Monday, August 30, 2010

The Velvet Monkeys - "Everything is Right" Arlington, VA Public Access TV, 1981

I'm trying to put together a new post on The Velvet Monkeys, a band I have written about before. While doing some research (and beyond the basics, actual information on the internet is relatively scarce) I came across this clip on the YouTube channel of Malcolm Riviera. It's The Velvet Monkeys "playing" on an Arlington, VA public access cable channel back in 1981. Unless my eyes deceive me, I believe this clip pre-dates Riviera's own tenure in the band, as it appears to be Elaine Barnes pretending to play keyboards. It's certainly Don Fleming on guitar and vocals and Jay "The Rummager" Spiegel on drums. Based on the date, I assume the bass player is Steven Soles (although to be honest, I wouldn't know him from Adam). (I just noticed Riveria's notes confirm this is the line-up.)

Anyway, I thought this clip was just too cool not to share right now, while I work on a proper post. Riviera has lots of other cool videos up, including live recordings made at the old 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

Deluxe Shoot Out The Lights Coming From Rhino Handmade

Rhino Handmade has announced plans to release a Deluxe Edition of Richard And Linda Thompson’s legendary swan song, Shoot Out The Lights, with previously unreleased live performances from their "emotionally charged" final U.S. tour. "Emotionally charged" is actually quite the understatement here. The tour coincided with the ugly breakup of the Thompsons' romantic and artistic partnership. The set includes a 40 page book that details such fun anecdotes as the time Linda kicked Richard in the shins during a solo at a show in Providence.

The live tracks were mostly recorded in San Francisco and Santa Cruz and include the following eleven tracks: "Dargai," "Back Street Slide," "Pavanne," "I’ll Keep It With Mine," "Borrowed Time, "Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed?," "I’m A Dreamer," "Honky Tonk Blues," "Shoot Out The Lights," "For Shame Of Doing Wrong," "Dimming Of The Day."

It would have been nice if this edition included an official release of the much bootlegged version of the album recorded by Gerry Rafferty and the B-side "Living In Luxury" that was included on early CD pressings, but alas that is not the case.

I already own Shoot Out The Lights on LP, CD (with "Living In Luxury") and SACD. Do I need another version? No. Will I buy it again? Yes. I really do want to hear those live tracks. By all accounts the personal turmoil resulted in some of the most intense and committed performances of either artists' career.

Friday, August 27, 2010


The only thing I find surprising about today's news that Blockbuster is preparing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy is that they still have 3,425 retail locations, and that they are planning to close only around 500 of those stores during their restructuring. In my part of the country, Blockbuster went from being omnipresent to virtually invisible, seemingly overnight.

This video from The Onion feels all too right. It's strange to me how huge Blockbuster was just a short time ago, and yet now it feels like they never existed at all, or are at most a relic from a dimly remembered past. Paradigms shift quickly.

It is a reminder of the impermanence of all things in life.

Historic ‘Blockbuster’ Store Offers Glimpse Of How Movies Were Rented In The Past

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Different Drum

I remember hearing "Different Drum" by The Stone Poneys (featuring a young singer named Linda Ronstadt) on AM radio a lot when I was a kid. Released in 1967, the Stone Poneys' version of the song would not have been new at the time, but it would not have been old enough to be an "oldie" either. As far as I can remember our local AM station (WNAV in Annapolis) did not change their heavy rotation very often. When they found a song they liked, they stuck with it for ten to fifteen knots years.

I have a specific memory of hearing the song in my Mom's old Rambler station wagon (the Rambler only had AM radio) and being intrigued enough by it to ask what the lyrics were about. My Mom explained the meaning of the saying "marching to the beat of a different drummer," and told me the song was about two people who had different outlooks on life so their relationship couldn't work. The concept made an impression on me, and although I think I understood the metaphor, somewhere in my childhood mind I still had a vision of two people marching in different directions followed by two different drummers playing a different beat.

