Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Galaxie 500 - Snowstorm

(Plexifilm, 2004)

Plexifilm mailed this quite attractive single, which includes the audio from two March 30, 1990, performances included on the video set, to customers who preordered the Galaxie 500 Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste DVD in 2004. On the plus side, it’s good to have officially released (albeit in limited promo form) live versions of “Snowstorm” and “Pictures,” neither of which are on the Copenhagen or Peel Sessions albums, and it’s semi-interesting to hear soundman Kramer join the band as a second guitarist on the latter for added muscle. These recordings do hint that there was a tougher-than-realized percussive foundation under the gauzy studio releases, but it’s difficult to ignore the fact that both recordings fall into that unfortunate concert-tape trap of adding little to the originals but rougher sound (Wareham is sounding pretty hoarse this night) and audience noise. With its colorful sleeve and yellow vinyl, the disc’s value exists more in its quality as an object than as a musical release. I’d recommend ignoring this 7” and watching the footage on the DVD instead; Wareham’s ugly Spacemen 3 t-shirt is a hoot.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Galaxie 500 - Tugboat

(Aurora, 1988)

Given how much I like everything they released, it would be nice if I had something grand and profound to say about Galaxie 500… but I don’t. And that might not be so unfortunate, because, shucks, the band itself was rarely grand or profound – it was just consistently pleasant and evocative cold-weather music, right from the rudimentary beginnings. The “Tugboat” single, which comes from the group’s first professional recordings, is a simple, repetitive wisp of dream-pop that kicks up some sleepy guitar-churn by song’s end, sounding like something by less polished, less calculated, East Coast Paisley Undergrounders. Dean Wareham’s voice is much rougher and whinier than the nasal croon he would develop by the time the band broke up, but everything else – especially the heavy reverb and the narcoticized, third-VU-LP guitar playing – is pretty much in place. “King of Spain,” otherwise a demo-quality throwaway, is rescued by an extended solo that meshes perfectly with Damon and Naomi’s primitive-yet-appropriate rhythm section to close things out. A great debut that actually deserves the, ahem, eye-rolling tag “statement of purpose,” given how clearly it lays out what was to come over the next two or so years.

Those with money to burn should note well that the record was originally released with a blue image on the cover and orange image on the back (with 500 blue-vinyl copies, 500 black), and later reissued with the sleeve colors reversed. Both songs – and the “Tugboat” video – are now on the Today CD, which, along with the rest of Galaxie 500’s catalog, will forever remain a swell way to spend both your bread and your heavy-lid sleepytime.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Serge Gainsbourg - Couleur Café

(Seven Up, 2001)

Two bits of early, jazzy Gainsbourg, the first from 1964 and the second from 1959. There are some interesting rhythms on here, especially in the African-influenced percussive snap of “Couleur Café” (which also includes some fantastic female backing vocals), so I’m guessing that this rather puzzling, inessential reissue might have been aimed at the DJ market. Eh. The Couleur Café compilation CD (from which the B-side’s expendable “Indifferente” is excluded) that Polydor released in the late ’90s serves as a fine – and economical! – overview of this phase of Gainsbourg’s career. I far prefer the filthy, zany pop that he churned out in the late ’60s and early ’70s, some of which is gathered on sister comp Comic Strip; that stuff’s the real deal, lushly-arranged nutball singles from a dirty mind. Also of interest is the chamber-perv LP Histoire de Melody Nelson, which is getting a Light in the Attic reissue in early March.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fuzzy - Flashlight

(Seed, 1994)

Oh criminy. Craven, contrived alt-powerpop for dummies (on an Atlantic-affiliated label) that goes as far as sticking a broad who does an uncanny Kim Deal impression on the mic. The two non-LP songs on the B, “Thurber” and “Country Song,” introduce some shitkick/drawl elements that are marginally more interesting than the heard-it-before cash-in of the A-side, and I’ll admit to not minding the latter’s casual backroads swing. Too little, too late, though; I’m ultimately left wondering whether, if I was in college in 1994, I would have been enough of a simp to actually fall for this silliness.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fuxa - Hide Away

(Mind Expansion, 2001)

