Friday, November 02, 2012

Big Dipper Crashes on the Platinum Planet

I'm getting psyched for a new Big Dipper album. Big Dipper Crashes on the Platinum Planet will be launched from the Almost Ready Records platform on November 27. Review to come.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Bob Mould - Silver Age

This is the best thing I've heard from Bob Mould in a long time. His new album, Silver Age, will be released this Tuesday, September 4th on Merge Records (along with fellow North Carolina label Yep Roc the premiere refuge for 80s and 90s indie rockers). It sounds to me like Bob listened pretty closely to the Sugar reissues that recently came out on Merge and it put him back in touch with what he is best at: creating loud, melodic rock music. His post-Sugar solo albums have had their moments, but I feel like he's spent the past fifteen years running away from his strengths. If the advance single, "The Descent," is any indication, this sounds like a welcome return to form.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Captured Tracks - DIIV and Wild Nothing

While I'm always happy to see some of my old favorite bands like Redd Kross and the dBs release new music, I do listen to music from new bands as well. A couple things on my shopping list include new records from Brooklyn's Captured Tracks label. Captured Tracks is a relatively new label, but they've managed to release a lot music in a short time and also establish a relatively consistent aesthetic.

DIIV (formerly Dive) released their first LP Oshen in June. I'm still waiting to score my own copy as it keeps selling out at my local indie record shop. DIIV have concocted a compelling sound that combines the neo-dream-pop aesthetic that Captured Tracks specializes in with a pronounced Krautrock groove. The Krautrock influence is not as prominent on "How Long Have You Known?" (see video below) as on some of the other album tracks.

The video shows DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith tossing a bunch of different objects, including a bit of an In Utero cassette tape (the band named themselves after a Nirvana song), bits of a light bulb, part of an American flag and the liquid from a lava lamp into a blender, then creating a pill from the results which he swallows. It's as good a metaphor as any for the band's sound.

I mentioned Wild Nothing in one of my previous posts. Their new album Nocturne was released earlier this week (although I am still waiting for it to show up at one of my local record shops). Captured Tracks has released a second track from the album, "Paradise," on youtube. This track strongly reminds me of Colour Of Spring era Talk Talk (a good thing, in my opinion).

Some (not me) might complain that there is a certain sameness to the sound of Captured Tracks artists, and anyone old enough to remember the 80s could surely play an extended "name that influence" game. So what? The music sounds fresh and tuneful to me even if it does evoke a slight sense of déjà vu.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Redd Kross - Researching The Blues

Researching The Blues is the first new Redd Kross album in fifteen years. The lineup is the same as the one that recorded Neurotica in 1987, brothers Jeff and Steven McDonald, along with guitarist Robert Hecker and drummer Roy McDonald (no relation). When attempting to evaluate one of these "reunion" albums from bands that have been inactive a decade or longer, I feel I always have to keep my guard up.

I'm not so old that I can't remember my reaction to various 60s acts that reformed during the 1980s. I was contemptuous of them. In my younger mind these bands' best days were well behind them and their reunions were, almost without exception, pointless exercises in nostalgia. So when listening to an album like this I have a constant internal dialog between my younger (more cynical) self and my older (probably not wiser) self. I don't want to sound like the old fool in a record store who in 1987 wasted his breath trying to convince me The Monkees' Pool It! was really worthy of my attention.

It took about two seconds of guitar riffage from the title track of Researching The Blues to melt my defenses completely. I don't care what my younger self would have thought of this album. If the younger me dismissed rock and roll this good because the band hadn't been active for a measly decade and half, I was an idiot. Darn it, Researching The Blues really is worthy of your attention.

The album showcases the high-density amalgam of punk, metal, bubblegum, girl-group pop and psychedelic rock Redd Kross should have become famous for in the 80s and 90s. Every song has a great hook, and the production is pitch perfect, lacking the occasional overly polished, metallic sound of some of their previous albums. The ten songs are among the catchiest of the band's long career, and any one of them could stand proudly along their earlier work.

I feel it would be too cliché at this point in the review to say something along the lines of, "but this is a more mature Redd Kross," so I won't. What I will note is that the overabundance of irony that sometimes characterized Redd Kross' earlier work is almost completely absent from Researching The Blues. There are no tributes to Linda Blair or characters from Planet of the Apes. In place of smirking references to Mackenzie Phillips' copious drug intake is an account on the title track of a desperate phone call from a friend afraid to be left alone with with the temptations that might send her on a permanent vacation. Instead of snotty punk rock put downs like "I Hate My School" is the middle-aged admission that "we're getting uglier everyday" ("Uglier"). True, there's a song called "Dracula's Daughters," so it's not like the McDonald's obsessions with junk culture have been totally abandoned, but if you listen to the lyrics you'll realize the song is a bitter riposte to those who would suck the creativity from others.

That's not to say that Redd Kross has forgotten how to have fun. Far from it, this is one of the most fun sounding albums I've heard in years. Even when the lyrical subject matter is dark, there are hand-claps, "woo-woos" and tasty guitar licks a plenty; it's bubblegum with bite. And the boys haven't gotten so "mature" as to be afraid to dress up in KISS-like makeup and outfits for the video of "Stay Away From Downtown."

The sticker on the cover of the LP promises "10 Brand-New Songs Scientifically Designed To Make Anybody Happy" as well as an MP3 download of the entire album. I am happy to report it delivers on both counts (actually, I didn't use the MP3 code, but there's a card in there and I assume it works). Far from being a tepid rehash of past glories, Researching The Blues may be the best album of Redd Kross' long career. Just go buy it already.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Redd Kross Are Back!

Out tomorrow on Merge Records: Redd Kross - Researching The Blues, the first new Redd Kross album since 1997's Show World. Glad to have the guys back.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Wild Nothing - Shadow

Wild Nothing is indie-bedroom maestro Jack Tatum's fresh take on the classic dream pop formula. His debut album, Gemini, was released on the Captured Tracks label in 2010 and was one of my favorite records of the past few years. On songs like "Live In Dreams" and "Summer Holiday" Tatum wrapped his heartbreakingly melancholy melodies in a comforting blanket of distortion that brought to mind classic shoegazer, noise pop and post-punk sounds without sounding self-consciously retro or overly derivative.

Wild Nothing's second album, nocturne, will be released by Captured Tracks on August 28th. Captured Tracks has made a preview track, "Shadow," available on youtube. From the sounds of it Tatum has chosen to refine (rather than redefine) the Wild Nothing sound for his sophomore album, and in my opinion it's a good choice. I'm looking forward to hearing the whole thing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

JICO Stylus

Jico stylus of Japan has long offered high quality replacement styluses for phonographic cartridges. In contrast to most aftermarket stylus manufacturers, Jico produces replacement styluses that not only match the quality of the original stylus, they often surpass them. I have been using their SAS [Super Analog Stylus] replacement stylus for a Shure M97xE cartridge, and the Jico stylus transformed the cartridge from a rather ordinary (even boring) sounding cart to something that competes sonically with much higher priced cartridges (sadly, I would know as I've owned some of them).

Jico has just completed a redesign of their website, and are asking their customers to pass along the word. I would be happy to do so even if they were not offering a free t-shirt as a reward. If you have a moving magnet (or moving iron) cartridge with a user replaceable stylus, I highly recommend checking Jico's website to see if they offer a replacement for your cart.

