Monday, May 30, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 6)

Some of you may remember my fondness for the Chamber Strings from the post I did on them during the countdown of my favorite '90s songs. I had hatched a recent plan to have them come up on Memorial Day so I could feature the song "Make It Through the Summer" and ask you for your go-to summer songs. As I was ripping vinyl and reading up on the Chamber Strings last night, something unexpected hit me over the head like a hammer.

Frontman Kevin Junior died earlier this year at the age of 46.

His passing was just days after the death of David Bowie. Missing this news makes his demise seem worse somehow. There was a four-sentence blurb in Billboard, and that was about it. He deserved more attention. When I reluctantly moved back to Chicago from Washington, D.C., in 2000, the one saving grace was returning to a vibrant music scene, and the Chamber Strings were the first new band I really got into during that era. Although there would only be two albums, 'Gospel Morning' and 'Month of Sundays,' both are exceptional examples of lush pop inspired by the likes of Big Star, the Faces and T.Rex, and I'll be forever thankful to Junior for producing them.

There were many lost years after 'Month of Sundays,' but the classic lineup of the Chamber Strings did reunite for a while in the latter part of the '00s. They produced one limited-run 7"... just enough to get the handful of us who cared excited again. It looks as though there may still be a few left. Here is the A-side of that single from 2009.

"I Come Apart (A Tragic Comedy)"

If you only have a few minutes, though, I implore you to go straight to this one. Don't expect the summer feel of a "Fun, Fun, Fun." It's more like the melancholy "Surf's Up." I'm having trouble finding the words to convey how much I love this song. Just listen.

"Make It Through the Summer"

OK, now let me know some of your favorite summer songs, and let's hope this summer is better than the winter and spring has been.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 5)

Nick Lowe is just about as good as it gets for me, and there was a time in my life when I had to have everything associated with him. Thus, I have four albums from his ex-wife on the shelf. I rate Carlene Carter's output during her time with Lowe as such:

'Two Sides to Every Woman' (1979) Fair
'Musical Shapes' (1980) Excellent
'Blue Nun' (1981) Excellent
'C'est C Bon' (1983) Poor

It's no coincidence the two albums deemed excellent are the ones with heavy participation from her husband. In fact, 'Musical Shapes' is Carter backed by Rockpile. 'Blue Nun' mixes up the roster a bit, but she is still surrounded by the pals of Lowe that would become his band after Rockpile, including James Eller, Bobby Irwin, Paul Carrack and Martin Belmont. 'Musical Shapes' is a little bit country. There are elements of that sound in 'Blue Nun,' but pop starts to creep in, too.

By 'C'est C Bon,' Carter has gone all pop, and many of Lowe's clan have flown the coop. Eller and Rockpile drummer Terry Williams are there, but not even Lowe makes a credited appearance. There are a few song titles Lowe fans will know, such as "Don't Give My Heart a Break," which appeared on Carrack's 1982 album 'Suburban Voodoo,' but it's a largely ear-scraping experience from beginning to end. There wouldn't be another album from Carter until 1990, the year her divorce from Lowe was official. In a jaw-dropping development to Lowe fans everywhere, it was about then that Carter's career took off, and she enjoyed a fruitful first half of the decade on the country charts.

Here are a few songs taken from those first three albums. I won't subject you to 'C'est C Bon.' You'll know this first one from the B-side to Elvis Costello's "Less Than Zero" single on Stiff in '77. For you trivia buffs, John McFee plays pedal steel on the original and Carter's cover. The second song is a duet with Rockpile's Dave Edmunds. It was composed by country songwriter Richard Dobson. The third song was written together by Carter and Lowe. This is an example of the gritty/sleazy singing style found throughout these early albums. I bet she could even make a church hymn sound dirty.

"Radio Sweetheart" (from 'Two Sides to Every Woman')
"Baby Ride Easy" (from 'Musical Shapes')
"Me and My .38" (from 'Blue Nun')

Friday, May 27, 2016

Exciting Summer Releases From Fika Recordings

If you're a regular reader, the following two bands will already be quite familiar to you, and I hope this news puts a little kick in your step as we head into the holiday weekend.

'Oscillations,' the debut long player from Cosines, made my top 10 albums of 2014 because, in large part, Alice Hubley's vocals remind me so much of one of my all-time favorite singers, Lena Karlsson of Komeda. Like the defunct Swedish band, Cosines also have an aesthetic fans of Stereolab and Saint Etienne will find attractive. Put another way, when I dream about knowing my way around a dance floor, the DJ is often spinning Cosines. We found out this week there won't be a new LP from them until 2017, which is a little disappointing, but to satiate our hunger, Cosines have a little appetizer to hold us over before the main course.

