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Merrie Amsterburg "season of rain" CD (Zoë)... Extremely radio-friendly, but really fine folk-pop. Merrie has a little bit of Kate Bush in her phrasing, but a much deeper, richer voice. Her songs are absorbing and sad, with finely observed lyrics, and the arrangements are complex yet understated.[buy this record]
appendix out "daylight saving" CD (Drag City)... Cordial, understated and exquisite follow-up to the rye bears a poison continues to work a Pallacial folk idiom, but Ali Roberts’ handsome voice and iconic lyrics produce something very fine and distinctly his own. [buy this record]
Mark Bacino "Pop Job" CD (Parasol)... Lushly ecstatic power pop, snappy and chewy as the bubblegum bubble on the cover, from a singin’/writin’ fella who could pass for Marshall Crenshaw’s kid brother. [buy this record]
The Backsliders "Southern Lines" CD (Mammoth)... Terrific twangy rock’n’roll, catchy songs, loud guitars, yearning vocals — the perfect soundtrack for driving around with the windows down, picking fights in the 7-Eleven parking lot, and drinking yourself into a welcome stupor. (That’s what the quiet ones are for.) [buy this record]
The Beatin’ Path “The Original Nothing People” b/w “I Waited So Long” 45 (Get Hip)... Reissue of Fontana 1583, a 1967 single by the Reading, PA band formerly known as the Starlites. The a-side is an upbeat, cynical number with lyrics about the lame audiences the band faced every weekend — propulsive, it kinda reminds me of the Seeds. The flip’s a moody instrumental, well-garnished with organ. [buy this record]
Bell “Viral Love” b/w “Unshockable” 45 (Yeah, It’s Rock)... Cool old-style punk rock with attractively flat female vocals, catchy songs and all kinds of attitude.
Blackburn & Snow "Something Good for Your Head" CD (Big Beat)... Accomplished, ill-fated SF folk duo from 1965 see the first release of their mildly psychedelic originals made luminous by the Mamas & Papas-esque interplay of these real-life lovers’ voices (Sherry Snow was offered Signe Anderson’s seat on the J. Airplane before Grace Slick took it). Featuring guitar assistance by Jerry McGee, later of The Ventures. [buy this record]
Boris the Sprinkler "Suck" CD (Go Kart)... Giddily goofball Dickiesesque pop punk from the legendary Rev. Norb and friends interspersed with faux-dramatic introductions sounds like it would translate darn well onto the stage, especially if they actually dress as absurdly as they do on the CD. So much of this “wacky” punk rock falls flat because the writers don’t have a clue as to what’s actually funny, but that’s not a problem here. [buy this record]
The Chesterfield Kings "Where the Action Is!" CD (Sundazed)... Sound of the sixties covers spectacular from the venerable Kings features strong Chocolate Watchband and Hollies tunes, a guest appearance by Raider Mark Lindsay, and several band originals snuck in and fitting just fine in the rarefied company. “A Lovely Sort of Death” especially evokes a particular strain of phony Eastern mysticism that I’d thought extinct. Fun stuff, although some of the song choices are pretty obvious, and I’d like to have heard a few fresh arrangements. [buy this record]
Nels Cline and Gregg Bendian "Interstellar Space Revisited: The Music of John Coltrane" CD (Atavistic)... The first couple tracks of this reworking of Coltrane and Rashied Ali’s duets (which I’ve not heard, but please note that I am conversant with the complete recorded legacy of the 1910 Fruitgum Company) made me very nervous with their screechy skronky atonal aggressive scary NOISE. But “Venus” is fittingly dreamy and gentle, with warm round notes from Cline’s guitar jostling teasingly against Bendian’s jangly cymbals, and nothing that follows served to frighten me much. Some of it is even “interesting.” If this is your bag, dad, you already know it and nothing I can say (beyond alerting you to its existence) serves a purpose. My job here is done. [buy this record]
Cobra Verde "Nightlife" CD (Motel)... Brash glam rock record from the leather-lunged John Petkovic is edgy, confident and sexy in a kind of nervous way. [buy this record]
The Coyote Men "The Coyote Men vs. El Mundo!" CD (Estrus)... Reprising the Estrus double 7” “Call of the Coyote Man” with fifteen (count ‘em) bonus tracks formerly out on Vendetta, this is primitive Cramps-derived garage rock played by men in wrestling masks. But just in case you thought they were utterly one dimensional, they deliver a ham-fisted version of the Raiders “Hungry” that really sounds like punch-drunk wrestlers are playing it. [buy this record]
The Crown Royals "Funky-Do!" CD (Estrus)... Now I admit that I was born without that gene that makes white girls get all goofy over soul, r&b and the like, but jesus christ these guys knock me out. James Brown grooves and this unbelievably evocative Ken Vandermark (1999 recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant!) tenor sax all wrapped up in these tight little bundles of red hot revelation are enough to make me think it might be possible to grow that little shred of chromosomal instruction some decades after leaving the womb. Fuckin’ great live act, too. [buy this record]
Dead Moon "Destination X" CD (eMpTy)... Go read the interview if you still don’t understand what folks old enough to be your parents have to teach you about rock and roll. There’s also some really sweet, almost country-derived duet singing on this one... and, uhm, is that an AC/DC cover? [buy this record]
The Dickel Brothers "Volume One" CD (eMpTy)... It’s all traditional Appalachian fiddle music played by young fellows on this surprising release from the garagey-punk label, nicely packaged with lyrics, chords and folksy drawings. [buy this record]
The Dictators "Live: New York New York" CD (Roir)... Expanded CD reissue of the cassette that came out in ‘81 (as Fuck ‘em If They Can’t Take a Joke) documents the Handsome One and his associates doing much the same set that they still offer today, a crowd-pleasing selection from the three LPs with a Stooges cover and “Loyola” added. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes they’d jettison “Minnesota Strip” for “(I Live For) Cars and Girls,” but complaints are somewhat futile when the fun-to-feh ratio is as high as this. [buy this record]
The Donnas "get skintight" CD (Lookout)... The teenage hellions return with a lively Red Kross-produced record of songs about such timeless concerns as doin’ donuts, guys who don’t call, nervous energy and hot-boxing. Catchy, fast and fun. The Ramonesy ballad “You Don’t Wanna Call” is a heartbreaker, but clocks in about a minute too long. [buy this record]
Double Naught Spies "The Shoephone Conspiracy" CD (Cherry Boy)... High-gloss power pop from the new Los Angeles school, with mid-to-late Beatles hooks, Hollies harmonies, and a self-referential sense of humor. These cats kinda remind me of the Three O’clock.
