Monday, December 31, 2007

The Beatles - Paperback Writer

(Capitol, 1966)

Were you wondering which Beatle single sits alone atop the mountain of greatness? Which wears the crown of bestness and holds the scepter of #1-itude while drinking from the goblet of kick-rumpery? You are wondering those things? WELL WONDER NO MORE, BECAUSE THIS IS THE ONE!! Congratulations, “Paperback Writer” / “Rain”! The facts: The A-side is one of their hardest-rocking songs, crunching along at a brisk pace with just a few stops for breath to let the group toss out some top-notch three-part harmonies. And then the dudes go full-on psychedelic with “Rain,” its crawling vocal performance and backwards ending giving it the most delightfully druggy feel yet on a Beatles record. Paul and Ringo really outdo themselves on both songs – those burbling, melodic bass parts are right up front; crisp, full-kit drumming powers “Rain”; and the gunshot snare-hits in “Paperback Writer” are, as the kids say, the bee’s knees (provided you like bees and their joints) (Wait! “Joints”! And this a “druggy” single! I sort of made a joke right there, didn’t I! I mean, almost!).

For a long time I believed that the more celebrated “Penny Lane” / “Strawberry Fields Forever” was the superior record, but now, listening to this one over and over, I admit the error of my ways; this is simply stronger all around – the writing, the singing, the playing. See, people change, people get smarter. Like how just last night I realized that I actually enjoy the Beach Boys’ 15 Big Ones album. It has at least five songs on it that I, my taste now totally in the toilet, would consider “good”: “It’s OK,” “Everyone’s In Love With You,” “Palisades Park,” “Susie Cincinnati,” and “Just Once In My Life.” We’re always growing and learning, friends, and top celebrities like me are no different, despite our millions of Euros and mustachioed good looks. This is a valuable lesson for all of us, and one truly worth remembering as the year comes to an end. So be sure to join me in 2008, when we’ll really get the comments section hopping with a detailed discussion of the political/social unrest in Pakistan following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto; a closer look at Harry Reid’s crafty use of pro forma sessions to prevent Bush from making recess appointments; and of course our continuing wall-to-wall coverage of Trent Lott’s retirement from the Senate. It’s gonna be another terrific year of politics here at I Think I Hate My 45s!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Beatles - Nowhere Man

(Capitol, 1966)

Another luv-lee downer of a character study – Dylan lite, perhaps – from the increasingly inward-looking John, with cowpoke Ringo twangin’ it up on the B-side’s c&w-informed throwaway “What Goes On.” There’s a Byrdsian fullness to the layered vocals and the lead guitar of “Nowhere Man,” but my favorite part of this song is a teensy touch that for whatever reason has always tickled me bigtime. At about 1:02 (OK, I cheated and checked the timing on a CD copy), there’s a single keyboard note that’s held as the solo ends and the next verse begins. I love that! And it’s not quite the same thing, but Rubber Soul has even more wonderful sustained-note keyboard biz on “The Word”; check it out! That stuff kills me! Yep, just hold down a key or two and I’ll be clapping my hands and giggling ’til bedtime comes.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Beatles - Day Tripper / We Can Work it Out

(Capitol, 1965)

Hey, this is the fourth consecutive single I’ve reviewed that has the word “day” in the title, and it’s probably the best of the bunch. The Beatles continue to push the thematic boundaries of Top-40 teenyboppery with these two non-love songs; the moptop era, already showing weak vital signs on the band’s last few 45s, is definitely over with this one. Rock-side “Day Tripper” (fave of rookie guitarists the world over) is about pulling out of an unhealthy relationship, while the considerably more optimistic “We Can Work it Out” is a plea for reconciliation – though featuring a grim-faced, cautionary (“Life is very short…”) middle section. The latter song, with its harmonium and prominent tambourine, slots neatly into the mellow, rich-sounding period that the group was entering into, and is an appropriate companion to Rubber Soul, which was released at the same time as this single.

A fellow named
Lee Moses recorded a supercharged instrumental soul version of “Day Tripper” that is well worth hearing; it’s on the Time and Place compilation (which also includes #1 ass-kicker “Bad Girl”), so please go spend your money immediately. In other music news, my neighbor is listening to a Kool & the Gang compilation at top volume right now. But I did stay up until 5:00am this morning blasting Trans, so fair’s fair I suppose.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Beatles - Yesterday

(Capitol, 1965)

Dig now Paul’s reputation-cementing ballad, which quickly became The Biggest Pop Standard Ever and kick-started the great/horrible 40-year career of McCartney as balladeer. As syrupy and overblown as he would often get on discs to come, give “Yesterday” credit for being sparse and tasteful; the string accompaniment takes a backseat to the warm vocal and guitar, and little touches like the spooky doubling of Paul’s voice during the first “…now I long for yesterday” are quite effective. Ringo’s twangy hoedown on the B-side – a cover of “Act Naturally” – makes for a jarring shift in tone, but, if nothing else, it does a nice job of showing off the band’s ability to pull off credible impressions of its influences (the best example being “Please Mister Postman,” which blows the original right outta the water).

Here’s an observation: Seems to me that Ray Davies was taking a shot at Paul and the Beatles when he wrote these lines in “Where Have All the Good Times Gone”:

Well yesterday was such an easy game for you to play
But let’s face it things are so much easier today
Guess you need some bringing down
And get your feet back on the ground


That song was recorded in October, 1965; “Yesterday” was released in August, 1965… Given the timing and the similarity between the lyrics, it’d sure be a funny coincidence if Davies didn’t have McCartney’s tune in mind when he penned his own ditty, wouldn’t it? Why you so prickly, Ray? And why am I the only person to ever point this out? Weigh in! Paul, let’s hear from you first.

The Beatles - Eight Days a Week

(Capitol, 1965)

Ha ha ha oh you krazy Beatles. First you go and misspell “Beetles,” now you get the number of days in a week messed up. Eight days?? EIGHT? There are only SEVEN days in a week, you nuts! Didn’t you guys KNOW that? I’m not sure how they do things in England, but it’s definitely always been seven over here in the U.S.A., and always will be, too. Jeez-o-man! The song itself? Oh, it’s, uh, it’s fine and everything, it actually sorta SWINGS (rather than ROCKS) and even though it’s super-duper catchy and all, it’s not an obvious jump forward for the group and is really one of the more disposable of the (late-period) Beatlemania singles. And what’s up with the fade-in on this song? Weird! Well, OK, that’s a cute gimmick, I guess; sure. But let’s admit that the acoustic “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” is pretty fuggin’ weak, even if it is emotionally complex and whatnot (you’re really plumbin’ the depths of male insecurity, John… wayta go!). In conclusion, whether you’re from Kirkland WA, Westminster MA, or even Calgary AB, you can surely agree that my neverending Beatles reviews are utterly worthless.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Beatles - A Hard Day's Night

(Capitol, 1964)

Without fail, pulling an all-nighter upsets my stomach, and this year’s Christmas travel made necessary a sleepless Amtrak Sunday that had my insides churning for much of the following day. So as I watched the dawn puke itself all over the New England landscape this morning from a train window, I was already considering finding a paper bag so I could follow suit. Grim hours indeed. But happily, things were looking up after I caught some accidental z’s on a cousin’s sofa later in the afternoon, nog in hand (oh that nog). In my improved mood, I am able to mull how totally my railway experience stands as a pathetic contrast to the zany choo-choo boogaloo of those fun-lovin’ Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night’s opening sequence. Which is a convenient topic of thought, because that movie’s titular single is next up in our hit parade of reviews. How ’bout that!

