July 16, 2009
1972 | A&M
Once considered the British equivalent to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Stealers Wheel are, perhaps unfortunately, now known almost solely for their 1972 classic, “Stuck In The Middle.” The reboot of “cool” that song gained after its inclusion in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs didn’t extend to the band itself, the Scottish duo of Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan. But “Stuck in the Middle” belies the easy cool that overflows from their eponymous debut.
Stealers Wheel were formed in Paisley, Renfrewshire in 1972 by a street performer (Rafferty) and a session musician (Egan). Maybe it’s these former professions (both jobs require a broad spectrum of musical abilities) that’s at work in making Stealers Wheel such a charmingly eclectic album. Opener “Late Again” sounds like Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” after a bag of mushrooms, full of blissed-out major chords. “I wonder why I stay when everybody’s gone away/ There’s always something there that keeps me hanging on,” is a hell of a lot more positive an outlook than the bleak England portrayed in Floyd’s mid-70s output, though.
More on Stealers Wheel | Stealers Wheel
July 9, 2009
2005 | Load
I have been wrong many times in my little life. In Winter 2001, my college girlfriend Rachel pounded on my bedroom door, imploring me to go to Harvey’s with her and check out this band from Rhode Island, called Lightning Bolt. When she said they were a bass-and-drums noise rock duo, I turned up my nose, turned up the Ryan Adams, and told her I wasn’t interested. I may have thought Rachel was going to see drum and bass, which would have sent me into a frenzy of “electronic music isn’t music,” self-righteous rhetoric I subscribed to at the time.
Again, I have been wrong many, many times in my life.
Anyhow, Lightning Bolt. Rachel came home later that night, dripping sweat and hopping up and down about Lightning Bolt. The self-titled LP she’d bought was violently abrasive, and it made my eyes water to be in the room with the volume turned up to eleven. But there was something danceable to it. I could hear a steady one-two beat through the frenzy. I could imagine jumping up and down to that beat, and my eyes watering from the volume, and the screeching fuzz bass sending me running around in all directions. Then I imagined what it would be like to listen to this music in a room full of sweaty, frenzied people. And I really, really wished I had gone to the show.
More on Lightning Bolt | Hypermagic Mountain
July 2, 2009
Return of The Rentals
1995 | Maverick
In 1995, long before Weezer’s careening success and Brian Wilson-esque studio drama, Matt Sharp took a step away from his Weezer bass duties to front his own band, a New Wave-y pop band called The Rentals. And it’s a good thing he did. Considering the dearth of no-fun, nu-metal dominating the radio and MTV, Sharp’s debut with his newly formed band, Return of The Rentals, was a welcome sorbet to clear a palate overpowered by Bush, Korn, etc.
Sharp and Weezer drummer Pat Wilson used their post-Blue Album downtime to produce an album that embodied most of the best things about early 80s pop music. It’s filled with simple, churning bass and drums, washed over by warmly-distorted guitar, a torrent of vintage MOOG synthesizers and Petra Haden’s (of that dog. and The Decemberists fame) violin and warm harmonies. Return is what The Buggles would’ve sounded like if they’d stuck around for grunge, or what Gary Numan could’ve done, had he embraced pop over techno. Incredibly reverential to its influences – nearing the point of referential to Gary Numan – on closer, “Sweetness and Tenderness,” Return is the sounds of Left of the Dial, boiled down into a compote.
It would be difficult to make “Buddy Holly”-era Weezer seem tough, but Sharp and Co. sound downright twee on “Waiting,” a warm, bouncy song that’s all about how hard it is to write a warm, bouncy song. “Move On” is a modernized “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” wherein the narrator pleads with his love to pack a bag and get ready to hit the open road. Lead single “Friends of P” is pure bubblegum: nonsensical lyrics (“I’m a good guy for a gal/So won’t you look my palm over”), tightly bouncing harmonies and fun-fun-fun keyboards.
Of course, it tanked. I think the video for “Friends of P” lasted a day on MTV. People who’d hated Weezer for their lack of gravitas certainly weren’t going to be receptive; and Weezer fans had not been gripped by the 5-year gap between albums that instigated a side-project frenzy, so Return disappeared from the canon relatively quickly. Nevertheless, Sharp left Weezer in 1996, focusing full time on The Rentals. The result, 1999’s sloppy, sexualized Seven More Minutes, (and each subsequent Matt Sharp record, for that matter) was hardly worth leaving Weezer for, and simply wasn’t worth listening to. Return of The Rentals, though, quite worth the listen.
by Brook Pridemore
June 25, 2009
Sun City Girls
1998 | Abduction
Based out of Phoenix, AZ, and part of the same outré-rock crowd as The Meat Puppets, The Sun City Girls were an amalgamation of punk, surf, beat, free jazz, Middle Eastern, and African music. Mostly instrumental, and with no particular penchant for getting anywhere in a hurry, Sun City Girls often sounded like incidental music scoring a micro-budgeted independent film. Which is good, because no small percentage of their albums are titled as soundtracks to obscure independent films that may or may not have ever been made.
