Friday, February 28, 2014

Mecca Normal - "Strong White Male" 7"

Mecca Normal – “Strong White Male” 7”
K, 1987
Acquired: K Records Mail Order, New, 2009
Price: $1
More sparse, avant-punk from Vancouver duo Mecca Normal. Here we have the band’s pro-feminist agenda on full display and these three songs play more like performance art than pop. It’s much weirder than the other 7” of theirs I own—the “From the Surface” 7”—but this one comes from the beginning of their career whereas the other one comes from the latter days. Here, Jean Smith’s vocals oscillate between grating and Calvin Johnson-esque baritone and while I’ll probably never put this one on for pleasure, in 1987 this must have been exceedingly cool.  

"Strong White Male"

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lemuria - Pebble

Lemuria – Pebble
Bridge Nine, 2011
Acquired: Lemuria Mail Order, New, 2013
Price: $13

Though Lemuria’s latest—2013’s The Distance is So Big—is the finest, most perfect distillation of what this Buffalo trio is capable of accomplishing (so far), Pebble was my first love. It’s a good thing, too, because one of my favorite things about Distance was admiring the band’s growth between albums. There’s a nice contrast, and that absolutely does not mean that Pebble is a substandard record. It’s fucking fantastic! It’s just not as cohesive a record. That said, the songs on their own are perfect little gems that glisten with punk rock energy and an incredibly smart knack for playing around with song structures and melodies and utilizing these tools to give each song its own flavor. There’s the big, poppy-punk bliss of the soulful second track “Wise People” and the energetic burst of “Pleaser.” “Ribcage” has this sweetness woven into it by Sheena Ozzella’s gorgeous vocals and Alex Kerns’ plainspoken vocals not only provide a fine counterbalance to Ozzellas, but give the heartbreaking tale of sexual abuse on “Bloomer” its gravitas. Like its follow-up, Pebble is infinitely listenable and even after non-stop listening last spring; it is a pleasure to spin this on some random morning before work. I can’t say enough nice things about Lemuria. They were my favorite discovery of 2013 and I can’t wait to see what comes next. 

"Wise People"


Monday, February 24, 2014

Mecca Normal - "From the Surface" 7"

Mecca Normal – “From the Surface” 7”
Dionysus, 1992
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2009
Price: $1
Despite the group’s sprawling discography and affiliation with my beloved K Records, this is the first time I’ve ever listened to Mecca Normal. For some reason I was expecting grungy dude rock a la early 90s Washington, but Mecca Normal operate more in the realm of Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill with some big time Riot Grrl tendencies. Which is awesome. Both “From the Surface” and b-side “Upside Down Flame” are brief, lo-fi tunes featuring only guitar and vocals. Fortunately, there is a nice contrast between the grungy and distorted A-side and the gentler b-side (though the chorus of “Upside Down Flame” turns the song into a snarl). The sparse tracks have a lot in common with Beat Happening, which makes sense as the 7” was co-recorded by Calvin Johnson.

"From the Surface"
From the Surface from Mecca Normal on Myspace.

"Upside Down Flame"

Upside Down Flames from Mecca Normal on Myspace.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Mealticket - "Lisa Marie" 7"

Mealticket – “Lisa Marie” 7”
Asian Man Records, 1997
Acquired: Asian Man Records Mailorder, New, 2002
Price: $~.50
Yet more late 90s ska-punk from the Asian Man Records box I bought 12 years ago. This one is strange, because not only does the band sound quite a bit like early No Doubt, they look the part too! It’s eerie. I’m thinking maybe ska horns are the cheesy sax solo of the 90s, given how perfectly they date this music. Seconds after dropping the needle I was taken back to those halcyon days where I was 12 years old. Mighty Mighty Bosstones were all the rage and the Baseketball (featuring a couple rightous jams from Reel Big Fish) was constantly being blasted from my portable boom box (running on the power of 6 D batteries). It was a good time, but this music only serves my nostalgia. These songs are fun and the lyrics have some charm, but that’s about their only positive function. 

