November 21, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1993, the birth of a conscious music listener, and falling in and out of love with They Might Be Giants. For earlier installments, go here.
1993 is a defining year for me, Brook Pridemore, as a musician/music obsessor (one can’t really exist without the other). Aside from Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged premiere in November (the defining live document of the 90s) and Prince changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol, 1993 is the year I became conscious. So, while the year may not be the best for music (certainly ‘95 and ‘97 are go-to years for “the classics”), 1993 will always evoke something of a coming of age nostalgia within me. The historical equivalent of the participant’s trophy in softball you’ve got in a box somewhere, maybe, or the barely-meeting-the-weight-requirement large mouth bass you caught when you were a kid, that ended up stuffed and mounted, a constant reminder of simpler times. 1993 is the year I came of age.
It seems innocuous now, but one February morning in ‘93, I was watching Saturday Morning cartoons with my much-younger sister. An episode of Tiny Toon Adventures that featured animated videos to two songs by quirky Brooklyn group They Might Be Giants crossed my periphery. And that was it. I had no idea what these guys looked like (as TMBG were depicted by Tiny Toons characters, you see), but I could tell just by hearing them that they looked more like me (skinny, pale, gawky) than the hip hop crews or cartoon-y hard rock bands my contemporaries were discovering. Gangbangin’ was in, but it’s hard to be a gangbanger in a lake-dominated suburb thirty miles north of the inner city of Detroit. Being a hesher was in, but I still don’t quite dig on metal, and it’s hard to be a hesher without dirt weed.
They Might Be Giants seemed like they spoke to me, personally. In the last dying days before the Internet diluted the mystery a band could wrap itself in, I went on a quest to find all of their albums to date, and learn all the lyrics. The things I had picked for my career focus to date (funny car designer, video game programmer, etc.) went out the window. I was going to be a singer like They Might Be Giants. Christmas 1993, when I got my first guitar, TMBG’s guitarist, John Flansburgh, served as my first role model. Never known for his flash, Flansburgh held the band’s quirky, percolated rhythms together with his simple, creative strumming. “Birdhouse in Your Soul” is buoyed by Flansburgh’s tic-tac bassline across it’s chorus. You may never have noticed that bouncy little line in there, but it’s an essential element to what gives the song it’s danceable backbone.
More on #10: 1993
September 2, 2009
JezebelMusic.com @ Cake Shop
August 26, 2009 | Prince Rainbow, The Bright Lights, The Sugarplums
Rachel Shallue, lead singer from Baltimore’s The Sugarplums, has the smallest feet on the East Coast. An attempt to fit more than two lemons inside one of her shoes would be futile. Shallue positioned these tiny shoes parallel to the front of the tiny Cake Shop stage platform while she sang leads and harmonies with her drummer. The Sugarplums’ sound reflected their name, but not in a naïve way; the vocal lines pranced in front of the reverberating guitars and were interesting, poppy, and pleasing to listen to. The Plums were tapped into that K Records jangle sound; they inspired me to get reacquainted with some Saturday Looks Good to Me and Beat Happening, bands with modest guitar hooks, romantic vocals, and stories about being drunk at summer pool parties.
After the Sugarplums concluded, I started to notice that a lot of folks hovering around the stage were wearing bright stripes: Prince Rainbow. I’d secretly wished that they were half Prince and half Rainbow Family Gathering, but I was not disappointed with their instead melancholy plucked guitars and tambourine beats. From Philadelphia, they ferry a shimmering sound into dark bars that is made original with their vocal layerings – a floaty female voice on top of echoey male voices, all bathed in reverb. Each song seemed a tender dalliance; “45 Days” has a key change between verse and chorus that encourages staying under the covers all day. In any case, these Rainbows are still fashioning their sound and it will be interesting to see how they differentiate themselves from the other twee indie popsters in the future.
The Bright Lights. They differed from Prince Rainbow by about one hundred decibels. The bassist had this toxic dumpster distortion going on, and his cables were failing, causing that disagreeable atomic cat hiss sound. And the bassist and guitarist were both covered in dust, like they had just come from a rugby match during a drought – it made them look really tough, like cavalrymen. Anyway, they had a stalwart bloc of fans out to see them, and The BLs played thundering, yet vaguely surfy guitars. Overall, their sound was familiar, owing likeness to Guided By Voices and early Replacements, yet the Knights had a heavier brawnier edge that I preferred. The last two songs picked up in intensity, with the bass player rising up on his toes, and the prominent longhair in the crowd propellering his arms even harder than he had been before. The dust kicked up and some microphone stands got kicked over. It was good to see this Brooklyn band inspire Wednesday night grunge reverie in Manhattan.
by Thomas Wilk
August 26, 2009
HOLY MUSICIAN, BATMAN…
“Okay swingers, now that we’ve ditched the squares, hang on, ’cause Jackie’s gonna do it to you like you’ve never been done before!”
-Jerry Lincoln, liner notes of Jackie Shane Live
I tend, in my writing about music, to focus on the vocalist and to delve into biography. I try to remind myself to conjure up the nuance of a drum brush or a chord struck on the Hammond organ at just the right moment, but it always comes back to the frontman. I like instrumental music, and a perfect hook or nasty bassline can drive me wild. It’s just that when someone has not only a unique sounding voice and interesting phrasing, but brings a wildly fascinating persona to their song, it becomes that much more relatable. It’s what I always loved about listening to cover after cover of the same old soul song, driven by the vocalists, each with their own inflection and character; each with their own lament. And it’s why I always figured that guts and attitude can translate into excellent musicianship: done right, they have the potential to push a piece of music or a whole body of work into the realm of mythology. And no one had guts and attitude like Jackie Shane.
More on Jackie Shane