The Beatles are completely locked in by now, operating at full power with a dense, exciting production that’s sandwiched between two unorthodox snatches of chiming guitar – the first announces the group with a powerful, ringing blast; the last fades away as the band sprints off into the distance. Ringo comes through yet again, layering cowbell and subtle, galloping hand-percussion tracks around his “hit it on the two and the four” rockbeat. On the tra-la-la front, Lennon handles the verses and McCartney the bridge, and DANG do their double-tracked voices sound perfect chasing after one another. In fact, the whole song has a chase-like quality to it, successfully conveying – aurally – the crazy pop-world rush of the film with which it shares its name. Very nice soundtrackin’ fellas, very nice soundtrackin’ indeed. On the B-side, “I Should Have Known Better” (also featured in the movie) gives us an early hint at the self-doubt John’s lyrics would investigate much more sharply on albums like Help! and Beatles For Sale. But the creeping maturity and self-awareness manage to heighten rather than dampen the fun on this single as new musical and lyrical possibilities are enthusiastically mined. You win again, Beatles!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Beatles - Love Me Do

(Tollie, 1964)

The first British single, yes, but not released on 45 in the United States until 1964’s frenzied post-Sullivan cash-grab. “Love Me Do” is an uncomplicated, harmonica-heavy number with a clomping beat, and it’s bluesier and far more constipated-feeling than the songs that defined the classic early “Beatle sound” soon to be in place. (The absence of tambourine on the recording indicates that Tollie chose to issue the Ringo version of the song; an alternate take, with Andy White playing drums, was – and still is – simultaneously available on the international market in LP and 7” form.) The smooth “P.S. I Love You,” on the other hand, feels a bit more assured, with the group coasting through this balls-free love song under some fine vocalizing by McCartney, who even cuts loose with a little soulful ad-libbing at the end. Certainly both sides of this disc are rudimentary efforts – the cave paintings of Beatle art – and better marked as safe pop-combo pap than funtime rock ’n’ roll, yet they’re still satisfying on their own merits, simply because these guys always knew how to write a catchy song, sophisticated or not. And that’s the name of the game, yeah?

It’s worth noting that, much later, two Beatles would revisit these tracks with embarrassing results: Ringo released a lame, gimmicky cover of “Love Me Do” on his Vertical Man album in 1998, while Paul, on the Flowers in the Dirt tour, combined both sides of the single into an atrocious dancepop number called “P.S. Love Me Do.” Recordings of that travesty appeared on a UK single and various live bootlegs, all of which should be avoided.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Beatles - I Want to Hold Your Hand

(Capitol, 1964)

WHAT YOU WANT ME TO SAY? THIS IS DEF THE MOST CRUCIAL BEATLE SINGLE CAREER-WISE, IT BEING THE FIRST ON BIG-BUDGET CAPITOL RECS AND PURTY MUCH A MAKE ’EM OR BREAK ’EM SITCH… AND IT MAKED ’EM! AND HOW!! YOU KNOW THESE FAMED SONGS, YOU KNOW THEM WELL; RIGHTLY SO, AS LENNON N MCCARTNEY MAINTAINED THE SHOCKING SPEED -- & SHOCKING CONSISTENCY! -- OF THEIR HIGH-QUALITY POPWRITE CONVEYOR BELT. WISELY, DA BRAIN-BOYZ AT HOLLYWOOD & VINE REACHED BACK AND RESCUED “I SAW HER STANDING THERE” FROM ’63, SLAPPED ’ER ON THE FLIP (UK B-SIDE WAS THE SLOWER “THIS BOY”) TO CREATE A PEPPY ONE-TWO WAX PUNCHEROO THAT MADE YOUTHFUL EARS SWOON COAST TO COAST. ALL CAPS ALL CAPS ALL CAPS IT CAUSES THE IMPORTANCE OF MY DEEPLY-THUNK WORDS TO SHINE ON THRU.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Beatles - She Loves You

(Swan, 1963)

And now we reach the Beatles, a band you’ve never heard from, of, or about. But I’m here to help, so take my www.hand and let me guide you through their wacky lives ’n’ times in the magical world of song! We’re talking about four canny guys from unAmerica who predicted the invention of eBay and so formed a rock group specifically built around the idea of releasing attractive picture sleeves that would, decades later, command high prices on the collector circuit.

“She Loves You,” which was itself reissued in 1964 with a nice red sleeve, was the third American single for the Beatles, released on Swan after the band’s split from Vee-Jay and prior to its signing with the big boys at Capitol. Opening with some thundering toms, this one is driven by an exciting, thumping performance – with a whole lotta cymbal on top – from Ringo. The lyrics are actually rather interesting, sung from the perspective of a mutual friend who is working to facilitate a reunion between a pair of exes by passing along news of the female’s continued romantic interest. This helpful fellow dispenses some sage advice to the male (“Pride can hurt you too!”) and is enthusiastic enough about the prospective coupling that he punctuates his reports of the woman’s expressed desire with some hearty “yeah yeah yeah”s each time. That simple vocal hook is justifiably famous as hell (and parodied as hell), and the whole package is so catchy and instantly-unforgettable that it seems inevitable that the disc was to kick the asses of the UK charts from day one. But not so in the US!

Weirdly enough, given its obvious HIT HIT HIT potential, “She Loves You” initially stiffed in the States, possibly because little Swan – unlike Capitol – just didn’t apply (or have available) the necessary promotional muscle ($) to push the group to the top. So did our heroic four-piece, discouraged and shamed by yet another American chart failure, disband and slink away from the music business forever? I’m a betting man, so I would wager YES. But be sure to stay tuned to this site, the world’s only place for the story of the Beatles, and you’ll soon learn the exciting answer!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Beach Boys - Mount Vernon and Fairway

(Warner Brothers, 1973)

The Beach Boys included “Mount Vernon and Fairway” as a bonus EP with the rootsy Holland album, but despite being labeled Sides 3 and 4 it has nothing to do musically or thematically with the rest of that LP. A fried, poorly-written – albeit clearly personal – fairy tale pieced together by Brian Wilson and narrated by Jack Rieley, the track sketches out the story of a prince and a magic transistor radio which is inhabited by the party-hearty spirit of the Pied Piper. Squelchy synths and sound effects make up most of the eerie, minimal backing music, though a few snatches of bare-bones, Wilson-sung songs pop up here and there. This idea possibly could have worked if the action had been developed further and it was issued in a more fitting context (as a stand-alone EP, perhaps, or as an extended LP project), but as it exists, “Mount Vernon and Fairway” is just a barely-interesting, half-baked failure that struggles even to rise to the level of charming. Given that the Beach Boys were trying to get hep and serious during this period, the addition of a goofy fairy tale to the band’s latest album – and Holland is definitely a self-consciously serious and “mature” LP – must have been mortifying to the rest of the group. Really, it’s hard not to get the sense that this was released merely as some sort of political concession to Brian.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Beach Boys - Good Vibrations

(Capitol, 1966)