"Lisa Marie"

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Hipshakes - "Stick Around" 7"

The Hipshakes – “Stick Around” 7”
Fistful of Records, 2006
Acquired: Crossroads Music, Used, 2013
Price: $2
From the heart of the late 00s garage punk revival, comes this British trio who specialize on a particularly ramshackle variety of the genre. I vaguely remember this band’s full length—Shake Your Hips, 2007, Slovenly Records—from KJHK’s rotation. Honestly, this is the sort of thing I’d love to hear on college radio. The songs are short, fast, and loud and they play to my short attention span. There is no wheel-reinventing going on here, just some dudes trying to record as loud as humanly possible as if loud recording were a nod of respect to obvious touchstones the Oblivions. The brisk title track is a catchy romp of overblown guitars, a slightly out of synch rhythm section, and hysteric vocals packed into a minute. Concentrated grungy goodness.

"Stick Around"

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Mary Janes - "Telescope" 7"

The Mary Janes – “Telescope” 7”
Delmore, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: ~$.25
Not judging albums or books by their covers is a ridiculous notion. I know it serves a greater metaphor/life lesson, but on a surface level interpretation of that notion it’s totally acceptable to judge albums by their covers. Or at least glean what the random 7” you’re holding in your hand might sound like. When I bought something like 80 45s for a quarter a piece, it was easy to snag a few that looked like something I might enjoy. For instance, the Mary Janes with their black-and-white cover featuring a little girl sitting in a big open field. Factoring in the name of the band and the line-up (two people: Janas Hoyt on songs and music, Kathy Kolata on acoustic and electric violas) I was able to deduce that yes, this might be interesting. And wouldn’t you know it! This duo from Indianapolis are a terrific little indie-pop group! Their songs are of the quiet variety (more Sarah Records in tone but more offbeat in their delivery a la K Records) thanks to acoustic guitars backing up the lovely violas. B-side “Baby Honey” has an alt-country tinge (the viola sounds more like a fiddle) and overall both songs are unassuming gems that have effectively been lost to the world.

I wish I had a USB turntable, because it's sad for these lovely gems to go unshared, but they can be listened to via Spotify or what have you.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Meaningful/Magical: Netural Milk Hotel Live at the Uptown Theater 2/13/14

A few years ago, Jenny and I trekked to Milwaukee to see Jeff Mangum because, we assumed, that was as close as we were going to get to seeing Neutral Milk Hotel in the flesh. The sold out yet extremely intimate show at the gorgeous old Pabst Theater was one of the most rewarding concert going experiences of my life. It was a show where everyone in the crowd knew not only how special the show was, but how special the songs were, and being surrounded by hundreds of people who have internalized all of the joy and horror and emotional devastation of Mangum’s songs is a treat.

We got let in early because Jenny is 8 months pregnant and if she didn’t get to sit in the balcony, we were probably going to have to go home. It’s the first time we have really exploited this pregnancy to get special treatment, and there was something grimly satisfying about standing in the lobby watching the people in the line that stretched down two city blocks. We got the most rockstar seats imaginable and settled in. Watching the room fill was a treat. The people at the front of the line appeared to be mostly teenagers, and the way they quite literally sprinted to the front of the stage was a perfect illustration of how Neutral Milk Hotel’s songs from 16 years ago are changing the lives of people who weren’t even born when In The Aeroplane Over the Sea was released.

15 or 16 feels like the perfect age to find your favorite band. I can’t remember exactly when or why I first listened to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but I do remember how I felt: “Holy Shit!” It’s a sentiment shared by the album’s producer, Robert Schneider, at the end of “Oh Comely.” It’s the only possible reaction to experiencing lightning in a bottle. Something that is absolute magic and opens up parts of your self that you didn’t know were there like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It feels like my life is divided into two sections: Before Aeroplane and after Aeroplane.

All this talk about Aeroplane obviously neglects that the band also released On Avery Island two years prior to their masterpiece which, if they had never released a second record, would probably still be very highly esteemed. But during the show, you could tell where people’s hearts were, and why it was wonderful to see tracks like “Naomi” and “Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone” played with fuzzy, raucous glee, whenever the band broke out the Aeroplane tracks if felt like they had stumbled across the answer to world peace. People arm and arm, swaying from side to side, singing along. They put down their cell phones and absorbed the moment. I can’t think of another band that might command an audience to abandon taking shitty cell phone pictures or live-blogging through an entire show.

