Tuesday, June 30, 2009

House Of Love - Beatles And The Stones

(Fontana, 1990)

As one who loves the first half of the House of Love’s career, particularly the Creation period, believe me when I say that the performance on “Beatles and the Stones” is impeccable: it’s shuffly proto-Britpop loveliness with great vocals and moments of mellow-cello half-psych that border on charming pastiche. But the lyrics, OH the lyrics… they’re not so good. Sure, I can dig the line about how the Beatles and the Rolling Stones “made it good to be alone,” as most current and former teenkiddies know all about squirreling away with their headphones and a pile of albums for an afternoon of intense listenin’, but when Guy Chadwick states that those bands “sucked the marrow out of bones” and “put the V in Vietnam,” his trolley rockets right off the rails. Really: “Put the V in Vietnam”?! What does that MEAN? Is it supposed to be some tortured reference to the peace sign? If it is, well, shoot, this is hardly a deep thought, but I don’t think either the Beatles or the Stones ever did all that much to actively promote peace over in Southeast Asia. They just put out records, made mountains of cash, and mumbled a few vague platitudes about love as they descended further into drug-addicted, rich-guy isolation. All of which I envy! As did the House of Love, I guess, because, speaking of getting rich, they topped even the Jesus and Mary Chain for sheer product-avalanche insanity (or is GREED the word I want to use?) by releasing this single in TEN different configurations, with eleven separate B-sides and three versions of the title song spread across the formats. A real “gift” for the mentally-ill collectors out there. The B-sides on this one, the 7” with the blue cover that folds out into a poster of the band, are the atmospheric filler tracks “Love IV” and “Love V,” two instrumental sketches that bear no apparent relation to each other. Both appear on A Spy in the House of Love, while the A-Side is included in its original mix on the second self-titled album and in its superior remixed form, as heard here, on the later Best of and Fontana Years compilations.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Johnny Horton - The Battle Of New Orleans

(Columbia, 1959)

Song’s called “The Battle of New Orleans,” and that’s exactly what the thing’s all about, as Johnny Horton hickishly rasps forth the story of a certain 1815 military dust-up with the British. Novelty song? Pretty much, yeah! There’s a good-natured levity present, but military drums, banjo, and an oom-pah bass give the song an appropriately martial feel, and those deep-voiced dudes who march up to the mic in the chorus truly seal the deal: this is a novelty of the MANLY sort. Patriotic, too! AND educational! Hear it today, but know that there’s still MORE on this dynamite single! Mindful of the ladies in the house, Horton offers a syrupy ballad in the mold of early Elvis on the B (“All For the Love of a Girl”) that’s still fragile enough – in spite of overbaked heavenly-choir backing vocals – to maintain some effectiveness, and the singing saw that opens and closes the track is a very fine touch. The Bible tells us that God rewards such spiffy work, and, times being different back then – what with the record-buying masses frothing for patriotic, educational manliness – “The Battle of New Orleans” was indeed a gigantic hit. And Johnny Horton? He died.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hopewell - Good Good Good Desperation

(Tee Pee, 2009)

About four years ago, I was making money on the side by transcribing interview tapes for a book about music videos. One of them was with a very famous director, who had a funny anecdote involving Michael Jackson. Since the story didn’t make it into the book but still gets me tittering every time I think about it, I’ll (unethically?) post it here for all you billions of readers to enjoy:

“Vincent came in and I was just delighted to meet Vincent Price. … Then he said to me, ‘Can you help me?’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ He says, ‘I did this vocal for Michael, he asked me to do it, and they paid me scale. I have a vocal on the biggest-selling album of all time and I get no money.’ … So anyway, years later, I’m at the Tower Records on Sunset, and it’s late at night, eleven o’clock, on a Saturday night. I was with my son, who was quite little. And there’s Vincent Price. And this is when the first scandals were starting with Mike, years later. And Vincent booms out to me, in that voice, you know, powerfully, ‘What do you think about our friend Michael?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. I want to think that it’s untrue.’ And Vincent says, so everyone can hear him, ‘WELL HE CERTAINLY FUCKED ME.’”