Say what you will about Randall Nieman and his beard, but you can NOT say that he’s failed to collaborate with the creamiest of the croppiest when it comes to spacerock perfection over the years. FUG! This single has the then-semi-retired Telescopes on the A-side lending their vocal hands to a dense, cooing psych-out, and then Sonic Boom contributing synth and voice to a crackling, organ-heavy Suicide cover (“Girl”) on the B. Perfect perfect PERFECT nod-off stuff. More recent Fuxa partnerings with the likes of Dean Wareham have been similarly successful, but nothing else has achieved the streamlined, absolute fuzzhead grace of this single. If down to your last penny, do whatever you can to turn that copper into this slab o’ non-nonsense. And food.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fuxa - Free Your Soul

(Burnt Hair, 1995)

The first Fuxa-only 7” (there had been a prior split with Windy & Carl), and a fine introduction to Randall Nieman’s stoned, stay-puft clouds of blisspsych – on “herb green vinyl in support of the legalization,” no less. Bongos, moogs, tribal drums, and reverbed guitars ooze out an instrumental mix of Playing With Fire Spacemen 3, Flying Saucer Attack, and the Silver Apples that makes for a nifty summation of much of the prominent head music of decades past, all a-driftin’ and a-burblin’ and a-floatin’, just like it should. All six tracks are compiled on the 3 Field Rotation CD, and whether you hear ’em here or hear ’em there, try to make sure you set aside the time to hear ’em somewhere before death comes creeping. Is good!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Funkadelic - One Nation Under A Groove Special EP

(Warner Bros., 1978)

I’m partial to the gritty sweatguitar-funk of Maggot Brain over the whimsical synth-heavy discoisms of late-’70s Funkadelic, so take this unenthusiastic review with whatever size grain of salt you wish. The band included this record as a conceptually-baffling freebie in the One Nation Under a Groove LP, two eight-minute sides that (aside from the dirty, chugging “Lunchmeataphobia”) offer a laid-back, introspective counterpoint to the LP as a whole. First, the lengthy, weepytime guitar-solo insanity of “Maggot Brain” gets revisited in a virtuosic live recording, serving, if nothing else, as a vinyl torch-passer to new-ish Funkadelic guitarist Michael Hampton. Then, after a few minutes of the half-baked “Lunchmeataphobia,” “P.E. Squad/Doo Doo Chasers,” otherwise a boring and unfunny poop joke, pops up as a truncated instrumental – a version that reveals what’s in fact a quite satisfying, slow acid-rock/blues moodpiece that had been obscured by excruciating lyrics on the album proper. Still, nothing here is in any way “revelatory” or exciting, and these songs have all found their proper home, in the CD era, as bonus tracks tacked onto the end of the program, where expectations will be appropriately lowered for newcomers… a standalone 7” EP suggests far more intrigue than this material can deliver.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Frustrations - Exploding Mind

(Die Stasi, 2007)

Happy Presidents’ Day Eve, everybody! Do you have your Prezzy Day tree set up? I sure do, and I’m hoping that upon waking tomorrow I’ll see that the ghost of Thomas Jefferson brought me everything I asked for this year (leather-bound edition of the Federalist Papers, Jimmy Carter action figure, knife). Luckily I didn’t hafta ask Tom for the wunnerful Frustrations 7” that Die Stasi put out in ’07, what with me having already bought it on discount at Academy Records a few months back; as I always say, anything I can do to lighten the sack of a gift-bearing ex-prez, I’ll gladly do. But I betcha, extra weight or no, our badass forefathers would be keen to check these goofs, cuz the Frustrations are twitchy Cleveland-style punk with some overtly psychedelic elements – wordless, echo-heavy chorus on the A, for example – that edge ’em towards early Flaming Lips (circa Oh My Gawd!!) turf, a turf too rarely trod by today’s noisemakers. A manly, xylophone-laced Devo cover (“Freedom of Choice”) and a paranoid horror-show stomper (“Evil Twin”), all of which feature barely-controlled guitar vroom, seal the deal. No sir, my ears wouldn’t kick these guys outta bed, not now and not never.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Freeze - I Hate Tourists

(Schizophrenic, 2007)