Record fanatics like me owe the dedicated craftsmen at companies like Jico a huge debt of thanks. Without their continued dedication it would no longer be possible to enjoy high quality vinyl playback.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Tame Impala - Apocalypse Dreams

I like it. Reminds me of Super Furry Animals, and maybe even some older stuff than that. Tame Impala's new album, Lonerism, will be released in October 2012 on Modular Recordings. The first single from the album, "Elephant," is set to be released later this month.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Lock Up Your Daughters

Insert from Let It Bleed LP (1969)
This insert that came with the Rolling Stones' 1969 LP Let It Bleed promoting the Rolling Stones Fan Club struck me a slight incongruous. With the possible exception of new Stone Mick Taylor, these guys just look well past the tenny-bopper/fan club phase by this point in their career. A fun artifact, nevertheless.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Free Ziggy Stardust!

**UPDATE** Deal has ended. Price is now $5. It's possible this was another of Amazon's pricing glitches, and not a promotion.

Amazon is giving away a free MP3 download of the entire 40th Anniversary remastered version of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars today.

This 40th Anniversary edition was digitally remastered by Ray Staff, the original mastering engineer for Ziggy at Trident Studios and Ken Scott, the album's original co-producer. In my opinion, even as an MP3 this new remaster sounds better than the most commonly available CD versions (1990 Rykodisc and 1999 Virgin remaster).

Just remember to play at maximum volume.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Essential Reading: Steal this album: What happens if no one pays for music?

My friend Scott Timberg has a very thoughtful piece up on Salon today that cuts to the heart of what is at stake in the kerfuffle between Emily White, the NPR intern who admits to never having "owned" any music and Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker frontman David Lowery, who says artists should be fairly compensated for their work: "How should we pay for culture in the Internet era, and if we don’t pay, what happens to the producers of culture?"

Read it, and if you haven't already, I also recommend reading White's original post and Lowrey's response

As Scott notes, many on the internet have taken Lowrey to task for fuddy-duddyism, accusing him of not being able understand that music consumption models have changed, and we can't go back to his "good old days." But I do not think Lowrey's arguments are so easily dismissed, especially in light of some of the cold, hard statistics he cites. I've never been able to buy into the "culture wants to be free" arguments of many technological utopians. Scott does a better job than I could of pulling these problems into focus, so I highly recommend his Salon piece.

But, while I am generally on Lowrey's side in this argument, I would be not be commenting in good faith if I did not also mention that I once made one of David's songs available for download through this blog without permission. I posted a Camper Van Beethoven track back in 2006, a cover of The Buzzcocks' "Harmony In My Head" that was only released as a b-side on a promotional single. I long ago deleted the file, but at the time I did not see any harm in making it available for free. My thinking was that it was okay (ethically, if not legally) to post songs that either were highly unlikely to ever be commercially re-released, or that had been out-of-print for a very long time.

So, am I a big, fat, old hypocrite to side with Lowrey over the young-whippersnapper White now? Maybe. But as with President Obama on same sex marriage, I prefer to think that my position has "evolved" over time (and in fairness to White, her thinking seems to be evolving as well). I no longer post music without the express consent of the rights-holder or their representitive. My evolution on this issue was slow, and I suspect my original thinking on the issue was not as clear-headed as it should have been. For what it is worth, I know I never meant any harm, and that my goal was to raise the profile of any artist I featured.

Of all the music I posted here, I never once had an artist complain, or ask me to take a track down. I did have many artists write to me to thank me for featuring their music, and they uniformly seemed grateful for the attention I was bringing to their work. Many of these artists, in my view, never received the critical acclaim or financial rewards their music deserved, and I viewed my posts as a way to honor them, and perhaps even spark a new demand for their music. I got personal thank yous from criminally overlooked artists like Barbara Manning and Don Fleming, others like The Popes and David Duet of Cat Butt linked to my posts via Facebook or other social media. I'm proud of the fact that I never received a complaint from an artist, and I'd like to think that's because I chose my subjects wisely and with honorable intentions.

But I no longer think offering unauthorized music for free was the right thing to do, regardless of my intentions, and regardless of whether the musicians in question appreciated it or not. Over time I noticed more and more music blogs popping up, many of them offering free downloads of entire albums, some out-of-print, some easily available through normal commercial channels. These made me less comfortable with the idea of posting music for free. I also saw an spike over time of belligerent posters who were outraged that I had let a track expire: Didn't I know that culture wants to be free, and who was I to hoard it for my own selfish purposes?

It was reading these posts (some extremely hostile) that made me realize I was doing more harm than good. I was contributing to a culture of consumption that said "Everything I want should be available to me right now, and for free. Anything else is unacceptable." At a certain point I decided I could no longer participate in that process in good faith because I don't want to live in a world where artists are not fairly compensated for the their work. Or as David Lowrey might have put it, "What the world needs now is another illegal download, like I need a hole in the head." I went so far at one point as to briefly delete this entire blog and all its contents. But I wanted to keep writing about music, and I felt that the content of some of my earlier posts was still worthwhile without the accompanying music, so I restored it (without the music) and continued blogging. I also found ways to feature interesting music by working directly with artists or their representatives, so if you find any music downloads on this site now, they have been approved by those who hold the legal rights to the work.

I'll have more to say on this subject later, but this is something I've wanted to get off my chest for a while.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The dB's - Before We Were Born/That Time Is Gone

Two new songs from the dB's courtesy of Bar/None Records.

The new album, Falling Off The Sky, is available from Bar/None on CD and LP today.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The dBs Are Back

On June 26 legendary indie rock quartet the dBs will release their first new album in 25 years, and first album with the original lineup (including both songwriters Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple) in 30 years. I've heard it, and far from a pointless exercise in 80s nostalgia, Falling Off The Sky sounds just as fresh and relevant in 2012 as Repercussion did in 1982. And that's saying something.

I'll have more to say about the dBs and their new album in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out this interview with the band on WUNC, North Carolina Public Radio.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Happy 40th Birthday Ziggy Stardust

David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released exactly 40 years ago today (June 6, 1972). Happy birthday Mr. Stardust.

I was only two when the album was released, so you'll have to forgive me if I didn't notice it at the time. I was not rocking the unisex sequined diapers and platform Stride-Rites back in 1972.

It was probably about 10 years after the album's initial release when I first discovered Ziggy. I think I snuck a cassette in with the groceries as my Mom was shopping at the local GIANT supermarket. Twelve is probably the age of maximum receptivity to Ziggy's message, and what followed was a several year period of obsession with the album and David Bowie's music in general. I think the appeal was partly similar to the fantasy fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien that I was also fascinated with at the time. Ziggy Stardust, the album, the myth, the persona, created this whole alternate universe for me to negotiate mentally, and doing so was intensely pleasurable. The notion that Ziggy was an alien--someone who could be in the world, but never of the world--sunk deep into my alienated pubescent consciousness and engendered a strong sense of identification.

A few years later I was a sophomore at Annapolis High School taking a Humanities class with a fantastic Social Sciences teacher named Phil Greenfield. Mr. Greenfield asked us to bring an example of music that we considered "great." I brought in my much loved Ziggy Stardust cassette and played "Suffragette City." When Greenfield asked me to explain why I thought it was great I completely failed to offer anything like a coherent explanation. Perhaps I thought the song's greatness was simply self-evident and needed no verbal justification.

