Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jessamine - Your Head Is So Small It's Like A Little Light

(Sub Pop, 1994)

Exciting stuff here for people who enjoy the spacier corners of the 1990s post-rock ghetto. It’s easy to hear the influence of bands like Spectrum (with whom the group collaborated), Silver Apples, and various shoegazers in these records – and, in turn, Jessamine’s hypnotic, semi-Kraut groove is unmistakable in the work of later acts such as the American Analog Set, all of which hopefully paints a decent picture of what these guys were about. And those cumbersome song titles? Pure Azusa Plane! Like “Your Head is so Small It’s Like a Little Light,” whose mix of rhythmic repetition, sleepiness, and synths approximates Sonic Boom working with Damon & Naomi. Or “Soon the World of Fashion Will Take an Interest in These Proceedings,” which reaches back to the late ’60s to go for a Meddle-era Floyd creepiness. Long songs both, but good’uns. Plus: The elaborate packaging for this single requires a flathead to access the vinyl, so all you record nerds – if not handy, tool-owning grown-ups already – better hoof it down to the hardware store if you want to take a listen. Or I guess you could just drop a few dollars on Another Fictionalized History, a singles comp that includes both songs and, niftily, manages to trump the band’s “regular” albums as the all-around strongest example of Jessamine’s oft-overlooked music.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Jale - Emma

(Derivative, 1993)

Aw heck. On “Emma,” Jale sands away most of the rough edges that made its debut so kinda-likeable, opting for a nimble indie-gal facelessness instead of the garagey chunk of “Aunt Betty.” Has about it the stench of a demo tape for sucker-heavy major labels (wasn’t this right about the time when Atlantic partnered with Matador?) and potential 120 Minutes mini-stardom… not at all my cup of meat in these manly summer nights of 2009. Still, Juliana Hatfield fans might enjoy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jale - Aunt Betty

(Cinnamon Toast, 1992)

The debut from Jale, four Canadian Janes and zero Canadian Johns who were the Canadian pals o’ the Canadian bigwigs in Sloan, and – fancy fancy! – future hotshot Sub Poppers themselves. Sounds like? Sounds like a grungier, gutsier Velocity Girl, though there are definite hints of early-/mid-period Brian Jonestown Massacre in the band’s crunchiest moments (the pounding chorus of “Twisted” and those guitars on B-side “Sweetness” in particular). There’s a heavier touch on the rhythmic end – toms a-plenty – than many of the era’s indiepop groups, which is much appreciated as it help Jale avoid the sickly alterna-sweetness that lurks beneath the surface of ultimately-AOK songs like “I Lied.” So while nothing here quite makes me want to jump up and down and shriek with joy, the thing honestly ain’t half bad overall; go ahead and score it a win.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jail - Suddenly Bad

(Decorated, 2008)

Friends! I’ve been away for a while, thanks to ladies, minor league baseball, Paul McCartney concerts, sleepiness, laziness, and potential swine flu. But now HERE I AM, dumb as ever, plopped down before my keyboard, a-typin’ away about this here
Jail single that has been flummoxing me for many moons now. It’s a weird, winding record, this one, a disc I bought at Academy on a whim, and I gotta say that I LOVE its late-period Pavement-isms, especially since these fellers bash ’em out with better melodic sense and energy than the ever-graying Malkmus. A lot of midtempo noisiness here, with every super-pleasant song running into the next like some kinda shithead’s Abbey Road, everything crammed together just so… Dudes have it down PAT. Liked this disc enough to order the full-length, which arrived yesterday packaged with an INCREDIBLE little CDEP tossed in for just a few bucks extra. Get it while you can and get it cuz you oughta; indiepsychpop kids of the ’90s will swoon, as will all others, including late-gen Beatlefans. Wonderful wonderful.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Neil Innes - Dear Father Christmas

(Making Waves, 1984)