"Different Drum" was penned by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees, but never recorded by his band (although I have the feeling some knowledgeable Monkeeologist will chime in to tell me that in fact the Monkees recorded an unreleased demo of the song during the Pool It sessions). The first recording of the song to be released was by folk revivalists the Greenbriar Boys for their 1966 album Better Late than Never! on the Vanguard label.

Written and sung from the male perspective, the song is a gentle kiss off with an age old theme; boy meets girl, girl wants to settle down, boy wants to sow his wild oats, relationship ends. This is not to say that in this form it's not a good song; the lyrics are well constructed and the melody is highly memorable. But in this first version it's not a zeitgeist capturing song as it would be when Ronstadt interpreted it, and it wasn't a hit. Nevertheless, "Different Drum" in its original version (or as sung by Ronstadt or later Nesmith himself in a country-rock style) is as good a riposte as any to the critics who claimed the Monkees had no "real" talent of their own. "Different Drum" is as good as, or better than, the tunes the hired Tin Pan Alley guns were writing for the Monkees at the time.

There are some songs where the gender of the singer doesn't make much difference. You can change a "she" to a "he" or a "boy" to a "girl" and the meaning of the song doesn't change dramatically. "Different Drum" is not one of those songs. The gender of the singer (and the gender pronouns they chose) is central to the song's meaning.

As such, an interesting dynamic has evolved as the song has been interpreted and re-interpreted by different artists over the years. As previously noted, in the versions by the Greenbriar Boys and later Nesmith, the song has what you might call a traditional gender dynamic; it's sung from the perspective of a male who doesn't want to commit to a female who is looking for stability.

But it's a totally different song when a woman sings it. Ronstadt turns the tables on the boy, and now it's the girl who wants to sow her wild oats while the boy just wants to settle down. Further, the object of Ronstadt's lack of affection ends up being feminized by the gender shift; he's "pretty," and he "cries" and "moans" over the end of the relationship. But at the same time, there is a slightly more sinister connotation to the lines about trying to "pull the reins in" then when it was sung by a male lead. As sung by Ronstadt, "Different Drum" implicitly becomes a song about casting off the shackles of traditional gender roles.

This sexually liberated female perspective was not often heard in popular music up to that point, and the song makes Ronstadt something of an archetype shattering figure. Neither virgin nor whore, she's simply not ready to settle down and sees no reason why she shouldn't enjoy herself until she is.

It should be noted that this shift in popular culture was made possible to a large degree by the introduction of oral contraceptives to the U.S. market in 1960, which for the first time in human history made it possible for choices about reproduction to be easily and reliably made solely by the woman. Female contraception (despite repeated attacks on it by reactionary forces) is so taken for granted today that it is easy to forget the extent to which "the pill" helped revolutionize gender relationships in the later half of the twentieth century. It is within that context that in Ronstadt's hands "Different Drum" becomes more than just a break up song, but also a celebration of liberated female sexuality.

For my money the most interesting of the later covers of the song is the 1990 version by the Lemonheads off their Favorite Spanish Dishes EP. Evan Dando sings the lyrics exactly the way Ronstadt did in her 1967 hit version, declining to shift back to the traditional male gender role as most male singers do when covering it. It's an interesting decision, and it creates layers of gender ambiguity in the song. By addressing the song to a "boy" is Dando singing the lyrics from the female perspective? Is he singing it one gay man to another? Or is it sung from the perspective of a straight man declining the advances of a gay man (maybe that's what he means by traveling to the beat of a different drum)? All these things are left ambiguous by Dando's choice of gender pronouns. These qualities are amplified by the the image Dando projected during the early 90s: Young. Pretty. Self-destructive. Sexually ambiguous. All of these elements collide in the song to create a fabulous artistic tension that is missing from other later-day covers such as the very nice versions by The Pastels and Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs (who stick pretty closely to Nesmith's and Ronstadt's interpretations respectively).