Lush, multi-sectioned, theremin-laced pop oddity that actually deserves much of the BEST-SINGLE-EVER overhype heaped on it for lo these many decades (and yeah, it is embarrassing to be earnestly weighing in, in 2007, on one of the most written-about songs in history). Soaked in sunny lovin’ and joyously stoned Spectorisms as “Good Vibrations” is, the entire mood is a shift from the introspective, self-doubting Pet Sounds bum-out that immediately preceded it. The song takes the standard boy-girl bit and psychedelicizes it with the lyrics’ gooey cosmic rah-rah; it’s a series of impressions and feelings rather than a straight events-based narrative. But in nodding to the band’s innocent-pop past while playing – adventurously – to its vocal/melodic strengths, the song manages to cram in everything that was right and good about the Beach Boys up to this point and also serve as the group’s final major leap forward. Soon after this record and the subsequent shifting of the band’s internal creative/power dynamics, there was to be years of awkward stylistic wandering as the BBs tried to find a commercial comfort zone. Sure, there were plenty of interesting – and occasionally tremendous – 45s through the ’70s (“Darlin’,” “Break Away,” “This Whole World,” “Honkin’ Down the Highway”), but “Good Vibrations” is the great death scream of the Beach Boys as a truly ambitious, progressive singles band.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Syd Barrett - Crazy Diamond

(Capitol, 1993)

Capitol released this EP to promote its unfortunately-titled Crazy Diamond box (if you’re gonna be crass, why not go all the way? Why not Mental Illne$$?), pairing two tracks from The Madcap Laughs with two from Barrett. “Octopus” and “Baby Lemonade” are obvious choices, being better-known “hits,” but the minor songs “Terrapin” and “Effervescing Elephant” are questionable picks. The idea, however, was probably to present a sampling of the many facets of Barrett’s solo sound, and to that end this record does a fine job. The charging “Octopus” is a nonsensical, wheels-barely-on-the-road rave-up, a lively contrast to the bluesy shuffle of “Terrapin.” The songs from the second album are more fleshed-out instrumentally, and “Baby Lemonade,” with its Rick Wright organ, Gilmour bass, and great one-line chorus, is as poppy and memorable as Barrett gets. “Effervescing Elephant,” meanwhile, is childish idiocy, a not-quite-clever nursery rhyme with jaunty tuba-and-guitar accompaniment.

One of the most appealing aspects of a solo Barrett song is that it almost never goes where you think it will: rhythms switch up unexpectedly, tempos move all over the place, solos fall apart, tracks suddenly peter out. Listening to the comparatively “normal” “Baby Lemonade” for the first time as a bright-eyed lad, I was shocked to hear the song doing things that it just shouldn’t be doing structurally. Twas a major ear-opening moment... crucial, even! It’s actually a little sad when one eventually becomes comfortable with this material; the initial shock of its charming weirdness is a whole lotta fun.

Bablicon - Chunks of Syrup Amidst Plain Yoghurt

(Contact, 1999)

Admission! I never liked Bablicon. Watched them in 2000 opening for Olivia Tremor Control and was bored silly by their Chicago post-skronk. Bought a copy of their debut LP and saw it promptly lost in the mail (a big OUCH in poverty-stricken undergrad days). Grabbed Oranged Tapered Moon and was turned off by the sub-Zappa jazz-rock wanksplorations. So surprise surprise, this single (which sounds good at both 45 and 33!) is half decent; A’s like crazy, drunken circus music over cheap beatz; hypno seasickness plus a few tripped-out sitar breaks. Catchy uneasiness the whole way through, and then a brief marching-band outro to seal the deal. Nice! The B-side? Who cares?? Izza lousy mess with an almost-worth-it elec-piano-driven conclusion. Whatever. Focus on the A’s early-Tortoise-isms and be happy. My many hyphens: are they OK??

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The B-52s - Rock Lobster

(Island, 1979)

Straight up: there’s nothing at all to dislike here. Nothing. Willfully brain-dead un-lyrics, trebly almost-surf guitar stabs, Yoko-infected girl-group backing vox, ham-fisted organ, crisp discopunk drumming… Yikes! And dig the way the song twists itself into truly nasty ROCK in the last minute. Never has an effective goof succeeded so beautifully, so monumentally. The backside (“Running Around”) is slight, but it’s still a reasonably exciting, garagey, skinny-tie dance-piece that’s about as far away as you can FLEE from the soulless camp of latter-day horrors like “Love Shack” and “Good Stuff.” What HAPPENED to these guys?? Check out this live video and report back a true believer. Self-parodic as the band has long since become, it’s entertaining and impressive to realize that this stuff, had it been fresh outta the womb, would’ve been ruling New York City party circles in 2007.

Azusa Plane - The Last of the Famous Electronic Playboys EP

(Motorway, 1998)

The A-side is synth bleeps and bloops over a buzzing drone; strictly bassy, low-end stuff that never really goes anywhere and falls, uncharacteristically, squarely into the ‘wank’ category. More – and better – subwoofer madness on the B, a pulsing, underwater thrum that is low enough to play havoc with the ears. New sounds are introduced gradually, and when the gentle layer of white noise finally appears it almost feels sunny compared to that relentless subterranean rumble. The whole play-it-loud earfuck is absolute aural disorientation, and almost – almost! – enough to redeem the entire record.

Look, I feel like a heel poo-pooing two straight Azusa Plane singles, cuz I really do like the band. But heck, when the title runs laps around the A-side, it’s hard not to get all outta joint. Especially when the disc in question happens to be a pricey Japanese import. Just skip this one and check out these twin discographical pinnacles: the glorious hum of Tycho-Magnetic Anomaly and the Full Consciousness of Hidden Harmony and the live (with drums and vocals!) Result Dies With the Worker. DO IT!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Azusa Plane - Comparative Receptions: A Study of Two Distinct Qualifiers

(Blackbean & Placenta, 1996)

Split into “Fender” and “Moog” sides – each a hypnotic, one-man exploration of said instrument – this is definitely one of the lesser Azusa Plane releases. “Moog” is mildly interesting in that it’s a semi-departure from DiEmilio’s guitar-based norm, but it and “Fender” (itself actually quite pretty, if shapeless) both sound like they are nothing more than excerpts cut from long, aimless bedroom blissout sessions. While the Azusa Plane typically made interesting and appealing work out of minimal sonic material, wringing a lot out of a little, it just didn’t come together this time. I, however, improvised an attractive curtain for my bathroom window this afternoon, using some suction hooks, a plastic rod, a small red towel, two clothespins, and some double-sided tape. A+ for me.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Azusa Plane - Lou, Nico, Sterling, John and Maureen

(Burnt Hair, 1997)

Two lovely and entertainingly-titled guitar instrumentals from Jason DiEmilio’s Azusa Plane. The excellent A-side has a dreamy, rainy-day sound that is broken in places by a smooth sheet of distorted guitar static; it’s part Landing, part Flying Saucer Attack. “This is Not Spacerock” feels a bit more freeform and unsettling, its shimmering, effects-heavy notes – wrapped in a layer of lo-fi fuzz – crawling along in a druggy haze before quickening nightmarishly at the end. Good stuff!

Thinking it silly that a “drone guy” would select the 7” as a primary way to release his music, I used to chuckle at the never-ending stream of 45s that came out of the Azusa Plane; seemed like he was in a race with Randall Nieman to see who could crank out the most split singles (and yes, the inevitable Azusa Plane / Fuxa split does exist). But there is something to be said for what DiEmilio was doing. It’s easy for such an act to get lazy on CD or LP, stretching everything out to 10+ minutes and needing to care little about flab or self-editing. The Azusa Plane consciously chose to release a great deal of material on a format where the time constraints are relatively rigid, and applying that necessary discipline to the drone-rock genre made for some tightly-constructed records where no moment was wasted… these are often, incredibly, actual singles in the classic sense, just filtered through an ultra-psychedelic non-pop sensibility. Smart dude. Needless to say, it would be fantastic to have all of these songs – and there are a lot of them — compiled in one convenient place.

