Thursday, October 31, 2013

Johnny Hash - "Summer of Cum"/"Rat Petal" 7"

Johnny Hash – “Summer of Cum” 7”
In the Red, 1995
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
It took me a minute to realize that this band’s name was a joke. “Wait, should this be under H?” I thought. Then I was like “Oh, it’s pry a name that is a band name but not the name of someone in the band.” “Oh, hash, like hashbrowns.” “Oh, hash like drugs.” “OH IT IS A PLAY ON JOHNNY CASH I GET IT!” So there’s my thought process. Also, I gotta say, “Summer of Cum” is probably the best sleazy song title you’re gonna find anywhere, especially when paired up with the song itself which is basically grimy blues rock played into the worst recording equipment imaginable. It sounds like total garbage, which is the point, which is why I’m grooving down on this 7”. This is before the White Stripes made bluesy garage rock hip again (I’m still taken aback every time I hear a crowd chanting the hook from “Seven Nation Army” at a massive sporting event). The b-side, the almost equally excellently titled “Rat Petal” is more subdued, but just as grungy and fueled by guitars that are so distorted they sound like they’re being played through a concrete wall. Tracing the genealogy of the band is tricky since in the 18-20 years since this 7”s release (I’ve seen the release date listed as 1993, 1994, and 1995, and of course it’s nowhere on the sleeve) multiple folks have made the same play-on-famed-country-singer’s-name game (notably white rapper Johnny Ha$h). From what I could find, the group is a duo (Dan Brown and Marty Moore) with roots in the Mick Collins (the Dirtbombs) side project the Screws. The Mick Collins tie makes me think they’re from Detroit, but since these songs were recorded in Memphis I’m not so sure. It certainly sounds like dirty Detroit garage rock, that’s for damn sure. The selling point though was that this was released on In the Red records (although I’m sure even if it wasn’t on a label I knew, I still would have bought it for the title “Summer of Cum” that’s for damn sure) which I thought had popped up fairly recently with the mid-to-late 00s garage rock revival (Vivian Girls, Jay Reatard, the Black Lips, and pretty much every other band of that ilk released SOMETHING on In the Red. I remember when I was music director at KJ seeing In the Red’s neat little VU meter label on the back of a CD usually meant that the CD would at least be listened to) but no, it’s been around since 1991 and released tons and tons and tons of awesome shit.

"Summer of Cum (For Robert Wyatt)"

"Rat Petal"

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Suzannah Johannes - Suzannah Johannes 7"

Suzannah Johannes – Suzannah Johannes 7”
Range Life, 2008
Acquired: Suzannah Johannes Live Show, New, 2008
Price: $5
I totally expected to step into a time machine when I put this one on. Like the Bandit Teeth/Dactyls 7” I recently wrote up (also from the anti-halcyon days of 2008), seeing Suzannah Johannes open half the Lawrence shows was a big part of that time period. The nice thing about Johannes was that she was an opener you actually wanted to catch. You made sure your pregaming was done by 9 and headed down to the Replay to see her play. It’s not like her sets varied too much—it was either Suzannah with her band or Suzannah on her own—but her songs were just so fucking lovely you never got sick of them. As far as I know, this is the only thing she ever released, and I’m fairly certain it was recorded on with the studio time she won when she won KJHK’s Farmer’s Ball (which used to have studio time at the Get Up Kids-owned Black Lodge Studio in Eudora, where bits of this record were recorded). Man, I can’t get over how pretty these songs are. It’s just plain pure, pleasant vocal pop that reminds me of an earthier version of Taken by Trees. It’s a nice slice of Lawrence music before everything got steeped in irony and cool.

"Horserider's Smile" and "Kelly Ann" can be found on this terrific Daytrotter session.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Gut Feeling: Moonface - Julia With Blue Jeans On

Moonface – Julia With Blue Jeans On
Jagjaguar, 2013
The moment where I became a Spencer Krug superfan can be isolated to a cluster of seven notes: The first notes that open Sunset Rubdown’s 2007 album Random Spirit Lover. The little guitar riff on the opening track—“The Mending of the Gown”—incites a bit of a Proustian nostalgia every time I hear it. I typically think of 2007 as my favorite year for music (at least in terms of years I got to live through while actively being a music lover). At the top of that year’s list was Random Spirit Lover. Not because it was the most masterfully crafted album or the one that broke the most new ground, but because it was the album that my gut wanted to hear every day for the back half of that year. It is a sloppy record, but one full of so much raw energy and spark that I found myself inspired every time I threw it in the CD player. I loved the wall-to-wall arrangements that always made the songs feel overstuffed but in a good way. There was so much going on, and Krug’s songwriting was peaking at such a high level it was an album I spent hours upon hours dissecting.

