warrants another listen. And another. And another.

"City Swans"

"I'm From Nowhere"


Friday, September 6, 2013

Gem - "Sheep" 7"

Gem – “Sheep” 7”
Carcrashh, 1995
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
I purchased this 7” specifically because the sleeve featured still photographs from Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, which is my absolute favorite film of all time. The music is pretty standard mid-90s indie rock. A-Side “Sheep” adopts a fast-paced power-pop angle and goes on a bit too long. B-Side “Smiling All the While” has a jangly, down-tempo vibe and is the real winner on this 7”. Assuming it’s a battle, as each song was written by a different guy. This would be a fairly commonplace 7” if it weren’t for the fact that Gem was comprised of Tim Tobias and Doug Gillard. Both Tobias and Gillard were instrumental in the last phase of Guided by Voices, and I won’t lie, when I saw “Written by D. Gillard” and “Written by T. Tobias” I kind of flipped. Just a little bit. While the latter GBV records aren’t my favorite and got a little too slick for my liking (note: I always give these records a pass because I feel like it was always Bob Pollard’s dream to be in a big, slick rock n’ roll band and these guys helped him achieve that). Still, both of these guys are players in my absolute favorite band of all time so this Gem warrant a bit of special attention.

Doug Gillard played lead guitar in GBV from Mag Earwhig! to Half Smiles of the Decomposed and is best known for writing Mag Earwhig!’s “I am a Tree.” It’s one of the few non-Pollard tracks not written by Tobin Spout to pop up on a GBV release, and you can tell because it’s totally uncharacteristic. For starters, the damn thing is about twice as long as it needs to be. It’s repetitive and it’s boring. Strangely, I hear this song on KJHK all the time. I’m pretty sure if a DJ is unfamiliar with the sacred discography of Dayton, Ohio’s Finest, they just grab this one and I’m sure the review says “PLAY ‘I AM A TREE.’” Gem actually recorded their own version of the track in 1997. Come to think of it, the Doug Gillard song on this 7” is about twice as long as it needs to be and repetitive and boring! GO FIGURE! For all of my knocks against Gillard, he is a talented guitarist and I’ve always been partial to the guitar work on Isolation Drills, easily the best GBV record from the latter period. Gillard is a bit of a journeyman indie rocker. In addition to Gem and GBV, he played with Cobra Verde (natch, considering Cobra Verde basically became Bob Pollard’s backing band from Mag Earwhig! up til the (first) bitter end (until GBV rose like the mighty phoenix once more)), Lifeguards (one of Bob Pollard’s myriad side projects) and played drums and guitar with My Dad is Dead they moved to Chapel Hill in addition to putting out a slew of albums under his own name. He ended up being exactly the kind of lead guitarist that could help Bob Pollard fulfill his rockstar fantasies.

Tim Tobias played bass with GBV from Isolation Drills through Earthquake Glue. His brother Todd served as Gem’s bassist and is another frequent Pollard collaborator. Both Tobias brothers play in Circus Devils, which is another one of the Pollard’s myriad on-going side projects he has to strike up just to deal with the sheer volume of his songwriting. Todd is also Bobby P’s primary knob turner and in addition to producing most of his solo albums (if not all) produced the last three GBV records (before the classic line-up reunion). Though Tim is the least prolific of all Gem’s members, that bass line on GBV’s “TheBest of Jill Hives” is unforgettable. I am endlessly fascinated with the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” qualities of 90s bands. The way certain guys move around like car parts. GBV wasn’t always the most well oiled machine, but goddamn if it didn’t keep running without breaking down too much.

Once again, the excellent blog Wilfully Obscure has MP3s. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Gastr Del Sol - 20 Songs Less

Gastr del Sol – 20 Songs Less 7”
Teen Beat, 1993
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $1

Gastr del Sol’s line-up on this 7” is more impressive than the actual music. Here we have Squirrel Bait’s David Grubbs, the indomitable Jim O’Rourke on guitar, founding Tortoise member Bundy K. Bundy, and long time Tortoise drummer Jim McEntire. This is Gastr del Sol’s second release and their first with O’Rourke. The music is haunting, disjointed, and built around aimless acoustic guitars. I’m a big fan of Jim O’Rourke’s acoustic guitar based solo albums (opposed to the crazy noise based ones) so I have that to latch onto as I face these pretty straight-up experimental tracks. The A-side is quite a bit wilder than the B-Side, featuring a few moments where the sound cuts out that are reminiscent of your shitty headphones cutting out because the headphone jack on your iPod is busted. I’m sure you are familiar with that sensation. That said, I much prefer the spaced out B-side with its gentle guitar strums and audio clips of children playing in a park meeting up with the distant electronics in the dense background. There are some insane, jazz-fueled drum bits here and I think they last all of ten seconds. It’s rooted in that weird, avant-garde/post-rock/post-hardcore/math rock era that is effectively a total mystery to me outside of Spiderland, the first Squirrel Bait record and cursory listens to Codeine, Big Black, and all that stuff that was touted by the great Chicago record labels in the mid-90s (Touch-and-Go, Drag City) with the east coast contingent of avant-pop/punk held down by Teen Beat and Dischord. It’s a weird world that I am only loosely acquainted with and fortunately I’ve got plenty of time to dig into all of that stuff at a later date (sooner rather than later, considering that I have Teen Beat and Drag City LP compilations in my stack of LPs awaiting write-ups).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Game for Vultures - "Goin' My Way" 7"

Game for Vultures – “Goin’ My Way” 7”
Estrus, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25

This single was originally released in 1990 but for some reason reissued in 1994. You can definitely taste the 80s in the guitar work. They definitely don’t sound dirty enough. There’s a little 80s wanker metal dust on them, just slightly, which basically serves to date this thing as pre/proto-grunge. There’s some Mudhoney grease smeared on these songs, which makes sense given the band’s proximity to the Grunge Mecca, but there could definitely be more grease. It all sounds too clean. Like you can tell they’re trying to make it sound really good. It’s funny that trying to sound really good is a flaw. Like “Oh, you labored over this in the studio? Yeah, you should have just recorded into a shitty four-track, it would have sounded way better.” The drum sound is bothersome, too. It almost sounds synthesized at times, especially on the instrumental “Surfin’ Bellingham Bay.” The is the only thing Game for Vultures released and front man John Mortensen went on to play with the Mono Men who played the same game of trying to resurrect the Sonics from the ashes but stuck around a lot longer. Lamestain has a whole little history of Jeff Mortensen’s wheelings and dealings in the Seattle music scene and while Game for Vultures’ music leaves something to be desired, it is a fun little artifact from a halcyon early days of American indie music.