Monday, August 25, 2008

Drop Nineteens - Limp

(Hut, 1993)

A single yanked from the Drop Nineteens’ second (and last) album, “Limp” takes a more rock-minded approach – check them aggressive vocals! – than the band’s earlier material, though the shoegaze influence remains quite apparent in the nicely wonky guitar work. Still, file it under “Alt” and approach with caution. The Pixie-esque “Tempest” and “Sea Rock” give us some more oddball gtr-FX goofiness, but both are prototypical B-sides, loose throwaways better for a chuckle (“Tempest,” with its overbaked howls, almost seems to be a Nirvana parody at times) than much else. LP number one, Delaware, offers a more sedate noise-swell and does a far better job of satisfying with its inoffensive aping of early-’90s Britgaze. These guys were purely second-stringers.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Doors - Love Her Madly

(Elektra, 1971)

Listening to the Doors always gives me ample reason to cringe, because, like any lame-brained teenager of the last couple decades, there were a few middle-school years there where I eagerly immersed myself in the embarrassing, pseudo-intellectual mythology that draws young morons everywhere to the band (and remember that just as guilty as Morrison for all of that silliness is long-winded necrophiliac Ray Manzarek, who has been shamelessly flogging the horse since 1971). Yes, I even owned and dug ol’ Jim’s two volumes of, ahem, “poetry,” within which I pretended to perceive and receive some real Heavy Truths. But even then, thick as I was, I was clued-in enough to realize that Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman were both horseshit, the self-parodic work of a washed-up group desperately grasping for bluesy authenticity after its one true attempt at stretching out – the bizarre lounge act of Soft Parade, which happens to be my favorite Doors LP – nearly got it laughed out of the big leagues. The upbeat “Love Her Madly,” however, is a rare bright spot on L.A. Woman, begging as it does for chart action and pop recognition while dropping most of the dreary pretensions that had consumed the band. The dumb-dumb lyrics (“Don’t you love her madly / Want to meet her daddy”) and cheery tack piano are a welcome return to the relative frivolity of earlier material like “Hello I Love You,” though Morrison’s deep vocal is distractingly hammy. It’s amusing to note that while the song is already concise on the album, here the label chops another 30 seconds off for the single release – shame Bruce Botnik couldn’t get anyone to take that same ax to the endless “Riders on the Storm” or the LP’s title track. As for the sub-bar-band, Manzarek-sung Willie Dixon cover on the B-side – “(You Need Meat) Don’t Go No Further” – let’s just say that it serves as a depressingly accurate preview for the two dire post-Morrison records to come.

Donovan - Epistle To Dippy

(Epic, 1967)

In the grand scheme of such things, the ever-underappreciated Donovan doesn’t get his due. I’m not sure that there’s a meaningful musical link to be found between his work and that of today’s kiddies, but he’s clearly an influence visually and in a general spiritual/philosophical sense: There’s a definite air of Donovan-ness to freak-folk and pop guys like Devendra Banhart, MGMT, and, heck, Joanna Newsom. It’s a shame that no one in the mainstream is outright copping his musical moves, though, because Donovan’s psychedelic phase resulted in plenty of weird, memorable moments that deserve to be internalized by at least a few scene newies.

The non-LP “Epistle to Dippy” is one of the best from this period, a lysergic, almost Barrett-esque single with sproingy guitars, sawing cellos, and a harpsichord break. Even though some of the lyrics are, uh, dated (“Look on yonder misty mountain / See the young monk meditating,” “Elevator in the brain hotel,” etc.), give it a pass for its great arrangement, great spaced-out vocal, and great melody; this is easily in the same league as killers “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Sunshine Superman.” Donovan’s psychedelic pop – “Dippy” in particular – seems to be the reference point for the Rolling Stones’ strange attempts at the form in 1967: “Dandelion” and “We Love You” take more from records such as this one than they do any, say, Beatles disc.