Neil Innes is one of those guys whose work – particularly with the Bonzo Dog Band – can (should!) be immensely appealing to high schoolers as they hit their “Monty Python” phase, but the surreal wackiness soon becomes less and less amusing, occasionally even slipping into cringeworthy territory as time goes by. That’s certainly been my experience, at least; I don’t bust a gut every time I see that Trojan Rabbit the way I did when I was 14, and, similarly, I now have a hard time getting through heavy-handed Innes songs like “9 to 5 Pollution Blues” and “Give Booze a Chance” that once were faves. I’ll always love everything he did in the Rutles, yes, but neither his straight-up comedy songs nor the more serious-minded compositions that litter his solo albums have held up too well as my pimples have faded.

“Dear Father Christmas,” a non-album single released after the Off the Record LP (and co-produced by Rod Argent!), strikes a very Innesian balance between jaunty semi-silliness and finger-wagging universal concerns, as it pleads for world peace over a seasonally-appropriate tuba, bells, and piano arrangement. Not bad as these things go, actually, and I appreciate that it gently mocks and deflates itself by confessing to being “just a Christmas single” in the chorus. I’ll waste no kind words on the oil-slick sax/synth horror of a flipside “City of the Angels,” however, as this is Innes at his most clumsily serious, the music and urban-grit lyrics coming off like an unfunny parody of bloated, nadir-era Lou Reed. Anything so rancid that it actually manages to make Innes’ contemporaneous dance remake of “Humanoid Boogie” seem appealing by comparison is a hunk of vinyl that ought to be buried deep within a landfill rather than sitting atop my turntable. Get outta my ears, song!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Imaginary Friend - Letters Home

(Drive-In, 1998)

Nice reverb and mixed-gender harmony on here, but, like the band’s first single, I still find it too professionally adult-contempo for comfort… even the reasonably straightlaced likes of Damon & Naomi outshine stuff such as this with some degree of homespun warmth and off-kilter charm. Boring post-Brit-folk Terrastockers who are into the, I dunno, Tom Rapp scene, say, might dig the Imaginary Friend alongside chin-beards and shows where you really listen, but all others should just stick with beer and having fun. That’s my deal, and look how far I’ve gotten.

Imaginary Friend - Whimsy

(Drive-In, 1997)

NO NO NO. There’s something about the skilled, over-emotive lady-sing here that reminds me of every mediocre local band that I, cross-armed and expressionless, suffered through in the coffeeshops and bars of high school and college. Oy. I admit: insane or not, I tend to be horrified by “technically-nice” voices, perhaps because they, almost always lacking the essential quality of EARNESTNESS, sound so out of place when set against the rudimentary/ugly/braindead musics I prefer. And, yeah, sure, there are some fine, spacey, post-Gal500 moozikmoods on this disc (“Hear From You,” especially), but this record achieves a spectacular blandness most noteworthy for its inability to impress itself upon your earholes in any way; the needle lifts and you’ve already forgotten what you’ve heard. Just as coffee races through the urinary tract, so does the Imaginary Friend scamper through the skull. Mentally flush it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hyperjinx Tricycle - Long Lost Love

(Important/Shortwave, 2002)

I’m not usually a big fan of Daniel Johnston’s collaborative projects, given that the presence of outside musicians – and the attendant focus on things like arrangements, polish, and a consistent tempo – tends to dilute and flatten an idiosyncratic style that works far better on its own terms. Still, on this disc of outtakes from the Hyperjinx Tricycle’s first album, it’s interesting hearing Johnston’s familiar voice and lyrical themes within Jack Medicine’s dark musical settings, particularly “Long Lost Love,” which is raw and understated in a fashion that his over-professional, over-produced, and generally over-thunk albums of the last decade (including this group’s scattershot debut) have failed to manage. The B-side is of equal worth, featuring as it does a moody Medicine original reminiscent of Sparklehorse and a radically different version of Johnston’s piano-pounding stab at a theme for the “Greg the Bunny” program. With insipid lyrics (“Greg the Bunny/TV show/He’s a really cool bunny/He’s so funny/Yes he is”) delivered by dueling, out-of-sync vocal tracks, the latter is bad-trip material in the best sense, recalling the early Stress tapes in its ability to be simultaneously – and effortlessly – charming and unsettling.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Human Eye - Dinosaur Bones