I'm sure all of these thoughts were far from my mind as I enjoyed listening to the song in the back seat of my Mom's Rambler sometime during the early 70s. But there is little doubt in my mind that it was AM radio staples like "Different Drum" that sparked my life-long love of popular music.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Forever In Blue Jeans

Michael Tomasky at The Guardian asks his readers to "Name us a song or two that all "right-thinking people" would dismiss as sentimental but that you love. And be bold and unapologetic!"

I'll start off with Neil Diamond's "Forever In Blue Jeans" a top 20 hit from 1979, seen here performed in concert for a CBS special in 2009. I could list you hundreds of reasons why all "right thinking people" should not only dismiss this bit of sentimental drivel, but should actively hate it. Instead, I'll limit myself to eight very compelling reasons:

1) This is not a track by the (relatively) cool, early, "Jewish Elvis" Neil Diamond. Nor is it by the Rick Rubin rehabilitated Neil Diamond either. No, this is the by the full-on, rhinestone-jumpsuit-wearing, 70s schlockmeister, Neil Diamond.

2) The fact that the track appears on the You Don't Bring Me Flowers LP should be enough for anyone with even a modicum of "taste" in music to write the song off without even hearing it.

3) The song was used to advertise actual blue jeans. By the Gap.

4) It's been performed on American Idol (by a white guy with dreadlocks no less).

5) It was produced by Bob Gaudio (of The Four Seasons, who is largely to blame for foisting the reactionary Jersey Boys on an unsuspecting world).

6) It features one of those awful disco-synth string arrangements that were already passe by 1979.

7) Oh my God. Look at those middle-aged white people in Diamond's audience try to dance. They probably paid over $500 a head and got all dressed up to sing along to a song about...

8) Most damning of all, this song belongs to the hideous musical sub-genre that features fabulously wealthy people singing about how great it is to be poor. Like John Lennon asking us to "imagine no possessions," Diamond's own life is so far from the simple, happy existence he celebrates in the song, it's laughable.
"Money talks,
But it don't sing and dance and it don't walk,
And long as I can have you here with me,
I'd much rather be,
Forever in blue jeans"
Look Neil, if money is so bad (or at the very least inessential to happiness) I'd be happy to take some of your many millions off your hands for you. Seriously.

I could probably make a relatively compelling argument that songs like this are foisted on us by the entertainment industry to keep the resentment of society's "have-nots" from boiling over into something like a revolution (or at the very least a less regressive tax code). After all, if Hollywood movies, hit pop songs and tabloids teach us nothing else, it's that the rich are never as happy as us simple folk. So maybe I shouldn't even bother to notice that the top 5% in the United States own something like 60% of the country's wealth, while the other 95% of us fight it out over what's left over. After all, all that money hasn't made those fancy rich folks happy, so why should I care? I'd much rather be forever in blue jeans. Yeah, right.

And yet, I love this song.
"Honey's sweet,
But it ain't nothing next to baby's treat,"
First of all, it's hard not to love a song that slips lyrics so casually obscene and vulgar into a tune that gets airplay on easy listening stations and CBS television specials. There's just something about that I respect.

I'm not stupid. I know Neil Diamond doesn't remotely live the lyrics to this song. He's an artist. A performer. An entertainer. A showbiz personality. But the fact is, I really can relate to the song's sentiment. I've made certain decisions in my life that have likely minimized the amount of money I earn, but maximized the amount of time I get to spend with my wife and kids. I wouldn't have it any other way. I was listening to this song on my iPod earlier today waiting for my wife and kids, thinking about the role of sentimentality in music. Just as the song ended I spotted my kids running towards me, just genuinely and totally happy to see me. I feel like I've done okay for myself. I really would much rather be forever in blue jeans.