The Asteroid #4 - Here We Go

(Rainbow Quartz, 2006)

Quite a surprise to see this one sitting in the sales racks in 2006. After skidding off the road into country-rock territory for the Honeyspot debacle three years earlier, I’d figgered Asteroid #4 for dead. Not so! These songs straddle the dense guitar-psych of the earliest material and the bright, peppy pop of King Richard’s Collectibles; even if it’s a retreat, it’s a definite step back in the right direction. Unfortunately, the hooks aren’t nearly up to snuff and the lyrics, as always, remain dreadful (one boneheaded verse is built on an around/down/found rhyme), so this doesn’t quite take gold in the comeback sweeps. Still, non-LP B-side “What I Really Want to Do,” the stronger of the two tracks, is passable dream/space-informed altpop with unusually fine singing, and it would’ve stood at least a fighting chance on college radio or 120 Minutes fifteen years ago.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Asteroid #4 - What A Sorry Way to Go

(Lounge, 1997)

For its second single,
the Asteroid #4 takes it all back to ’67 on “What A Sorry Way to Go,” droning, Eastern-tinged psychedelia with groovy pitter-patter hand-percussion. The fat bassline and strong vocal melody indicate that the sitars and such aren’t just startling gimmickry meant to distract from a non-song… this one is legit, and probably would have been a winner even without the layer of added instrumentation. But the rich, relatively intricate arrangement really does work; catchy and beautifully put together, it trumps similar material being churned out at the time by bands like the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Saddar Bazaar. Certainly the best original in the Asteroid #4’s catalog, and one of the better songs to come out of the whole “Psychedelphia” scene. The B-side guitar-drone – “Sometimes I Roll My Eyes Into the Back of My Head to See What I’m Thinking – is a throwaway, but it’s an appropriate sonic companion to the main event on the other side.

While it’s unclear whether there’s a physical release or if it’s digital-only, the band has recently gathered all of its singles and compilation tracks (including a great Spacemen 3 cover) on B-Sides & Singles 1997-2007. Freeloaders can stream the album
here.

The Asteroid #4 - The CIA Took My Dog Away

(Lounge, 1995)

The Asteroid #4 is one of those groups that, as the saying goes, plays its record collection. Which is generally fine with me, because it has always seemed like there’s a lot of overlap when it comes to our fave-raves (but what was with that dire country-rock album, doodz??). The band ties its wagon to the early-90s shoegazers on its debut single, focusing on volume and density of sound as opposed to the strictly Floydian space-cadet moves the fellas would soon be pulling. This record actually sounds quite similar to Philly pals the Lilys’ contemporaneous Eccsame the Photon Band album – and whoa, DIG IT, the Asteroid #4 would work with Kurt Heasley in the studio and follow his group into Brit Invasion territory a few years down the road.

“The CIA Took My Dog Away,” with the gentle, quavering guitars of its verses and the churning, distorted guitars of the choruses, is your basic yet successful shoegaze-pop construction, and a fine way to kick off a career …even if those reverbed-to-death vocals are a bit much. On a rather less interesting note, the first half of “Mellow Beach” drifts and throbs, barely there, before the effects-laden guitars come rushing in to boot ya in the pants for the last few minutes. While neither song has anything of note going in terms of originality or structure (and “Mellow Beach” isn’t much melodically, either), it’s hard to be too grumpy about anything that gives you a few blasts of satisfying MBV-lite. Buck up; it’s a fine mess o’ aural comfort food.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Assassination - Snipercrust

(Get Revenge, 2006)

Swedish nasties crank out eight songs on seven inches. Breakneck tempos, non-stop drum-pummel…it’s fast and aggressive, yeah, it’s just that there’s not very interesting guitar- or drumwork anywhere. Everything bleeds together into this sodden mush, and it never gets the ol’ ticker thump-thumping the way such a record oughta. Granted, the dual vocals trading off lines on every song are an interesting touch – one guy has a scratchy, “evil” voice, the other has yer standard deep bellow – and some of the simple, vicious lyrics are entertaining. But I dunno. Coming at this as a non-genrehead, there’s nothing here that grabs me; it’s not fun enough, fucked enough, or over-the-top enough.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Archipelago Brewing Co. - Criswell

(Nuf Sed, 1989)

Archipelago Brewing Co. is (was) a buncha weirdos from San Francisco – including some of the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 guys, Brandan Kearney, and “FOUR GODDAMN GIRL DRUMMERS” – and this is their one and only single. So let me lay some straight-talk on you: it’s a bona-fide doozy! “Criswell” lurches along to the dinosaur-stomp of those lady percussionists, and the rhythm guitarists thrash away in a delightfully repetitive manner while the lead makes high-pitched little squiggles atop it all. A slower, heavier TFUL282 is a fair enough (and lazy enough) description. The guitars get noisier and the drummers get buried – this record’s sound quality isn’t so hot – on “Fresh Fish,” a grim tribute to the titular ocean-dweller, while “Wussies-R-Us” is a pretty, watery-sounding guitars-and-samples tune. When the full band is a-thunderin’, as on “Criswell” and “Fresh Fish,” the music coming outta the speakers is certainly loud, but you get the sense that this must’ve been absolutely BRUTAL when heard live. Like good brutal.

The Amazing Criswell, who appears on the sleeve, was into the fantastic, so I wonder what he’d have thought of this tidbit: I had been searching for this 7” for quite a while, and when I finally did locate a copy, it was in a store in which I was killing time while waiting for band associate Neil Hamburger to take the stage at a club next door. Weird.

Wait! Before wrapping up, let’s get back to A.B.C. guitarist, tape-manipulator, and vocalist Brandan Kearney, a man about whom you can learn all sortsa interesting facts in this great interview. It’s going to be a while before I reach the “J” reviews, so I want to slip in a mention of another of the (many, many) bands with which Kearney was involved, Job’s Daughters. Those folks released a cover of the Cowsills’ “Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine,” and it is THE BEST SINGLE THAT I OWN. Really. If you have the ability to hear sound, please do your listening-thingies a favor and find that doggone record immediately. It’s out there; I own two!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Arcade Fire - Rebellion (Lies)

(Rough Trade, 2005)

You know that Arcade Fire released five singles in the UK – plus another in America – during Funeral’s shelf-lifespan? FIVE! From a ten-song album! OK, fine, the third single (“Cold Wind”) was a non-LP track, but still! No denying that the thing was piping-hot shit! These songs were absolutely inescapable for well over a year… bars, parties, seeping through the walls of my housemate’s bedroom. And “Rebellion (Lies)” was definitely one of the biggies. That nagging, repetitive piano bangin’ away all percussively in there is key to the operation, and it serves the same function as the rhythm guitar in “Power Out”: it’s catchy, but also keeps the listener tense as the song builds to its inevitable full-throated, instro-blast climax. It’s not so different from the general template followed by other tracks on the album, but it’s still a dark, fun, powerful-sounding single that qualifies as another play-it-loud winner for the group. Now turn dat white vinyl over and take a snooze to an is-what-it-is, ragged live version of the A-side that doesn’t deserve much comment. Boy, given the lack of quality B-sides, they sure ran outta outtakes and other studio whatnot mighty quick for a young band.

