Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Enon - Enon

(Do Tell, 2002)

I’ve inadvertently seen Enon play four times over the years – twice opening for the Flaming Lips on the Soft Bulletin tour, once in a New Haven bar, and once at the Touch & Go 25th anniversary show – and the wacky sounds of this 7” don’t jibe with the polished, jumpy electro-rock I seem to recall from those live performances. And that’s REAL fine, because the seven songs heard here are happily the sort of squelchy weirdo pop that could have easily come out of the Elephant 6 camp: short bursts of imaginative, melodic kitchen-sinkery taking left turn after left turn. Keyboards, clarinets, easy-listening samples, fuzz guitar, boombox-fi recording… check off all those boxes. The wobbly, old-timey snippet “Eggshells Are Now Chicken Bones” is an especially dead-on echo of the Music Tapes, though every track on here has sonic cousins in E6, whether Of Montreal, Elf Power, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, or even Major Organ. An unexpected surprise from a band I’ve either ignored or derided (or, uh, openly heckled) since its formation. I’ll admit now to the presence of at least a little egg on my face. Tasty, tasty egg.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Elf Power - Interlude #87

(Arena Rock, 1999)

This 7” comes tucked inside the Dream in Sound LP, and THERE IT CAN STAY for all I care. Cuz it’s a dog! WOOF! “Interlude #87,” which also appears unlisted at the end of the CD, is loopy sound collage wankery of the OTC variety, while hot guitar makes the sloppy psych jam “Wrinkles” at least slightly interesting. But interesting enough to justify the man-sized eBay prices for this rare thingamajig? No sir, I cannot in good conscience say that that is the case. So keep on walkin’, smart shopper.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Elf Power - The Winter Hawk EP

(Kindercore, 1996)

Elf Power is generally less given to whimsy than other Elephant 6 bands, and over the years they’ve developed into the most “professional,” straight-sounding rock group of the bunch. This early single – their first – is a nice reminder of rawer days, when Rieger and pals were turning out bedroom psychedelia that ranged from folksy (“The Winter Hawk”) to droning (“Heroes and Insects”) to acid-damaged (“Exalted Exit Wound”). The savvy arrangements, incorporating violin, flute, accordion, and Moog, give the record an expansive sound that, overall, isn’t too far from what the similarly-ambitious (though less sober) Olivia Tremor Control was doing on its first few 7”s. The streamlined Elf Power of later years is a fine thing, but these songs have a baby’s-first-steps charm that has since been lost.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Elevator Drops - Lennon's Dead

(Curve of the Earth, 1994)

I’m not familiar with the
Elevator Drops beyond this single, but it seems that, like the early Flaming Lips, the group is trying, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, to needlessly walk a fine line between silly and sincere. The sleeve pimps a photo of John Lennon’s corpse, and the band inserts a clever/creepy “authentic” swatch of Lennon’s bedsheet, which, further perverting the idea of the hocked Beatlemania hotel linens it’s meant to evoke, is here presumably a piece of deathbed fabric. Which is quite funny, actually! So, given all that, it’s a bit of a surprise to find that the record is catchy, heartfelt, and exuberant, with a big, noisy pop sound reminiscent of Jesus Hits-era Tripping Daisy, both musically and vocally. The band goes for the occasional glammy posturing in its hooky guitarwork on “Lennon’s Dead” (which swipes the “Day in the Life” piano crash for its conclusion), but the more subtle “Elevator to Heaven,” alternating as it does between quiet, spacey verses and hard-hitting bits of amplifier-crunch, ends up the king of this little piece of musical plastic. All in all, good stuff that begs questions of larger-scale, major-label coulda-shoulda. I mean, why not? People, if copies of this are still hanging around the dollar bins of the few remaining record stores in the greater Boston area (as they definitely were ten years ago), then by all means, spend a buck and give a listen.