It always depresses me a little to refer to Krug as “the guy from Wolf Parade” whenever I’m trying to push a Sunset Rubdown or Moonface record on someone (“No, the other guy. The guy who sings ‘I Believe in Anything.’ No, there are two singers in that band…oh nevermind, just listen to this!”). Post Apologies to the Queen Mary, Krug seems to save his best tracks for his myriad side projects. “All Fires” from the first Swan Lake album is one of the most pretty sad songs I can recall, and I’ve always been under the impression that his affiliation with Dan Bejar and Carey Mercer led to a sort of songwriting arms race amongst the three considering that they always seem to be upping their game album after album. Though the last Moonface record—Heartbreaking Bravery, a collaboration with Finnish rockers Siinai—was fantastic, it didn’t feel like a triumph. It was loose, and the writing was great, but Krug’s uncanny knack for compiling great capital A Albums is one of his greatest skills. With Sunset Rubdown apparently on hiatus, Krug has taken the opportunity to unleash an unanswered boldness on his new record as Moonface. Julia With Blue Jeans On is not only the best Moonface record to date, but an honest to god triumph.

The songwriting has to be good when you’re constructing an album with nothing but piano and vocals. There are no guitars, no distortion, no walloping drums to cast any ambiguity on the lyrics. On Julia, Krug’s words fill the room wall to wall. He’s no virtuoso on the piano, but his expressive playing serves a perfect supporting role to these seemingly deeply personal songs that are amongst the most compelling he has written despite their spare setting. It is an album to be felt. Here, Krug offers up a pair of love songs that eclipse his much beloved “I’ll Believe in Anything” in sentiment. “November 2011” and the title track utilize Krug’s dark sweetness to wrap themselves around your heart like a python and squeeze. Where Krug typically shrouds his eloquently penned words in mystery and crypticism, the lyric sheet for Julia With Blue Jeans On is as straightforward and intimate as Krug has ever been.

Now I’d say the only word worth singing is a name
And I’d say the only name worth singing is not God
It’s you, Julia, as beautiful and simple as the sun
Julia with Blue Jeans on

His piano ranges from meandering to percussive and eviscerating. The songs are elegant and exhausting, occasionally breathtaking, and almost always wholly compelling and gorgeously penned. It seems criminal that Spencer Krug isn’t better known outside of Wolf Parade, but if that group’s role in the spotlight can help lead intrepid fans down the rabbit hole of Krug’s endlessly fascinating discography.

"Everyone is Noah, Everyone is the Ark"

"Love the House You're in"

Monday, October 28, 2013

Gut Feeling: Superchunk - I Hate Music

Superchunk – I Hate Music
Merge, 2013
My brain was way too wired for Majesty Shredding when I Hate Music was released in August. Maybe it had something to do with the band only taking three years to release this album opposed to nine with the last one. Majesty Shredding also caught me at this perfect little moment where I was falling deeply in love with Superchunk and making up for all the time I kept them on the back burner. For the longest time they were a band I knew I would love, absorbed in tiny doses, but ultimately tried to keep up with modern music. And then I quit trying to keep up with modern music, worked at a used CD store three twelve-hour shifts a week and played Indoor Living roughly 60 times in store during my six-month tenure. When Majesty Shredding hit I felt something I’ve felt maybe ten times in my life. The feeling of absolute FUCK YES. All caps. I had that same feeling when I had the good fortune of seeing Guided by Voices play live. It’s a feeling of realizing, via the will of the gods, you haven’t missed the boat and yes, you can still bask in the glory of the good old days of indie rock royalty. Majesty Shredding was as good as any Superchunk album I’d played to death and even after getting neck deep into their complete discography and history over the interim three years between albums, that shit holds its own against any of the acknowledge high points (assuming Superchunk have such defined high watermarks considering one of my favorite things about the band is their absolute steadiness). So I Hate Music was a let down at first because I didn’t immediately love it as much an album I listened to once a day in the last three months of 2010. That is a dumb way to judge music, so I set it aside and let it chill.

Two months later and I’m fucking hooked. I started running again, and the first album I loaded onto my ipod was I Hate Music. I hadn’t listened to it since August, but it’s tough to find ultra spectacular workout jams. Superchunk makes me want to run through a goddamn brick wall. First time back on the treadmill and I am in love with I Hate Music. Not just because it kicks ass, but because it’s a more cohesive effort than Majesty Shredding. It’s insane for my brain to even process that, but a quicker turnaround between records often leads to stuff that’s got more spark than stuff you’ve been plucking away at for almost a decade. There’s new life on I Hate Music. It feels forbidden. Like Superchunk was supposed to be kaput with Here’s to Shutting Up and yet here they are, making every young indie rock band look like they’re trying way too hard. It must be liberating when there is nothing on the line. Everyone in this band could easily just settle down into their family lives (Mac and Laura especially, considering the fortune Arcade Fire must be netting them) and yet, here they are. Delivering everything from easy little sing-a-long pop gems like “Me & You & Jackie Mitoo” and suckerpunch heartwrenchers like “Low F.” You don’t even realize how good some of the songs are until you catch yourself singing them in the car (the chorus on “Trees of Barcelona,” the back half of “Your Theme”). I don’t know when the band has ever sounded this versatile either (see: songs spanning from the 1:15 length punk nugget “Staying Home” to the 6:10 length closer, the mollassesy slow-burn jam “What Can We Do”). It’s not really that big a deal, but I never expect Superchunk to be versatile. They could just do an album that was 12 “Breaking Downs” and I’d be more than content and I guess it all comes down to the thing about new Superchunk albums being like a gift for a holiday you didn’t know about. A welcome surprise of outstanding quality that leaves you generally thankful to be part of a world where great people make great things and are gracious enough to share them with you.