Switching gears, it’s a jazzy beatnik trip on the other side, as “Preachin’ Love” is all tinkling pianos, brushed cymbals, and saxes accompanying Donovan’s rhythmic vocal delivery. Interesting as a contrast to the A-side and as a display of his considerable musical range, but not worth more than a play or two.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Doleful Lions - Hang Around In Your Head

(Parasol, 1997)

Cuddle-pop that definitely skews more towards jangle than power, the Doleful Lions make stylistic semi-peers such as the Apples In Stereo seem like bruisers in comparison. The hopelessly sappy “Hang Around In Your Head” is a bush-league effort that falls flat in its attempt at simple pop winsomeness; the necessary hooks simply aren’t there and it runs out of gas with shocking alacrity. A slower cough-syrup style ends up working out better for the band on “Motel Swim,” a sparse, summer-night cricket-chirper that has plenty in common with the decade’s legions of post-Galaxie 500 dream-poppers. On both, however, the nasal, wavering vocals are a major irritant. Still: To be fair (perhaps too fair), these are early demos on here, so I’m willing to take a chance someday and find out if things got any better on the group’s handful of subsequent studio albums – their MySpace tracks (which include a Negative Approach cover?!?!) suggest that this might indeed be the case.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dr. Dog - The Girl

(Park The Van, 2007)

A limited (is it really?) release that was sold on a 2007 tour and in a handful of retail shops, this Dr. Dog single pairs a remix by Beck with a remake of an Architecture In Helsinki song for seven star-studded inches of blog-wuss wetdream. And sure, yeah, it’s worth the spilling of at least a little seed, I suppose, particularly when it comes to the A side. The original version of “The Girl” on We All Belong is loping psych-pop whose fuzzy recording can’t disguise the Steely Dan professionalism behind some very savvy, accessible songwriting. Beck, true to his recent form, strips the track to its melodic core, emphasizes and enhances the rhythmic backing, and speeds the whole thing up. This isn’t necessarily better than the original, but it’s certainly catchy, lightweight fun that would have improved the similar-sounding Guero or The Information had it somehow been included on one of those records. Less noteworthy is the cover of “Heart it Races” on the other side, which thankfully jettisons the unfortunate world-music-meets-Animal-Collective head-slapisms of Architecture In Helsinki, going instead for a more basic “now”-style indie-bland that flirts with verywhiteboy funk in the low-end. It’s not all that exciting. But it’s not embarrassing, either. It just kinda… exists. A perfect song for the jukebox at your local young-person bar, you know?

And hey, speaking of “exciting” and “young people,” can you guess where I was last night? A boat!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dion & The Belmonts - I Wonder Why

(Laurie, 1958)

I’m no fan of the form, but this one was a real doo-fuckin-whopper of a hit for our buddy
Dion back in ’58, so who am I to upturn my mod-struttin’ snoot? A bigshot snoot, my snoot, that snores because I’m coming down with a summertime cold. Ah-choo. See how dismissive I am? It’s a lively streetcorner toe-tapper, though, this “I Wonder Why.” Lively and BORING in your standard limp, non-rock vocal-putz way. Ah-choo. Was at least excited to turn the record over and hear what I THOUGHT was gonna be the classic “Teen Angel” (Like: “Teen angel, teen angel, say you’ll be mine” etc.) but WHOOPS I’m an idjit and it turns out that’s “EARTH Angel” by the good ol’ Penguins I was jonesing for, not “TEEN Angel” – our song here is a mawkish drool/drama-fest best suited for mid-century simps and dullards and Lou Reeds. But at least it’s short. Ah-cho—nevermind. Zzz.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Difference Engine - And Never Pull

(Swirling Worlds, 1992)

Shoegaze was mighty swell as far as gender stuff goes, what with every group in the land needing a lady onboard to provide vocals, and one quick listen to
Difference Engine will make clear that these here folks were no trend-buckers, nosireeBOB: Dig those feminine pipes a-croonin’ just the way the formula says they oughta! Musically, the band goes for pretty-pretty in a Lush sense rather than noisy-pretty in a My Bloody Valentine sense, though there is a little edginess in the subtle electonics and guitarchurn bubbling underneath the dreaminess – the total package is kinda Moose-like, in fact, and that’s a comparison that should make any American whatevergaze second-waver feel 100% all-right. A nice disc; when the genre eventually scores its own Nuggets box, these guys better be repped. But for now, unfortunately, Difference Engine is about as obscure as it gets, so finding this single (and the slightly more common Breadmaker album on La-di-da, which is more of the luvly same) is gonna involve you putting on your record-hunting hat. The other 499 copies hafta be out there somewhere.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Dieselhed - Forklift Test