Phil very politely and thoughtfully disagreed with my contention that the song was great. If I remember correctly, he gave something along the lines of the traditional critical knock on Bowie: he and his music were too "inauthentic" and lacking in genuine emotion to qualify for greatness. I don't know if that was his actual position, or if he was just challenging me to articulate a better case for Ziggy (probably both). Unfortunately, I was uncharacteristically at a loss for words and was able to do little more than stammer out a few meaningless sentences in Ziggy's defense.

It broke my heart a little bit that Phil Greenfield, a man I had such deep respect for, didn't think too highly of my choice of "great" music. I felt a little stupid. Worse, I felt like I had let Ziggy down. It helped a little bit when after class a kid named Danny Littleton (who later became a fairly well known musician called Daniel Littleton) came up to me and said, "Thank you SO MUCH for bringing that in!"

It didn't happen immediately after that incident, but over the coming years I became less enchanted with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and David Bowie in general. My own opinion of Bowie and his music probably began to take on the contours of the critical consensus that his art was insufficiently "authentic" and "genuine" (never mind that I could celebrate the work of a visual artist like Andy Warhol for lack of those same qualities). I don't think it had much to do with my very smart high school teacher's gentle rebuke so much as my own sense of embarrassment with my previously intense adolescent identification with the Ziggy persona. As my body and mind stopped undergoing intense and violent changes every year, I became less fascinated with Bowie's ability to shed various personas on a near yearly basis. It probably didn't help that Bowie was releasing uninspiring albums like Never Let Me Down and Tin Machine at that point in his career. I moved on to other things.

I didn't revisit Bowie's music very often until around 2005 when I first heard The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions Featuring Seu Jorge, an album that features covers of Bowie's music played by Jorge on only acoustic guitar and sung in Portuguese. Portuguese is a fascinating sounding language to me, but I can barely understand a word of it. With the music stripped to its essence and the lyrics indecipherable to me, I recognized something that had been lost on me for too many years: this David Bowie guy knew what he was doing! His songs are beautifully melodic and masterfully constructed.

And now that I'm a little (okay, a lot) older, and no longer experience any sense of embarrassment reflecting on my pubescent self, the whole Ziggy concept doesn't seem quite so precious and contrived to me either. Was it a phenomenon of it's place and time that is especially likely to appeal to people of a certain age? Yes, but I also think it stands up to the test of time a lot better than I would have given it credit for twenty years ago. Ziggy is clearly the product of a very thoughtful artist who was interested in performance traditions (kabuki, mime, etc.) in which concepts like "authenticity" and "genuine" expressions of emotion are essentially meaningless.

The Ziggy persona was also a rebuke of the kind of facile, self-satisfied, hippie mindset that says, "Just be yourself, man." As if it could ever be that simple. It's the product of a way of thinking that recognizes that every aspect of our lives is informed by some level of performativity. Whether we are being students, teachers, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, or certainly rock and roll stars, just being yourself is never a simple act. It's one that is constantly mediated and informed by the expectations of others. It was the guys who got up on stage with their guitars and tried to make me believe they were just being themselves, pouring out the contents of their eternal soul in song that were jiving me, not Ziggy. Ziggy never lied to me like that. But what was then, and still is, liberating about this realization is that even if "being yourself" is never uncomplicated, at least you can have some say in the self you want to be.

So happy birthday Ziggy Stardust. To celebrate, I plan to play The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars "AT MAXIMUM VOLUME," just as the back cover demands.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Occupy Audio" My [Rear End]

The Wall Street Journal notes that Neil Young's latest release, Americana, will cost $10 on CD and $42 on LP.
Young summarized his feelings on the need for better sound quality with a rallying cry that might apply to his pricing strategy, too: "Occupy audio!"
I'm going to call bullshit on Neil Young and his "occupy audio" rallying cry. You have to work on Wall Street to afford LPs at those prices. One of the reasons I stuck with LPs while CDs took off was I could get them dirt cheap while the music industry hideously overpriced CDs (while constantly promising that prices would come down soon). But now the tables have turned and LPs are a luxury good for well-heeled "aesthetes." Sure I like the way LPs sound better than CDs, I also enjoy the experience of putting an LP on my turntable more than slapping a CD into the player. Maybe that makes me an aesthete or maybe that makes me an idiot, but I'll be [darned] if I'm gonna pay that kind of price for the privilege.

In my entire life I don't think I've paid $42 for a vinyl record more than a handful of times, and I own some pretty nice, collectable stuff. I didn't pay $42 for my first pressing Gram Parsons records, I didn't pay $42 for my first press UK copy of The Clash's London Calling, I didn't pay $42 for my Funkadelic records, and I sure as [heck] didn't pay $42 for my copy of Tony Orlando and Dawn's Greatest Hits. That beautifully pressed and packaged Trypes LP I wrote about yesterday cost me less than $18. (That's a fair price for a new vinyl record, and I'm happy to support the efforts of a label like Acute Records.) The only time I can remember paying more than $42 was when I bit the bullet and bought a near mint copy of PiL's Metal Box on eBay, and I agonized over my extravagance for weeks afterward. Records aren't worth $42 to me, and I don't care whether Neil Young presses them in Germany or on Jupiter, or what kind of fancy wrapper he puts on them.

Perhaps the most insulting part of all this is one of the reasons these new LPs tend to sound better than their CD counterparts is because they intentionally make the CDs sound like [human waste]. As I've documented here many, many times modern CD mastering typically involves sucking all the dynamic range out of the music as well as applying overly-aggressive EQ. After foisting "perfect sound forever" on us for years, the music industry now tells us LPs sound better, and are happy to charge me a $30+ premium so I can congratulate myself on my ability to discern the difference between a common, vulgar, digital CD and a finely pressed, analog LP. But the truth is, if they're both well mastered, I struggle to hear any difference at all between LPs and CDs. Sorry, I want absolutely no part of this [unicorn infested] charade. I'll just scavenge yard sales for CDs now that the cultural elites are dumping them.

Honestly, I think what really irks me about the whole thing is the fact that Young has appropriated the language of the occupy movement to promote a product that is priced strictly for the 1% crowd. It's in poor taste, and it's insensitive to the economic struggles that so many Americans and others around the world are facing at the moment. Occupy audio my [rear end].

Update 06/25/12: Portions of this post were edited due to moral objections from my children. All replacement words are now in brackets [ ]. I apologize for the use of potty mouth.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day Of The Trypes: Crucial 80s Music Finally [Re]issued

The Trypes: cover photo for The Explorers Hold EP (l-r; Stanley Demeski, Marc Francia, Brenda Sauter, Toni Paruta, Glenn Mercer, John Baumgartner, Bill Million)

As I mentioned in a previous post, Acute Records has released Music For Neighbors,  a compilation of recordings by the legendary but obscure Feelies related band The Trypes. I wanted to say a bit about the release, because in every respect it is extraordinary. I've been waiting for this music to be released for decades, even though I didn't know most of it existed until a couple weeks ago. Fans of the Feelies and the Hoboken scene of the 80s in general will no doubt feel the same way.