The set opened with Jeff Mangum taking the stage alone and quickly setting in to “Two Headed Boy.” I immediately went from being pissed at the kids in the center of the room passing around a joint (“Why are kids so stupid, Jenny? I mean, how is it so hard for them to learn about consequences! Make some pot brownies! Something less conspicuous great now the whole fucking room smells like doobies!”) to the special place I reserve for listening to Neutral Milk Hotel. I must have heard that song five hundred times. When Jenny and I first started dating, there were entire days we would just lay around in my bedroom listening to this record, staring into each other’s eyes with great intensity. It’s a fairly large piece of the puzzle of our relationship, which went from listening to this album on repeat in my gross house five years ago to sitting in the balcony of the Uptown Theater with my hand on her belly feeling our daughter flail and kick at the loud music. The transcendental quality of Mangum’s songs are the only thing that have ever made me feel like I wasn’t alone in the universe, and listening to his music is as close as I get to having a spiritual experience. Seeing those songs live was like going to church and acknowledging a power greater than myself.

Although here the power was Jeff Mangum in full mountain man mode with a beard and hat obscuring his face and his merry band injecting loopy bliss into the show. Bassist/multi-instrumentalist/singing saw virtuoso Julian Koster spinning around the stage with an accordion. Gigantic Scott Spillane barking along the words to every song in between playing those horn parts that somehow make the songs even more emotionally resonant. Drummer Jeremy Barnes absolutely working magic to the point where on a couples songs I just watched to try to figure out how he was doing what he was doing and had to give up because it was too much. The whole thing was chaotic in the best way. Like a circus band giving the impression that the wheels could fall off at any moment. It was what I expected, which is what I wanted, which is what everybody wanted. It is what it was and there was a collective moment, which was the whole point.

It was so nice to see all the bullshit stripped away. Even though Jeff Mangum’s songs are cryptic and weird, they’re some of the most personal songs I’ve ever heard, which is why I cry every time I heard “Two-Headed Boy Part 2.” Which is why I was totally exhausted at the end of the show because of all the emotional energy spent. Almost all of Aeroplane was represented (“Communist Daughter” was the only track that went unplayed) as well as most of On Avery Island and deep cuts “Engine” and “Ferris Wheel on Fire.” Everything was great, the crowd was the most generous I’ve ever seen in Kansas City, and as Mangum and co played their final strums I came to peace with the fact that in all likelihood this was the first and only time I would ever see this band play. Which is fine, considering I never thought I’d get to see them play in the first place. This was never supposed to have happened, and that it did makes me a minor believer in miracles.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Marine Research - "Queen B" 7"

Marine Research – “Queen B” 7”
Where It’s At is Where You Are, 1998
Acquired: End of an Ear, Used, 2008
Price: $4
From the ashes of Heavenly came Marine Research. Actually, Marine Research is basically just Heavenly without drummer Matthew Fletcher, who tragically committed suicide in 1996 (The Hold Steady paid tender tribute to Matthew and the band on the track “We Can Get Together” from their album Heaven is Whenever with the line “He wasn’t just the drummer/He was the singer’s younger brother”). Somehow, Amelia Fletcher soldiered on and though Marine Research’s discography was limited to one LP—1999’s Sounds of the Gulf Stream—and three singles (one a split with Built to Spill, which have I mentioned, is totally wonderful), their more subdued indie pop  was a lovely and fitting goodbye to one of the best twee pop bands. If not thee best twee pop band. Amelia Fletcher had a way of singing that was both cute and surprisingly commanding. There wasn’t anything to write off, because like the best twee, all the cute sweet stuff was undercut with a little sadness. Something she could elegantly layer into Heavenly’s songs with real elegance. I could listen to her sing all day long. Anyone can learn to be a great, professional singer, and though many might find Fletcher’s vocals to be a bit plain, a bit normal, a bit nasal, this is the stuff that makes her songs so human and easy to identify with.