Elf Power "a dream in sound" CD (Arena Rock)... An especially bouncy act from the Elephant 6 collective, their songs playing around their own centers with an almost elastic energy. Nicking the melody to “That’s Amoré” maybe wasn’t the brightest idea, however. [buy this record]
Floraline S/T CD (Minty Fresh)... Floraline's sound is firmly rooted in the disco/ new wave transition period of the late seventies. One could think of them as Abba + Blondie. I think of them as rather irritating. They're kind of like Pizzicato 5 minus the pastiche. The result is a very light and forgettable album. (Francisco Bacon) [buy this record]
The Flowerz “Flyte” b/w “I Need Love Now” 45 (Get Hip)... Reissue of a 1968 single by Reading, PA band produced and co-written by Starlite/ Beatin’ Path vocalist Steve Musser. The a-side is a terrific protest song featuring lyrical sentiments like the iconic “you judge people by how much hair/ we judge people by how much they care” and closing out with a startling break filled with acid guitar and atonal piano chords. Wild! The flip is more of a come-on-put-out-baby number, hardly expressing the flower power sensitivity their name and the a-side promise, but it rocks, and if pre-hippie teenage lust is more your speed, dig in. [buy this record]
Fortune & Maltese and the Phabulous Pallbearers “Knaughty Knight” b/w Good & Plenty” 45 (Cad)... Yet more great sixties-style rock and roll from the Kalamazoo combo. High concept a-side mixes a near-painful amount of medieval metaphor (cf. “the damsels think he’s outta sight”) with a wild Raiders sound, the flip’s more of a chug-a-lug frat fave with a candy theme. Limited to 1000 copies, so snatch yours up soon.
Fugazi "Instrument" VHS video (Dischord)... A labor of love, shot mostly in super 8mm, by high school classmate of Ian Mackaye, Jem Cohen. This documentary of Dischord's current flagship band, Fugazi, gives an intimate portrait of the band via generous portions of live footage of the band over a 10 year period (1987-1997), basement rehearsal sessions, road trips to Grandma's house in Vermont (really!), footage from various interviews (including a rather charming one conducted by an 8th grade girl for her school's public access show) and the like. The fact that the band allowed unfettered access to their inner workings will be of great interest to the numerous fans who attribute Fugazi with almost religious zeal. Of course, access does not equal full disclosure, so those of you hoping for the answers of life according to the gospel of Fugazi might be disappointed. The band wasn't particularly effusive when interviewed directly. But you learn enough about their raison d’être and who they're speaking to, to come away with a greater appreciation of a band that has had more integrity about their music and their adherence to their principles than almost anyone else. A soundtrack CD is also available. One bit of extraneous trivia: Fugazi comes from slang used by Vietnam vets to describe a situation gone horribly wrong. (Max Hechter)
The Gentle Waves "The Green Fields of Foreverland..." CD (Jeepster)... If you ever wondered “how twee can twee be?” you’ll find the answer here, the product of various Belle & Sebastians and associates. These waves are so gentle, they make my teeth hurt. Who votes for a moratorium on B & S side-projects? [buy this record]
Gentle Tasaday "In the Mind’s Eye of a Blind Tasaday" CD (Camera Obscura)... Hard-core psychedelia recorded over the last decade in Minnesota, oozing with the gibbering of demon dwarves and undulating repetitive tones. The first track uses words by Rimbaud in ways his mother and sister would not have enjoyed.