&: Am I crazy, or does the Arcade Fire sound a whole lot like a more rock-based Polyphonic Spree? Listening to this record, I don’t think I’m too nutty in saying that. Check out the voices, and the way both bands build and release tension. Huh!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Arcade Fire - Neighborhood #3: Power Out (live)

(Rough Trade, 2005)

Another “Power Out” single, but this time around we get a live version. And in the grand tradition of live recordings, it’s a little bit faster, a little bit noisier… & there’s really nothing else to say. Sorry. The flip comes from a New York show where David Byrne joined the group onstage to sing the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.” The big revelation here is, in hearing the two voices (A-) side by (B-) side, the vocal similarities between Byrne and Win Butler become clear: both have that sorta nervous energy and the tendency to “swoop,” pitch- and volume-wise. Hot dang! The performance itself is pretty turgid, and seems to have been included here more to spotlight “hey look who we got to play with!” than to document anything musically exciting. Not to be Brigadier Bummer, but neither recording adds much to anyone’s life. At most, the disc proves that (a) the Arcade Fire does a great and faithful job performing its material live, and (b) the band had shot to the top o’ the heap fast enough to have an elderly celeb like David Byrne hop on the mic by the end of its first national tour.

However! High-fives and backslaps are in order here, because it’s not every day that a group releases different versions of an A-side and thus (kinda) tries to give the masses their money’s worth in the multiple-format-single racket. Sure, it would’ve been better if they’d just released a four-song CD maxi single instead of two 7”s, but at least they’re making a teensy effort not to bilk the consumer.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Arcade Fire - Neighborhood #3: Power Out

(Rough Trade, 2005)

Arcade Fire was thinking BIG from the get-go: “Power Out” is a massive-sounding, stadium-sized single 4 REALZ. The only things that might indicate “indie” here are the tinkling xylophone and the quiver-n-yelp vocals; the rest is ultra-confident Rock chug-a-lug. It’s an exciting and impressive piece o’ work, with an almost dance-y rhythm guitar part keeping the energy up throughout. The B-side is a rougher version recorded prior to the influx of label money, and shows how the band would have approached the Funeral material had it remained unsigned. The result isn’t radically different from what was finally released, but it does retain some of the raw, Mercury Rev-esque charm of the self-titled EP. Nevertheless, that big-stage, fist-pumpin’ ambition punches its way through, even on this no-budget take.

And I don’t know if it’s just my copy, but the vinyl on this one sounds AWFUL. Like unacceptably bad. What gives?

Appliance - Outer / Rev A

(Earworm, 1998)

It’s hard to say which influence’s name is most appropriate to invoke here. The Neu beat is in place, but there’s also the kind of groovy shimmer that only Harmonia seemed to have down. Either way, this is total Kraut-style goodness from youngsters who clearly aced their studies of the old masters. Solid, propulsive, synth/drums/bass stuff from start to finish, and neither song appears in identical form on any other release. Y’know, it’s sad, really; Appliance put out more than its share of great records – “Outer” among them – before quietly breaking up and getting tossed into the dollar-bin of history. So be smart! Take advantage of the situation and hunt ’em all down for cheap. Well worth the effort, and I would not lie.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Apples in Stereo - Everybody Let Up

(Earworm, 2000)

Thanksgiving is over, but there’s another TURKEY in the house: this single! Ha! Ha! Oh, ha ha ha! It’s almost certain that I am the first person to ever make such a joke, so let’s celebrate my genius and wit with some grog! I will top off your stein. WHEW! Let me wipe the tears of mirth from my eyes before we continue.

OK.

There’s ample guitarfuzz here that hearkens back to the early days of the Apples, but the empty spaces in the A-side’s midtempo ode to laziness make it feel half-assed and unfinished. Lyrics were never the band’s strong point, and emphasizing the (similarly weak) vocals, as Apples in Stereo increasingly did, never did these folks any favors. “Behind the Waterfall,” while frustratingly brief, is definitely the better of the two sides, featuring a gentle, tripped-out verse with a ripping distorto-chorus. This would have fit especially well on Her Wallpaper Reverie, the group’s concept/psych high-point, and it’s a shame that it was booted to the B-side of a follow-up single.


Earworm did its typically careful job with the quality control here (thick colored vinyl, attractive fold-out sleeve), but given that both songs soon popped up on the domestic “Look Away” EP and the bargain-bin “The Bird That You Can’t See” single, there’s absolutely no need to pay high import prices for this release. Nor was there any pressing need to do so in 2000, when it first came out. And yet I did. Which is why I was (and remain) a total sucker and a record label’s best friend.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Apples in Stereo - Man You Gotta Get Up

(SpinART/Elephant 6/Sire, 1998)

“Man You Gotta Get Up” (b/w “The Golden Flower”) isn’t really a single; it was included as a bonus 45 in the vinyl pressing of the Apples in Stereo’s Tone Soul Evolution album. Generous. But we can still take a moment to pan the thing, because this is a pretty flaccid slab o’ wax. Plopped front-and-center, Schneider’s thin, nasal voice simply isn’t strong enough or compelling enough to carry these songs, and there isn’t the punchy, reckless pop energy of the earliest singles. Shiny-sounding and crafted, it’s almost like a – dare I say it – psychedelecized Weezer, fer cryin’ out loud. The dirty guitar that snarls in the choruses of “Man You Gotta Get Up” is encouraging, but neither tune really offers much of interest beyond the occasional instrumental trick. Honestly, if these mediocrities truly had to be rel
eased, a bonus single was the right outlet and should set the proper expectations for the listener. Instead of hunting this disc down, just sit around and wait for the inevitable rarities comp.

Trivia fun! Tone Soul Evolution was the only Elephant 6 record to be released under the auspices of a major label. The next time you’re at a party, pull THAT one outta your cap and you'll be the champion of conversation, newly nicknamed Mr. Popular. I promise.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Apples in Stereo - Hypnotic Suggestion EP

(Bus Stop, 1994)

Want to hear about something gross that happened this very afternoon? There I was, drinking my iced coffee at the local iced-coffeatorium, reading about celebrity tax evaders in New York City (John Cale, how could you?!), when I happened to glance down into my cup after a final, satisfied slurp. A sickening sight was to greet my eye: a BUG, a little black beetle of some sort, was resting there among the ice. “Gah!” I choked, and then noticed a second bug, this one a fat, inch-long, maggoty looking thing, sitting nearby. After spitting into a few napkins and the trash can, I took the evidence up to the counter and politely suggested the staff consider cleaning out the ice chest. The girl was suitably apologetic, and pulled five dollars in hush-money from the register. So the moral of the story is: drink bugs, get five bucks.

You know what would be similarly gross? Finding a worm in an apple that you were munchin’ on.

Hey, speaking of apples, I’m listening to a single by the APPLES in Stereo as I type this! Weird! What a great coincidence! What an ideal and totally unplanned segue! No, I’m not chuckling nervously; why do you ask? Let’s just talk about the record.

“Hypnotic Suggestion” is cleaner than the first single, but still has that trebly, grungy four-track sound. And while the lo-fi aesthetic remains in place, the songwriting is obviously increasing in complexity, with more ambitious vocal arrangements – the swooping and sighing backing vox on “Touch the Water” are especially satisfying – that hint at the Pet Sounds worship soon to blossom in the studio. All four songs are warm, bouncy guitar-pop, Robert Schneider & co at their simple best: rocking, catchy, fuzzy. A near-perfect 7”, and a perfect example of why Apples in Stereo was ever worth caring about.