"Me & You & Jackie Mittoo" 

"Low F"

"Trees of Barcelona"

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fucked Up - "Couple Tracks" 7"

Fucked Up – “Couple Tracks” 7”
Matador, 2010
Acquired: Crossroads Music, Used, 2013
Price: $2
The “Couple Tracks” 7” offers up a glimpse of Fucked Up in between The Chemistry of Common Life and David Comes to Life. As sophisticated as those two albums are (and I mean genuinely sophisticated, not just sophisticated for a hardcore band), “Couple Tracks” and “Heir Apparent” are down and dirty, no nonsense hardcore jams that are easy to get behind. Fucked Up have a knack for making songs that are both blistering and accessible. Songs that are full of sociopolitical messages or narrative structures that also kick total ass. They’re a punk band’s punk band and yet they’re also a punk band your girlfriend who hates punk rock on principle might like (I speak from experience, and while Jenny can’t tolerate Fucked Up for extended periods of time she did enjoy a few tracks from David Comes to Life and I put it on the board as a victory). The thinking man’s screamy music. Fucked Up are untouchable and should be feared and respected by every other band in the game. Even when they’re just turning out seemingly by the book punk rock as they are here, they’re still doing it at an extremely high level with sonics that never fail to sound artful.

"Couple Tracks"

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Dactyls/Bandit Teeth - Split 7"

The Dactyls/Bandit Teeth – Split 7”
Self Released, 2008
Acquired: Crossroads Music, Used, 2013
Price: $2
Of COURSE I found a split featuring two Lawrence bands in a Portland record shop. Crossroads Music was an intense place. It was packed with records. Most of it was junk. The impression I got was that it worked sort of like an antique mall for records: Independent sellers lay out their wares and the guy at the counter keeps track of who sells what. It was confusing until I found one or two little rows of modern indie rock 7”s and promptly spent an hour and a half combing through 45s from bands I’d never heard of. This is one of my favorite fucking things on the planet. The overhead is minimal, so I’m more likely to make an investment in something that just plain looks cool or I have even remotely heard of on the off chance it’s something tasty. Even if I had picked up a copy of this when it was released in 2008 (I’m pretty sure I attended the release party for this 7” and did not purchase a copy because it was during my “I’m about to graduate college and am currently unemployed and have no money” period (not to be confused with my current “I graduated college five years ago and am underemployed and the bulk of my extra money to Sallie Mae” period). While I always liked seeing Bandit Teeth and the Dactyls play live, I never really had any desire to listen to them outside of the Replay Lounge. It’s funny, because I listened to Bandit Teeth auxiliary projects Blood on the Wall and Rooftop Vigilantes at great length at home and in the car. Their contribution to this 7”—“Pajamazon”—is bringing back some fun memories. The nice thing about Bandit Teeth was that the Brad, Zach and Charley all seemed like this was the band that brought them the most joy. The band that was the most fun to be in just because they had all been buddies for forever. It’s ramshackle indie rock with some crustier garage influences. The Dactyls’ fondness for the glory days of indie rock was always firmly apparent. The specter of Pavement was always in the air anytime that played. They seemed so influenced by Pavement I remember remarking that it was strange they didn’t do a one off Pavement tribute because they would have been so good at that. They ultimately grew out of the Pavement knock-off and into a well rounded college rock troupe that seemed content to not set the world on fire and to exist as one of the better openers that Lawrence had to offer to national touring acts. This 7” is stirring up a massive wave of nostalgia for what was at my absolute worst.  My most dickheaded, my most drunk, my most destructive, and most ready to get the fuck out of Lawrence as soon as humanly possible. It’s all kind of funny in hindsight. A period jam packed with reality lessons that helped me grow and learn from my mistakes sound tracked by one of the better periods in the Lawrence Music Scene.

Even though it has only been five years, almost all evidence of these songs ever existing has seemingly vanished from the internet and I'm wishing I had a USB turntable to share these tracks. Preserve them in amber as an artifact of the time when $2 cans of PBR were king.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Joan of Arc - "Meaningful Work" 7"

Joan of Arc – “Meaningful Work” 7”
Polyvinyl, 2010
Acquired: Crossroads Music, Used, 2013
Price: $2
Some days I feel like Joan of Arc’s sounding like white noise to my ears is to be blamed on my never having listened to Cap’n Jazz. At one point in the dorms I had Analphabetapolothology on my hard drive but it has since vanished and I’ve been to lazy to reacquire the album. Sometimes I feel like that might make Joan of Arc click. It might also be that it’s too weird for my tastes. I love the 90s emo guitars that still lurk on this late Joan of Arc 7” but their noted avant gardiness brings on the washout. I zone out. Maybe Tim Kinsella just releases so many albums that his discography becomes too daunting to keep up with. That said, after listening to this 7” a few times I’m kind of into it. While I’m more partial to Tim’s brother (and Cap’n Jazz and occasional Joan of Arc bandmate) Mike’s bands American Football (for the smooth, late night true blue emo that both Kinsella’s are responsible for propagating in the face of a genre overrun by artists who think emo is all about screaming infidelities and so on etcetera) and Owen (for the broken, quavering prettiness of Mike Kinsella’s sadness), that’s mostly because those two bands are a lot easier to swallow than Joan of Arc. Both “Meaningful Work” and “The Thing of Things” are packed with odd time signatures, angular guitars, and weird lyrics that make the tracks something to stand back and stare at hand-on-chin rather than internalizing them on an emotional level.