(Amarillo, 1993)

Kinda the non-jokers in the Amarillo pack,
Dieselhed makes it happen with concise, varied-tempo twang-punk that shitkicks quite amiably, even when nudging up against skronky abrasiveness on “A-1 Steak Sauce.” Is it all a genre parody/tribute along the lines of labelmates Bon Larvis Boogie Woogie Blues Band or The New Session People? Dunno. Whole thing sounds earnest enough (that fiddle and them harmonies are AOK to these ears), and they did stick it out into the 2000s, so I suppose it was indeed a sincere attempt at a hep cowpoke rocker sound. Not that “authenticity” matters if the songs are good – and these are! Or are at least DECENT! – but within the labyrinthine laffworld of Amarillo Records it’s always unclear exactly who the joke is on, so asking questions and taking nuttin at face value seems the healthy thing to do. Cuz not much else is going on tonight anyway, right? I mean, if I’m not thinking about THIS, I’ll be thinking deep thoughts about the Hollies’ transition to funk/disco. And that would get me all worked up. “Wiggle That Wotsit” indeed.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dianogah - Hannibal

(Southern, 2001)

Spent a big weekend back in the hometown, the clear highlight being a demonstration before my own two peepers of the absorptive power of Depends adult diapers – never seen anything so amazing! The considerable volume of yellow was soaked right into the patented gel core, and the fellow testing the undies reported that his nethers were bone-dry within seconds. Real impressive. Upon my departure I was sent off with a pair of my very own AND a Bloodrock LP, so the trip was a screaming success, despite a near disaster on the highway when I foolishly chose the x-tra caffeinated roadside sludge-brew (peppermint flavored?!) and set to wishing that I’d pulled on those Depends for the ride. Willpower and bladderpower saw to it that the crisis was averted, WHEW, so here I am, back home and safe in the arms of some Dianogah single. Dudes’ “THING” was that they had a dual-bass lineup, though I’m not sure that that makes a notable difference on these two songs, which are standard-fare late-century Chicago post-rockarolla instros. Sleepy stuff on the A that’s along the lines of a professionally-trained American Analog Set, and the livelier B might actually excite me if I was a hotshot bedroom bass geek. Not that it’s BAD… I’d at least clean my house or get ready for dreamland to these songs. But would I let my daughter marry one?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Diamond Nights - Destination Diamonds

(Kemado, 2005)

Here’s a Friday Funny:

Q: Why did rock activist Bono weep as he watched a television broadcast today covering the much-anticipated beginning of an intense, hard-fought international competition?

A: Because as a noted lover of peace, he was upset about Russia finally tiring of tensions over the breakaway region of South Ossetia and invading the neighboring country of Georgia!

Timely. Incisive. Poignant. Jokes can be all of these things.

Now a record review! Diamond Nights takes on the Rock Sounds Of Olde with these two beefy riffmonsters custom-built for all your fist-pump chug-a-lug goodtimes. Solos, falsetto, solid rhythm section, and guitar divebombs are wrapped up in sleek production that works perfectly on the racing dirty-glam of “Destination Diamonds” – party rock as it should be. And hoo boy there’s no real dropoff in the fun on the other side of the disc, where the synthy throwaway “Buddies” is a shimmering, goofy singalong that mixes rock muscle and new-wave keys in such a way that it oughta have big appeal for drunken Rush fans the world over. Want a tip? This UK 7” merely pulls two songs from the strong five-track Once We Were Diamonds EP, so savvy shoppers will instead go find that oft-discounted disc for MAXIMUM ENTERTAINMENT VALUE.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Delgados - Girls Of Valour

(Chemikal Underground, 2005)

The final Delgados album, Universal Audio, is something of a return to basics after the head-spinning Fridmann excess of Hate, but these peppier, “stripped down” songs still clearly show off the considerable growth the band had gone through over the course of its recent records. “Girls of Valour” is bouncy pop-rock sweetened by sunny synths and some three-part Beach Boys-style vocals in the chorus, a happy compromise between the Delgados’ early and mid-period styles. Hummable pop sophistication.