Electro Group - Line Of Sight

(Omnibus, 2000)

A rare Electro Group-only single – the band has split 7”s with Rocking Horse Winner, St. Avalanche, and Hirameka Hi-Fi – this one pushes all the right buttons: sighing vocals and woozy waves of distortion that crest and break in a manner that calls to mind all the obvious shoegaze forebears, a rougher-around-the-edges All Natural Lemon And Lime Flavors in particular. While there are indeed strong melodies underneath the layers of sonic cotton-candy (“Allstar” would remain quite satisfying if stripped down to its bare bones), the sheer density of sound on these two songs is to be applauded; with at least one former member of Dusty Reske’s band in the lineup, the Electro Group apple clearly didn’t fall too far from the Rocketship tree. I really oughta mention the boss packaging as well, which is an attractive, screenprinted, drawstring cloth bag (housing creamy blue vinyl) that must have set poor Omnibus Records back a few clams. But remember: a classy product is its own reward! The only serious complaint here is that the aforementioned “Allstar” is NOT a shoegaze cover of the universally-beloved Smash Mouth classic. Hopefully scene daddies My Bloody Valentine will be tackling that particular challenge on their reunion album.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Electric Light Orchestra - Don't Bring Me Down

(Jet, 1979)

WOE unto any fun-hating joker out there who has the stones to poo-poo this scorcher, this perennial radio fave, this karaoke show-stopper, this finest of all Electric Light Orchestra moments. And the fact that it is the best of the band’s catalog is sorta funny, because “Don’t Bring Me Down,” despite the typical fancypants production touches from Jeff Lynne, isn’t very representative of ELO’s general sound before the Discovery LP: it’s a sweaty, strings-free, non-cerebral, glammy stomp that runs far away from the group’s standard outer-space orchestro-rock. Thundering drums and occasional handclaps provide the rhythmic bed for the deep-bottomed, synthy heaviness Jeff & Co. are laying down in devastatingly PERFECT dancefloor-pop fashion. Lynne’s massed vocals are at their finest, and the expertly-deployed falsetto earns the ultimate praise of being deemed Bee Gee-worthy. Sure, I like the six-minute strings-n-synth prog workouts on earlier records (got no beef with rockin’ ELOldie “Dreaming of 4000” on the B), dig as well the tech-conscious ballads and radio-ready nuggets on those discs, but can only stand up and shout to the world that I LOVE this song. Simply everything a HIT oughta be. Propose to me a better non-booze mood corrective than “Don’t Bring Me Down” and LIAR-FRAUD-CHARLATAN is what I’ll call you, Jack.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Eggs - Sexual Tension

(Jade Tree, 1993)

Geese! There are geese flying over my apartment on this brisk October Friday! Wow! Keep on honkin’ down that inky skyway, geese of the night; you’ve got great style.

But: Eggs? I must admit I never bothered myself with any of those TeenBeat bands, so I’m going to have to wing it here and offer a brief biographical sketch that slyly disguises my total ignorance of these fellows’ work. Ahem. You see, Eggs was a several-membered music-making band from well-known country The United States of America that put out a buncha records in the vinyl, tape, and compact disc formats that have long been so popular among consumers. Famous for their songs featuring guitars and drums and bass and singing and sometimes other instruments, Eggs was truly a band loved by all, and it was a sad day for the nation’s young and old alike when the local news organ finally announced that our heroes were to hang up their various tools of noise-making and take on new challenges. What with the changing times and the shifting sands of fortune, etc.

I think I got through that pretty well.

Now we can cover this single, which has a slooooooow, gently grinding one called “Sexual Tension” followed by flutey pepster “In State” and old-as-wrinkles loungescum classic “Fever.” Never mind tracks one and three; “In State” is the tune that justifies this thing’s existence, what with its sunny woodwind tootling, snappy drumbeat, and subtle trombone. None of the goofiness of the other two songs, just doggone-fine songwriting and a bright pop delivery. A lovely bit of work. Did Eggs have more like that one? Can we ever know?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Easy Goings - Cigarettes

(Nuf Sed, 1992)