The Go-Betweens "Bellavista Terrace: Best of The Go-Betweens" CD (Beggars Banquet)... The Go-Betweens’ strengths lay in their lyricism and their arrogance. They never ceased to believe they were the greatest band in the world, even when that world failed to turn even the most disinterested eye in their direction. As a sampler of the band’s London years, this is quiet but charming, rich in melody and graceful verbiage. I could quibble with the selection, but what’s the point? Mostly for the uninitiated, although fans should note Mr. Forster’s (arrogant) liner notes, and that it’s the single version of “Man o’ Sand to Girl o’ Sea” that’s used. [buy this record]
The Hang Ups "Second Story" CD (Restless/Clean)... Very pretty and accomplished melodic pop, working the familiar Beatles/Big Star axis with style. Brian Tighe’s a good writer, the band sounds swell, and when these factors meet Don Dixon and Mitch Easter’s patented production the high points have the sparkle of Game Theory, even. [buy this record]
Lee Hazlewood "Cowboy in Sweden" CD (Smells Like)... When Hazlewood disappeared into northern Europe he didn’t stop making his utterly individual (read: mad) music, as demonstrated by this 1970 soundtrack to a film (or more likely a series of arty music videos strung together around the familiar LHI theme of a stranger invading the safe world of a young lady). Lee croons alone on most tracks, duets with a suitably Nancy-ish Nina Lizell on several charmers, and the glorious Suzi Jane Hokom makes an eerie solo turn on “For a Day Like Today.” Great tunes, suave instrumentation, and a delightfully weird fusion of Americana and Swediana make this an essential element of the Hazlewood cannon; now how about reissuing the movie next? [buy this record]
Lee Hazlewood with the Al Casey Combo "Farmisht, Flatulence, Origami, ARF!!! and me..." CD (Smells Like)... The legendary oddball returned to homestate Arizona in late ‘98 to wax this set of standards, all delivered in his unmistakable drawl over a tasteful jazzbo backing. Musically it’s played a bit straight for my taste, but the liner notes and title betray the fundamental peculiarity of the man’s approach. [buy this record]
The Hellacopters "Grande Rock" CD (Sub Pop)... Big, dumb hesher rock and roll as once our midwestern sons could make, and now Swedes revive. A dollop of MC5-aggro, a pinch of BÖC high theater, and guitars right out of Killer-era Alice Cooper Band still sound damn sweet to these ears. Kills indiepop dead at fifty paces, and guaranteed to bug yer mom. [buy this record]
Dorris Henderson and John Renbourn "There You Go!" CD (Big Beat)... Impressive 1965 debut (plus rare 45) of folk picker Renbourn and East L.A.’s Henderson, whose full-throated vocals offer striking (if somewhat overpowering) counterpoint to the delicate arrangements.
Jega "Spectrum" CD (Matador)... Brilliant breakbeat/jungle hybrid? Nah. This record didn't move me at all. I usually don't think of music in terms of video games, but this album sounds a lot like Metroid with an Arkanoid breakbeat making its way in there every now and then. There are even some tracks that sound peculiarly orientalized, like Fatboy Slim at Panda Express. A poor record to say the least. (Francisco Bacon) [buy this record]
June & the Exit Wounds "a little more Haven Hamilton, please" CD (Parasol)... I’m not even gonna razz ‘em about their name, because they’ve produced so lovely a record of Love You-era Beach Boys pop pastiche, with luminous keyboards, gorgeous harmonies, and the song and sentiment “Let’s Shack Up Together” delivered without a hint of post-modern irony. Perfect stuff. [buy this record, it's a SCRAM PICK HIT!]
Damien Jurado "Rehearsals for Departure" CD (Sub Pop)... Woe is he: Jurado riffs on Phil Ochs with his record title, but the music is much bleaker than Phil’s, dark little melodies pinioned by lyrics about things gone wrong, kidnapping and lovers dying. Reminds me quite a bit of Richard Buckner’s recent stuff, and of similar high quality. There is some upbeat material on the record (and contributions from Posie Ken Stringfellow and Steve Berlin), but the overweening atmosphere of gloom manages to overwhelm those tracks, and when an old Swedish guy starts talking about his lost angel, you could start to sniffle right there. [buy this record]
Michael Krassner S/T CD (Truckstop/ Atavistic)... Fairly affecting twangy folk-rock, but the songs are too overwhelmingly sad and similar to really catch my ear. [buy this record]
The Kwyet Kings "Been Where? Done What?" CD (Dionysus)... Power pop in the classic late seventies mode from a European act that sing their English lyrics in that mannered way they have. With big ringing guitars, tons of energy, and a little-known Barracudas song given them as a gift by Robin Wills. [buy this record]
Labradford "E luxo so" CD (Kranky)... Quiet, undulating trance music blending traditional instruments and samples to create a spacious sound that hovers around the corners of the room, only drawing attention to itself when natural lulls appear in conversation. [buy this record]
The Ladybug Transistor "The Albemarle Sound" CD (Merge)... Lush, unexpected pop record with strings, horns, a Gary Zekely cover, and a really cool strain of spaghetti western soundtrack themes laced throughout. Ambitious, but not embarrassing, as ambitious things too often are. [buy this record]
Looper "Up a Tree" CD (Sub Pop)... If you liked that “Century of Elvis” thing, you’ll want to know that Stuart David — the chatty one from Belle & Sebastian — has made a record of muttered stories, goofball funk, daydream crooning, and sampled tykes. For personal reasons, I find the liner notes and the song relating to them very creepy. You might think they’re sweet, but trust me... creeeeeepy. [buy this record]
The Luv’d Ones "Truth Gotta Stand" CD (Sundazed)... Chicago’s premier all-girl band circa 1966-68 had a great mix of sweetness and grit, and guitarist Char Vinnedge wrote smart, catchy songs that took pop convention and gave it a distinct little twist. Lead cut “Dance Kid Dance,” which presents the existential dilemma of taking pleasure in the moment while the very real threat of the draft hovers over the ballroom, is typical of their unusual approach. This set compiles a slew of previously unreleased demos, and while the sound quality is lacking, the tunes and musicianship shine through. Also a treat is the chance to hear the girls tackling The Music Machine’s sexiest tune, “Come On In.” The late Ms. Vinnedge is revealed in the liner note interviews to have been quite a character; these songs show that she was a hell of an artist besides. [buy this record]