And what of Hopewell? Well, it bums me out to report that their new album, which sees the band continue its rapid evolution into a psych-tinged theatrical-rock act, is a far less entertaining affair than the crude utterances of Vincent Price. The Birds of Appetite was the first of their records to really display this change of direction (though, in retrospect, it’s clear that the seeds of their current sound were present in Jason Russo’s work from the beginning), but that album succeeded precisely because it didn’t go for the non-stop heavy-handed dramatics that sink most of Good Good Desperation, from the apocalyptic lyrics to the experimental missteps to Russo’s high-pitched, curiously Perry Farrell-esque wailing. The whole thing’s better labeled a disappointment than a disaster, and there are a few high points, particularly the 7”-worthy title track’s glammy, druggy stomp, which is more or less the band’s earlier “Calcutta” shoved through some fucked T. Rex filter. The B-side of the single, “Opus Part II” (an edited version of the album’s “Preamble Part II”), showcases some ho-hum harmonized sighing a la the Beach Boys’ “Our Prayer” before bursting into full-band, Big Rock gestures. Eh. Certainly no need at this point to panic in the streets and swear off Hopewell – heck, this 7” is pretty darn ownable – but the group’s recent material marks an obvious low.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hopewell - The Angel Is My Watermark

(Cutty Shark, 2001)

Looks like the local weather gods – vinyl fans, apparently – listened to the internet sobbings of
Jason Seven Inches and I Think I Hate My 45s Me, because today the neverending rain actually held off long enough to allow me to attend a minor league baseball game. And not only did I receive a free Barack Obama bobblehead at the gate, but I, a betting man, also got to make a wager with my companion concerning one Daniel April, a left-handed reliever outta Colorado who made his professional debut in this very game. My GUARANTEE is that this guy is going to make it to the major leagues some day, even if it’s just for one pitch five or six years down the road. Yes, I GUARANTEE IT! Now, is that because I have a sharp scouting eye and could see something special over the one-and-a-third innings April threw for the short-season Hudson Valley Renegades tonight? Heck no! It’s because he’s a left-handed reliever! All of those guys get called up sooner or later, schlubs or otherwise! So here’s hoping you make a fine career of it, young Daniel April, and here’s hoping I collect a cool FIVE BUCKS in the not-too-distant future.

BUT. On a more serious note, as a wise man once observed, the word “baseball” ends with two L’s. As does the word, or shall we say band name, “
Hopewell.” And that’s an eerie yet excellent point, wise man!

OK, all classic segues aside, what was Hopewell getting itself up to in 2001? Well, other than releasing the gooey, hard-hitting druggernaut pop LP The Curved Glass (most of which had been recorded four years earlier!), these fellers from upstate NY were busy dribbling out 7”s and EPs chock fulla porky-prime cuts. Like “The Angel is My Watermark,” a rompin’, stompin’ single-edit of the album’s best track, one that’s heavy on the toms, the fuzz, and the melodic knife-twisting, a perfect blend of ’90s space-rock and millennial Fridmann bombast. Lunar pomp? Yes! WOW! A song this swell certainly deserves to be heard in four different incarnations, and thankfully that’s just what Hopewell offered at the time: The LP contains both the “standard” “Angel” and an instrumental reprise; the 7” has the truncated “North Atlantic Edit” (first released on a 2000 Fierce Panda multi-artist EP called “Clooney Tunes”); and the CD EP features a full-length mix that joins the two sections from the album into one ultimate version. Yeepers! Also included on the 7” and the EP, “Incantatio” is an experimental zone-out that moves from hushed lullaby to rhythm-centric tribal-clomp; it’s interesting and worth hearing, but seems to belong more to the band’s earlier, “freer” phase than to the more carefully-structured act it was by now evolving into. And while that semi-schizophrenia of vision would soon be resolved after a few years and a few lineup changes on The Birds of Appetite, these 2000/2001 releases still represent, for better or worse (mostly the former), the most interesting and varied phase of Hopewell’s career – the period while the band was “mature,” essentially, but still figuring out exactly what it wanted to do and be.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hopewell - Small Places

(Zeal, 2000)

Hopewell’s second album, The Curved Glass, eliminates some of the noisy jamminess of the debut in favor of greater concision and a stronger pop influence, and does so without neutering the group’s decidedly crunchy sound. Nifty trick! Released as a teaser 7” by a Belgian label, the dense “Small Places” emphasizes a stabbing, rhythmic keyboard loop and Jason Russo’s whispery croon, though there’s still an undercurrent of distorted guitar that erupts between verses and ultimately brings the song to a sudden, crashing close. A bit too simple in its construction and abrupt in its ending, this isn’t one of the album’s best tracks, but that plunk-plunk-plunk loop is at least memorable, and the song effectively points the way towards the band’s more pop/rock-based future. The B-side is the “Egoless Mix” of “Sunny Days,” a lengthy ditty that originally appeared in nearly identical form on the impossible-to-find “Purple Balloon” EP. There’s a rootsy, gently zonked feel to the song that’s reminiscent of ’70s Neil Young crossed with early Mercury Rev – dig that flute – so you can betcha that hazy bliss is pretty much the name of this game (& it is!). Overall, it’s a better-than-decent single, yes, but since you can get both tracks elsewhere with a little searching, there’s no need to pick this one up unless, defying all normal standards of taste, you happen to get off on the ug sleeve art.