The four-track 'Transitions' will be out as a 10" on July 15 via London-based Fika Recordings. There aren't any streams for public consumption just yet, but I have been listening to the EP (over and over) for the last couple of days because, well, I just can't stop. Nor do I want to. "Let's Start It Over" is the indie-pop masterpiece of this lot, but I really identify with the rage found on "Dunbar." It's about a small London music venue close to the band's heart that was forced to shut its doors due to property development and gentrification. I immediately thought of my favorite record shop that's now a Chase Bank. If you identify with this one, you'll find screaming along to the chorus "all you guys with the money should leave our shit alone!" quite cathartic. "Ra" is a dreamy space-age jam. EP closer "Chaos Theory" surprised me with some Bowie-esque sax. We might only get four songs, but this EP is a filler-free affair. While we are waiting for Fika to stream something from the EP, let's enjoy one from 'Oscillations.'



Here's another alumnus of past top-10 lists on these very pages. When we last heard from Math and Physics Club, I was lauding them at No. 6 on my best albums of 2013 countdown for 'Our Hearts Beat Out Loud.' If you're a fan of these indie-pop pupils, then you know not to hold your breath between releases for fear of turning blue, but as Stephen Morrissey once sang, these things take time, and two-and-a-half years later, wa-lah, we are about to get one new song from the Pacific Northwest band. Yes, just one, but no long faces though because "Coastal California 1985" kicks off a must-have collection called 'In This Together: EPs, B-Sides, Rarities, and Unreleased Songs 2005-2015.' The album is chock full of those exclusive EPs and vinyl-only singles Matinée Recordings did such a fine job releasing to the world the past decade but are now so tough to procure.

Fika is releasing 300 copies of 'In This Together' on cream-colored vinyl with gatefold sleeve on June 24, but you had better hurry. As of this writing there are only about 50 left for preorder. If the clock expires on you, don't fret. It looks as though Matinée will be releasing it on CD in June as well. As with the new one from Cosines, there are no songs from the label for public streaming just yet, but let's listen to "Do You Keep a Diary" from the 2007 EP 'Baby I'm Yours' while we wait. Why that one? Because there is a wonderful acoustic version of this electropop classic on 'In This Together,' and if that doesn't get you excited for this compilation, I don't know what will.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 4)

As the next three installments of this series will illustrate, man cannot live on indie pop alone... but I do try. You don't usually find hit-makers around here, and this might be a yawner to many of you, but what I loved most about the Cars was that they were unifiers. In my neck of the woods, the band was beloved by new wavers, punks, jocks and hoods in equal numbers. Their music was just that diverse and digestible. That's especially true of the early years. By 'Heartbeat City,' that image may have been altered a bit. Even though it's not true, many of us like to think a band is all ours, and that was an impossible feeling when the Cars had four top 20 singles that year and seemed to be on MTV every hour.

As for me, by 1984, I didn't mind sharing the Cars one bit. Even though the photo above seems to prove otherwise, I had more or less moved on to other things. I did see the Cars that summer in a huge outdoor theater. Wang Chung opened. The parent of one of my friends drove us the three hours to the suburbs of Chicago for the show. It was one of my first concerts, and any excuse to leave the sticks for the big city felt exciting. What I remember most vividly, though, was seeing a flyer for upcoming shows later in the month and wishing I could come back for Pretenders with Simple Minds and Elvis Costello and the Attractions with Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit. That's not exactly a moving concert review.

You're all quite familiar with the band's first six albums. So, let's listen to something from the seventh. Frontman Ric Ocasek boldly stated for decades that the Cars would never get back together. The death of Benjamin Orr in 2000 seemed to further cement that sentiment. Never say never. The four remaining members released 'Move This' in 2010. Once again, the music went down easy. It was as if no time had passed at all. The album came out in May, but they had a walk-up 7" released for Record Store Day a few weeks earlier. Both sides of the single would be part of the album, and I knew it, but I didn't have the patience. So, today, here is that single. I have no idea if there will be more new music from the Cars, but I do know Ocasek could write this catchy power pop in his sleep.

"Sad Song"
"Blue Tip"

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Another Successful Comeback? How 'Swede' It Is

Shelflife Records has done it again. Not only did the label manage to bring indie-pop sensations Brideshead back from the dead after two decades away, they helped release their best album, 'Never Grow Up,' just last year. That reclamation project was always going to be tough to top, but Shelflife has once more mined the golden age of German label Marsh-Marigold to resurrect a band that hasn't had a long player since 1997, and the results are just as rewarding.