Reissue of the 1980 debut from these young Cape Codders. Can’t say that I have any real beef with the tourist set, except when they clog the subway turnstiles, but I guess I can see how there might be some resentment on the Cape when you’re a kid working a lousy service job and getting treated like dirt by some yahoo up from Connecticut. Anyway, the boys in the Freeze score revenge by running dudes off the road and then getting their carnal kicks with all the visiting daughters. Melodic punk with some hup-hey shouting in the choruses; a swell novelty, even if the sound isn’t as tough as one might like. And speaking of “not tough,” the other side, oddly enough, is actually a bubbly, sentimental yet snot-faced new-wave ditty called “Don’t Forget Me Tommy.” No need to be too hard on them for not having their business totally together at this early stage, though, considering the fellas were still in high school at the time. Besides, I have a sub-mediocre album from the early ’90s that boasts plenty o’ cohesion and muscle, but loses the fun and innocent pissy-kicks of this single.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

John Fred & His Playboy Band - Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)

(Paula, 1967)

Do you like the caps lock? You do? Good, get ready to LOVE this next sentence! MAY THE LATE JOHN FRED BE FOREVER PRAISED FOR THIS SINGLE, HIS ONE PERFECT CONTRIBUTION TO THE WORLD OF RECORDED SOUND. And really, do records get much better than this unfugginforgettable and totally-outta-nowhere blast of – here, lemme put on my adjective hat – loopy strings, punchy brass, weird moaning, and nonsensical lyrics? Well, I can tell you that I’ve spun a whole lotta spinny-discs in my time and have heard few hits that come anywhere close to matching the nutso joy of “Judy in Disguise”’s randy, out-there soulpop, so my money’s definitely on ‘no.’ Even the backstory on this one’s a hoot, as Fred apparently misheard the lyrics of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and was so disappointed upon later learning the actual words that he went off and wrote his own song… which then went on to bump “Hello Goodbye” off the top of the singles chart. Haw! Really not much else to say here; “Judy” is simply one of the best, ballsiest, and brassiest left-field hits of the psych-pop era, and any world in which such a thing becomes a radio fave and continues to get played 40 years later is a world in which I want to breathe air. Lucky guy, me!

It’s just too bad that nothing else on the Agnes English LP comes anywhere near the footloose wackiness of “Judy in Disguise” – what we get instead (as on B-side “When the Lights Go Out”) is a blend of Boyce & Hart’s teenyboppery and the psychedelically-informed blues-pop of the Animals’ mid-period. The rest of the record suggests a competent party band that was in a little too far over its head as it tried to change with the times, but for that one song where it all comes together… MAN!!!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Stan Freberg - Banana Boat (Day O)

(Capitol, 1957)

Now, I’m a fun-lovin’ youngster who busts the occasional gut over novelty records both old and new, but this Stan Freberg disc, which exists musically/conceptually somewhere between Weird Al and Culturcide, just does not in any way DO it for me. The targets of Stan’s skull-smashing wit here are those twin, satire-demanding, late-50s devils that were, yep, you GUESSED it… beatniks and TV. So yeah. If a start-stop version of “Banana Boat” featuring a too-chilled bongo player, and a mildly-offensive calypso accent-abuse ditty about the brainlessness of the telly (“Tele-Vee-Shun”) don’t sound quite like your cup of piss, take my word for it that they AREN’T. And I admit that I’m probably being unfair, since 50 years have passed and, sure, maybe this shit was timely as the second-hand back in’57, but heck… that’s neither my fault nor my problem, world of grampses. Look, you: I’ll take my yuks – all several of them – elsewhere.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Franz Ferdinand - The Fallen / L. Wells

(Domino, 2006)

I watched the Grammys tonight in between trips to the laundromat, and I was both pleased and a little depressed to see my old buddy Paul McCartney performing “I Saw Her Standing There” with a graying Dave Grohl behind him on drums. If Paul had a better sense of humor, it seems like he’d consider changing the word “seventeen” to “seventy” when croaking out that moldy chestnut these days in order to minimize the creepiness of his saggy yappings. Maybe next time; I’ll hold my breath. Still, big congrats, Paul, on getting two nominations for a limited-edition live 12” EP that trickled out via Amoeba Records. I’ll sleep easy knowing that heavy behind-the-scenes, glad-handing lobbying on the part of your label had nothing to do with that.

Hey! Franz Ferdinand!