"Meaningful Work"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Guided by Voices - "Chasing Heather Crazy" 7"

Guided by Voices – “Chasing Heather Crazy” 7”
TVT, 2001
Acquired: Jackpot Records, Used, 2013
Price: $5
I don’t know why I didn’t buy the other GBV singles they had at Jackpot when I was there. Sure, they were for tracks from Do the Collapse and Universal Truths and Cycles but I think if I was going to attempt to collect the complete discography to one band, it would be Guided by Voices. I had to grab “Chasing Heather Crazy” though. Pop songs don’t get much more pure. It’s the track that made me realize Isolation Drills is probably the best late-period GBV record. B-side “On With the Show” is a slowish track with big guitars that sound like grunting. It’s a pretty standard, decent GBV b-side. I should have bought Isolation Drills when I had the chance. I was pretty dismissive of the post classic line-up GBV records when I set out on my fandom and while I was always fond of “Chasing Heather Crazy” I didn’t wanna pay $14 for it when Love Garden had a used copy of it five years ago. I remember so well! And now the lowest price on Discogs is $40. Such is life. It gives me one more thing to look for when I attend the record stores of these United States. The Gs is always the first place I go. Now and forever.

"Chasing Heather Crazy"

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gut Feeling: Jim Guthrie - Takes Time

Jim Guthrie – Takes Time
Static Clang, 2013

The title of Jim Guthrie’s latest album comes across like a tongue-in-cheek nod to Takes Time being his first album in ten years. Guthrie’s 2003 album Now, More Than Ever is still one of those albums I try to spread Johnny Appleseed style. It’s just so fucking good, and I can’t believe no one has ever heard it (outside of Canada, where it was nominated for a Juno award). Guthrie’s blend of folk and indie-pop makes for a supremely pleasant, life affirming sound. I loved (and still love) Now, More Than Ever’s lead-off track “Problems With Solutions” so much I used it as the name of my mini comic and first blog. Whenever I see a copy for two bucks on in some clearance section at some record store I buy it because I know I know someone who would appreciate Guthrie’s talents. His ability to write songs that are both lighthearted and buoyant yet also packed with considerable depth. And here I am, writing about an album that is ten years old like it just came out yesterday. It’s timeless and tied to a piece of part of my life that was one of the best parts of my life.

It took time before I was able to truly address my affinity for Takes Time. It’s not as good as Now, More Than Ever, but that’s ok. I’m biased. I’ve had spent ten years with that album and I’ve spent maybe six months with this one. A long six months, though. Takes Time is one of the albums I’ve spent the most time with all year because I knew it had to be a grower when I was initially let down. I’m finally ready to say it’s one of my favorite albums of 2013. Not because it’s a great album, but because it satisfies this part of my soul that only Jim Guthrie can satisfy, and that’s the most important thing. There’s levity and depth and this general feeling of wellbeing that washes over me when I listen to these songs. The way I Heart Huckabees made me feel when I saw it in the theater. So good that I subsequently went back once a week until they stopped playing it at Liberty Hall. Takes Time is one of those albums that makes me recognize my place in the grand scheme. There’s something about the gorgeous, melancholy melody of “The Rest is Yet to Come,” backed up by an incredibly bright arrangement of acoustic guitar and strings.

While Takes Time might not be as lyrically fantastic as Now, More Than Ever, his arrangements here are his best yet. While it took him ten years to release a new album, Guthrie wasn’t just sitting around twiddling his thumbs. He spent a decent chunk of time in Nick Thorburn’s post Unicorns project Islands and subsequently released a one-off album with Thorburn under the moniker Human Highway. He recorded the music for the indie video game Sword & Sworcery and Indie Game: The Movie and overall, Guthrie is much more well-rounded than he was ten years ago even if Takes Time isn’t as cohesive as it could be. Either way, I’m just happy Jim Guthrie is back and can only hope and pray that his follow up to this one doesn’t take another ten years.