Red Sleeping Beauty (yes, named after the song by McCarthy!) has been releasing singles through Shelflife for almost a year now. So, we already knew the Swedes could still produce lovely electronic pop, but when you hear all of these songs together on the new album, 'Kristina,' you realize that, like the aforementioned Brideshead, they have actually gotten better with age.

The album is named for fellow band mate Kristina Borg. She has been seriously ill but still managed to sing on a handful of the new songs. Her health has improved, and we are promised more involvement on the next album. In the meantime, Kristina proved to be quite a muse for Niklas Angergård and Mikael Matsson. You're going to hear quite a few of your favorite '80s synth bands in these songs, like OMD (check out "Always"), but there are more contemporary touches, too. If you like the quieter side of Club 8 and are a sucker for vintage synthesizers and drum machines, you're gonna want this one. 'Kristina' hits the shelves June 17. As for Shelflife, keep those Marsh-Marigold bands coming.

"Always"


"Mi Amor"


"Tell Me More"


"If You Want Affection"

Thursday, May 19, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 3)

It's pop, jazz, soul and just about any other genre you want to stir in the pot. As producer Mike Thorne once said, this band "appl[ied ]the punk attitude to venerable musical forms." Today's songs are taken from Carmel's 1984 long player 'The Drum is Everything.' The trio is a seemingly odd mix of double bass, drums and voice but, oh, how it works. There isn't a duff note on the album. The star here is Carmel McCourt. Her beautiful instrument will blow your hair back, make you bounce off the walls and cry in your beer... and that's just the A-side! Carmel's is one of only a few voices I have heard that holds a candle to Tracey Thorn in my mind. Album opener "More, More, More" sounds more like it was recorded in a Tupelo church on a sunny Sunday morning than at the Who's Ramport Studios in South London. They pulled out all of the stops for this one, including the addition of backing vocals, organ and an 18-piece horn section from their hometown of Manchester called Sounds 18. I can't believe Ramport still had a roof after that one. "More, More, More" proved to be a hit, peaking at No. 23 on the UK Singles Chart.

In 1983, months before 'The Drum Is Everything,' Carmel had an even more successful single, and it was included on the album. I really could have given anything on this long player a good airing today, but I'm including "Bad Day" because I know there are many fans of the Attractions that stop by the blog, and that camp will be interested to note that it's Steve Nieve on the Hammond organ. For me, his playing on "Bad Day" always conjures up his performance on the Costello single "Head to Toe" that came out the year before "Bad Day." These two songs were often placed back to back on my mix tapes back in the day. "Bad Day" made it all the way to No. 15 on the UK Singles Chart... the band's best showing. I had planned to go with Carmel's inspiring take on "Tracks of My Tears," but I decided on "Stormy Weather" because it's an opportunity to hear the trio on its own, and Carmel, Jimmy and Gerry really shine as they slow things down right after "More, More, More" on the album.

For those wondering how Carmel played on this side of the pond, I didn't know anyone who knew them. Not even my pals. In the Internet age, it has been nice to connect with others and learn that I wasn't as alone as I had thought. I just had the wrong friends. Ha! One blogger that's an even bigger supporter than me is Post-Punk Monk, and I invite you to check out his fine essays on Carmel and the like. I can't let this moment pass without ranting a bit about the cover art. The gorgeous cover you see at the top of this page is what you got in the UK and Europe. Here in America, we were left with this turd that accompanies this paragraph. The knucklehead at Warner Bros. that made that change should have been flogged. Fortunately, I found a German copy in the import section. As I mentioned, these songs are the album versions, which is great because "More More, More" clocks in at twice the length of the 7".

"More, More, More"
"Stormy Weather"
"Bad Day"

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 2)

You get two of my heroes in one post today. I hope they are favorites of yours, too. You'll read more about Ian Broudie and Paul Simpson later in this series. For now, let's concentrate on the brief history of their time together as Care. There were three singles between the spring of '83 and early '84, and all of them were perfect pieces of pop. Broudie's new-wave synth and jangly guitars meshed so well with Simpson's distinctive croon. "Flaming Sword" came closest to breaking through, peaking at an anemic No. 48 on the UK Singles Chart, but "Whatever Possessed You" has always been the one for me. It was a leftover from Simpson's early days in Wild Swans. Care assembled a proper album, 'Love Crowns and Crucifies,' but it was shelved after the singles failed to garner buzz. There would be many more bright moments for Broudie and Simpson, some even together, but not as Care. So here's another band in a long line on my shelf that make me scratch my head as I wonder how they missed fortune and fame.