A pair of covers from two radio sessions (both of which are included on the Complete BBC Peel Sessions compilation) fill up the reverse: a ho-hum duet on “Ballad of Accounting” (2004), and a Peel-requested “Last Rose of Summer” (2002) that serves as a vocal showcase for Pollock. Neither bare-bones recording makes a very compelling case for the Delgados as a live band; the application of studio gunk-layerage seems to have been a vital aspect of their sound. And that, of course, is nothing to be ashamed of, in light of how successfully they pulled it all off through most of their career.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Delgados - Under Canvas Under Wraps

(Chemikal Underground, 1996)

The rock action is a lot more streamlined this time around, and we’re definitely the worse for it. On “Under Canvas Under Wraps” and “Een Telf,” the band goes for an overdriven, Breeders-style alterna-pop that lacks the innocently over-thunk off-kilter charm of the previous singles, and not even Emma Pollock’s surprisingly tuff-ass singing can save these bland, sorta-hooky rawk-out sleepwalks. Even on the decidedly Pavement-y “Bear Cub,” whose lackadaisical vox and guitar groove are pretty much straight stylistic rips of our Modesto buddies, the Delgados sound uncharacteristically faceless and bored/boring. A bum single for sure, but let’s give them a pass on it cuz far better things were soon to come with The Great Eastern and Hate. Shoot, with tearjerk, sucker-punch, kitchen-sink records like those, I just can’t stay mad at these bozos; I’m both a pushover and a chump.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Delgados - Lazarwalker E.P.

(Radar, 1995)

This early Delgados EP offers only the faintest hints – primarily in “Lazarwalker’s” semi-lush vocal harmonies – of the hyper-arranged bombast that would characterize the group’s later records. Mostly, the band just sounds very, well, young, with turned-up guitars and crashing drums that situate the songs comfortably in a mid-’90s American indie-rock context (despite being products of Scotland). A fair comparison would be a straighter, pop-minded Pavement, as all four tracks are built around catchy hooks and winning vocals, while retaining their noisiness and throwing up a few mild surprises in their tempo and chord changes. A good start for these oddly underrated folks; harmless pop fun with some crunch.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Deerhoof - My Pal Foot Foot

(NJFM, 2002)

Chuck this one in the “W” bin, and that’s most definitely a “W” for “Why Bother?”
Deerhoof salutes an obvious influence by covering the Shaggs’ “My Pal Foot Foot” in the fractured style of the original Philosophy of the World version (I actually prefer the creepy rethink on Shaggs’ Own Thing), bringing nothing much new to the song other than some electronic burps. You’re not gonna out-weird the Shaggs, so why make yourselves look like pretenders by even taking a stab at the stuff? Can’t even call this one a noble effort; it’s just pointless. The two additional tracks – “Sunny Forty Fours” and “Aho-Bomb” – are typical of early-decade Deerhoof material, with their falling-apart rhythms, random noise-bursts, and surprisingly melodic vocal parts. Interesting to hear them once, and that’s about it.

I gave up on Deerhoof long ago, but there are at least a few moments of hot bizarro rockin’ on the Reveille album that continue to get listens ’round these parts every once in a while (endless big yeahs for “The Magnificent Bird Will Rise”). Still, there was never enough consistent BOOM-BLAMF there to make me pay serious attention, and the vocalist had an unfortunate tendency toward cuteness – never so grating as when, during a show I attended, she made like she had paws and hopped around the stage chirping “Panda panda panda!” STOP THAT. Maybe things have changed for the better in the years and records since? I’m way out of the loop.