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.


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:


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. 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.

The 6ths - Heaven in a Black Leather Jacket

(Merge, 1993)

Never was a Stephin Merritt fan. It’s always been about disinterest rather than dislike, even when my earholes were force-fed 69 Love Songs for a few college years. That record’s witticisms and (I’m told) sophisticated bent just didn’t get my motor chooglin’; I far prefer dum-dum to clever when the music’s cutesy. But hey! This 6ths single mostly rights those wrongs. Robert Scott from the Bats (sez the insert; who dat?) sings about kissin’ on a Hollywood girl/guy in the strummy, Scot-pop soundalike title track with the kind of awkward, guileless innocence of bands like the Pastels. Do I make that comparison just because he has an accent? Do I find the whole thing appetizing just because it isn't Stephen M vocalizing? MAYBE. And yet…!

Brisk, squelchy electronic drums give the B-side a goofy appeal, even as Merritt waxes pessimistic about the entertainment biz and – ho ho! – sorta responds to the disc’s A-side, droning on about not finding love in L.A. and how he’s watchin’ it all “rot in the sun.” Two short, simple songs – one sunny, one bleak – both of ’em musically peppy and charming, even if not AT ALL memorable. Total candy!

!!! - The Dis-ease

(Hopscotch, 1998)

While !!! didn’t really pull it all together until the lengthy dub freakout on its side of the Out Hud split 12” a year or so later, it had the whole f/punk formula figured out well enough on this first single. What the band was doing back then was a lot more exciting than the zillion-selling (I think?), chart-busting (right?), stadium-filling (I'm pretty sure?) music it released on Touch & Go and Warp a few years down the road: these songs are more basement than disco, with a much looser, rawer feel than on later records. The rhythm section is definitely locked in, dance-wise – especially on catchy B-side keeper “The Funky Branca” – but there’s an overarching, appealing messiness in the brass blats, stereo-panned guitar squiggles, and mini drum breakdowns.

The lyrics and vocals have always been iffy (particularly live, with the added embarrassment of the less and less bearable frontman/MC antics), and the sophomoric ruminations on scene phonies in “The Dis-ease” are indeed purty bad: “Well what about U / Y do U do what U do / R U fabricated R U fake or made up / Come on let’s tell the truth.” Still, the mix emphasizes the music enough to successfully marginalize the singer’s yowlings, and the aforementioned POETRY wouldn’t be intelligible without the assistance of the lyric sheet.

Sure, this one's not a must-have, but it's successful partytime stuff that’s toe-tappy enough on its own, and tons o’ fun next to the comparatively sleek and lyrically “confrontational” (yawn) product the band has put out since joining the ranks of the bigs. If you manage to find both this and the rump-kickin' split-12" on GSL, quit while you're ahead.