Such is the case with Dulce, a sprawling, arrythmic lesson in “out” music. Rarely does a melody get going for more than ten seconds, before being buried under a wash of random, crashing percussion or ambient noise. This is the kind of music that’s playing in Other Music while you’re going through stacks of used CDs, looking for cheap old emo records (if you’re anything like me, that is). It’s grinding (“The Victory Biological”), and numbingly ambient (“Unwind Your DNA”). While it never sets into a simple groove, tracks like “Bobbing the Bloody Vats” come off simultaneously repetitive and totally random. You wish the store had that copy of Orange Rhyming Dictionary you were eyeballing last week, and that the staff of Other Music would play some music that fit in with the American Pop idiom.
More on Sun City Girls | Dulce Soundtrack
June 18, 2009
André Herman Düne
Radbab Records | 2004
In my perfect world, André Herman Düne, former co-leader (with brother David) of the French Van Halen, Herman Düne, would be the better-known name on the cover of this record. As it stands, this seemingly bizarre pair of bedfellows (French bohemian vs. English AOR superstar) pays considerable lip service to the latter but sounds much more like the typical work of the former.
Dido, who was plucked from obscurity in 2001 when her first and biggest hit, “Thank You” was sampled by Eminem for “Stan,” his first (only?) bid for mass consideration as a “serious artiste,” makes syrupy love-rock when left to her own devices. Her brand of neutral, over-produced balladry probably plays best in a minivan’s tape deck, screaming kids in the back seat. This second homage to the gorgeous simplicity of her songwriting is a neat trick: Eminem put Dido in every household in America, but André Herman Düne puts her in the ears of bored hipsters, who should take to these simple recordings like Pavlov’s dog to the dinner bell. The songs, entirely solo-acoustic, could be leftovers from André Herman Düne Stands United, or, in fact, any of the prolific songster’s solo recordings (that’s how similar the two ultimately sound), when stripped down to the bare essentials.
Consisting of songs from Dido’s first two albums, No Angel and Life for Rent, and including renditions of both of the songwriter’s hits, “Thank You” and “White Flag,” Sings Dido, to the unaware, really could pass as another André Herman Düne solo joint. This is the neatest trick Herman Düne has played on us: in making these songs his own, and reading them so lovingly for his audience’s benefit, Herman Düne has revealed his pop-loving inner nerd, and fooled even the most thoroughly discerning into genuinely enjoying Top 40. I consider Sings Dido a great success, and recommend it as required listening for fans of either artist.
by Brook Pridemore
June 11, 2009
2001 | Century Media
The problem with black metal, to a layperson, is that there is inherently no sense of humor in the stuff. As someone who couldn’t give a fuck less about metal – a lifelong assessment – I have found this lack of a levity to be a major deterrent in my enjoyment of the genre. Everyone I’ve ever known who’s been into metal has taken the stuff deadly serious: every image of Iron Maiden’s classic Eddie characte, every Metallica lyric, every lame couplet to ever fall out of Dave Mustaine’s mouth, taken as manna from some alternate heaven (i.e., hell), where Satan reigns atop a flaming throne of human skulls casting down foul and unholy judgment upon the unworthy.
These people took metal this seriously, and yet treated me like an outcast with my They Might Be Giants records. I, as a result, turned my back on the genre, and vowed to remain turned ever after.
More on Sigh | Imaginary Sonicscape
June 4, 2009
1993 | A-Zap
The Japanese, as a culture, are a sneaky, diabolical, dedicated force to be reckoned with. Forced into a treaty agreement at the end of World War II that legally forbade them from ever again conquering another nation by force, the naturally aggressive, war-happy Japanese turned their interests toward business, over time conquering a majority of the world’s property and equity. Japan, forced into humbling non-aggression, have now largely taken over the world from the inside.
This is all true. I read it on the Internet.
The last sixty-plus years have seen Japan recreate itself as a culture of tech-savvy businessmen. Interestingly, the last twenty years have seen a peculiar spike in Japanese music that apes Western (particularly American and British) musical styles as well. American-style R&B (The 5,6,7,8’s, Guitar Wolf), British-style Garage Rock (Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, Blotto) and B-movie sample-happy techno (Cornelius) have all been run through the Japanese culture looking glass, and all to the same effect. Whatever music the Japanese get their hands on, they seem to mash through some weird lost-in-translation looking glass that gives it a psychedelic edge and intensifies a genre’s energy and attitude. Basically, anything the West can do, Japan can do better, faster, and weirder.
More on Melt Banana | Teeny Shiny
May 28, 2009
The follow-up album to a band’s breakthrough record is always a tricky one. How does a group keep their sound fresh without alienating their core fans or turning off newly converted listeners? Most people stumble with the second album, the sophomore slump – it’s the norm, not the exception. Look at the mighty Strokes, kings of the new garage rock scene in 2001, then declared stale when their second album, Room on Fire, toyed with their formula, just a little. Tragic.
The same can be said for The Lemonheads, who’s breakout, It’s a Shame About Ray, basically defined alternative culture in the early 90s. Predating the trend of ironic rock/punk covers of earnest but dated songs, Evan Dando and Co. were years ahead of their time with their ridiculous-but-fun cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” And “It’s a Shame About Ray,” the album’s biggest hit, was pretty much exactly on par with everything else on MTV in 1992 – before the record industry hit the bottom of the alternative rock barrel, this kind of hook-y, fun music was the norm.
More on The Lemonheads | Come On Feel…