Other sentimental songs I love:

"Giddy Up Go" and "Teddy Bear" by Red Sovine
I don't think music gets much more sentimental than Red Sovine's signature trucking songs. Both songs feature spoken-word vocals and it sounds like 'ole Red might choke up at any moment. "Giddy Up Go" tells the story of a trucker who discovers that his long-lost son is also a trucker now. "Teddy Bear" is about how a young paraplegic boy whose truck drivin' father has perished in an accident finally gets his wish to ride in a truck thanks to CB radio and some big hearted truckers. You would be hard pressed to find more blatantly emotionally manipulative music than these two songs, and yet I find them strangely sublime.

"Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro
This makes "worst song ever" lists about as often as any other song I can think of. It's a totally maudlin song about a guy who loses his girl to suicide. It even features a Christmas puppy. And yet it is so totally over-the-top and excessive in its sentimentality that I can't help but love it.

"Little Green Apples" by Roger Miller
Written by Bobby Russell (the same guy who wrote "Honey"). This song actually chokes me up. It's about a guy whose wife is tolerant of his flaws, and if that ain't lovin' him, "God didn't make little green apples and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime." It would be easy to dismiss the song as sexist, except that it is so clear that the protagonist really appreciates everything his wife does for him. It's about feeling like you don't really deserve the love your significant other gives, but being grateful for receiving it anyway. It's another sentiment I can relate to. Also, Roger Miller was a genius.

"The Most Beautiful Girl" by Charlie Rich
Everybody's supposed to hate the sappy "Countrypolitan" sound of the 70s, but I've always loved this song. And as you can see I have a soft spot for sappy country music.

"Silly Love Songs" by Paul McCartney and Wings
I understand why a lot of people hate McCartney, I really do. Still, I find this answer to his critics pretty convincing. That throbbing Macca bassline helps.

"A Tiny Broken Heart" by The Louvin Brothers
It's about a little boy who gets his heart broken because his his playmate's parents are too poor to stay in town. Frankly, The Louvin Brothers could have harmonized to the phone book and I would find it incredibly moving.

"Now Is Better Than Before" by Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers
Jonathan Richman has created his own unique musical and artistic aesthetic by refusing to be afraid of being corny and sentimental, and by rejecting even the slightest hint of "coolness" or cynicism. He is one of the bravest artists I can think of. I find this to be one of his most moving songs.


"Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain" by Willie Nelson

"Just An Old Fashioned Love Song" by Three Dog Night

"What A Wonderful World" by Sam Cooke

"A Good Year For The Roses" by George Jones

"Then Came You" by The Spinners with Dionne Warwick

"A Place In The Sun" by Stevie Wonder

"You Are Everything" by The Stylistics

"Beeswing" by Richard Thompson

"All The Right Reasons" by The Jayhawks

I could go on...these are just some of the first ones to pop into my head. What sappy, sentimental songs do you love?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Phil Ochs - Kansas City Bomber

You might expect a song called "Kansas City Bomber" by leftist troubadour Phil Ochs to be a sympathetic take on the plight of a wrongly accused Union Activist, or a scathing rebuke of a right-wing terrorist, or at least topical in some way. Instead it's a portrait of a Roller Derby Queen who finds success in love more difficult than victory in the ring. Ochs wrote the song for the 1972 Raquel Welch film of the same name, but the film's producers ended up not using it.

It's hard to listen to this song and not hear the pathos and desperation in Ochs' voice. As a committed protest singer, he had become a fish-out-of-water by the 1970s, and was struggling to remain relevant. He was battling an epic case of writers block. He was clinically depressed over the collapse of 60s idealism. His public behavior was becoming more and more erratic. So when producer Lee Housekeeper approached Ochs with the idea of writing the theme song for the upcoming Raquel Welch vehicle, he jumped at the opportunity, hoping it might re-ignite his diminished creative spark. After all, he enjoyed watching Roller Derby on TV, and a song about the sport probably seemed like as good an idea to him as anything else at the time.