Credit where due: This 7” has THREE non-album tracks, and that ain’t hardly bad a’TALL in these days of value-free singles galore. Thanks F. Ferdinand! And believe me now when I accuse YOU of someday in the past or future enjoying the rump-roast out of ONE side of the record, that being side B – the lead track is, sad to say, a worthless Justice remix of “The Fallen” that reduces an otherwise swell F.F. hit to tired, skittery dancefloor dum-dumminess while adding nothing of any musical or ass-shakin’ interest. HARUMPH. Buh buh buh but… newie “L. Wells” on the flip is a treat for sure, a mid-tempo love-fest that bridges the gap between the band’s standard all-out slink-fests and the sentimental slow’uns like “Eleanor Put Your Boots On.” Xylophone, bursts of harmony vox, and an unmistakable sincerity give it the heft it needs in order to achieve buy-me meritoriousness. Next up, “Brown Onions” is a dirty, slightly bluesy instrumental jam that offers a peek at the less-polished side of the group. Whether we need to see that side or not, I dunno, but here it is anyway… AND IT’S FINE ’NUFF.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Franz Ferdinand - Do You Want To

(Domino, 2005)

The first single from Franz Ferdinand’s second record is just the sort of glammy and obnoxious posturing that suits the band perfectly – they pull off the reptilian, hyper-entitled star thing with ease (“Lucky lucky! You’re so lucky!” is the amusing lyrical come-on to prospective groupies), and the music, hooky as ever, features beefier guitar and a groovier rhythm section than the rather streamlined, same-y debut LP. Pop trash as unabashed as it oughta be! “Get Away” is a short, Kinks/Pebbles-esque outtake that cues up the requisite pounding, plinky piano rhythm and la-la-la’s that mark it, yeah, as a formal exercise, but it’s still a fun throwaway that would’ve done its job well enough in the old days as mix-tape filler.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Franz Ferdinand - Matinee

(Domino, 2004)

“Take Me Out” was a huge bar-hit back in 2004, and its inescapability that semi-employed summer eventually led me to give in and seek out a physical copy after hearing my thousandth late-night play of the song. Luckily, I had a friend doing grunt work on the floor of the Virgin Megastore in Union Square at the time, so I was soon able to satisfy my curiosity by getting it and a handful of other Franz Ferdinand CD and 7” singles at steep discounts (as was necessary when living on babysitter wages). And while this one, “Matinee,” isn’t quite as towering a pop achievement as the half-Strokesian, half-disco-strut hybrid of “Take Me Out,” it’s yet another example of the band’s rather shocking ability to churn out songs that ALL SOUND LIKE HITS. No joshing: these guys were and are SMART and HOOKY as heck, what with those hi-hat boogie beats and stabby guitars, all wrapped in a crooning, fashion-conscious smarminess that is, I think, a wink-and-sarcasm-spiked update on the Duran Duran pretty-boy model. An excellent record. Absolutely! The B-side, like many of the extras on the early singles, is an alternate version of a song from the debut LP, this time a live recording of the gay-tease fave “Michael” on American radio that doesn’t differ enough from the regular to make it of any real worth. Not bad, however, and fine proof that the group can pull its shit off in concert, for those who care. And yet: the larger tendency towards Franz Ferdinand seems to be dismissal and/or an easy total-ignore due to the obvious chart-whoring and teeny-bop appeal. I’m not of that mind; for the most part, this is a guilty pleasure worth indulging. And if not now, certainly when the inevitable – and inevitably quite OK – best-of comes out. Might as well stay ahead of the curve, I reckon.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Formula One - Start The Ball Rolling

(Fierce Panda, 1996)

Back now from San Francisco and its gentle homeless hippyisms, and OH do I have wonderful tales to tell, tales of pegged-jeans green-punk bike-riders, and neighborhood-luvin’ chain-store freezeouts, and inclusive party-time swapmeets filled with DIY craft-stuffs! Nyuk nyuk sneer! Good old other coast: you’re so plucky and cute and different from the frozen, unhappy east, what with your progressive weeklies and pedestrian-friendly roadways! But! This east is my east, beardy, and I’ll stick by it til death (which won’t be long now, griff willing!), so let me get to the totally-unrelated record review thingy at last and, like the greatest NY group once said, proudly SHOUT IT OUT LOUD that Formula One is A SHITTY BAND. Electronic Brit-blurp and thriftstore beats mixed with a poppy fuzz-blues – like a really sugary late-period Spiritualized or, horror, Darkside meets Stereolab – is no winning brainpoop, nor is any bio that includes the “ex-Cornershop” descriptor. Not that I’m suggesting I hate Formula One… no! Seriously: it’s hard to get it up quite enough to ever muster such strong feelings for a band so uniformly zzzz.