And now, as an unrelated postscript, let me become the millionth crybaby to whine that the non-stop rain we’ve been having in New York City this June is utterly miserable. The canceled ballgames, bikerides, picnics, stoopsales, and leisurely strolls… those I can handle. I’ll even tolerate the humidity. No, for me, the final straw came yesterday afternoon, when I was caught in a sudden downpour that splattered with hateful precipitation the Moody Blues LPs I’d just bought at a flea market. Fists a-clenched and a-shaking, I screamed to the cloudy heavens above: Have you, o rain, no sense, no decency?! Water must never, NEVER come into contact with Caught Live +5! Now, please, for the love of Mike Pinder, GIVE US CLEAR WEATHER.

Hopewell - Stranger

(Priapus, 1997)

Like many people, I imagine, I first got into Hopewell through the Mercury Rev connection – frontman Jason Russo and his brother Justin were in the Rev touring band through the late ’90s – but, while it’s easy to pigeonhole the dudes based on their family tree, it’s important to recognize FULLY that this here is no mere JV/little-sib music-making outfit. In fact, Hopewell, excellent from day one, has actually managed to improve over the years while Mercury Rev has descended further and further into squeaky-voiced, nature-obsessed, pentagram-wearing new-age nonsense. In the bands earliest incarnation, it was dealing in loud and heavy yet melodic spacerock, like if the guitar-crazy Priest Driven Ambulance-era Flaming Lips took a more stoned and deliberate approach to their tape-saturation head-music. “Stranger,” a single taken from the band’s first album, gallops and clangs, the crisp drumming and tasteful keyboard calling to mind Saucerful of Secrets, albeit with much added aggression in the guitar-roar. The moaning, late-night acoustic cover of “Paranoid” flirts with novelty territory, but it’s a creepy enough stripped-down rethink and thus avoids such a knock. It’s puzzling that the band has seemingly written this initial phase out of its official history (their website, before disappearing, listed nothing prior to 2001’s The Curved Glass in the discography); there’s a lot of great music on these early, spaced-out records, and their continued scarcity is a shame.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Homostupids - Cat Music

(Fashionable Idiots, 2008)

More of the same (full-throttle, hardcore-informed, weirdo-generated garage blat), but it’s noticeably tighter than previous records, and even, at times, one is tempted to label this material catchy. The fact that the Homostupids actually bother to write songs – hard as that can be to discern under all the noise and lousy recording quality – automatically separates ’em from most of the goof-punks out there who lazily get by on volume and shtick. And that’s nothing to scoff at, bub. While these high-volume blasts of craziness might not work so well over the course of a full length (lone alb The Intern is a bit of a slog), KNOW that every one of these guys’ 7”s has been quite the zippy ear grenade.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Homostupids - The Edge E.P.

(P.Trash, 2008)

Huzzah! A scumbag return to the sweaty shitcore of “The Glow,” but with extra helpings of Reatard-esque garage-scuzz informing the, AHEM, songwriting! Bash bash scream is the M.O. here, and appropriately poo-fi production values heighten the avant-jerk-punk excitement. An excellent disc, and, if shopping, know that it’s probably not nearly as rare as the label (and distros?) want you to believe... seems any 7
even remotely in the wheelhouse of punk/hardcore involves 10,000 subtle geek-bait repressings in various shades of wax or paper or ink. DO NOT CARE. Still, all eye-roll collector nonsense aside, note and appreciate that hat-wearing beardo THE EDGE is the sleeve star, and was there ever a non-Bono more deserving of mockery? NOPE. I’ll admit that I do own one U2 CD, a single for “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses,” purchased at the Princeton Record Exchange for $1.99 because I could not suppress a morbid curiosity to hear the B-side covers of “Paint it Black” and “Fortunate Son.” And guess what? THESE VERSIONS STINK. Laughably so! Nuts to you, Irishman The Edge!