Given the depressing (heartbreaking really) backdrop against which the song was composed, it is a wonder that it is listenable at all. But to my ears "Kansas City Bomber" is a catchy and--dare I say it--fun song. There's no deep meaning to be found in the song itself any more than there is in the movie. But like Ochs' best protest songs, it's about struggle and the will to persevere in the face of adversity. When Ochs sings "But now she is trapped on the track, on the track, And God help the lady in her way," I can't help but smile. Perhaps he's reaching for some grand metaphor here; if so, the fact that it doesn't really work only makes the song more appealing in its modest way.

Ochs' back up band on the track is the Australian retro-rock band Daddy Cool, who are apparently still active (you can become friends with them on Facebook). According to Wikipedia, Ochs also cut a demo of the song with The Monkees' Mickey Dolenz on backup vocals. I would love to hear that version someday.

The B-side to "Kansas City Bomber" is "Gas Station Women" a song featured on Ochs' light-selling final studio album, Greatest Hits (which was not a greatest hits compilation, but a collection of new album tracks). The fact that Ochs had to resort to using a song that had been released two years previous as a B-side suggests the depth of his writers' block at the time.

Nevertheless, "Gas Station Women" is another interesting songwriting experiment for Ochs. In form and content it is a straight ahead country number. Listening to it, I am reminded of just how closely Ochs' voice resembled that of one of his formative influences, the great honky-tonk singer Faron Young. Ochs crams as many honky-tonk clichés as he can into the lyrics. There's the mistake of leaving the farm for the city, then falling for the wrong kind of girl. There's the heartbreak that inevitably follows and turns the protagonist to drink. But then there's the chorus ("Fill 'er up with love, Please won't you, mister? Just the hi-test is what I used to say, But that was before I lost my baby, I'll have a dollar's worth of regular today") that takes the song well out of the range of generic country music and into the realm of the surreal. It is a very strange, but compelling song, and I always want to sing along to the chorus, even when I'm not drunk.

Speaking of Roller Derby, the sport seems to be making something of a comeback. Here in Rhode Island we have a highly active league that Providence Mayor David Cicilline has declared "the pulse of the city." The nice young lady who teaches my kids' sport classes at the YMCA is one of the Providence Roller Derby's biggest stars ("Crazy Dukes" of the Sakonnet River Roller Rats)... "And God help the lady in her way."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sky Rockets In Flight

On his blog at The Nation, Eric Alterman has listed the "World’s Worst Songs: The Top Twenty." (I have added artist names and the year performed in parentheses):

"Imagine" (John Lennon, 1971)
"Afternoon Delight" (Starland Vocal Band, 1976)
"The Night Chicago Died" (Paper Lace, 1974)
"Billy Don’t be a Hero" (Paper Lace, 1974)
"You Light Up My Life" (Debby Boone, 1977)
"Mary Queen of Arkansas" (Bruce Springsteen, 1973)
"The Angel" (Bruce Springsteen, 1973)
"Wildfire" (Michael Murphy, 1975)
"Playground In My Mind" (Clint Holmes, 1973)
"Seasons in the Sun" (Terry Jacks, 1973)
"Ebony And Ivory" (Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder, 1982)
"My Love" (Paul McCartney & Wings, 1973)
"Let ‘Em In" (Paul McCartney & Wings, 1976)
"Sometimes When We Touch" (Dan Hill, 1977)
"Baby I'm-A Want You" (Bread, 1972)
"'Arthur's Theme' (Best That You Can Do)" (Christopher Cross, 1981)
"One Tin Soldier" (Original Caste, 1970; Coven, 1971)
"You May Be Right" (Billy Joel, 1980)
"We Built This City" (Starship, 1985)
"Kumbaya" (Traditional African American spiritual, popular versions recorded by Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Joan Baez, The Seekers, and others)
"Who’s Ruling Who?" (I have to confess I'm not sure what song Alterman is referring to here, but he might mean Aretha Franklin's "Who's Zooming Who" from 1985)

Alterman's friend Michael Tomasky at The Guardian has taken Eric to task for his bias against sentimentality. By and large I agree with Tomasky, although it seems to me that what Alterman objects to is earnestness as much as sentimentality per se, but that's not really what I wanted to talk about.