The Magicians "An Invitation to Cry: The Best of The Magicians" CD (Sundazed)... The Magicians were more than just the boys who cried James Dean-style while their sweetie tied the knot with another, and this collection spotlights their urban folk-blues sound, born out of the Greenwich Village coffee-house scene and enlivened with a shot of R&B like espresso in their milk. Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon would later hit big as songwriters (cf. “Happy Together”), but already could knock out a catchy hook. This is a rather modest, but cool document, compiling singles that are hard to find with several demos and unreleased tracks, and an interesting booklet. [buy this record]
The Magnetic Fields "Holiday" CD (Merge)... Re-release of 1993 disk recorded almost entirely by Stephin Merritt, who is a sort of new wave one-man-band with a gorgeous deep voice and miserable disposition. There’s some really charming stuff here, if you can get past the electronic keyboards and drums. [buy this record]
Manishevitz "Grammar Bell and the All Fall Down" CD (Jagjaguwar)... Absorbingly shambling performances and strange, catchy tunes from former Curious Digit(s) of the sort that will make you wonder if you’ve heard this before. Good stuff, though if the sound of fingers squealing on guitar strings bugs you, beware. [buy this record]
April March "chrominance decoder" CD (Ideal)... Another very nice record from Ms. April March. This album could stand to be a little leaner. Three remixes, including two by Silver Lake’s favorite Dust Brothers, is just a little too much. More than a few of the nineteen songs on the record could have been left in the studio. A good album, this would have made a really stellar EP. I blame the heavy hand of producer and frog Bertrand Burgalat, whose string synth should be taken from him by force and tossed somewhere into late July. All that said, the former Pussywillow has put out a very listenable record that makes me want to drink sugary cocktails and spin around a lot. (Peter Geiberger) [buy this record]
Bob Marley "Destiny: Rare Ska Sides from Studio One" CD (Heartbeat)... Fire Hot Ska! Recorded in Kingston at the now infamous Studio One, this collection of rare cuts shines on Marley’s pre-reggae days. Strictly the good stuff; fans of the recently-released Skatalites' Foundation Ska, on which Mr. Marley makes an appearance, will dig this. (Peter Geiberger) [buy this record]
Mogwai "come on die young" CD (Matador)... Positively somnambulant Glasgow instrumentalists make like they’re brim-full of cough syrup and the Spacemen 3, with fairly effective results. [buy this record]
The Moviees “Come On” b/w “You Got What I Want” 45 (Living Eye)... From Chesterfield Kings leader Greg Prevost’s long-inactive label comes this slab of contemporary home-grown freakbeat, the a-side a driving original with plenty of vim, the flip a strong version of the familiar Sorrows/Boys Blue tune.
The Music Tapes "1st Imaginary Symphony for Nomad" CD (Merge)...The tiny beings that live in your ear and whisper nonsensical phrases as you’re about to drop off to sleep have met up with the gremlins who break guitar strings and made a pop record. No, not a pop record. But a record, yes, it seems to be a record. When it is very quiet you may find yourself quite nervous to hear what will come next. [buy this record]
The Mystery Trend "So Glad I Found You" CD (Big Beat)... Legendary unheard San Francisco art school band circa 1965 prove in these fascinating sessions to have been every bit as important as their partisans claim. The obvious knock-out is their sole released single “Johnny Was A Good Boy” a terrific rave-up with disturbing, sophisticated lyrics inspired by the media’s response to Charles Whitman’s sniper attack. But the Trend were also a jug band who just happened to write elegant neo-Baroque mini-operas and near-standards which they delivered in precise, lovely voices. While not always immediately accessible, this is incredible stuff, essential for scholars of sixties pop and its stranger byways, not to mention Bay Area art buffs, since one of the best songs concerns Joan Brown’s house, and singer/keyboardist Ron Nagle became a ceramicist of note. [buy this record, you won't be sorry, it's a Scram pick!]
The Neanderthals "The Modern Stone-Age Family" CD (Sundazed)... Despite the rumors of NRBQ connections, this prehistoric combo clearly pre-dates what we call “the rock era.” But these cats ain’t stupid, as demonstrated by their nicking ace Kinks riffs and reviving classy Neil Sedaka oddities like “I Go Ape.” I defy you to make it all the way through this entertaining disk without doing the Monkey. [buy this record]
The Necessary Evils "The Sicko Inside Me" CD (In The Red)... Dark, sprawling blues-punk deconstructions that flit pretty much equally between impressive and irritating. Featuring one of the oddest Seeds covers I’ve ever heard, and an intriguing song and dedication to “Forrest Colson the ‘Man From Mars’ bandit, slain by the LAPD on Thursday October 11th 1951.” Someone go dig up the microfilm on this one, huh? [buy this record]
The Nomads "Big Sound 2000" CD (Estrus)... When these furious Swedes proclaim they “Ain’t Yet Dead” on the song of that name, it sounds like they’re sneering “I ain’t your dad!” which is an equally cool hook for a fuck-you garage anthem. All the whammy bars, clanging percussion, and big Nomad riffs you expect are out in profusion here, and yes, sweetheart, it rocks. [buy this record]
The No-Talents "...Want Some More" CD (Estrus)... More trebly bad girl kicks from the French toe-ragistes, featuring the first song I’ve every heard about a band’s preference for hanging out in sex shops in order to get revved up for a gig. Some variety in tone would be welcome, but for a song or three this stuff’s a hoot. [buy this record]
Pavement "Terror Twilight" CD (Matador)... Could Nigel GODrich save the garage band everyone loved to hate from indie hell!? Well... This is still a very recognizable Pavement album: the tempo changes, folkish, countryish style, and incoherent babbling. But let’s face it, a red-assed monkey could of produced their last four albums. Ultimately it is Godrich's production genius that saves this one. The guitars are more crystalline. They sound much bigger. And like any good album being made these days, it sounds like it was recorded in 1974, not 1999. (Francisco Bacon) [buy this record]
The Pink Fairies "Do It! rare live and studio recordings 1969-1971" CD (Alive/Total Energy)... Kicks off with a fantastic demo take of the Yippie-inspired “Do It!” then immediately gets weird with the PF Marching Band’s 1971 appearance at Glastonbury. Mixing lo-fi live tracks with several songs from the debut Think Pink LP, this is politics and dope-fueled British music hall insanity blended with some occasionally crushing rock and roll. The fey MC5? [buy this record]
The Poconos "Days Are Getting Shorter: six song vinyl EP (Jigsaw)... Deliriously innocent indiepop from the now-defunct duo of Tami Heaton and Mike Appelstein (he of Caught in Flux zine), upbeat and yearning, with a special little zing when their two very sweet vocal styles interact.