The Science Faire album gathers up all of these early singles and loose ends, and remains a good place to sink a few dollars.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Apples - Tidal Wave EP

(Elephant 6, 1993)

Ooh, a historically significant one: “Tidal Wave” is both the first
Apples record (before “in Stereo” was tacked onto the name) and the first real-deal Elephant 6 Recording Company release. Listening to the disc over a decade later, it’s easy to hear the beginnings of the various branches of the E6 family in these songs – the lo-fi wackiness; the slightly-askew, Nuggets-y pop sensibilities; the oddball lyrical concerns; the homemade psychedelia… it’s all here in noisy, embryonic form. (The E6 band that followed most closely in this record’s footsteps was often the underrated Minders, though with far cleaner production.) Robert Schneider became a real studio trickster within a few years – and late-period Apples in Stereo albums suffocate under their overthunked-ness – so it’s fun to hear him just hit the “record” button on this one and let the band bash through these six ragged pieces of psych-tinged power-pop. Oh, and Apples do record geeks proud with a 16-page art/lyrics booklet and inserts up the wazoo: a poster, a sticker, a customer-satisfaction survey (!).

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Animals - Monterey

(MGM, 1967)

The Monterey Pop Festival went down back in ’67, and ace reporter Eric Burdon was ON THE SCENE, digging it all left and right, to give the record-buying public the scoop.

NEWSFLASH! “Even the cops grooved with us!”

This is just one of many Animals songs built around Burdon’s name-checking and wide-eyed LUV of the music world’s peacetastic brother-/sisterhood. I had always assumed that this rather annoying style was a later development, something he started doing after he had his mind blown by the SF hippies and formed the turned-on “new” Animals in early 1967, but in fact the first song on the first UK album features a discourse on the history of r’n’r, right up through the Beatles and the Stones. Huh; guess that was just Burdon’s thing. So anyway, yeah, the ultra-earnest lyrics are an embarrassing drag, but the music’s a decent – if sleek – mix of sitar, horns, and prominent bass, far different from the organ-centric stuff for which the Animals are better known. However: Every time Burdon gushes over someone – The Who! Jimi Hendrix! The Grateful Dead! Ravi Shankar! – the band plays a few notes meant to give us an idea of what that particular dude sounded like. Needless to say, the whole operation reeks of cheese.

Things improve on the non-LP “Ain’t That So,” a fun freak-empowerment tune (“Freak on! Freak on!”) with some fine shouting from ol’ Eric, and an overall beat-group style that sounds straight outta ’65. Recommended!

Animal Collective - Polly / Purple Bottle

(white label, 2006)

Legal whatsis woulda kept these songs off any “official” Animal Collective record, so AC pulls a fast one and sneaks ‘em out on a white-label 45. The cover of “Polly” is done in a spooky, shuddering, acoustic style, though the ridiculous vocals make it feel like a goof. Not worth puzzling over that too much, cuz the real prize is on the other side: Great clattering percussion on the crazed, all-over-the-place “Purple Bottle,” and the bonus Stevie Wonder rip (“I just called to say…”) in the middle is a nice touch before we get into the whoop-n-holler end-section. Song’s a bizarro rush, tapping into the same teetering weirdness that Barrett nailed on “Vegetable Man” and “Scream Thy Last Scream.” But happier, almost to the point of being manic.

Limited to 500, supposedly, and long gone. Sorry bub.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Animal Collective - Who Could Win a Rabbit

(FatCat, 2004)

I was working for Bubblecore Records – FatCat’s American distributor at the time – the summer this came out, so I have many sweaty memories of days spent filling order after order for “Who Could Win a Rabbit.” The song itself isn’t among the band’s strongest moments (but my ARMS sure were strong after lifting all them boxes of vinyl! WHEE!). It’s a sunny, ecstatic gallop that signaled a move toward a slightly more pop-focused Animal Collective, and it features one of the group’s standard psychotic-preschool-singalong melodies, but it’s too short to really take hold in the mind and ear. There is an entertaining video for the single, and the visual element actually adds quite a bit to the track. “Baby Day,” meanwhile, is a surprisingly convincing mid-/late-’70s Brian Wilson impression. Layered Beach Boy-style vocals and the lyric “She’s gonna have a baby” repeated over and over atop a sparse electronic rhythm and minimal synth, it’s just the sort of charming toss-off that crazytown Brian would have stuck onto the likes of The Beach Boys Love You.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

AMP - Beyond

(Wurlitzer Jukebox, 1997)

There could not POSSIBLY be a worse night for reviewing Brit psychsters AMP. I am just back from the big Van Halen reunion show at Madison Square Garden, to which I wore my tight pants and sleazy high-schooler moustache (ladies: you know where to reach me), and after a long night well-spent in the presence of cartoon-rock greatness I am understandably a bit nonplussed by this disc’s patience-stretching, spacey atmospherics. But I'll try.

The watery, ultra-distorted “Beyond” sounds like the guitar-driven beauty of early Flying Saucer Attack with chilly, tribal percussion underneath… makes sense, cuz Richard Amp is an FSA collaborator from days of old. There are some female vocals on here, but I think the whole thing might have worked just as well as an instrumental; the singing is too ethereal to be valuable/intelligible from a lyrics standpoint, yet too high up in the mix to weave itself into the trippy-time musical fabric (as Dave Pearce's whispery vox did so effectively in FSA). But OK, fine; it’s not so bad. “Lutin” is an inconsequential, drifting rumble with electronic effects echoing in the background, a totally-stoned throwaway B-side. Both these songs would sit more comfortably within the framework of a full-length; a 7” is not the proper home for either track. Just skip the single, buy an LP instead. Hey, did I mention that David Lee Roth took to the stage waving his giant red flag? And that they did “Mean Streets”? Wow! Even “Eruption” was almost tolerable!

Monday, November 12, 2007

American Analog Set - New Equation

(Tiger Style, 2001)

Texan pencil-necks come back for more, this time on Tiger Style, Insound’s ill-fated in-house label. The buzzing keys and echo-laden vibraphone on the peppy “New Equation” add up to a song as satisfyingly lysergic as anything else in the catalog, though the quirky, spitfire delivery of the male/female vocals (or is it a double-tracked falsetto??) is a bit off-putting. “All I Want for Christmas,” on the B, is a waste of vinyl, an ultra-shorty that starts off like any other quiet, cookie-cutter American Analog track (why were these unadventurous songs always on the B-sides of singles?), and then blooms into a Rentals-style chorus before ending suddenly. Both toonz remain exclusive to this 7”, but still… buy cheap or don’t buy at all.

American Analog Set - The Only Living Boy Around

(Emperor Jones, 1999)

Another album, another single, thus completing the band’s red-, white-, and blue-vinyl 7” trilogy for Emperor Jones. No huge departure from the past is evident, though the band does continue to slowly evolve. The vocals are more prominent than ever, and the A-side comes off like a lost, upbeat, Doug Yule-sung track from the third Velvet Underground LP. Really! To this listener, the ever-increased focus on mainman Andrew Kenny’s voice and lyrics is actually the main shift that occurred within the AmAnSet’s music over the years. The earliest material was all about instrumental atmosphere, but as time went on, things felt more and more singer/songwriter-y with each release. We’re well on our way by the time of “The Only Living Boy Around.”