Looking at the years these songs were written and recorded reminds me of what generated Richard Thompson's 1,000 Years of Popular Music project. When Thompson was asked to list the "Greatest Songs of the Millennium" by Playboy Magazine, he knew they were really asking for a list of his favorite songs from the past 50 years or so. Thompson, being the clever man that he is, instead prepared a list that began with "Sumer Is Icumen In" (written circa 1260) and ended with Britney Spears' Y2K smash, "Oops!… I Did It Again." This is just one of the many reasons Richard Thompson is far more brilliant than the rest of us. Of course Playboy didn't print his list.

I imagine Alterman doesn't want us to take his list too seriously (after all, he didn't even bother to tell you who did the songs), but what are the chances that all of the top 20 worst songs in human history (with one sort-of exception) were written between 1970 and 1985? Further, what are the chances that 18 of 20 would be written in the U.S. and U.K. ("One Tin Soldier" was written in Canada and "Seasons In The Sun" is an adaptation of a Jacques Brel song)? That just doesn't seem likely to me.

Looking at the list tells me more about its author than the history of music. Even if I knew nothing about Alterman (and I don't know much), I could tell from his list that he was likely born in the United States between 1958 and 1965, probably grew up on the East Coast in a politically liberal family, and likely resented the time he had to spend singing "Kumbaya" at sleep away camp.

All of which is to say that lists like this are inevitably subjective. I don't mean "subjective" in the clichéd "there's no such thing as good or bad music" sense, but rather in the sense that one's experience of the world (where and when you are born, cumulative life experiences, etc.) shapes our understanding of the world, as well as what we value and what we disregard.

Maybe that is just a fancy way of saying "there's no such thing as good or bad music." I'm not sure I'd go that far, but at the very least--even if you are committed to the idea that there is an objective set of criteria that allows us to distinguish between good and bad music--it is undeniable that we can only make these kinds of value judgments about music we have been exposed to.

Frankly, I have never seen an argument that there is some objective standard for making judgments about music (or any other art) that isn't hopelessly tortured. I lean more toward the position that it is only through the power wielded by particular institutions that matters of preference (say a bias against sentimentality) become legitimized as criteria for making aesthetic judgments, and these criteria are subject to change across time periods and cultures.

Personally, I am not at all committed to the idea that there is a set of objective criteria for "good" music, although Starship's "We Built This City" does badly make me want to believe that there are objective criteria for what constitutes bad music, even if its postulates and axioms are elusive to my feeble mind.

**Full disclosure: I actually like a lot of these songs, even if they are bad.

**UPDATE: Alterman responds (and calls me a "really smart guy"). Also, it appears "Who's Ruling Who" is not one of the worst songs of all time, but an editing error. (If I was actually a really smart guy, I might have noticed that Alterman's list of 20 worst songs included 21 titles.)

Velvet Crush - Teenage Symphonies To God Infomercial

Here is a rarely seen television commercial for Velvet Crush's 1994 Teenage Symphonies To God album. Or at least I think it's a commercial. Maybe it's just a music video for "Hold Me Up" made to look like a commercial for the album. The director certainly captured the look and feel of late-night cable commercials of the era. My favorite part is when the pop-up graphics proclaim "it's the Rhode Island sound!" This was absolutely one of my favorite albums of the 90s, and its still worth hearing today. Thanks to my friend Adam for pointing me to this video.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

R.I.P. - Robert Wilson [The Gap Band]

I was saddened to hear that Robert Wilson, bassist for the legendary Gap Band died of a massive heart attack at the young age of 53 this past Sunday.

"You Dropped A Bomb On Me" and “I Don’t Believe You Want To Get Up And Dance (Oops),” were two of my favorite songs growing up. In fact, The Gap Band IV is currently sitting in my pile of records to be needledropped so I can listen to it on my iPod.