Pulpit Red "Lurk" CD (Syncretist)... Cool surprise to get this strong DIY rock and roll record out of Oklahoma City, with brooding songs that erupt into bursts of agitation. The band claims the Jim Carroll Band as an influence, but I think it’s closer to New Values-era Iggy, which is of course a fine thing. Marred by a couple of mastering errors, but what the fuck?
The Red Krayola "Fingerpainting" CD (Drag City)... Unselfconscious subterranean weirdness, at once noisy and unobtrusive, something like the voices in your head. The RK collective this time out includes Messers Thompson, Prina, Hurley, Oehlen, Barthelme, Grubbs, Williams and Watson, offering more unidentifiable sounds per second than on any other record reviewed this issue. [buy this record]
Red Snapper "Making Bones" CD (Matador)... This group's brilliance is rooted in their mastery of live instruments combined with electronic sounds. The result of their technical mastery and extremely relevant and moving sound is captivating: a jazzy, yet danceable, sophisticated, yet gritty, album. They effectively meld trip-hop and jungle sounds with contemporary jazz and some rap. Less atmospheric than Massive Attack or Kruder and Dorfmeister, they nonetheless have that same ability to integrate vocals into their instrumentation beautifully. A very intense and beautiful album. (Francisco Bacon) [buy this record]
Royal Trux "Veterans of Disorder" CD (Drag City)... Rocks real good when they deign to rock, but since they are equally accomplished at making a godawful racket and wretched jazz fusion, there are perhaps just four people in the world who can make it all the way through this record without wanting to kill someone. (Hi, Brian!) [buy this record]
She "Wants a Piece of You" CD (Big Beat)... Cripes, what a find! Magnificently snotty Sacramento girl group She rewrite the history of garage rock with their lewd, aggressive and utterly memorable sound — mostly originals by singer Nancy Ross. The classy package includes tons of amazing pictures, Joey D’s drooling tribute, and a band history by Alec Palao, none of which would matter if the previously-unheard tapes weren’t fucking wild! But they are: from the “I’m not good enough for you” anthem “Outta Reach” (think “So What?! by The Lyrics), to the Mick Jagger-inspired “Like a Snake” and the sultry “Bad Girl” (where Nancy sings “I had my first man a little after I was ten,” and in the next verse growls like Regan in The Excorcist) and beyond, She offers a litany of riches, totally unexpected and thrilling. [buy this record]
The Sons of Champlin "Fat City" CD (Big Beat)... Early sessions by the Bay Area band highlight soulful pop sounds with a couple of ravers, good stuff but nothing that really knocks me out. Nice take on the Beau Brummels’ “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” though.
Epic Soundtracks “Everything is Temporary” CD (Innerstate)... A posthumous collection of demos, outtakes and live performances from the unfailingly romantic balladeer, the selection made by his brother Nikki Sudden, which is brimming with all the unexpected loveliness and lyrical bravery that made his records so special. The white slipcase with a photo of a wasted-looking Epic decked out in funereal white gives the whole project the air of a grave marker, and there could be no more apt memorial than these songs. [buy this record]
Spain "She Haunts My Dreams" CD (Restless)... Balladeers following in the footsteps of Nick Drake and Bob Dylan, Spain have produced a soulful, yet sometimes painfully bluesy record. The songs have that great way of sounding really old, like they are haunted by the past, but they wallow a little too much in the hopelessness of the present. Unlike their much more smug (and brilliant, might I add) contemporaries, Belle and Sebastian, Spain deal a very dangerous drug: sincerity! Gasp! Some of the songs are truly personal, hypnotic, and beautiful, but the post-ironic stance just doesn't rub me the right way. (Francisco Bacon) [buy this record]
Alexander Spence "Oar" CD (Sundazed)... I tried a few times to listen to an earlier CD reissue of this album and got nowhere: it was all so hushed and oblique. It might be the passing years, but I think it’s more likely that Sundazed’s crisp remix has made the difference, because this time I’m hearing the gems that fans have always said were there. The 22-year-old “Skip” Spence blazed through the Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape and six months in Bellevue before recording this nest of mysteries in late 1968, and once it was done sunk permanently into schizophrenia. It’s a dreamy sort of shambling blues, sometimes poppy, sometimes sounding lost inside an endless hall. Spence played everything, and some of those things sound like his demons chiming in. And yet this is the kind of record that can play in the background without demanding attention, until the beauty of a guitar fill or a bit of phrasing taps your shoulder and you hear something totally new. Containing the entirety of the record, extra and unissued tracks, essays by Jud Cost and David Fricke, and the original liner notes. [buy this record, it's a Scram pick!]
The Starlites “I Can’t See You” b/w “Big Boss Man” 45 (Get Hip)... Second version of the a-side, originally released on Barclay in ‘66, is a tough garage anthem with terrific big production — but no fuzz box, as the band’s was broken! The flip’s a good version of the standard with some odd, mannered phrasing.