Liner note author Ira Kaplan calls the album a "heretofore secret history of The Trypes," and that's about as good a description as I can think of. Outside of a very small circle of those with close ties to the Hoboken scene of the 1980s, very little was know about the Trypes until now. The band released one EP, The Explorers Hold, on Coyote Records in 1984 and a single track on a Coyote compilation. That, and the fact that the band was home to members of the Feelies and Speed The Plough, was about all that was known of the band to all but a select few. The EP itself was remarkably hard to find. I can count on one hand the number of copies I've seen in record stores over the years. I still remember my excitement upon discovering a copy after years of searching in Hoboken's legendary and much missed Pier Platters record store.

Those five previously released tracks comprise side one of the new LP release, and make for an extremely compelling listen. This gently hypnotic, lighter than air, psychedelic indie rock might barely register in your consciousness the first time you hear it, but once you have, it will be lodged there forever.

The Trypes - "From The Morning Glories" (track one from Music For Neighbors)

Side two of the record came as something of a shock to me. This was the work of an almost entirely different band, consisting of demos from a smaller, earlier version of the group fronted by a guy named Elbrus. The extensive liner notes with commentary from Kaplan, Glenn Mercer, Marc Francia, John Baumgartner, barely mention anything more than a single name for him; Elbrus. His full name, it appears, was Elbrus Kelemet. What happened to him? Some things, it seems, must remain a mystery for now. Baumgartner has only the following to say on the subject: "Somewhere in here, Elbrus left the band, or was dispatched, the details at this point aren't really important."

So, who was Elbrus? From the sound of the demos he may have been The Boy With Perpetual Nervousness. In distinct contrast to the later incarnation of the band, where various band members took turns on vocals that never attempted to do more than gain (slightly less than) equal footing with the music, Elbrus' vocals are up front and center and have a nervy, paranoid tone to them on songs like "Belmont Girl Is Mad At Me," and "Foreign Doctors." You'll have to forgive the facile comparison, but his vocals do bring to mind David Byrne's early work with Talking Heads. The music is harder to characterize. It's very minimalist in texture, and the arrangements are far more stripped down than the previously released music. One of the dominant instruments is a cheap, wind-driven plastic organ played by John Baumgartner that sounds strangely beautiful. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to coax compelling music out of such an instrument, but Baumgartner succeeds brilliantly, as does the whole "less-is-more" aesthetic. Comparisons to other post-punk minimalists like the Young Marble Giants come to mind, but don't fully convey the weird and wonderful vibe to the music.

Earlier version of the band fronted by Elbrus (l-r; John Baumgartner, Toni Paruta, Marc Francia, Elbrus, Glenn Mercer)

The record gets really interesting when it isn't even a record anymore. Sides three and four of what could have been a double LP set are virtual, and available only as downloads. This is a perfectly justifiable decision in light of the sound quality of what follows (mostly rehearsal and live to cassette recordings), but absence of a physical artifact to go with the music should not be confused with the absence of quality music. In many ways these rough demos constitute the most rewarding music on the set. Songs like "Dark Continents," "Hard Friend To Keep" and "Running On" may take a little longer to sink in due to the rough sound quality, but they lead to the inevitable conclusion that we may have lost as much as we gained when the Feelies re-formed in 1986 and the Trypes went on (permanent?) hiatus.

I can't praise this release from Acute Records highly enough. It is everything you could hope for in an archival release of this nature. Not only does it collect everything the the Trypes released during their too-brief lifetime (which in itself is a big deal given the relative rarity of this music up until now), but it adds more than twice as much material previously known only to a small circle of friends (or perhaps neighbors). The LP has been lovingly packaged with a hand-letterpress-printed cardstock sleeve and a composite band photo attached with photo corners, and includes an outstanding booklet that sheds much new light on the heretofore mysterious band. In the process it reveals that the Trypes were so much more than just the "Feelies side-project" they are sometimes referred to as, but in fact are one of the great lost bands of the 1980s.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jail House Bound: John Lomax's First Southern Prison Recordings, 1933

Jail House Bound: John Lomax's First Southern Prison Recordings, 1933 is being released today by Global Jukebox in association with West Virginia University Press. The digital release is via Global Jukebox, while the CD is being handled by West Virginia University Press.

In 1933, with the financial support of the Library of Congress and Macmillan Publishers, John Lomax with his young son Alan visited a number of prisons scattered throughout the American South on a mission to record "authentic" negro folk music untainted by the influences of mass culture and technology (radio, phonographs, etc.) and whites. The recording locations included some of the most notorious institutions in the Jim Crow South; Sugar Land in Texas; Angola in Louisiana; Parchman Farm in Mississippi. Lomax chose these locations based largely upon their seclusion, he reasoned that these prisons would be one of the last places in which he would be able to record "uncorrupted" Negro folk material because of the extreme isolation to which the inmates were subjected. As Lomax notes in an interview helpfully appended to the release: " the prison camps we found the Negros completely isolated from the whites. They lived in separate dormitories, they ate together. They had no contact with the whites whatsoever except for their guards, and then purely in official relations." 

I won't for a second pretend that this was not an ideologically complicated, and in many ways troublesome project, but Lomax's attitude is consistent with much white New Deal Progressive thinking on race, as well as the New Deal impulse to document "authentic" American culture both black and white. Yes, John Lomax's attitudes about race are patriarchal, and his notions of authenticity from our post-modern perspective sound both incoherent and unsustainable. And at its worst, his obsession with racial and cultural purity sounds like a de-facto celebration of segregation. But his thinking was also far more progressive than most whites of his era. As liner note writer Mark Allan Jackson notes: "Lomax expressed how he saw black America’s songs as a great and undocumented source of literature, an attitude not largely shared by whites of the era."

And as a result of his field recordings, we have access to songs and performances of extraordinary power and beauty, performances that would otherwise be lost to time. Many of these songs are well known, even if the performances are not. Even though Lomax's obsession with authenticity and purity was problematic, there is no denying the fact that he documented something of lasting value and importance. The performances give a human voice to what we know about the era of Jim Crow in America's South, but they also stand up today as artistically satisfying performances despite the technological limitations of the recordings (which have actually been preserved and restored amazingly well). Lomax described the music as "poetic expressions of pungent wit, simple beauty, startling imagery, extraordinary vividness and power," and I think he got it right. The performances from artists like James "Iron Head" Baker, "Lightning" Washington, Alan Prothero, Mose "Clear Rock" Platt, John "Black Sampson" Gibson, Rochelle Harris, Ernest "Mexico" Williams, Adie Corbin & Ed Frierson and various anonymous inmates retain their power to this day.

It's perhaps somewhat ironic that Lomax set out in search of purity, because the real story of American music in the twentieth-century is one of contamination and cross-pollination. It's easy, perhaps too easy, to draw a straight line that runs from Mose "Clear Rock" Platt's performance of "That's All Right, Honey" on this album through Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup and into a young Elvis Presley in Sam Phillips' Sun Studios performing "That's Alright." Likewise, one can hear obvious echos of Ernest "Mexico" Williams' performance of "Ain't No More Cane On the Brazos," as well as numerous other songs on this compilation, in Bob Dylan and the Band's Basement Tapes, and in turn pretty much all of what passes for American roots music to this day.

Of course, in making these comparisons I'm as guilty of patriarchal racial bias as John Lomax. I'm telling you these recordings are worth hearing because they influenced some white musicians who went on to become very famous and fabulously wealthy. But that's not really what I want to say, or at least it's not the entirety of what I want to tell you about this release. The music on this release is worth hearing because the performances are brilliant and moving, and because Lomax, whatever his intentions, documented something important, and preserved the voices of America's most marginalized and powerless during a brutal period in American history. How the words and voices of the powerless went on to change the course of American popular music, and American history in general, is one of the most compelling stories of twentieth-century, and the reverberations Lomax captured on cylinders and discs nearly 80 years ago are still being felt to this day.