My thoughts go out to Robert's family, including brothers Charlie and Ronnie.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cardinal - Toy Bell EP

Cardinal was originally a trio comprised of Australian ex-pat and former Mole Richard Davies, multi-instrumentalist Eric Matthews and drummer Bob Fay, but soon became primarily a collaboration between Davies and Matthews. Davies and Matthews strengths (songwriting and arranging respectively) complimented each other perfectly, but sadly their work together did not last very long. The collaboration resulted in a lone 7" EP and a stunning 10 track LP/CD. Originally issued on the late, lamented Flydaddy label, the self-titled CD was reissued a few years ago with 11 bonus tracks, including 2 of the 4 tracks originally featured on the Toy Bell EP.

Personally I was a bit ambivalent about the bonus tracks on the reissue. All of them are worth hearing, but part of what made the original CD release special for me was its brevity. When the album was released in 1994 it seemed record labels believed that every album had to fill a CD to near its 80 minute capacity. It was rare to hear an album that was less than an hour long, which resulted in a lot of over-stuffed, unfocused, tedious albums. By contrast, Cardinal, clocking in at just a hair over 30 minutes, was a model of concision. There is not a wasted note on the album.

Of course if all Cardinal had going for it was brevity, it would not be so warmly remembered today. Mojo
called the album "one of the best albums of the 90s" and its hard for me to disagree. With post-Nevermind grunge lite wannabees flooding the market by 1994, Cardinal's lushly orchestrated pop felt like a breath of fresh air. While Cardinal's chamber pop had precedents in the music of The Left Banke, Emmit Rhodes, Love, Burt Bacharach and others, it was so skillfully executed and memorable that it sounded completely fresh, even if you were aware of the duos' influences.

For some reason two tracks from the Toy Bell EP were left off the CD reissue, the original version of "Big Mink" and "It Turns on in a Circle on a Pedestal." Both are worth hearing, but I imagine quite hard to find today given the relative scarcity of their debut EP.

Davies and Matthews attempted to resume their collaboration a couple years ago, but I understand the reunion was very short lived due to the same type of artistic differences that broke up Cardinal in the first place.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Moles - Untune The Sky

The Moles' Untune The Sky, one of the great lost albums of the 90s, has been reissued as a limited edition 2 LP set by Kill Shamen records. The set looks to be a straight reissue of the Flydaddy CD that was released back in 1999 that included the entire 1991 LP, plus the 2 X 7" single that was released on Ringers Lactate in 1992.

Untune The Sky was almost impossible to find in the U.S. upon its original release, and the Ringers Lactate single was not much easier to come by. I did find a copy of the single, but then I was working at Kim's Underground at the time, and I bought one of maybe three copies that came in (the other two no doubt also snagged by employees).

This is an essential release for fans of retro 60s psychedelic pop, as well as devotees of Kiwi pop (though the Moles hailed from Australia). Even at this early stage in his career, bandleader and primary songwriter Richard Davies had a sharp ear for melody. The production and arrangements are less elaborate than those of his seminal duo Cardinal or his solo work, but they have a certain ragged charm missing from his later work.

"Bury Me Happy" the lead off cut from the album (at least on the reissue) to my ears has much in common with the experimental indie-pop of New Zealanders like The Clean, while "What's The New Mary Jane" takes Davies' pop-psych songwriting to the next level. It takes cojones to nick a title from Lennon-McCartney, but The Moles pull it off. Great as this version is, it compares unfavorably to my memory of Davies performing the song live with the Flaming Lips as his backup band.

If you don't have a turntable, the Flydaddy CD can still be found used and I highly recommend it.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Resplendent/Downey - Respondent EP

Resplendent is (was?) the moniker used by Michael Lenzi of Number One Cup and The Fireshow to release his solo music. So far as I am aware, the last release under the Resplendent moniker was the 2007 Respondent EP, a collaboration between Lenzi and Mike Downey. Lenzi recorded the basic tracks and Downey remixed them. Lenzi describes the collaboration as follows:

In the beginning of 2005 I played my one and only show under the name of Resplendent. I had a band of 4 people consisting of Derek See (guitar), Pat O’Connell (guitar) and Joe Adamik (drums).