Swell Maps "International Rescue" CD (Alive)... Compiling much of the output of the young Maps (teenaged brothers Epic Soundtracks and Nikki Sudden with noisy rural associates) circa 1977-79, spiky and abrasive but standing out as remarkably arch among the punk acts of the day. Unreleased songs and mixes abound here, the focus very much on Nikki Sudden’s contributions to the band. This sounds nothing like the Jacobites (except very briefly on “Ammunition Train”) popsters be warned, but if you go for sheer force of sound, tune in. [buy this record]
The Switch Trout "Psycho Action!" CD (Estrus)... I was listening to this, thinking “yup, more trad surf music, pretty aggressive guitarwise, but fairly ordinary...” But then I opened up the booklet and saw that they are Japanese boys with bowl cuts and Saville Row suits, which should distinguish them in anyone’s book. [buy this record]
Tri-Danielson S/T CD (Tooth & Nail)... By rights a shtick this thick oughtta equal nix kicks, but these kooks are for real, and the abstract spiritual lessons — intoned mouselike by big brother/ band leader Daniel while the girls bop in and out of sequence like demented spokesmodels — absolutely work as rock and roll. Sounding and looking like nothing else (well, maybe like Trout Mask Replica as performed at Widney High), almost virally catchy, this is a band that commands your attention. Steer clear only if you are offended by expressions of Christian faith... although if all Christians were this inventive, they’d be much more popular! [buy this record]
The Tuffies "Got It Going on!" CD (Tuffies)... P. Edwin Letcher has long specialized in injecting that “rock” thing with a refreshing silliness, as a singer (Moist ‘n’ Meaty, Cheeseburger), cartoonist (Stubbo the cat who has no paws) and all around bon vivant. This new combo have certainly got something going on, as demonstrated by the catchy mix of pro-nudity numbers, monster rock novelties, Hitler gags and gross-outs on this self-released CD.
Dave Van Ronk "someone else, not me" CD (Philo)... Homely, conversational follow-up to the fine and recently re-issued Sunday Street has Van Ronk covering Dylan, Guthrie, Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton, mapping out a personal terrain with his distinctive take on their songs. [buy this record]
V/A Afro American Blues and Game Songs CD (Rounder)... Gut raw, and hell yeah! Before the blues was Bruce Willis in some fucking Planet Hollywood it was music that burned as it went down. Recording studio? This is music coming out of porches and dance halls around the deep south. This is rock and roll music without no leather pants and flashy lights. (Peter Geiberger)
V/A Ben-Lee’s Philadelphia Story CD (Kent Soul)... Smooth’n’easy 24-track compilation of the soul cuts recorded by the interracial writing and production team of Frank Bendinelli and Leroy Lovett is full of sassy, romantic sounds from classy mid-sixties acts like Patty & the Emblems, The Moniques and The Colt 45s. Historically notable for featuring several tracks by a young Leon Huff and some early collaborations with Kenny Gamble, including K.G. himself delivering a knockout performance on “What Am I Gonna Say To My Baby?”
V/A Cartoon Medley CD (Kid Rhino)... This is an exuberant compilation of bubblegum themes and wacky background noises from a selection of current and classic shows airing on The Cartoon Network, and it’s a blast. If you’ve been jonesing to hear Bis’ Powerpuff Girls (End Theme) four times in a row, melt to the soulful sounds of Josie & the Pussycats, or are a huge Cow & Chicken fan, your secret longings have been heard. The CD contains several lame video games with great sound effects, and while the book has all the lyrics, performance credits are lacking.
V/A Cowboy Songs, Ballads, and Cattle Calls from Texas CD (Rounder)... Hard, dusty songs about cows. More interesting as a portrait of the cowboys themselves than as a record for easy listening. Recorded when the cowboy way of life was just beginning to disappear, there’s a very palpable feeling of impending loss to these songs. Worth a listen. (Peter Geiberger)
V/A Deep River of Song: Black Texicans CD (Rounder)... Lots of recognizable early blues, recorded in a style that’s a good stretch East of the Mississippi delta. There are songs here that rock harder than anything else has in about sixty years. (Peter Geiberger)
V/A Deep River of Song: Folk Music of the Bahamas 1935 CD (Rounder)... Interesting look into the very stylized culture of Bahamanian folk songs. There’s a healthy mix of religious and work songs here, all annotated with very thorough liner notes. We can thank Alan Lomax for this one. (Peter Geiberger)
V/A Loud, Fast & Out of Control: The Wild Sounds of 50s Rock 4-CD boxset (Rhino)... Dedicated to the notion that the fifties as a decade needs to be reclaimed from the cultural revisionists, this deliberately trashy-looking set compiles both hits and lesser-known important stuff from rockabillies, hepped-up orchestras, Vegas swingers and several cuckoo -birds. The CDs themselves are each printed to ape a classic label design, and the package bulges with exploitation imagery. If you’re already a buff there’s probably not much here you need, but if you’re ready to expand your record collecting activities into the pre-Kennedy era this is a strong sampler. [buy this record]
V/A Pervirella: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and other Exotic Entertainment Tunes CD (Dionysus)... The alternately lush and trashy soundtrack to the swinging sleazeball epic features a generous selection of evocative sounds, from Les Hommes Qui Adorent Les Femmes’ organ-drenched instro swing to The Diaboliks making like evil little spy jazz demons with “Ninja A Go Go” to a whole smattering of tracks reeking with that inimitable eau d’Guillaume Childish. I ain’t seen the movie, but can assure you it sounds great,
V/A Starday Dixie Rockabilly Vol. 1 CD (Ace)... Dixie was the farm team label for Texas indie Starday, on which a new or regional artist could record and receive a stack of 45s to sell at shows, while Don Pierce from the label tried to get DJs to give it a shot. If a cut clicked it might then be re-pressed on Mercury, who had a distribution deal with Starday. There’s some really rockin’ stuff here like Groovey Joe Poovey’s Jerry Lee tribute “Ten Long Fingers,” and Rudy Grayzell’s nutty “Let’s Get Wild,” and for an added novelty treat, you get Link Wray backing up brother Lucky on “Teenage Cutie.”