“Queen B” is Marine Research’s finest hour and serves as a great little bookend to Heavenly’s absolutely unreal run of singles. Fortunately, Amelia Fletcher is still around and making music with Tender Trap, and while I don’t think she’ll ever recapture the pure pop bliss of Talulah Gosh and Heavenly, there’s something comforting about knowing she’s still out there making music (and based on the clips I just listened to from Tender Trap’s latest album—2012’s Ten Songs About Girls—her voice is still one of my favorite things on Earth.

"Queen B"

B-side, the gorgeously melancholic, "Y.Y.U.B."

Note: For what it’s worth, Austin’s End of an Ear is in my top 3 favorite record stores in the country. Much better than the maybe more acclaimed and known Waterloo!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Guided by Voices - The Grand Hour EP

Guided by Voices – The Grand Hour EP
Scat, 1993
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2014
Price: $12
In college, I spent way more money than I should have on records. This sad fact is the reason this blog exists. In recent years, I’ve learned a great deal about self control and my record buying has been almost exclusively to buying records at work with my employee discount, and even then nothing over $10. Still, it’s incredibly dangerous walking into Love Garden with a wad of birthday cash in my wallet, and when GBV records show up, well, the money is as good as spent as GBV records are my kryptonite. The only thing other than books that I truly enjoy collecting. The Grand Hour EP was impossible to pass up, not only because of its importance in GBV’s discography (it’s not really that masterful of a record, but it almost directly precedes Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes and contains those albums’ title tracks and the 7”s weirdness is almost like a preamble to two of the greatest albums ever recorded by anyone ever) but because it has “Shocker in Gloomtown.” The song was amazingly popularized by the Breeders, but the GBV original crams an obscene amount of punch into its brisk minute-and-a-half long frame that the track positively explodes. It is infinitely replayable, and usually finds its way into the first five tracks on every GBV mix I make for the uninitiated. Outside of “Shocker in Gloomtown,” the EP is full of weirdness. A five-second snippet of the guitar line from “Hot Freaks” opens the second side and is followed by Tobin Sprout’s brief and gorgeous “Off the Floor,” which is polluted by Bob Pollard wailing and some skronky guitars in the not-so-distant background. “Break Even” nails down GBV’s knack for mid-song stylistic change by morphing a heavy stomper into a lovely acoustic interlude before turning up the heat again. The whole affair is a slice of wonderful weird.

The Grand Hour entire:

And here's the Breeders' cover of "Shocker in Gloomtown" for kicks. Notice the familiar faces hounding that Dayton, Ohio garage!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Gut Feeling: Modern Baseball - You're Gonna Miss it All

Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss it All
Run For Cover, 2014

At this point, in my curmudgeonly post-college radio days, I’m mostly OK with limiting my exposure to new bands. The stable of bands I love release albums in alternating years and I can easily max out at discovering five or so new bands a year and be wholly satisfied. Such are the laurels of someone who spent a solid three-and-a-half years trying to listen to every new band in existence on the hunch that for every hundred shitty bands I listened to, there were at least ten that I would love and maybe one that would change my life.

Things are different now. These days, I troll the internet for bands that look like they might hit that sweet spot on my heart that vibrates at a frequency equal parts 1990s college rock, early 2000s pop punk, primordial and heyday 1980s and 90s indie pop, and if I’m lucky, something that satisfies all three. And a band name that doesn’t make me want to shout “PASS” from the goddamn mountaintop. Modern Baseball satisfies most of my prerequisites, and while they’re not going to change my life, I did spend the entire day greatly enjoying to their two LPs. All because I love baseball and their name was reminiscent of the band American Football. That’s all it took. Sometimes I’m easy.

Modern Baseball’s great triumph is their ability to write totally earnest songs without being self-aware in re their emo leanings. These guys are too young to be pretentious fucks. Just look at these guys! There’s just so much joy packed into these songs of youthful heartbreak, buoyed by pop-punk sensibilities but orchestrated with a surprising amount of professionalism and innovation. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but these dudes know how to effortlessly execute hooks, big satisfying guitar blasts, and a real, honest sense of fun. It’s all thoroughly charming.