You know, it’s odd that there were never any American Analog Set copycats of note. The group had a steady following for years (I wasn’t able to get anywhere near their farewell NYC show), and it doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to approximate the band’s sound. It might be hard to do it well, but it certainly wouldn’t be too huge a task to at least crank out a watered-down facsimile. So where were and are all the AmAnSet wannabes? There must be someone out there. And guess what? I’m your drummer! Whether you like it or not!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

American Analog Set - Magnificent Seventies

(Emperor Jones, 1997)

If you’re gonna get ONE American Analog Set record, this oughta and gotta be it. The AmAnSet released this, its second single, to accompany its second album, and the groovy bliss-pop of “Magnificent Seventies” is, hands-down, the band at its very tip-toppiest. There’s certainly a higher confidence level here than on the first 7”; both the drumming and the singing are much more assertive as the group flexes its muscles and stretches out within the parameters of its by-now established sound. A brisk pace and well-timed cymbal splashes make for more excitement than anything that has come before, but there’s still that dreamy, late-night feel in the gentle picking and droning keyboards. The comparatively glacial B-side covers the same ground as the first album, though its titular pun – “Waking Up is Hard to Do” – is worth a snigger or two.

A longer version of “Magnificent Seventies” shows up on From Our Living Room to Yours, and both of this single’s tracks are compiled on the Through the ’90s collection.

American Analog Set - Diana Slowburner II

(Emperor Jones, 1996)

Hmm, here's an example of a band that really BLEW IT. And I'll tell you why. Back in, oh, 2001, a fine group of chums, known far and wide for scorching wit and cleverness, slapped some iron-on letters onto an undershirt to make a fashionable top that said the following:

I LOVE
AMERICAN
ANALOG SET

Get it? GET IT??? WHOOOOO!

Anyway, this classic shirt was presented to the AmAnSet live in concert at Boston's TT The Bear's, but, incredibly, was never worn. In fact, later encounters with the band revealed that the garment became a sweat rag. Insulting! Perhaps not coincidentally, American Analog Set's fortunes soon soured, and after a succession of label changes, the band was effectively defunct by 2006. And now you know... "THE REST OF THE STORY." I'm Paul Harvey. Good day.

Just kidding; I'm not really Paul Harvey... or AM I? I'm not!

So let's forget that absolutely-relevant anecdote for a moment and step back a few years: this here single kicked off AmAnSet's recording career, preceding the debut LP by a few months. It presents a unique, loping sort of psychedelia, with a lazier take on the Krautrock motorik beat underpinning the sustained organ/keyboard washes, unassuming guitar, and lullaby-style vocals. Both songs are polite and gently propulsive, with somnolent melodies so boneheadedly simple that it all gets irrevocably stuck in the head upon first listen. The band would tweak the formula in later years to incorporate more pop/rock structure and less droniness, but these early singles are still the discographical jewels.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Amazing Spidermen - Tour '63

(Boom-Boom, 2005)

Scummy surf-style "party platter" recorded in the lowest possibly fidelity. Musically-regressive drunks make good with short, beer-soaked instrumentals and thought-provoking vocal numbers like "Belly Shakin' Baby." Gimmicky spider-suit band photos and laff-a-minute liner notes ice the cake. There's not much more to say... it's mindless frat-fun; perfecto.

Monster-movie and pre-Beatle obsessives Boom-Boom Records has released a whole buncha records along these lines, and they're all worth getting your mitts on, especially the girl-group Sultanas disc. But here's a very special warning: the wise buyer might want to go through a distro, cuz the label has a bad habit of let's say dragging its feet on getting things to you, the paying customer.

All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors - That Familiar Look to You

(Hidden Agenda, 1998)

Holy Moses, this is the one to own. One of my all-time favorite singles. Shimmering blasts of treated guitar, androgynous vocals, crisp drums; a more towering, rapturous sound than what came out of most shoegazer groups, and certainly as good as anything emerging from the genre on either end of the ocean. Better than most, in fact... Moose's "Suzanne" is one of the few that even exists in the same ballpark, and even that is grittier and less glorious than what we have here. Just a rich, rich sound on both sides. Bafflingly, "That Familiar Look to You" has been living in the clearance bins, online and in the real world, for years. Please explain.

All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors - I Am Where You Were

(Gern Blandsten, 1997)

Say, here's a band that deserves a lot more appreciation than it got or gets. Jersey Joes with a snappy mix of Isn't Anything-era My Bloody Valentine (guitars, lead vocals, tempo shifts) and Stereolab (synths, "bum-bumpa-bum"-style backing vocals), no one's gonna give ANL&LF a gold star for originality, but they assembled those pieces into something dense, interesting, and usually exciting. Conveniently for my credibility, the perfect example is etched into this very single: the A-side presents robust wall-of-gtr muscle straight outta 1990, with post-shoegaze start/stop and regular turn-on-a-dime detours into bubbly 'Lab-land. Can't imagine anyone pulling the combo off any better than it's done right here. Flip it over for the dreamier, but still heavy, "Repetitive Monotonous"; the verses and their unintelligible cooing are hypnotic, and every time those ten-ton guitars come crashing in... MAN! Nice record, fellas!

Gern Blandsten later compiled this 45, along with the "Catcher" and "That Familiar Look to You" singles plus a few other odds 'n' ends, on the handy Straight Blue Line album. Two more full-lengths hang their headwear on similar sonic hat-racks and are also worth locating, so GET READY TO SPEND SPEND SPEND. Are you ready? You are? Great! Well, that's all outta me. Good night, America!

No, wait! I should mention that most (all?) members ended up in the less-amazing Jett Brando after ANL&LF fizzled. Good night, America!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Aislers Set - The Red Door

(Slumberland, 2001)

Aislers Set does everything right on here and the ever-consistent Slumberland Records wins again. “The Red Door” is hard-charging fuzzpop, more coy than fey, and clearly descended from the bloodline of Slumberland Adam-&-Eves the Black Tambourine. Feedback bursts in the guitar solo make this about as white-hot as such things get. The band’s rough ‘n’ raw live recording of “Warm Girls” is a fine pit stop on the way to “Summer’s Reprise,” a lush, beautifully-arranged pop song flaunting all the catchy features the cardigan-wearing, bobbed-hair-having crowd could possibly want. Burbling organ? Yep. “Ah-ah-ah” backing vox? You gots it. Sunny strummin’? Sure! Some tasteful trumpet in the choruses swerves us nearer Belle & Sebastian territory, but a tougher backbeat throughout establishes this as its own thing. A steal at $3.50 from the label.

Air Conditioning - Catneck

(Electric Human Project, 2005)

"Catneck" starts with a lengthy stretch of electric hum, and just when you're thinkin' "I done been HAD!," the squealing, plodding, BLAM... BLAM... BLAM avant-heaviness comes down for a few minutes. Not as balls-out or recognizably "rock" as other Air Conditioning material, I'll betcha this could be passed off as a Wolf Eyes electro jam and fool most. The B is much more satisfying, the kind of frantic, nutso vomit that AC does best: smothering instrumental noise and animal screaming that's enhanced by lousy recording techniques which leave no space anywhere in the sound. It's relentless, and more than makes up for the forgettable A-side. Dudes are managing to wring new life out of the standard three-piece rock setup. Violently.

Art lovers should take note: The label thoughtfully pressed "Catneck" on a hideous picture disc that gives the actual music a run for its money in the ugliness sweepstakes. Display with pride in the home or office.