The Easy Goings are back for their second and last single, and they’re feelin’ especially cover-y this time around, bringing their beautiful magic to songs by the Beach Boys, Springsteen, and Black Flag. Much more in line with the obnoxious EZ-listening terror of the breakaway Zip Code Rapists than the comparatively tame first single, this record offers fans a smooth torch-passing to that group and its vicious dismantling of “hits” both real and alternate-universe. The demented cheerfulness of musical pep-talk “Life is For the Living” (“Don’t sit around on your ass / Smokin’ grass”) actually keeps quite close to Brian Wilson’s unreleased version, though the addition of John Singer’s noise-guitar and Turkington’s phlegmy bark puncture the unsettling bubble-world naivete of Wilson’s original with their self-consciousness. Still, it’s a typically inspired choice for a cover, and the band even went to the trouble of putting together a video to help this keyboardcheez-driven song on its way to the top of the charts; sure nuff, pairing the music with forehead LP-smashing and glass-cleaner consumption earns the vid the gold medal for Ultimate Easy Goings Thingy. And itself NO SLOUCH is “Born in the USA” (split over both sides of the single), here retaining its signature keyboard line while being otherwise destroyed by Turkington’s increasingly choked gargle/scream, which eventually degenerates into a subhuman bleating of “BORN!” “BORN!” “BORN!” over and over; a nearly perfect cover. Rollins gets it worst, though, as a pressed-at-the-wrong-speed “Scream” turns him into the bawling, pre-adolescent whiner you mighta suspected he was all along. “Boo-hoo” cries the band as the song fades, and “boo-hoo” cries the listener as the record ends. Even more than the previous Easy Goings disc, it’s a hop-to-it gotta-get.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Easy Goings - Most Of All There's You

(Bee-Fast, 1989)

Released by the Breakfast Without Meat folks, and performed by Gregg Turkington and John Singer of the Zip Code Rapists accompanied by Gary Strasburg and Stephen Hanson, the first Easy Goings single is a natural musical outgrowth of that magazine and its various obsessions: two bizarre/obscure genre-tribute cover songs, artwork that nods to cigarette ads and Solo plastic-cup queen Dora Hall, and a general air of mind-bending in-jokiness that hangs around the sonic weirdness. Much more “musical” than the work of ZCR, the band delivers its lewd charms via a half-hokey, half-creepy sound best heard on “Most of All There’s You,” with its wheezing carnival keyboard and Turkington’s insect-like croon. It’s sentimental sap done in a nightmarishly psychedelic fashion, but still catchy as all heck – a repulsive triumph. “The Straight Life” and “Hoboes Need Lovin’” (an original) take a rootsier, more stripped-down approach, the latter being the disc’s closest stab at an outright joke; it even features a Neil Hamburger-esque apology for poor sound quality at its end. This single is a tough one to find, but it’s a pretty vital precursor/companion to the Amarillo catalog that makes for some fun listenin’.

Historical notes for the nerdy: According to an ad in Breakfast Without Meat issue 14, this was a record the band was “trying to sell in order to raise enough money to build a 40 feet high, 20 tons of steel monument to the human thumb.” Or howzabout this description, from an ad in issue 13? “Wildness at its way-out-est, to the pitch of furious frenzy – the height, apex, acme, epitome – the living END!!! That is The Easy Goings. Singing and playing the young sounds of today. Wind up the Gramaphone, turn the horn towards the action and let’s dance, let’s listen…it’s the sound you asked for! This rocking group, with all its many knobs, buttons, and doo-dads, looks and sounds like it might launch a rocket. The sounds of ‘freakout’ heard on this record are sure to please the most discerning palate.” Sounds about right.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Earthmen - Cool Chick #59

(Slumberland, 1993)

A luddite, I only recently – and reluctantly – bought my first iPod after getting the chance to cautiously fool around with one a generous dame loaned me for a few days. Thing’s pretty neat, I must admit, and I’ve been listening to a lot more music thanks to its convenience. Unfortunately, I’m just playing the same old stuff on endless repeat: My Bloody Valentine, Wipers, Flipper, Galaxie 500, and (while charging through Times Square each morning) Pussy Galore. I tend to get into musical ruts, and this doggone iPod is helping me dig ever deeper with greater speed. But at least I’m diggin’ in the most technologically with-it fashion available!