(Ypsilanti, 2007)

Despite the tra-la-la bona fides he’s built up over the years with
Saturday Looks Good to Me, folks better realize that Fred Thomas puts out some doggone crazy stuff on his Ypsilanti microlabel, waxed blurts that reflect his way-back association with the Michigan noise scene of olde. Which certainly isn’t to say that Human Eye is anywhere near as harsh as a Wolf Eyes or as far-out as a Dead Machines, but these guys do at least take the classic shit-punk maneuvers (tight rhythm section, mongoloid moan-yell, buzzsaw distortion) and tweak them with liberal squirtings of synths, ugly noises and jarring mixing techniques in order to create some awright-enough product. Like the frantic “Dinosaur Bones,” absolutely the best song on here, which is crazed enough to make me curious about the full-length on In The Red… still haven’t checked it out, though, so your guess is as good as mine on that front, quality-wise. Thoughts from those out there who Know? Do inform.

And: Ever helpful, I was trying to help a young lady name her
thanatology book this morning by generating a series of lousy death-related puns. Tell me now, you disinterested third party of the internet, do any of these strike YOUR fancy? “Jeepers Reapers!” “Everything Else is Just Grave-y.” “Tomb it May Concern.” “Of Corpse!” “Urn! Urn! Urn! (To Everything There is a Season.)” “Of Scythes and Men.” “That’s A-Morbid.”

I know what you’re thinking and I agree: Where’s MY genius grant??

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Huegenius - Drink Fight + Fun

(Damaged Goods, 1994)

In 1994, Pooh Sticks honcho Hue took some time off from the band – which by that point had become a rather sleek power-twee act – to record a tribute to recently-croaked feces-smearer G. G. Allin. Funny enough as that is on its very face, the fact that he named the project “Huegenius” as a poke at his former labelmate Eugene Kelly’s post-Vaselines group, Eugenius, adds a few extra giggles to this wacky little package. The raucous A-side is a reworked version of Allin’s “Drink Fight + Fuck” that simply replaces each occurrence of the obscenity with the more radio-friendly word “fun.” Aside from that, Hue sticks close to the original, but supercharges the tempo and gives a beefy, Ramones-y performance that I actually prefer to the ragged Allin recording. The song’s brief intro, which sounds like a combination of the MASH theme and early Metallica when they shot for “introspective,” is also on the B-side in slightly different form under the name “Theme for GG” (or “Soliloquy to GG Allin” on the 7” label). The whole thing’s a definite departure from the gelded, sunshiny Pooh Sticks, and quite an entertaining one at that. Now if anyone out there knows where I can find a copy of Hue’s other solo disc, which was a tribute to Brian Wilson recorded under the name Dumb Angels, drop a dime and hep me to its location IMMEDIATELY!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The How - Happy Matt

(Slumberland, 2006)

The “Happy Matt” single is just what it looks like: a recreation of the Who sound circa ’66, right down to the manic drum fills and Daltrey falsetto. The A-side deserves mild criticism for not being quite as fiery as it should be, but “When I Was a Boy” satisfies by turning the “Ivor the Engine Driver” section of “A Quick One While He’s Away” into a self-contained mod-pop song with a Creation-esque speaker-blowing feedback solo. Nothing major here, just a sloppy, fun one-off that largely achieves its Rutles-style objective. Released as one of the records that announced the relaunch of Slumberland a few years back, the band is made up of members of Henry’s Dress and Boyracer, making it a nice bridge from the label’s past to its present/future.