Air Conditioning - Bachelor Party

(White Denim, 2005)

Saw Air Conditioning at No Fun Fest '07, and it was the real deal. An auxiliary member -- a powertool-wielding machinist -- went to work on a mic'd piece of sheet metal, which, in a nifty two-fer, complimented AC's sound perfectly while setting off the burglar alarms in buildings across the street. This nasty little 7" was recorded by the core gtr/bass/drums three-piece live at No Fun in 2004, and is out and about in a teensy pressing of 200; hi there, eBay! Once the pre-show prep and blather finally wraps up (highlight: "Matt had to piss on the ride here and he pissed all over a fucking deer head and he didn't care."), the group kicks into some brutal, bass-y clatter that, being live live live, represents da boyz' THING better than most of what's on the slightly (SLIGHTLY) tamer full-lengths. Complete tape-saturation noize and machine-shop drumming; totally punishing satisfaction, so it's too bad half the record's over by the time things actually get started music-wise. Ah well; I guess that's part of the joke. As is the fact that both sides contain the same audio. So the joke's on ME, right?? Oof!

Against Me! - The Disco Before the Breakdown

(No Idea, 2002)

Relatively ambitious and expansive stuff from Floridian punkers who ended up on the majors a few years later. For better or worse, these guys seem to have been tagged as Clash-like flag-wavers, the thinking/working band for the thinking/working man. That can be an uncomfortable, suffocating ghetto, one that attracts particularly pissy fans ready to shriek "sellout" at every move, but this single at least shows the group willing to goof a little in the song titles ("Tonight We're Gonna Give it 35%") while staying on message and keeping it heartfelt 'n' earnest in the vocal department. There's a pleasing range of styles on parade: The shout-along A-side's horns and backing vocals are a nice surprise, "...35%" does the quiet/loud/louder thing, and "Beginning in an Ending" is just acoustic guitar + howl. The modest, fistpump tempos on all three songs lend an anthemic feel to the proceedings, and there's the faintest whiff of classic-rock sensibilities in the arrangements. Scene's not my bag, but I'll definitely give credit for keeping me interested and on my toes.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Adventures In Stereo - Brand New Day

(Bobsled, 1997)

Jim Beattie from early Primal Scream heads up this group, but I don't hear any connection beyond the obsessive need to strip-mine the r'n'r past for the benefit of the indie present. Which can certainly work at times, this being one of them. Chick-vox and melodica dominate the title track, with the other three taking a slightly more danceable (both slow and fast), beat-conscious approach, and always the spectre of Spector (oh good gracious that is RICH! Give me a RAISE!) hangin' over everything. It's all simple Stereolab loop-grooviness plus Lolita girl-group vocal stylings; catchy, sunshiney mid-tempo material. Scenester sass and calculated charm with the classic good-gal/bad-gal dynamic in full effect. Sha-doobie-doo.

Ad Astra Per Aspera - An Introduction To

(Big Brown Shark, 2003)

I saw these guys play in an Omaha basement on a fine 2003 eve, and after a summer of one-note hardcore bands (most of whom were good live, but, you know, you seen one you seen 'em etc.), I was mighty impressed by the notable DIFFERENCES I eyeballed here. It was a weird combo of HC throat-shred, mathiness, and classic prog, with rilly competent girl-played keys. Bloody and sweaty, but also a little complex and unpredictable. The 7" does a decent job of transferring the whole thing to vinyl, though the combined loss of HOT BASEMENT and LOUSY P.A. is a serious knock against. There should be more STINK than THINK on records like this, and I'm not sure that this tempo-shiftin', chorus-screamin', ivory-ticklin' disc comes down on the right side of the fence. Some good and appropriate aggression here, but there's just not enough FACE gotten into when all's sung and done. A later album on Sonic Unyon strays even further from the path of what I thought made 'em champs that starry (was it?) Nebraska night, so approach that one with caution after you give this 7" a twice-over.

Hey, here's a question: Why do bands with great live keyboard sounds tend to get such a CHEEZY keysound on their recordings?? Really! Almost every time! Including this time! Instead of some in-the-red speaker-spew, we get... a ballpark organ?? C'mon; just get it right!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Acid - Never, Ever

(Bomp/Tangible, 1993)

"Never, Ever" was released as part of the scuzz-psych "Tangible Box," a 6x7" SF sub-scene document that had #1 Brian Jonestown Massacre cheez Anton Newcombe's fingerprints all over it. If not the entire BJM recording under a different name, Acid is at the very least Newcombe singing and (probably) playing guitar. 1993 was early in the game; none of the snottiness or modstomp for which the band is best known shows up here, nor does the My Bloody Valentine-worship of the Methodrone album appear. Trebly and percussion-free, "Never, Ever" -- later re-recorded minus the comma as a BJM single -- is repetitive, lo-fi nod-off music with the type of hypnotic, echo-y guitar loveliness that was all over early Spiritualized. "Thoughts of You" exists along the same lines, though with a bit more energy and aural meat...instead of a Lazer Guided Melodies demo, it's a Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To track ("track" ...HA!!). Though clearly the labor of amateurs, there's at least enough close study of the relevant blissed-out forebears in evidence to make the whole thing work. Warning for your needle ("needle" ...HA!!), friend: both sides seem to start with silent lockgrooves. Sneaky sneaky, boys.

Aberdeen - Sink or Float

(Tremolo Arm Users Club, 2001)

When did I buy this? Where did I buy this? Why did I buy this? Did I buy this?? I HAVE NO IDEA. Given that I definitely did not run down to my local shoppe for the specific purpose of buying the hot new Aberdeen 7" at any point in the last six years, there are three possibilities here, each as uninteresting as the last: ONE. This was part of a large lot purchased on eBay. TWO. This was a throw-in freebie in some mail-order shipment. THREE. This was part of the big discount 7" lot I bought from that Microindie guy a few years ago. It's safe to say that I won't sleep tonight as I try to solve this incredible riddle. Time to put on my riddle-solvin' hat, my floor-pacin' shoes, and my chin-strokin' forefinger.

The music? Oh! Right! It's like early-90s, mixed-gender, American indiepop all growed up and all uninteresting. Melodic, sure, and the female vocals are super-sugary-AOK, but it's totally boring and predictable genre-hell, both sonically and thematically ("I feel as if I've never had a crush before" ...argh!). Someone like, I dunno, Velocity Girl (why not?) would have performed these songs weirder and better 15 years ago. The last minute of "Sink or Float" is the record's high point, as a piano is plink-plinked atop some relatively noisy and driving guitar. As for the rest, it's just a pleasant time-waster. Inoffensive, see.

7% Solution - Lullaby

(Hidden Agenda, 1998)

Late-night psychedelic mood-music, comparable in feel to one of the quieter, more meandering tracks on, say, Atom Heart Mother. Which is probably the exact comparison these guys would've wanted from a review, so let's offer the caveats (not gonna play into NO ONE'S hands! Nope! Yeehaw!) that the nasal vocals do not at all help this spaceship achieve liftoff, and while the whole thing is definitely PRETTY, "Lullaby" isn't nearly as melodically strong as those Pink Floyd records. It feels like it should be much longer; I would have been happy to hear the song drift 'n' glide along for another five minutes instead of lurching into the abrupt-sounding ending. Is the problem the run-time limitations of the 7" format, or is the song just under-developed?? A mystery! A clean-sounding cover of Can's "Oh Yeah" picks up the tempo on the flip, with the drummer handling himself quite nicely. Whoosh-y sound effects boost the psych-out factor.

Parasol.com has marked these things down to fifty cents, and any geek who gets a kick out of similar '90s goodies like Asteroid #4 or even Flying Saucer Attack should be happy to lay out that kind of dough. I was. And am.