Incidentally, Care (and Simpson in particular), have quite a following in Japan and the Philippines. So much so that it prompted Camden Records to release a CD compilation of the duo's work in 1997. 'Diamonds & Emeralds' is no longer in print, but you can find it used in the usual places. Although the packaging is underwhelming, if you don't have the singles, it's worth seeking out. All of the following songs with the exception of the 12" version of "Whatever Possessed You" can be found there, and you can probably live without the additional 75 seconds. Other than length, the two takes are almost identical.

"Flaming Sword" (12")
"My Boyish Days (Drink to Me)" (12")
"Whatever Possessed You" (7")
"Whatever Possessed You" (12")

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Seven-Year Itch

You turn 7 today, dear blog. There have been many ups... and some downs too. In darker moments there have been thoughts of chucking the whole relationship and just walking. Things have gotten heated, and I'm not proud that I have raised my voice to you a few times. There may have even been a monitor shake or two, but I get so frustrated with you. Oh, the technical glitches! Yes, I admit my eyes have wandered to other blogs, but it's OK if I just look, right? I suppose I do leave comments occasionally, but it's nothing too suggestive. Uh, I guess that's not true. I recommend records at other places all of the time. And there was that guest post at JC's place, but I only did it once. I swear.

I know. We used to be together almost every day. Now I only pay attention to you a few times a week. You didn't really think I could keep up that passion, did you? I have read these feelings crop up around the seven-year mark. It's normal. I have a mess of new music to write about this week, and that will help. You know how that always gets the blood pumpin'. You know what you need? We'll reminisce about the good times. Let's listen to one of our favorite songs from each year we've been together. Don't worry. We'll get through this. Just so long as your know-it-all parent stays out of our business. Damn that Google!

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

Friday, May 13, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 1)

There aren't many albums on my shelf that have meant more to me than NME's 'C86.' I can't claim to have ever owned the original mail-order cassette. Fortunately, there was such a buzz that Rough Trade issued it on vinyl in the fall of that year. I special ordered it through a shop located near a college campus about 40 mintues from my home town. I recall it taking months to come in, but maybe it just felt that way. As you can see from the photo above, the price was less than five pounds in the UK, but I believe I paid $18 for this exotic import. Worth every penny. The cover has seen better days. Thirty years on, the copper color has begun to oxidize on the edges, turning it a rather unattractive brown. There is the obligatory ring made by the vinyl. Very few of us knew to keep the vinyl outside of the cover back then. The vinyl, although played to death, is still pretty good. Cherry Red reissued the vinyl as a double album just this year for Record Store Day. Not a bad idea putting it on two LPs given that 22 songs were crammed on the original. I bet it sounds great.

Like any compilation worth its salt, I would go on to buy many pieces of plastic from the mysterious new bands that were featured, especially Close Lobsters, Shop Assistants and the Bodines. To a lesser extent, though, the Mighty Lemon Drops, Mighty Mighty, McCarthy, the Pastels and the Wolfhounds would also find a home under the roof of my childhood home. It's funny, but to this day I'm still buying the work of bands from this album. During the blogging years I have discovered I really missed out on the Servants and the Wedding Present. Don't worry. Those issues have been rectified. There are some out there that think the 'C86' scene was an amateurish joke. If you're judging solely on the success of the bands that graced this set, you are correct. Only the Soup Dragons and Primal Scream went on to be big commercially... and with a sound that couldn't have been much different than what they displayed here. That type of success was never the point. As Andrew Collins of the NME once said, 'C86' was "the most indie thing to have ever existed." I hear the influence of this collection in the music I listen to almost every day and by many artists that weren't even born when the tape was released. To me, that's the very definition of success.

Twelve of the 22 bands on 'C86' will get there own days during this series. So, if I didn't choose the act you wanted to hear today, I apologize and offer the consolation that your day is more than likely coming soon.

Primal Scream - "Velocity Girl"
Close Lobsters - "Firestation Towers"
Miaow - "Sport Most Royal"

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter B, Part 28)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the end of the letter B. Perhaps the best has been saved for last. 'Singles Going Steady' might very well be my favorite band compilation in the collection and just about the most listened to album in my middle teen years. That's the perfect time of your life to discover Buzzcocks. It felt like I was flipping the bird to the world right along with Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle as I sang along in my room all those years ago. Last year on Black Friday the 1978 album 'Another Music in a Different Kitchen' was reissued on vinyl. Since the copy from my youth was worn to nothing, I couldn't resist.