"The Rest is Yet to Come"

"Bring on the Night"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

John Prine - John Prine Live

John Prine – John Prine Live
Oh Boy, 1988
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $7.50
John Prine has great fans. His music has that extra something special that really ignites something inside of people. Every now and then some guy will come into the store looking for Prine CDs and we’ll talk for five minutes about how great John Prine is and I’ll check the inventory on the off chance we have a copy of Great Days stashed away somewhere. These are people who get it and wholly appreciate Prine’s gift for spinning yarns full of wit and heartbreak. These people know that barely anyone else ever wrote songs this good. I’ll probably never get to see John Prine live, and I’m OK with that because this live album is one of those rare live album’s that really captures the essence of an artist’s stage show. This isn’t just a straight up, perfectly recorded live album where the only real difference between the studio recordings and the live ones is some applause tacked on the end. While this album picks and chooses lives cuts from various circumstances rather than chronicling one set, it works (The songs are primarily culled from a set at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano with a few from a set at The Cannery in Nashville, one from the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago and one from Austin City Limits). You get the crowd signing along to “Illegal Smile,” which is just totally wonderful. You feel like you’re right there, singing along with a room full of people who love that song just as much as you. Prine’s pre-song banter is fantastic, but that is too be expected. The way he carries himself is such a huge part of his song. He’s not quite self-deprecating, but it feels like that. His commentary on the world at large, from the story behind writing “The Oldest Baby in the World” with Donnie Fritts to a really poignant bit about the Vietnam War Memorial that precedes “Sam Stone,” which might well be the greatest anti-Vietnam song ever. The whole affair feels more like hanging out with a really great dude rather than seeing a concert. It feels like a communal thing. Like a we’re all in this together thing. There’s something really beautiful about feeling connected to a room full of people courtesy of a musician who’s pretty much just like you. I usually start people off on Prime Prine or the first disc of Great Days if they’re keen to get into John Prine, but maybe this one is even better. You get such a sense of who this guy is and where he is coming from, and the song selection is pretty much impossible to beat.

"That's the Way That The World Goes 'Round"

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Neko Case - Furnace Room Lullabye

Neko Case – Furnace Room Lullabye
Mint/Bloodshot, 2000
Acquired: Kings Road Merch Mail Order, New, 2013
Price: $20
Furnace Room Lullabye isn’t my favorite Neko Case album, but it is definitely the one I’ve heard the most. It’s my wife’s favorite album, and we listen to it ALL THE TIME. At home, on trips, anytime the album is at hand, Jenny is apt to put it on and sing along. This is actually her album, anyway. I got it for her for our wedding anniversary (because Paper Anniversary is too easy if you work at a bookstore and I prefer a Vinyl Anniversary instead). My favorite album of Neko’s is Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (her new one, The Worse Things Get, The Harder IFight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, is creeping up the ranks and may soon overtake Fox Confessor), and I think she is one of those artists who gets better album after album. Over the years she has matured from punk to alt-country chanteuse to maybe the most beloved and idolized female singer of this era. Her songwriting is better than just about anyone’s. Neko Case’s second album Furnace Room Lullabye (credited to Neko Case & Her Boyfriends) is her twangiest, but you can see the strict country vibe being outgrown. Just around the edges, because this one is still very much rooted in the genre even though Case’s pipes very clearly illustrate that she can do anything she fucking wants. Just watch her propel some of those New Pornographers songs into pop majesty or look at the a capella standout of her latest album, “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” Neko Case pretty much embodies the term unfuckwithable. I’ve never met someone who knew who she was and wasn’t a fan. Even though I don’t think Furnace Room Lullabye is the best distillation of Case’s talents, I still think “Set Out Running” is one of the most gut-punch great songs I’ve ever heard, and it’s the song that began my long courtship with Case in the first place. 

"Set Out Running" 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Jefferson Airplane - "Somebody to Love"/ "White Rabbit"

Jefferson Airplane – “Somebody to Love”/ “White Rabbit”
RCA Victor, 1967
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2005
Price: $1
This was no doubt purchased after a reviewing of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Funny that this should come up, because I’ve been thinking about Fear and Loathing a lot lately. When I was in high school, I bought my treasured paperback copy of the book at the Half Price Books on Metcalf, the store where I now work. I’ve been coming to the understanding that my childhood and the KC Metro Area are sewn together. If only I was working at the Olathe store. I remember when it opened, and my mom said, “You should go apply at Half Price Books.” Funny. Holy shit, I love being back in Kansas. I spent so many years hating living here and now I couldn’t be happier. It’s more than the fact that people here know how to drive and don’t frequently run red lights. It’s more than the fact that the people are openly friendly (although that’s part of it). I feel like a moth coming out of transformation. Went to a Minneapolis sized pupa and came back almost two years later a grown ass man. It’s all very strange. I hear myself actively being OK with potentially living a normal, suburban lifestyle (in Lawrence hopefully, but in a house with a good school district for the Baby Nugget. Haircuts on a regular basis, interior design with new furniture, holy shit). I rallied against all that shit so hard when I was 16-25 and the idea that you are going to live in the city and be an artist now seems to be a total Peter Pan-ish thing reserved for your early twenties. So anyway, “White Rabbit” takes me back to a time when Fear and Loathing was my post-punk rock jam. Honestly, Fear and Loathing sparked the tiny journalistic fuse in my brain and caused me to start blogging and ultimately, way down the line, writing little observation pieces for college radio. The book and this song are fused. The vinyl is in awesome shape, which seems like a miracle because these 45s from the 60s are almost always thrashed when I come across them at HPB. Even though “Somebody to Love” is probably THEE song most used to illustrated the trippy, free-love 60s, Grace Slick’s vocals are raw and vital and if you can pretend you’re hearing the song for the first time it’s pretty fucking great. “White Rabbit” is, of course, weird and spooky and spends its running time building upon itself until it boils over (and Johnny Depp throws the stereo into the bathtub Benicio Del Toro is sitting in).