I was a bit discouraged after that and decided I needed to take a break. Perhaps that would revive me. It did temporarily and I set about recording an EP called Spring. I thought that I would release it under the name of Michael Lenzi, thus retiring the Resplendent moniker.

I came up with 3 songs which I recorded in a few weeks in my home studio Plastic Skull. I promptly shared them with a few people and forgot about them. My desire to make music vanished.

I did however share them on my website. That is how Mike Downey heard them. He contacted me and we talked about a collaboration but it fizzled on my end. I just couldn’t get the music going again.

He plugged away on his own and sent me a remixed track by email. It was awesome. He went ahead and did the other two tracks from the EP. I loved them so we decided to release the collaboration. This is it.

All my tracks were recorded using my two samplers: the AKAI MPC 2000 XL and the Roland DJ-70. I recorded them on a 1/2″ analog 8-track machine. Mike did his remixing, editing and additional recording in early 2007 at his home studio Funkis & Svettis in Stockholm using an iBook and Ableton Live.

I hope we haven't heard the last of Resplendent, because the music lives up to everything that is implied by the moniker. You can download the entire EP for free (legally) here. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Free MP3 From Richard Thompson's Upcoming Dream Attic Album

Richard Thompson is offering a free MP3 download of "Big Sun Falling In The River" a track from his upcoming album, Dream Attic. It's an album of new songs, but in order to capture the energy of his live shows, the bulk of the performances on the album were recorded live at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. The album is scheduled for August 31st release on Shout Factory.

The track list for Dream Attic is as follows:

1. The Money Shuffle
2. Among the Gorse, Among the Grey
3. Haul Me Up
4. Burning Man
5. Here Comes Geordie
7. Crimescene
8. Big Sun Falling in the River
9. Stumble On
10. Sidney Wells
11. A Brother Slips Away
12. Bad Again
13. If Love Whispers Your Name

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me

I've wanted a to own a copy of Public Image Ltd.'s post-punk masterpiece, Metal Box, for the last quarter of a century or more, ever since I bought and was captivated by the music on the inferior U.S. double disc 33 rpm version entitled Second Edition. So as a birthday present to myself I finally bit the bullet and bid on a pristine copy on eBay from a reputable seller. Unfortunately, the album must be shipped from the U.K., so it will be a few weeks before I finally have the 3 X 45 rpm metal encased LPs in my grubby hands.

Despite my years of record shopping, I do not think I have ever seen Metal Box in a record store. Maybe I saw it on the wall at Orpheus Records in Georgetown at some outrageous price once. I'm looking forward to finally hearing this album the way it was meant to be heard.

LA Times Says Cassettes Are Making A Comeback

Have you heard the news? The Compact Cassette is making a comeback. The revival of interest in the lowly cassette tape documented by August Brown in the LA Times appears to be a modest, fringe phenomenon, but a real one nonetheless. Pitchfork noted the same trend in more detail back in February. I have been known to wax nostalgic on the topic of the mixtape on occasion myself.

We've been reading stories about resurgent interest in vinyl records for years now, so it was probably only a matter of time before the cassette started making a comeback as well. People tend to think of the CD as replacing the LP, but the picture is more complicated than that when you consider the often forgotten fact that from the early-80s through the early-90s the cassette was actually the dominant music format for both home recording and pre-recorded music. Pre-recorded cassette sales passed up LP sales sometime in the early 80s, and it was not until 1993 that CDs outsold cassette tapes in the United States. The compact cassette had about a decade of extremely robust sales, so it is not surprising that there would be a revival of interest in the format approximately 20 years after its decline began.

The good news is that my boss (evidently unaware of the cassette's impending resurgence) recently gave me his Nakamichi RX-202 cassette deck, so I will have something really nice on which to play the "outré noise-rock" currently being released exclusively on cassette.

I'll try to post some thoughts about what this resurgence might be about later.