The vinyl is thick and heavy, and the color is a lovely opaque orange that perfectly matches the lettering and trim on the front cover. The cover itself is crisp and of a heavy stock. The sound is pristine. It's all so beautiful... and that's the problem. My Buzzcocks aren't supposed to look and sound this good. I don't like it. I miss the pops and cracks, and I anticipate them because after decades of listening I know exactly where they are supposed to be in each song. Unfortunately, I didn't keep my ragged copy, and I regret it. I'm sure you all know the singles and B-sides from Buzzcocks. So, today, I'm going deep for a favorite from the second side of the "new" album.

"I Need"

You know how on some restaurant menus an entrée description will say something like "perfect when paired with a Sam Adams lager." Well, to keep me interested in this series, from time to time, I think I'll add a bonus song to accompany the featured one. I used to make quite a few mix tapes. I bet you did too. There were certain songs I would always put together back to back. The reason could be as simple as similar lyrical themes or as complex as a story from my life that would only make sense to me. This song from the Pastels, circa 1986, would always follow "I Need" because the background vocals were so alike... and, oh, how I love those "ahs!" Buzzcocks should have trademarked that.

"Truck Train Tractor"

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter B, Part 27)

Kate Bush takes up very little space on the shelf. I didn't really know of her work before the 1985 single "Running Up That Hill." That might be surprising to European readers, but she didn't have all that much success here in America. Bush has had 25 singles crack the top 40 in the UK, while today's pick remains the only one to do that over here. In fact, in the mid-80s, I knew her more for her work with Michael Kamen on the soundtrack to Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil,' the duet with Peter Gabriel on his song "Don't Give Up" or even her appearance on the title track to Big Country's 'The Seer' than just about any of her own material. I liked "Running Up That Hill" enough to get the album 'Hounds of Love,' and I still enjoy that one from beginning to end. Yet, other than a used copy of the compilation 'The Whole Story' bought around 1989, I never acquired anything else by Bush until 2014.

Why 2014? That's when Bush announced her big London residency at the Hammersmith Apollo. I seem to recall my blogging peers being split on her discography at the time, but what I remember for sure is that seemingly everyone was reading, writing or talking about her for a while there. On this side of the world, I'm guessing I wasn't alone in scratching my head at the level of excitement surrounding her return to the stage, but I tried to get into the spirit of the spectacle. I bought my first Bush album in 25 years when I picked up 'The Dreaming.' I found it to be pretty out there and certainly not as accessible as 'Hounds of Love.' After that I came to the conclusion I respect her art much more than I actually like listening to it. Weird, I know. I'll never tire of "Running Up That Hill," though. Let's listen to the 12". This was the first record I bought by her.

"Running Up That Hill" (Extended Version)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Plan B

I'm on a real Dexys Midnight Runners kick right now (Expect a week of them when I get to the letter D!), and because I have been ripping so much vinyl from the letter B, that includes splinter groups the Bureau and the Blue Ox Babes.

A few weeks ago I posted "There's No Deceiving You," the first of a mere three singles issued from the latter band. I didn't get many takers, and the few that did listen felt it was like Dexys but with weaker songs and vocals. I more or less concurred, but it left me feeling sad. I think it's because the whole Babes v. Dexys rivalry was so lopsided and so unfair. Although Kevin Rowland has come clean about Kevin Archer honing that "Celtic soul" sound first and, further, that he lifted ideas from the Blue Ox Babes for his band's "Emerald Express" period, Archer still had to watch his talented fiddle player change teams and listen to his excruciatingly similar riffs saturate the airwaves as 'Too-Rye-Ay' became a smash. In 1997, Rowland said that "the breakdown and build-up section of the song ['Come on Eileen'] was heavily influenced by a section of one of Kevin Archer's songs." Imagine the whirlwind of emotions Archer must have felt upon hearing those words so many years later.

That's why I'm here giving this another go. It's true "There's No Deceiving You" was the closest the Blue Ox Babes would come to a hit, but I'm not sure this was the best choice to convince you of the band's charms. So, today, I give you all three A-sides from the above singles, plus "What Does Anybody Ever Think About?" I'm including the B-side because that's the song most think Rowland was referring to when he spoke of the breakdown and buildup of strings that heavily influenced "Come on Eileen." This is one of the Blue Ox Babes' earliest songs and undoubtedly one of the demos Rowland heard prior to the 'Too-Rye-Ay' era. If you're in a rush, go to about the 2:55 mark of the song. OK, I'm letting it go now.

"There's No Deceiving You"
"Apples and Oranges (The International Hope Campaign)"
"Walking on the Line"
"What Does Anybody Ever Think About?"