The early Slumberland Records roster, with its noisy Americanized tweegaze, has long fit nicely into that sweet rut o’ mine. Really, almost anything the label released through the mid-’90s will satisfy fuzzheads and rockin’ lo-budget MBV popjunkies alike. Crazy reliable, its records are some of the safest buys out there, so I felt mighty OK about picking up this Earthmen single based solely on the presence of the Slumberland logo. And LO! For once I found myself nonplussed. While it’s definitely not bad, it, like late Drop Nineteens, betrays a few too many hints of the mainstream alt-explosion in its clear vocals and clean power-guitar to make me comfortable. “Momentum” does burst into an extended, distorted frenzy that stamps it as a keeper, but even that song isn’t so very nifty that I can imagine ever wanting to find out more about the Earthmen. So stay in Australia, you crazy band that I know almost nothing about! I’m perfectly happy with my Black Tambourine and my Lilys. And will be.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Early Day Miners - Southern Myth

(Zeal, 2001)

Tonight’s Presidential debate, semi-moderated by the somniferous Tom Brokaw, was boring as sin, so it’s certainly timely that this 7” is a stone-cold drag as well. Thanks for being current, Early Day Miners! Brushed drums and gentle vocals in the American Analog Set style mark “Southern Myth,” but without that electric keyboard zing that keeps even the sleepiest of AmAnSet songs crackling, it’s an exercise in feather-light tedium. “Room and Pillar” scuffles along, attempting a rural, after-hours Tortoise-like instrumental dynamism that fails to make an impression. A rather specific kind of 1990’s indie subgenre hangover, this, and one that can be safely ignored, whether you own it or not. Snooze away, America. Barack wins.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Earlimart - Answers And Questions

(Suicide Squeeze, 2006)

Lush drama from these underdoggies. I’m kinda puzzled as to why there isn’t more lovin’ thrown Earlimart’s way; they’ve put together a solid catalog reminiscent of disbanded peers like the Delgados or a bleepsnbloops-free Grandaddy, but haven’t seemed to ever receive the attention those groups did. Oh well and oh shucks – they soldier onward. “Answers and Questions” came out in advance of album no. 5, Mentor Tormentor (where it also appears), and showed off the band’s continuing mastery of the dense, dreamy, mildly-psychedelic (are those mellotrons?) midtempo pop it jumped into on Everyone Down Here. Thanks to the meaty drums and churning guitars at the end, the song’s not too adulty, as these things can sometimes be, and thus it’s not too bad. Is outta sight, in fact. “Carruthers Boy,” which is on this single and this single only, focuses on vocal interplay and strips away most of the sonic layers of the A-side to show without distraction that Aaron Espinoza knows his way around a melody like a something knows its way around a whatsit. By which I mean: Yep!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Dave E. & The Cool Marriage Counselors - Searching Through Sears

(Christmas Pets, 2008)

HOLY MACKEREL! Absolute must-have boot reissue of three post-Eels Dave E. songs. Better than Palin, these! Elect ’em VEEP! Why NOT?! In the scumfreak Electric Eels, Dave tended to project a mix of snottiness and vulnerable bafflement; with “Searching Through Sears” (originally on a flexi back in ’81), any punk leanings get chucked for a full-on frazzled oddity that out-weirds and out-laffs anything else I’ve heard from Cleveland, ’70s onward. Anti-social to be sure, but SMART and FUNNY up the rearhole. And how! The horrors of modern life writ ’n’ sung loud – with a LISP – as only this skronky horn + xylophone-backed goof can do. “Look at this underwear / It’s a value beyond compare / I’ll take it home and set it up in a chair,” he sings as he aimlessly tours the city’s department stores, consumer-nation terror barely tamped down beneath the ridiculous shower-croon pop facade. A riot. Hilarious. Scary. Whatever; it’s the bestest. The B-sides – a surprisingly straight a cappella love-gone-wrong song from a radio broadcast and a rough Eels-esque live track – are nothing to wait in line for, but with an A so swell, who cares? Miss the boat on this one and you better be ready to regret it. Like, for life.