"Somebody to Love"

The proper illustration of "White Rabbit"

Friday, October 11, 2013

Jawbreaker - "Busy" 7"

Jawbreaker – “Busy” 7”
Shredder, 1989
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $4
There’s something noble about Jawbreaker. Something that brings people together over their love of the band that had the uncanny gift to churn out songs that were both emotionally devastating and badass at the same time. They’re a band I openly love. The big brother I never had. So coming across their very first release was pretty fucking exciting. Despite loving the hell out of this band, I’ve haven’t spent much time with their first album, Unfun, outside of “Busy” and “Want.” I always think the early stuff is gonna sound so much more raw than the later stuff, but honestly it’s just a little bit grittier than 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (the high gloss of Dear You is something else entirely). Blake Schwarzenbach hasn’t really cracked open his terrific pop sensibility at this point. At this point, Jawbreaker feel like the dudes equipped for a hardcore punk band with too much of a jones for true blue emo to be considered Punks. Besides, Schwarzenbach’s lyrics are way too good to bury under some rapid-fire punk rock babble. Jawbreaker made it so you could be sensitive without being a wuss, which I found greatly appealing when I was fifteen because I was a sensitive wuss. Jawbreaker is like permanent nostalgia: A band I love just as much as I did when I was a teenager and will love just as much when I’m fifty. There’s just too much debt. I owe Jawbreaker so much for making the violent world of punk rock accessible without selling out (does anyone even argue about Dear You being selling out anymore or has everyone come around and embraced it?). The b-side, “Equalized,” is raw is hell on every front but the band’s energy is undeniable. It's kind of ridiculous how much potential this band puts on display on their first release. A little bit of that is speaking through the lens of hindsight about one of my favorite bands of all time, but these songs are vital.

"Busy"/ "Equalized"

Thursday, October 10, 2013

IQU - "Can't You Even Remember That?" Remixes 7"

IQU – “Can’t You Even Remember That?” Remixes 7”
K Records, 1998
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $1

It’s kind of fun listening to remixes of a song you haven’t heard. It’s like hearing Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” only to realize it’s a Leonard Cohen cover. You listen to the original and your entire impression of the song is a little distorted, because the versions are so different. It’s a worldview-distorting thing. Like realizing you’ve been mispronouncing some word for twenty years. It’s kind of fun. This 7” features two remixes of a song from Olympia based electro trio IQU from their 1998 album Chotto Matte a Moment! The remixes themselves are culled from an album of remixes of their track “Teenage Dream,” which for whatever reason has the remixes of “Can’t You Even Remember That?” tacked on the end. I hate remixes. I should just get that out of the way before going any further. I just plain don’t care. Any time a single has a remix on the b-side I consider it a sign of laziness because most remixes tend to be very whatever. But then again, I’m not a sound designer or a producer or a real musician and I’m probably not qualified to judge remixes, I just personally can’t care. The funny thing is that I can’t track down the original track on the internet and all I have are these two quite different remixes to give me an idea of what the original sounds like. K.O.’s (Q

The Sonic Boom remix.

The K.O. remix.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Insides/The Glee Club - Split 7"

Insides/ The Glee Club
4AD, 1993
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $1
I don’t think I’d ever heard the real 4AD until I listened to Cocteau Twins for the very first time earlier this year. Strange how certain things elude you. The world of music is a vast, vast, vast place. And the true world of 4AD is a dark, gothy place. And then it cracked itself open to reveal the Breeders, the Pixies, Red House Painters, Unrest, and TV on the Radio. Maybe Dead Can Dance are the only real gothy band, but Insides definitely have some of that forlorn gloom woven into their ambient, trip-hop influenced dream pop. Dream Pop! That’s the word I’m looking for! 4AD were purveyors of dream pop! And now dream pop is a genre tag that gets bandied about every which way and it’s like “No! Go listen to this 4AD stuff that sounds like it exists somewhere between the half awake world and dreams!” The Insides track “Walking in Straight Lines” is pure hypnosis. Kirsty Yates vocals recall Bjork, but that is more about her delivery (Bjork’s aptly titled solo debut Debut was released in 1993 too so maybe that ethereal thing was all the rage in the early nineties. Still, Bjork had been tearing it up with the Sugarcubes since 1986 so I’m gonna say Yates is a little Bjork-y and not the other way around) than her actual voice which is more pedestrian than the Icelandic diva’s (not a bad thing, not meant to be backhanded, it’s just you know, wait, how did this whole entry end up being about Bjork?). “Walking in Straight Lines” is very clearly carbon dated to the early 90s and I’m wondering when young bands are gonna start ripping off this sound. The Glee Club turn out a nice blend of dreamy pop and Breeders-esque indie rock and their contribution to this split—“Bad Child’s Dolly”—is easily my favorite side. The Irish group only made one full album, but based on the strength of this song I’m dying to hear it. Joanne Loughman’s vocals are absolutely towering. The verses are deceptively plain, more akin to Sarah Records twee pop than the wonderfully haughty dreamy ethereal shit 4AD was built on, but then the chorus kicks in and she just knocks you out with this really wonderful, throaty delivery that displays a surprising amount of range. Jenny asked if I was listening to Kate Bush, and that’s about as apt as a comparison as there is. It’s an interesting track. The verses feature a repetitive electric guitar line (and a saxophone later on that become more and more dissonant as the verses continue) but the choruses have this big, effects-addled acoustic guitar that pairs with Loughman’s delivery remarkably well. The track morphs into a cacophonous blend of everything that has been slowly added over the duration and I’m left sitting here very impressed. It snuck up on me. Some random 7”, purchased randomly, packing a song I’ve listened to ten times this morning and found something new to like about it each time.