Homostupids - The Brutal Birthday E.P.

(Richie, 2007)

OK, now Homostupid wackiness fights its way to the fore: six songs packed onto a one-sided 7”, with two sung in an exaggerated, PIL-style sneer, three offering a more lumbering take on the lunatic mayhem of the first EP, and a Numan/muzak instrumental interlude dumped in the middle. Unpredictable… annoying… and still quite satisfying. Almost everything here – particularly the grab-bag stylistic nature of the songs and the gratuitous tape-speed effects – suggests a healthy contempt for the listener, but as long as the music is as surprisingly odd and, yes, fun as what’s on here, I’ll keep on sticking out my hand to feed the mouth that bites me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Homostupids - The Glow E.P.

(My Mind’s Eye, 2006)

Utter scum-slop mayhem that barrels ahead with static-filled insanity and – a rarity for supercharged trashgroops of today! – plenty of low-end, like a sped-up, foaming-at-the-mouth Mainliner. No song titles, no indication as to which side is which (the etchings in the runoff grooves dub the sides “HAVE A
NICE DEATH” and “HANDJOB”), no biographical or contact details, no FRILLS in sound or packaging. Which is fine, because, like the Joe Perry Project lo those many years ago, it’s the music that does the, uh, you-know-what. Yup! Anyway, the piledriving lunacy of this record might come as a surprise if, based on the band’s name, one goes in expecting goof-off silliness a la the Lil Bunnies, but the whole thing’s a mess of pretty doggone straight-faced and satisfying nutzoid rawk. Assume that the heartiest of recommendations apply here.

Home - So Much Love

(Cooking Vinyl, 2000)

As was hinted on their earlier, messier releases, Home always had it in ’em to make a lush, complex, song-based record, but I reckon that on those screwy albs of days-gone-by there musta been the constant twin frustrations of CASH and EQUIPMENT (rather than SKILL and AMBITION) holding the band back from achieving true mega-pop grandeur. Once the group finally managed to hook up with Lips/Rev biggie Dave Fridmann, though, poop hit the fan in the most glorious of ways. The expansive Home XIV, front to back, demonstrates this quite ably, with single “So Much Love” (released as a 7” limited to 250 copies) providing the purest radio-pop thrills. It’s a bouncy, optimistic number that wins thanks to sunny harmonies, some dollops of “What Goes On”-style organ and those close-mic’d drums that are Fridmann’s production trademark. Fragmentary weirdness is not totally gone, however, as the B-side is another variation on the “Children’s Suite” piece that the band had already worked into three full-lengths. This chop-’em-up instrumental puts an ominous, horror-movie-esque spin on XIV’s “Children’s Suite 3: Displaying Prisms,” then segues into a robotic, electronics-driven section similar to XI’s “Children’s Suite 2: Health,” before concluding with a cinematic crescendo. Whew!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Home - (You Can Make It) Underground

(Screw Music Forever, 199x)

I’m back from vacation, rested but sporting a painful sunburn due to the bathing beauties with whom I travel having missed a spot during the application of lotion. Crispy right shoulder blade aside, you’ll be pleased to know that the beach, where I ignored music and focused on consuming much purple prose, was a swell time, and now I’m ready to start thinking about records again, starting with – chuckle chuckle –
Home. These Floridians-turned-Brooklynites have been on a succession of impressive labels – Relativity, Emperor Jones, Jet Set, Arena Rock, Brah – while somehow managing to stay pretty far under the radar for most of their career. Not sure whether that’s due to the band’s innate quirkiness (sonic/stylistic restlessness, low profile on the concert scene, concept album about sex), or good ol’ fashioned bum luck, but theirs is an extensive and interesting catalog that merits a looky-listen from all askew-pop fans currently drawing both breath and a salary. This early single, likely released in the mid-’90s, is four tracks of extremely enjoyable primitive pop experimentation that succeeds on its own merits, sounding as it does like the late-’90s Flaming Lips recorded on zero budget, or young Pavement without the detached wryness, while also hinting at the lush greatness yet to come on Home XIV. I’ll admit that I find the ultra-lo-fi recording rather self-conscious and gimmicky, even if it was in fact borne of poverty/necessity, but the songs themselves are so good, there being ideas a-plenty here and an obvious knack for melody and laziness-avoidance – a shitkicking Olivia Tremor Control? – that it’s easy to forget ’n’ forgive whatever perceived sonic transgressions. No gyp wax, this; a fine item to take up space on any shelf.