V/A Surfbeat Behind the Iron Curtain Part 2: Planetary Pebbles Vol. 3 CD (AIP)... Harry Vee has compiled two dozen mostly surf-inspired tracks from such little known (to Western ears) combos as The Sputniks (GDR), Mondial (Rumania), and The Singing Guitars (Russia). As on last year’s Part 1, the instrumental tracks offer an interesting blend of the California surf sound with local folk traditions, but it’s vocal oddities like The Olympics’ baffling “Story of the Girl w/ the Bass Guitar” and The Amigos’(?!) German-language “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” that are the real mindblowers.
V/A Surf Monsters CD (Del-Fi)... Fairly seamless blend of vintage sixties Del-Fi surf tracks by the likes of The Impacts, Lively Ones and Original Surfaris with contemporary acts turning in convincing originals. With Man or Astroman?, Bomboras, Satan’s Pilgrims (dig that “Harem Nocturne”), Huevos Rancheros, Cocktail Preachers, Barbacoa, Tiki Tones, Dynatones, Space Cossacks, Sub-Mersians and Powerjive. For a party game next time the rum is flowing, hide the CD case and play “which track is a moldy oldie?” with your friends.
V/A the latest set of Teenage Shutdown compilations (Crypt, on LP natch, with fairly subdued Tim Warren liner notes, label repros and a few band photos on each) Get A Move On!!: Snarl & Stomp, Rave & Rant Teen Garage Hoot... Worth it for the liner note blurb on cover star Dave Starky alone, this set rocks straight through, with the poppy “Left Behind” by the Checkmates having a particularly great arrangement. And who could resist the New Things’ inspired put down to (almost) the entire female population, “The Only Woman You Can Trust (Mom)”?! Buy: if you never, ever smile when you dance. “I’m Down Today:” Moody & Brooding Teen Misery Garage Rock Lowdown - 1965-67. You’d think it doesn’t get much darker than the world-view espoused by the brilliantly-named John Brown’s Bodies in “Out of My Mind” (only track three on this relentless disk), but somehow it does, and by the end of side two the atmosphere is thick enough to curdle. I’m a sucker for this kind of minor key punk, and Crypt’s tracked down a great selection, including The Young Monkey Men classic “I Believed You” and the best-sounding version of The Specters’ incredible “Depression” ever comped. Buy: if you’ve recently arranged for someone to take your pets should anything “happen” to you. “Move It:!” Frantic Frat-Stomp Fracas! Revved-Up & Rowdy Rockers! 1964-1968... The Buccaneers’ singer lets loose with a fabulous scream in the middle of “Oop Poo Pah Doo” that sets the stage for two gritty sides of lowbrow thrills, heavy on ineptitude and innuendo. For the former, check out Sacramento’s Shondells’ lurching their way through “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” with all the grace of a car-sick chimpanzee. And for unadulterated smut, you’ve gotta hear what the Customs 5 and Royal Coachmen each got away with in 1966. Kee-rist! Buy: if you had a beer before breakfast at least one day this week. Teen Jangler Blowout!: Cool Teen Clang N’ Jangle Lowdown!... If you like your garage rock to sound like it was written, played and performed by and for nebbishy fourteen-year-olds, you’ll flip over the self-pitying sounds of Disillusioned Younger Generation (really!) and sixteen other sets of losers. Perfectly good stuff, but there aren’t any mind-blowers here. Buy: if you know that nobody is ever gonna love you for yourself. The World Ain’t Round, It’s Square!... Solid set highlighting the ticked-off sixties punk sound with seventeen screamers from the likes of The Triumphs (the gorgeously aggressive “Lovin’ Cup,” with snarling guitar and saucy Jagger-via-Ohio vocals) and The Savages (the live title cut, an unfettered sonic distillation of youthful discontent). Buy: if you think they’re all out to get you. [buy this record]
V/A West Texas Bop CD (Ace)... From the Norman Petty archives comes a whole slew of mostly unissued Texas rockabilly and the softer stuff. Kicks off with a really hot Roy Orbison tune recorded by Peanuts Wilson, “I’ve Had It.” Weldon Rogers’ “Tryin’ To Get To You” is mournful c&w in the Hank Williams vein, with a neat little waltz rhythm, while the imagery in his “The Sale of Broken Hearts” is just ridiculous, right up there in MSR territory. Wanna explore the roots of that Bobby Fuller sound? Then cue up Sonny Curtis’ great “Talk About My Baby.” And to scratch that novelty itch, there’s a pretty good monster rock and roll number in Jack & Jim’s 1959 Brunswick 45 “Midnight Monsters Hop.”
Vortex Navigation Company "Things Make Patterns As They Fall" CD (Camera Obscura)... Powerful improvisational psychedelia (and folky vocal interludes) by Salamander leader Sean Connaughty and a revolving group of collaborators playing both organic and synthesized instruments. Yearning and emotive sounds, self-indulgent but eminently musical.