Insides - "Walking in Straight Lines"

The Glee Club - "Bad Child's Dolly"

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Icy Demons/Pit Er Pat - Split 7"

Icy Demons/ Pit Er Pat – Split 7”
Polyvinyl, 2005
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2008
Price: $.50
7”s seems sort of obsolete these days. What’s the point of paying $4 for two tracks when you can just buy the whole album for $15 (unless the songs on the 7” are exclusive, but even then it seems fiscally no thanks). But fifty cents or a dollar? Sign me up. When you can dig through the bargain bin at Love Garden and pick out four or five singles for four or five bucks (or less) based on a cool cover design or great band names, it restores some of the fun back to being a music consumer. The Internet helps to make most of your decisions for you and supplies you with ample information and MP3s of a band so you can pretty much eliminate any sense of risk. Instead of hearing the single and buying the album, you hear the single and buy the MP3 on iTunes for a buck fifty. I actually really like that model, but then again, I bought so many shitty CDs in the 90s because they had one song I liked. Thanks to the Internet, I never have to drop $15 on an album that may or may not let me down. Albums I buy (unless they’re $3 at work and it’s like why not) are thoroughly vetted before being added to my collection. And cheap 7”s is how I keep my music nerd flame lit. Despite having picked up this 7” five years ago, this is the first time I have actually listened to it. 2007-2009 was a great period for acquiring myriad pieces of cheap vinyl, and this whole blog exists to rectify the fact that I had hardly listened to any of the stuff on which I was dropping small amounts of dough. Both bands sound like that bread and butter “art rock” Polyvinyl was churning out at an alarming clip in the mid 00s. Icy Demons synthesized keyboards sound straight outta Deerhoof and even though the band is from Chicago, for some reason the singer sounds like he is singing in Japanese. It’s your usual spastic art pop with guitars that jut out and interesting drum patterns. It’s actually a nostalgic sound for me, something that takes me back to my early college years when bands like this played at the Jackpot Saloon all the damn time. Pit Er Pat also have a lot of that Deerhoof-y art rock thing going on. Mostly it's the way the synthesizers are tuned (tuned? That can't be right). Really, it wasn't just Deerhoof. This whole sound got pretty generic in the fallout of dance punk in the mid to late 00s, but at least it was weird and experimented with weird arrangements. Seems like these days you just pluck four random 20 year olds off the street in Brooklyn, give'em tight pants and drug problems and you've got a breakout hit on your hands. That was me doing my best Abe Simpson, expressing my outright fear and disappointment with the future I've aged into. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Gut Feeling: Basia Bulat - Tall Tall Shadow

Basia Bulat – Tall Tall Shadow
Secret City, 2013
Even if Basia Bulat weren’t Canadian, I would have still made comparisons to Leonard Cohen in my head. Both artists dabble in a sort of elevated folk music, rooted in deceptive simplicity but packing the sort of punch that reaches right into your chest and wraps its hand around your heart. Or maybe I am just easily charmed. Either way, I always feels a little pang of jealousy when I realize that Canadians have a special talent that we Americans can’t even touch.

There’s something so pleasant about the little Rhodes piano bit that opens the record. It drew me in with an “ooh, this is nice” and then left me flat on the floor when Bulat unleashed her gorgeous vocals. There’s something earthy and raw in Bulat’s voice. A throwback to female folksingers past but with a more pronounced pop sensibility. Though the melodies straight-up kill, song after song, there’s a murkiness that lurks in Bulat’s songs. A little bit of that aforementioned Leonard Cohen-ness; something dark and tapping into the furthest reaches of the soul.

Bulat popped onto my radar when she covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” for AV Club’s “Undercover” series. Her rendition of the song featured just a hammered harp and her lovely voice and it really satisfied this little spot I have in my heart for great female vocalists with an alt-country bent. Bulat seems to have a penchant for America instruments of bygone days, notably utilizing an autoharp on her early work. Here, the autoharp is sequestered to the album’s sparest track “It Can’t Be You.”