On the nuts and bolts side of things, most of the songs hover around the two-and-a-half minute mark which gets an A+ in my book (note: my personal opinion on song length is if you go over three minutes, you better have a good goddamn reason) and feature enough surprise stylistic change ups, clever and playful lyrics (“Sharp as a tack not in the sense that I’m smart I’m just a prick” is the line that permanently endeared me to this group) and the hooks hit the pleasure centers in my brain while simultaneously tugging at my heartstrings which get set off by the glorious sound of of pop punk being used for good instead of mainstream evil.

Here's the terrific lead-off track "Fine, Great," but you can stream the full album over at Pitchfork if you want an earful.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mail Order Children - Thinking of Raising a Family 7"

Mail Order Children – Thinking of Raising a Family 7”
Asian Man Records, 1998
Acquired: Asian Man Records Mail Order, New, 2002
Price: ~$.50
While I generally have a certain affection for late 90s ska-punk, Mail Order Children make me feel like I’m on a Tilt-a-Whirl on the verge of vomiting. It’s too fast! This is often a rally cry for certain bands. The whole “We play so fast you can’t keep up with us!” vibe. I guess it works in hardcore punk, where everything gets washed out by power chords and distortion. Here, the music is going 45 RPM and the vocals are going 33. It’s unsettling, and I feel like the grandpa yelling at the teenagers walking on his lawn. Even though I find this whole affair very exhausting, I totally understand how important this stuff was to so many teenagers in the late 90s. The first show I ever went to was an all ages ska show when I was 16. I learned to skank, I had a fucking awesome time, and though this music doesn’t hold up it doesn’t really matter because it was never meant to hold up (you could argue that trumpets and quickly upstroked guitars are the cheesy sax solo of the 90s). Kudos for the horn players for being able to play their instruments blisteringly fast. Another musical trend from the late 90s ska/punk scene that tends to get overlooked is the focus on gross-out humor. Though these songs are fairly tame, the credits feature such jobs as “Bass Rapin’  & Heartbreakin’,” “Trumpetin’ & Bumpinin’,” “Alto Saxin’ & Crotch Waxin’,” “Tenor Tweakin’ & Deep Throatin’,” and “Baritonin’ & Goat Blowin’.” While Though these hopelessly juvenile antics have mostly gone the way of the buffalo (Juggalos excluded), I gotta say, reading the words “Goat Blowin’” warmed the cockles of my heart just a little bit.

Here is an example from an anthology, as the tracks on this 7" are nonexistent in Internet form:

Blindfolded from Mail Order Children on Myspace.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Aislers Set - "Mission Bells" 12"

The Aislers Set – “Mission Bells” 12”
Suicide Squeeze, 2002
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $.25
The Aislers Set were part of the soundtrack to my freshman year of college, which was an insanely exciting time full of new friends, new music, and coming out of my shell like so many introverted kids before me. My freshman year girlfriend hipped me to San Francisco quintet the Aislers Set, who in a way paved the way for my full-steam-ahead indie-pop/twee obsession a few years down the line. There’s just something about the subdued pleasure of the Aislers Sets laid back yet vibrantly delightful songs that is impossible to resist. There’s a little Belle & Sebastian in the overall tone, but the group also incorporates traces of girl groups, surf, punk, and, at least on this “Mission Bells” single and its two b-sides, elements of Spanish folk music (notably the Spanish-sung version of the single, “Campanas de Mision,” which features full Mariachi guitar and horns). “Mission Bells” was the last single from the bands last album, How I Learned to Write Backwards, and while it appears The Aislers Set never officially broke up, it’s still sad that the band peaked with their most impressive album.  This single is a real treat, and it almost got tossed in the dumpster! When I took over LPs at the St. Louis Park Half Price Books, I cleaned out all of the old clearance records that had been taking up valuable space for six months and carted them out to the dumpster. I took armloads and chucked them in, and luckily, this one revealed itself at the top of one of my armloads.

"Mission Bells"
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