Monday, May 14, 2012

LA Times: Hello Spotify, Goodbye Vinyl?

There's an interesting article in the LA Times in which Randall Roberts ponders the impact that streaming and download services are having on traditional notions of music "collecting." This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately, and if I ever get a few spare moments to organize my thoughts, I'll share them with you.

In the meantime, I recommend reading Roberts' piece, which is very good. How have services like Spotify, Rhapsody, iTunes, MOG, Google Music, etc. affected your music purchasing and collecting habits? How have they affected how you think about your music "collection"?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Glenn Frey Releases Standards Album

Six-time Grammy Award winner and founding member of The Eagles, Glenn Frey will release After Hours, a collection of classic love songs from the 40's to the present, on May 8th from Universal Music Enterprises. After Hours, his sixth solo album and first since 1995 is a total departure taking him in a whole new direction. The two-and-a half year project was developed out of Frey's passion for the songs and sound of such artists as Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, and Dinah Washington. The exquisite collection of songs include 40's classics such as "Sentimental Reasons" and "My Buddy," and favorites from some of his contemporaries, such as Brian Wilson's "Caroline No" and Randy Newman's "Same Girl" as well as the added spice of the American standard, "Route 66." Frey collaborated with co-producers Richard F.W. Davis and Michael Thompson, both members of The Eagles touring band, to make the 14-track record possible.

 Where is Nine Pound Hammer when we need them?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Trypes - Music For Neighbors

I wanted to give you a heads up about an exciting looking reissue coming out tomorrow. The Trypes' Music For Neighbors is being released on LP and as an MP3 download on the Acute label (sorry CD lovers, your time has passed).

I posted about this Feelies related act and their lone release, The Explorers Hold EP, six years ago. Music For Neighbors collects all four songs from that EP, adds "A Plan Revised" from the Coyote Records Luxury Condos Coming to Your Neighborhood Soon compilation LP, and tacks on six previously unreleased tracks. The MP3 includes an additional seven rehearsal and live tracks (a free download card for all 18 tracks is included with the LP).

My buddy Peter grabbed a copy of this on Record Store Day at shop in Philly (I guess they put it out a little early). He tells me the LP sounds excellent, and is packaged nicely with a booklet that features extensive liner notes that shed some light on the history of the mysterious Trypes.

I'll post more on this when I get a hold of a copy, but I wanted to pass this exciting (for Feelies fans) news on right away. With the excellent reissues of Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth, last year's wonderful reunion album, numerous live dates, and now this release, the last few years have been good ones for Feelies fans. Let's hope there are more good things on the horizon.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Record Store Day 2012: Best Album Cover Ever

George Jones - I Wanta Sing

I found this gem in the basement of In Your Ear Records in Warren, RI while helping set up for Record Store Day tomorrow. As if you don't already know, George Jones' 1977 album, I Wanta Sing, features the best cover art in the history of the long playing record album.

I found a lot of nice records down there that will be going out specially for Record Store Day tomorrow, including some really desirable records by James Brown, Miles Davis, The Dead Boys, Pentangle, Metallica, The Sex Pistols, Blondie, Django Reinhardt, Talking Heads, The Velvet Underground, Sun Ra, Sly & the Family Stone, Madonna, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Meatmen, The Who, Iggy & the Stooges, Otis Redding, Funkadelic, The Clash, and many others. Also, in honor of the late, great Levon Helm I pulled a whole bunch of records by The Band (check out Moondog Matinee, it's truly under-rated).

Of course, In Your Ear also got a bunch of Record Store Day exclusives (all of which look really nice) as well as some very impressive (non RSD related) free swag that you will have to see to believe.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Record Store Day 2012: David Bowie

But where can I buy the outfit?

Speaking of David Bowie, Virgin Records will release a limited edition 7" picture disc single of "Starman" in honor of Record Store Day 2012, and also to mark the song's 40th (!) anniversary (it was originally released on April 28, 1972). The a-side features the original single version of the song, while the b-side features a live version recorded for the Top of the Pops television show.

This release is limited to 2,000 copies, and I'm sure the RSD eBay flipper brigade are drooling at the prospect of the profits they can turn on this one.

Additionally, Virgin will release a David Bowie "Mick Rock Tins" 7" + book set. The colored vinyl single will feature "Starman" and "Suffragette City" and the book will feature 128 pages of Mick Rock photos. This release is not exclusive to Record Store Day and will be released to other retailers at some point in the future. It's also listed as limited to a pressing of 2,000, though it's not clear to me if it is "limited" only for Record Store Day, and then will be re-pressed later.

New York Times: Enjoying Turntables Without Obsessing


There was a pretty good article in yesterday's New York Times on buying a turntable and listening to vinyl records called "Enjoying Turntables Without Obsessing." Of course, considering the article covers relatively esoteric, audiophile-dweeb issues like moving magnet vs moving coil cartridges, and belt drive vs direct drive tables, I can image some might question the accuracy of the headline. But here was the least surprising part of the article for me:
"There is a fuller sound to it, and more depth to the sound," said Ryan Holiday, the New Orleans-based marketing director for American Apparel. He’s a new devotee of jazz and David Bowie, thanks to LPs. 
Having heard some of the David Bowie CDs that have been released over the years (from Rykodisc and Virgin) it's not surprising to me that it would take LPs to convert Ryan into a Bowie fan. The old RCA Bowie LPs are not perfect (they were often pressed on dodgey oil crisis era vinyl), but they really do sound much better than the CDs. Fuller and with more depth is a good start to describing the difference between the LPs and the CDs. The Ryko CDs are also unnaturally bright, and the Virgins have the added deficit of having had all life sucked out of them with noise reduction. The Ryko CDs at least have some interesting, occasionally essential, bonus tracks to recommend them.

Yeah, they're occasionally a little noisy, but those Bowie RCA LPs beg you to crank the volume and rock out, while the CDs are pretty tough on the ears at even moderate listening volumes. I think it would be a lot harder to be Bowie fan if all you ever heard was the commonly available CDs, they simply don't do the music justice.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Record Store Day 2012: Freakwater

Thrill Jockey is reissuing Freakwater's third album, Feels Like The Third Time, on LP in honor of Record Store Day 2012. I already own this one on LP, and according to the press release, I guess I'm kind of lucky:
1993 : Thrill Jockey releases Freakwater’s Feels Like the Third Time, an undisputed classic of the alt-country/Americana scene. In print on CD since its release, the vinyl version has been sadly unavailable since the early 90’s, as the record plant burnt down after our initial order of vinyl arrived. Also included for the first time is a free download card.
With stone-cold classics like "Drunk Friend," "Crazy Man," and an unforgettable cover of the late, great Conway Twitty's "You've Never Been This Far Before," this album really is essential listening for any fan of Americana/alt-country/whatever. Actually, it's worth it for any open-minded music lover who just wants to hear some fantastic music. This will sound great in any format (I'm listening to it at my computer right now), but there's no doubt in my mind it's music that was meant to be heard on LP.

Levon Helm

Legendary musician Levon Helm's daughter Amy and wife Sandy have released the following statement on his website:
Dear Friends,  
Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey.

Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration... he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage...
 Helm is best known as the drummer for the legendary rock band The Band, but his recent work putting together "Midnight Rambles" may be just as important. The Midnight Ramble was an attempt to reconnect to older performance traditions like the medicine show and featured a number of performers including Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Pinetop Perkins, Allen Toussaint, Gillian Walsh, David Rawlings, and many, many others. For years Helm has been an important fixture in the artistic life of Upstate NY, and I am sure he will be deeply missed by all those who knew and loved him. My best wishes go out to them at what is I am sure a difficult time.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Record Store Day 2012: Here's Little Richard!

There have been many, many recordings released on a variety of formats in the Rock and Roll idiom since Here' Little Richard was released on LP in 1957 by the Specialty label, but I'm not sure any of them are better. Different? Sure. Better? Not in my opinion.

In honor of Record Store Day 2012 Specialty (now owned by the Concord Music Group) is re-releasing this album in its original vinyl LP configuration. Sure, the songs have been reissued many times since 1957. I own a CD with all of them plus many more Little Richard classics. But look at that cover! Don't you want to hold a full size copy of it in your hands so you can clearly see the sweat beaded up on Little Richard's brow? Don't you want to hear the needle of your turntable make a gentle pop as it settles into the LP groove just before that earth shaking, paradigm shattering, "A-wop bop-a loo-mop, a-lop bam-boom!" Damn, I know I do.

This reissue was "remastered from the original session tapes" and I bet it sounds great. The only problem with it I can see is that bringing home the music of this flamboyant African-American will most likely no longer have the power to shock uptight parents. Perhaps if the original lyrics were restored it still might. If for some reason there is a pressing problem with this LP and the spindle hole is too tight, just remember to follow Little Richard's original advice: "If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it make it easy."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Record Store Day 2012: Ryan Adams Does Bob Mould

Ryan Adams will release a limited edition 7" single covering two Bob Mould songs ("Heartbreak A Stranger" and "Black Sheets Of Rain") with a cover that looks like a Hüsker Dü album in honor of Record Store Day 2012. Memo to Ryan Adams, there were three members of Hüsker Dü: Bob Mould, Grant Hart and mustache bass player guy.

Just kidding, I have tons of respect for Greg Norton. But why cover Bob Mould solo material and slap a faux-Hüsker Dü cover on it? Probably because all of Bob Mould's solo albums feature visually undistinguished artwork, unlike the iconic images that grace the Hüskers' albums. That's no doubt because Grant Hart, the other great songwriter in Hüsker Dü, designed the groups' album covers.

Record Store Day 2012: London Calling (Remix)

Sony is releasing a 2012 remix of The Clash's "London Calling" with an instrumental version of the same song for the b-side on a limited edition 7" 45 RPM record in honor of Record Store Day 2012. I believe the remix was done by Mick Jones, but I could be wrong about that. This might be interesting, or it might be a disaster. I like the artwork.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Record Store Day 2012: Rhode Island

Even though we hail from the littlest state, Rhode Islanders will have quite a few options to choose from on Record Store Day this year. Okay, technically some of these shops are in Massachusetts, but you barely even have to cross the border to get to most of them.

In Your Ear (Warren, RI): Like the Big Blue Bug, Coffee Milk, Del's Lemonade, and Buddy Cianci's toupée, In Your Ear is a Rhode Island institution. I was just in the store yesterday (because for me it's pretty much always record store day), and they had some free RSD swag kits they were assembling, as well as a big RSD sign in the window. Owner Chris Zingg told me he still wasn't sure what limited edition releases they would get. He usually puts out a nice selection of $1 records and brings up some crates from his super secret basement stash in honor of the day as well. After battling your fellow Rhode Islanders to score the Afrika Bambaataa/MC5 split 7", stop into Del's for a refreshing iced lemonade (they're once again open for the season on weekends).

Olympic Records (Providence, RI): Olympic will be getting some of the limited RSD special releases, and their pinball machines will be operational as well. Just down Wickenden Street, Round Again Records will not be officially participating in RSD, but Steve will be there selling records just as he has nearly every Saturday since opening the store in 1979.

What Cheer! Antiques (Providence, RI): This funky little antiques and record shop in the Wayland Square neighborhood is right across the street from my old apartment. Be sure to pay your respects (note, the plaque commemorating my four year residence at the location is currently being refurbished). They usually mark everything down in honor of RSD and they'll be getting some limited edition RSD releases.

Newbury Comics (Providence, RI and N. Attleboro, MA): I just can't see heading to the Providence Place Mall for RSD, but I have no doubt that local independent chain Newbury Comics will get a good selection of limited edition releases.

Armageddon Shop (Providence, RI): This is the place in Providence for punk rock, heavy metal and other assorted forms of rock and roll mayhem. It's actually a rather sedate little shop on Broadway with a super polite owner who won't toss you out of the store if you're shopping for Pointer Sisters records. They will be getting some of the limited releases as well. Analog Underground is just down the street, and while they are not on the official RSD list, I'm sure they have something planned as well.

Luke's Record Exchange (Pawtucket, RI): I could swear I've read four or five articles in the Providence Journal about how the closing of Luke's Record Exchange marks the end of an era. But there they are on the official RSD 2012 list. Are they still there? Kinda, sorta, not really. Luke's retail shop has been closed for a while now, but I spoke to Luke and he told me he'll be open at the old location this Saturday, April 14 to sell off some of his remaining stock and personal collection. However, he doesn't think he'll be open on RSD, and is not participating this year and will not have any of the RSD limited edition releases. Got it?

The Time Capsule (Cranston, RI and Seekonk, MA): Both Time Capsule locations will be participating in RSD this year.

Sunset Records (Somerset, MA): Sunset is a tiny shop that is little off the beaten path, but it's a terrific spot for fans of 60s psychedelia and garage rock.

Update: Music Box in Newport, RI and Looney Tunes in Wakefield, RI are also participating in RSD 2012. Another "border shop" close to Rhode Island that is participating is Mystic Disc in Mystic, CT. Willimantic Records in Willimantic, CT is not too far from certain parts of Rhode Island as well.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Record Store Day 2012: Sundazed

As usual, Sundazed has some interesting releases lined up for Record Store Day this year.

Gene Clark fans should be particularly pleased to see a trio of 7" single releases featuring the late Byrd. Recorded under Gene Clark's name, "One In A Hundred"/"She's The Kind Of Girl" is actually something of a long-lost Byrds reunion. Recorded in 1970, the other four founding members of the Byrds backed up their former leader for these recordings. This single features the songs in their "unsweetened" form, sourced from the surviving, original rough-mix mono reels. "Why Not Your Baby"/"Lyin' Down The Middle" features two non-LP b-sides from Clark's post-Byrds project, Dillard & Clark, recorded between the duo's two wonderful albums. The single was cut from the original A&M mono masters. Finally, there is The Byrds' "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better"/"It's No Use," both cut from the original Columbia mono masters.

Other limited edition releases from Sundazed include a double 7" issue of the two singles Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band recorded during their brief, early career, stint at A&M, "Diddy Wah Diddy"/"Who Do You Think You’re Fooling" and "Moonchild"/"Frying Pan." Dave Aguilar’s original vocal is restored to the Chocolate Watchband's "In The Midnight Hour" and "Psychedelic Trip" is a previously-unreleased instrumental version of the band's "No Way Out." 