Tall Tall Shadow is clearly Basia Bulat’s big leap out of niche folk into of big, sweeping alt-country/folk. While that genre might not be reinventing the wheel, folk music is one of those things that just stays timeless and satisfying when done well. The standout “Wires” encapsulates everything Bulat does in a beautiful little nutshell. The arrangement is packed full of odd little instruments, but the song is carried by a lovely melody overrides everything and smoothes everything into an impenetrable little pop song. Whether she is backed by a full band of roots rockers or alone in a room with just some ancient instrument and her voice, Basia Bulat has the pipes, the talent, and the charm to melt your heart.

"Tall Tall Shadow"

"Wires" (as played on autoharp, really she could play it any which way and it'd still be wonderful)

"Glory Days"

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gut Feeling: Yuck - Glow & Behold

Yuck – Glow & Behold
Fat Possum, 2013
Out of nowhere, Yuck stole the top spot of my year end list in 2011 with their eponymous debut (and it was so damn good I wrote about it twice on this blog). The band’s knack for cribbing tones from the American alternative rock of the 90s that I love so much cut straight to my heart and their gift for taking those influences and spinning them into something that sounded new and fresh and timeless made it violently relistenable. I played it all the time. It’s still one of Jenny’s favorite albums and at least once a month I’ll catch her singing “Get Away.” It was a special sort of record, and to say I’d been waiting on pins and needles for the band’s follow up is probably an understatement. Finally, Glow & Behold dropped and after one listen I was baffled. This is not Yuck.

I listened a few more times before doing some digging. How could a band who totally knocked me on my ass the first time around churn out something so drab? Where Yuck was inspired by ratty indie rock, Glow & Behold seemed to be a guided tour of the 80s indie music of the British Isles minus turning the songs of Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine and Teenage Fanclub into something original and producing straight up rip offs instead. Somehow I missed the news that singer/guitarist Daniel Blumberg left the band and guitarist Max Bloom had taken over on vocals. Maybe the band didn’t know that there would be such a huge difference between Blumberg and Bloom, but I gotta think that if they had known what their sophomore LP would sound like, they would have at least had the courtesy to change their name.

Glow & Behold is easier to swallow now that I know Blumberg isn’t involved. It’s easy to think that it’s some band that coincidentally shares the same band name as Yuck. It’s not a bad album if I think of it that way, and I don’t have to feel that little dagger in my heart when a band I love and champion crashes and burns on their next album. There’s just something embarrassing about the fact that the title track sounds exactly like a mashup of the Teenage Fanclub songs "Guiding Star" and "December" and it’s like “come on guys, this is the TITLE TRACK.” It’s a good enough track, but so wholly derivative that it’s like why bother? It even totally works as a 6-plus minute track because the breakdowns have these nice horn and guitar bits, but still. There is no reason to listen to this when you can just put on Bandwagonesque.

I tried to hide my worry when I heard the album’s leadoff single “Rebirth.” The warped guitars are straight up Heaven or Las Vegas and Bloom’s falsettoed vocals are about the polar opposite of Elizabeth Fraser’s. It’s flat and lifeless. It’s heartbreaking. The strange thing is that the only song Bloom sang on Yuck’s debut was “Operation” which was one of my favorite songs on the record. That song encapsulates all the vibrancy, all of the raw energy that made Yuck more than the sum of their shoegaze steeped influences and something wholly worthwhile, admirable, and a total blast to listen to. The music on Glow & Behold is all superbly executed, and that’s part of the problem. This thing sounds slick and glossy. The last one (which was recorded in Bloom’s bedroom) sounded like a paper shredder. While it’s not fair to knock a band for taking advantage of newfound resources, it is fair to take the piss out of a band that very obviously isn’t the band you signed up for. Glow & Behold is nothing but false advertising.

"Glow & Behold"

Teenage Fanclub - "Guiding Star"

Teenage Fanclub - "December"

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Decemberists - "Sixteen Military Wives" 7"

The Decemberists – “Sixteen Military Wives” 7”
Rough Trade, 2005
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $1.50
“Sixteen Military Wives” is the high water mark of the Decemberists fun factor. They were always fun, with Colin Meloy’s yarns about chimbley sweeps and their penchant for sea shanties and the more morbid aspects of the grimy past, but “Sixteen Military Wives” is just a hoot. And a holler! It’s jaunty and clever and a distillation of everything the Decemberists did best in their prime before Meloy got obsessed with making grandiose concept albums. Where The Crane Wife seems to be considered their masterpiece (is it?), the songs were never as good as they were on Picaresque. It’s not as interconnected as any of their albums, but it works out for the best. The B-side delivers a demo of “From My Own True Love” which along with “Eli, the Barrow Boy” shored up the gloomy sad side of that album and helped tracks like “Sixteen Military Wives” and “The Sporting Life” really pop by contrast. The Decemberists’ most recent LP—The King is Dead—found the group returning to a more song-oriented approach, which was great, but the whimsy had clearly dried up. Which is fine. Bands get older and get tired of doing the same shit album in and album out and while The King is Dead is a fine record, it really pales in comparison to Picaresque. Plus, that video for “Sixteen Military Wives” was just fantastic, wasn’t it?