Tom Waits "Mule Variations" CD (Epitaph)... I realize this marks me as a lowbrow, but I find Waits a lot more enjoyable when he’s crooning like Bruce Springsteen taking a nap than when he’s doing his Capt.-Beefheart-in-a-pile-of-cutlery routine. While this new record is full of perfectly good Tom Waits music and some awfully pretty bits, what’s missing is freshness, a sense that these songs needed to be born. [buy this record]
Whistler S/T CD (Beggars Banquet/ Wiiija)... If you are enamored of dour lady singers like Nico, Kendra Smith and Bridget St. John, you will certainly be taken by this inventive and depressing record. Hushed and biting, hardly a common blend. [buy this record]
Wesley Willis "Greatest Hits Vol. 2" CD (Alternative Tentacles)... I’d heard a lot about this oddball street musician, and have even had his “I Kicked Batman’s Ass” sung to me by Mr. Outer Space, but somehow never heard his records before. Jello Biafra has compiled a generous selection of tracks from Willis’ dozens of self-released CDs and compilation appearances, and it’s amazing stuff. Usually over a simple keyboard pattern — the speed metal arrangements by his band The Wesley Willis Fiasco are an anomaly — the schizophrenic singer riffs on deeply-felt topics with humor and an inspired sense of language. “Cut The Mullet” is the greatest song ever about a haircut, while “I Broke Out Your Windshield” and “Suck A Caribou’s Ass” will simply scare the shit out of you. Also includes some of Willis’ excellent drawings of busses, and a long, sympathetic essay by Biafra. [buy this record]
Wiretaps "Recording" CD (Super Electro)... Ebullient, seductive 1978-style pop punk, with aggressive lyrics, hooky hooks and great croony vocals from Caryn Palmier. Super gone and boss! [buy this record]
Michael Yonkers “Micro-Miniature Love” b/w “Kill the Enemy” 45 (Get Hip)... Previously unreleased nutso 1968 recordings by a man out of time and his custom, foil-covered guitar (if that’s not him climbing out of the spacecraft on the sleeve, it might as well be), blending rockabilly inspirations with a frantic sub-Beefheart abstract blues equation to produce a nervous and intriguing noise.
The Zombies "Begin Here" CD (Big Beat)... Zombologist Alec Palao, whose boxset sets the standard for such things, supervised production of this elegant and mostly great-sounding repackaging of the band’s debut, with a booklet jammed with rare press clips and photos, and the addition of several interesting (if slightly thin-sounding) alternate takes and demos that didn’t surface in time for inclusion in the Zombox. This is the Zombies at their most American, covering r&b standards and just beginning to demonstrate their remarkable talents as songwriters and arrangers — a lively introduction with occasional flashes of minor key brilliance. Follow the easy instructions (provided you understand your CD player better’n I do mine) to program the debut American and English LPs, or their self-titled UK EP. [buy this record]
RECENT EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC REVIEWED BY PHIL CURTIS Harry Partch "Enclosure Five: On An Ancient Greek Theme" CD (innova)... Remember the Star Trek episode where Mr. Spock entertains a visiting group of 23rd century hippies by playing groovy Vulcan melodies on a bizarre lute instrument? The sound which came out, trippy though it may have been, sounded suspiciously like an electric guitar, ca. 1969. Perhaps a "Surrogate Kithara" or a "Crychord" would have been more fitting, instruments which would have been available to Rodenberry and company had they been aware of the hobo/composer/crackpot Harry Partch. Partch invented these instruments and more in order to make his microtonal (or just plain "out-of-tune" to you or me) music possible. Also among his many obsessions was Greek drama, as is demonstrated on this three-disc set. Continuing on the trekkie theme, the oratory and dialogue in these Partch music theater pieces is somewhat reminiscent of the episode which had the gods of Olympus continuing their intrigues in a land where no man had gone before. But unfortunately the acting on these discs is of the William Shatner school. Imagine a Kirk-wannabe with the voice of Al Gore intoning the lines "So you say that your name is Ulysses/that you're waaaaaaaandering around the world./Tell me, Sir/Have you ever been arrested?" and you'll get the idea. There is some remarkable music, however, though perhaps a better introduction to the uninitiated would be innova's four-disc set of Partch speech-music, Enclosure Two. If you are not aware of Partch, associate of Anais Nin, W.B. Yeats, Chet Baker, and maybe soul-mate of Gene Rodenberry, then you are missing out on a great strain of American eccentricity.
Sick and tired of pesky melodies repeating themselves over and over in your head? Try listening contemporary classical music, where melody and repetition are often discarded like the timeworn clichés they are. To experience the brave new world of "modern" music, you could go to... Minnesota. Yes, the land of the Prairie Home Companion and Jesse Ventura is also home to one of the best organized composer's groups in the country, the American Composers Forum (http://www.composersforum.org), which operates a record label, innova, dedicated to promulgating the atonality that grows artificially (i.e. grant-supported) in the heartland like so much bovine-growth-hormone injected cattle.
"Sonic Circuits Vi," Anne Deane's Crossings, and organist Gary Verkade's Winded are among the innova recordings heard by this reviewer, besides the above Partch. Sonic Circuits, featuring selections from the electronic music festival of the same name, is recommended for the electronically inclined. It contains an especially good piece, "Walkabout" by New Jersey's Paul Koonce, which reminded me of Zappa's late synclavier music. Deane's disc has some good music, but much of it sounds like it was written to satisfy the requirements of a Ph.D. thesis, (which it probably was, judging from her academic credentials). The Winded disc has some remarkable music (from Kenneth Gaburo) and some tedious music (from two of his students). Think of your best organ-related pun ("winded" is a little lame), and skip to track 2.
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