Sundazed will also release limited edition 7" singles by The Martin Denny Orchestra, The Neanderthals, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Blues Project and The Blues Magoos especially for Record Store Day 2012. Try not to trample anyone in your rush to grab them from your local wax merchant.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Record Store Day 2012: Public Image Ltd. "One Drop"

Another potentially interesting Record Store Day 2012 release: One Drop EP by Public Image Ltd, their first new material in 20 years. John Lydon describes the track as "a reflection of where I grew up in Finsbury Park, Lon-don. The area that shaped me, and influenced me culturally and musically, a place I will forever feel connected to." 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Record Store Day 2012 Sparks Unrest

UNREST Perfect Teeth / 7" Box Set from Teen-Beat on Vimeo.

Record Store Day 2012 is less than a month away (it falls on April 21, so it's precisely 29 days away). There is an official list of releases up on the RSD website, but I'm not sure if it's complete. It's certainly long. I haven't looked at the list too carefully, but a couple items immediately jumped out at me as looking interesting.

First is a re-issue of Unrest's 1993 album Perfect Teeth in its original 6 X 7" vinyl boxset formation. It's also available for pre-order directly from Teen Beat. I bought this when it came out (if memory serves, the singles boxset premiered a couple months before the CD was released on 4AD), but I ended up selling it on eBay. A few things probably factored into my decision to let this go: First of all, it's kind of inconvenient to have to flip the singles every couple minutes. Second, if I remember correctly, the original vinyl was kind of noisy. And of course, I'm sure I needed the money. Perfect Teeth is still one of my favorite albums from the early to mid-nineties, and it's good to see it back in print and getting special treatment, hopefully on quieter vinyl this time around.

Another release that looks interesting is a Shuggie Otis 7" of "Inspiration Information" coupled with a non-LP b-side that is "previously unreleased and comes from Shuggie's personal archive of the Inspiration Information sessions." This sounds intriguing for a few reasons, not the least of which is that it indicates that Shuggie Otis has personal archive of the Inspiration Information sessions.

I'll mention other releases that look interesting, and discuss what various stores in the Providence, RI area have planned over the next few weeks.

The Kids Are Alright: Hospitality Edition

Another new band whose music I've been enjoying lately is Hospitality. The MP3 of their self titled debut album, released earlier this year by Merge Records, is on sale for $3.99 at Amazon at the moment. The first track "Eighth Avenue" is also available as a free download. It's worth checking out, in my opinion.

I think I mostly skipped a generation of indie rock. I have to confess that I was never able to get into bands like Arcade Fire or Spoon. I hope fans of those bands don't take offense, because I'm not saying they're lousy acts, it's just that their music sounded tired to my semi-jaded ears.

Maybe it's only because more time has passed, but that's not the case with Brooklyn trio Hospitality. Yes, I could site the obvious old-school, indie-rock influences for this band chapter and verse: I hear echos of twee British pop bands like Talulah Gosh and The Shop Assistants. I also hear the influence of spiky post-punk acts like Delta 5 and Bush Tetras that keeps the band's tunes from sounding too precious. But the comfortably familiar nature of their music never sounds anything less than completely fresh to my ears.

Here's the hype from Merge:
The angular, intricate, and intelligent compositions of Hospitality signal a sophisticated new pop voice. Singer Amber Papini’s idiosyncratic songwriting and incisive lyrics coupled with the band’s rich arrangements on its self-titled debut explore youth, New York, and the bittersweet commingling of past and present in a way that feels just right, right now. 
Papini’s singing has a wisp of an English accent via Kansas City (she learned to sing by imitating Richard Butler on The Psychedelic Furs’ Talk Talk Talk), and her lyrics create a moonstruck, even cinematic vision of New York City, where the band formed in 2007. The production by Shane Stoneback (Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells) and band member Nathan Michel imbues the entire record with an intimate yet prodigious sound, layering period keyboards with horns, synthesizers, and treated guitars.

I'm not sure I totally understand the video, but I do appreciate its pro-New York, anti-L.A. sentiment. I really like how you can see the Statue of Liberty in the background at "Malibu Beach" and the NYC Parks and Recreation symbol visible on the stage at the "Hollywood Bowl."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Kids Are Alright: Neo-Shoegaze Edition

No doubt I'm late to the party, but I've been enjoying the work of some of the neo-shoegazer bands that have cropped up lately. I haven't looked at my feet so often since the heyday of My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Lush in the early 90s. Fortunately, I'm still able to see my feet, although I need glasses to properly focus on them these days.

Wild Nothing - "Summer Holiday" from the album Gemini.

Beach Fossils - "Adversity" from the EP What A Pleasure.

Real Estate - "Exactly Nothing" b-side of "Easy" 7" single.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Echo & the Bunnymen - Reverberation

Echo & the Bunnymen's 1990 release Reverberation is the kind of album that I love to write about. Like Love's Reel To Real, or The Velvet Underground's Squeeze, Reverberation was maligned by critics and fans alike upon it's release, but it's earned a much more favorable posthumous reputation, at least among a vocal minority of fans. Take a look at the customer reviews on Amazon which have titles like, "The best Echo and the Bunnymen Release, Hands Down," "Ian Who?," "A Classic on par w/ Ocean Rain," and "Track Listing" (okay, that last title doesn't really tell you much, but trust me Dave from San Jose really likes the album too).

So are these folks nuts? The conventional wisdom regarding Reverberation is that it never should have been made. Lead singer Ian McCulloch dropped out of the band and embarked on a solo career in 1988. Drummer Pete de Freitas died in a tragic motorcycle accident a year later. Nevertheless, guitarist Will Sergeant and bassist Les Pattinson thought it was a good idea to carry on as Echo & the Bunnymen, so they recruited new lead singer Noel Burke (formerly of St. Vitus Dance), new drummer Damon Reece, and promoted "fifth Bunnyman" and touring keyboardist Jake Brockman to full Bunnyhood.

The backlash was as virulent as it was predictable. Some called the new group "Echo & the Bogusmen." Reviews of Reverberation were scathing. Entertainment Weekly reviewer Bob Mack called it "a turkey best left to be gobbled up by the band's relatives, close friends, and diehard fans." But for the most part even the diehard fans (yours truly included) didn't buy the album, and the group was quickly dropped by WEA/Sire. The new group soldiered on, releasing a couple more independent singles that garnered little attention before splitting up in 1993. By 1994 McCulloch and Sergeant were working together again in Electrafixion, and with Pattinson back on board in 1997 the Bunnymen moniker was dusted off and Echo & the Bunnymen Mach II was little more than a bad memory.

With the benefit of hindsight it's obvious that Sergeant and Pattinson would have been better off rechristening the new line-up "Hitler's Children" rather than carry on as Echo & the Bunnymen. McCulloch summed up the feelings of many when he said in a March 1992 interview with Robert Sandall in Q: "I just can't understand why they carried on with the name... It did them no favours, and however it can be defended, it spoils the memory. It's not so much that it's unforgivable, but it is a pity that we don't see each other and never talk to each other."

It's probably hard to understand why all of this mattered if you weren't a fan of Echo & the Bunnymen during the 1980s. After all, Van Halen carried on without David Lee Roth. Pink Floyd didn't change their name when Syd Barrett left, or later when Roger Waters exited. Fleetwood Mac changed lineups almost as often as I change underwear. So what was the big deal about having a guy named Noel Burke singing for Echo & the Bunnymen?

To really make sense of the reaction, you have to understand that Echo & the Bunnymen were a band that inspired fierce devotion. I am speaking from experience when I say you could take a lot of shit for listening to a band called Echo & the Bunnymen in Ronald Reagan's America. Anybody could be a fan of Van Halen and fit right in, but pledging allegiance to a band called Echo & the Bunnymen in 1980s America was like taping a giant "kick me" sign on your back.

Nearly a quarter of a century later it's a lot easier to set all that aside and listen to Reverberation with fresh ears. So is it actually any good? Yeah, I think it is. Is it "hands down the best Echo & the Bunnymen album"? Not in my opinion.

Noel Burke's voice is pleasant, and songs like the single "Enlighten Me" and "Gone, Gone, Gone" are solid. Geoff Emerick's production and the light psychedelic touches like backward sitar are pitch perfect. On the whole I find the album more appealing than the last "real" Echo & the Bunnymen album (the self-titled one with "Lips Like Sugar," etc.).

But it's hard to get past the fact that the drama and depth that Ian McCulloch brought to the best Bunnymen material is missing. Of course the drama the McCulloch brought to the worst Bunnymen material is missing as well. Reverberation isn't likely to turn certain people off the way an album like Heaven Up Here might, but by the same token it's hard to imagine this version of the band inspiring fanatical devotion either. I think it could have been a very good start for a new band with a different name, one that might in time have gone on to greater levels of mainstream popularity than Echo & the Bunnymen. To my ears their follow up independent single "Prove Me Wrong" from 1991 sounds a bit more distinctive than the material on Reverberation, and it's a shame the band was unnecessarily doomed by the larger-than life legacy of its departed singer.

I realize I am damning the album with faint praise. That's not my intention. I like it. It's true that it was unjustly dismissed by critics and fans at the time of its release. It deserved a better fate. I've probably listened to it a dozen times since I spotted it sitting forlorn and unloved in the used bins at my local record store. I've enjoyed it every time I listened to it, but I can't honestly say any of it has sunk in as deeply as my favorite Echo & the Bunnymen albums. But I don't think the people praising the album on Amazon are nuts, or even merely trying to be provocative. It's a thoroughly enjoyable album that is very easy to like.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fanatical Food Fighters

My nine-year old son has started a band with three of his fourth grade buddies called The Fanatical Food Fighters. As far as I can tell this mostly means the four of them get together at recess and make jokes and sing. Song titles include "I'm Weird Guy Of The Year," and "Sugar Ruuuuuush!"

This is what happens when schools ban dodgeball.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Don Fleming on The Colbert Report!

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Flowering Toilet favorite Don Fleming was featured on The Colbert Report last night along with some lady named Emmylou Harris and a guy named Elvis Costello (somebody might want to let this Costello fellow know there was another guy named Elvis who was pretty darned famous).

Fleming appeared on Colbert to promote his work with The Alan Lomax Archive and the Association for Cultural Equity, which is one of America's true national treasures:
The Alan Lomax Archive and the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) is pleased to announce the launch of the ACE Online Archive — the fulfillment of over a decade of the restoration, digitization, and cataloging of Alan Lomax's life's work. Considered America’s foremost folklorist, Lomax devoted seven decades to documentation, research, and advocating for cause of cultural equity, which he defined as "the right of every culture to express and develop its distinctive heritage." The ACE Online Archive includes nearly 17,000 full-streaming audio field-recordings, totaling over eight hundred hours, collected by Lomax between 1946 and 1991; scans of 5,000 photographic prints and negatives; sixteen hours of vintage radio transcriptions; and ninety hours of interviews, discussions, and lectures by Alan Lomax and his colleagues. Each media collection can be browsed as well as searched, and is accompanied by detailed descriptions.

Materials from the sound, photograph and video collections have been used in film, television, and print; Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers are among the filmmakers who have utilized them. Alan Lomax’s field recordings have been used as samples in many modern compositions, including Moby’s "Natural Blues," from the album Play, and in the new Bruce Springsteen album Wrecking Ball, which features samples from Lomax’s archive on two of the songs, "Death to My Hometown" and “Rocky Ground.” Additional sessions will be added to the ACE Online Archive when restoration and cataloging is complete. These will include Lomax's 1954–55 Italian and 1985 Louisiana expeditions and several of his collections made under the auspices of the Library of Congress; among them his 1937 Haiti and Eastern Kentucky collections.

ACE Online Archive homepage
Sound Collection Guide
Photograph Collection Guide
Alan Lomax Archive and the Association for Cultural Equity

Perhaps next time Stephen will have Don on his show for a long-awaited Velvet Monkeys reunion featuring original drummer Dr. Rhythm.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Olympic Records - Providence RI

Olympic Records, 580 Wickenden Street, Providence, RI
There is another new record store in the Providence Rhode Island area, and I wanted to check in and offer you my report. I knew Olympic Records was going to be my kind of place as soon as I walked in the door. On my right was a wall full of vinyl records, on my left three pinball machines, and The Replacement's Tim was playing on the store's turntable.Vinyl, pinball, The Replacements...I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. If Olympic offered a selection of microbrews it would be pretty close to my idea of heaven.

Vinyl only!
Olympic is very much a vinyl focused shop, I didn't see any CDs for sale, although I noticed a few on a rack behind the checkout counter hidden like a dirty secret. I dug through the bins a bit and spotted a lot of tempting stuff. I ended up picking up used copies of The Jam's Beat Surrender EP and The Incredible String Band's No Ruinous Feud, as well as a new copy of Fugazi's Steady Diet Of Nothing. I saw a lot of newish indie-rock vinyl from acts like Panda Bear, Animal Collective and Veronica Falls, as well as some reissues of older indie faves like My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. It's been a long time since I've seen a copy of We're The Meatmen And You Suck! in a record shop, and I found it strangely comforting to see a copy hanging on the wall along with vintage pressings of albums by Ignition and The Sex Pistols.

Olympic does not yet have huge amounts of used vinyl, and there is plenty of room for growth in their bins. What is there is well chosen and looks to be in excellent condition, so you don't have to waste time sorting through a bunch of beat up Boston and R.E.O. Speedwagon LPs in order to find the good stuff.

Pinball! (L-R) Bally's Paragon; Bally's Future Spa; Williams' Black Knight
The store's owner, Kevin, is a very friendly guy, and he told me that business has been good so far. I was impressed when he used his iPad with a reader that plugs into the headphone jack to process my debit card. He told me this was the cheapest way he found to process credit cards. Neat. He was kind enough to spot me some change so I could play a game of pinball. I played a (very quick) game of Black Knight (I need to brush up on my pinball skills). I'll have to give Paragon and Future Spa a spin on my next visit. All three machines feature amazing classic pinball art and are in beautiful condition cosmetically and are in full working order.

With the more old-school shop Round Again Records just down Wickenden Street, Exit 2 off I-195 in Providence is an excellent destination for vinyl record fans.  I'd recommend parking near Olympic, making your way down the hill to Round Again, then crossing the street to enjoy some sustainable coffee from the Coffee Exchange before your return trip.

I remain somewhat skeptical about the so-called "vinyl revival," but I've seen two new record shops devoted mostly to vinyl LPs open in Providence over the past couple years, and they seem to be attracting a younger clientele, so maybe there is something to it after all.