Monday, October 20, 2014

Jim Noir Approaches 'The Finnish Line'

When it comes to Jim Noir, my barometer is completely broken. I have no idea if the announcement of a new album is met with excitement by legions of loyal fans... or if it's me and one other guy... and that other guy is Noir's black-sheep uncle. I'm really hoping there are lots of us gearing up to get 'The Finnish Line,' out next month, and, in the meantime, you can get a free download of "The Broadway Jets" from the impending release.

Here in America, Noir's brand of psychedelic pop became a tough find when he and Barsuk Records parted ways after his second album came out in 2008, but I'm here to tell you the search for the more recent import 'Jimmy's Show,' as well as the slew of self-released Noir Club EPs, are worth the additional labor. I'm going to include a song from each of Noir's first two albums, as well as a video from his 2012 album to help you find your way. You may discover the sounds of a Brian Wilson or a Nilsson, but with the British sensibility of a Robyn Hitchcock in there, too.

Jim Noir - "Key of C" from 'Tower of Love' (2006)
Jim Noir - "Don't You Worry" from 'Jim Noir' (2008)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Go-Betweens' Early Years Chronicled in Box Set

The Vinyl Villain's timing is perfect. He has a post this week on the classic 'Clash on Broadway' box. There is also a larger theme to his piece: Who is the audience for these expansive sets? If you are already a fan, chances are you have most of the material. If you have always wanted to dip your big toe, the price is probably too much for a band you haven't invested in before. So, it really comes down to extras such as well-done booklets and how much bonus material/unreleased tracks are included. I don't know about you, but goodies like posters, badges and stickers will never move me one way or another. It always comes down to the music.

All of the above criteria has had me seriously pondering the recently announced 'G Stands For Go-Betweens - Volume One.' Extensively covering the years 1978 to 1984, the meat of this beautiful box is the remastered vinyl of the first three studio albums, 'Send Me A Lullaby,' 'Before Hollywood' and 'Spring Hill Fair,' as well as a fourth compilation album that covers the band's first five singles. Yes, that includes "I Need Two Heads" from Postcard. The real eyebrow raiser for me is the four compact discs of rare, hard-to-find and unreleased demos, recordings, radio sessions and a complete live concert radio broadcast from 1982. Domino Records has the complete tracklists here.

There is an 112-page book, a silkscreen of the promotional poster for “Lee Remick" and a reproduction of the band's first press release from their own Able Label. The box itself looks beautiful, and all of the packaging seems to have been curated with much care.

So, as the Vinyl Villain intimated, with a box like this it comes down to price and the material not already owned. I have the three studio albums, although not all of the trio are on vinyl, and I have some (but not all) of the songs on 'The First Five Singles' because I have the four-track 'The Able Label Singles.' I have all but two of the singles Postcard released, but one of them is "I Need Two Heads." Truth is, I know I won't be satisfied with a Domino reissue of the song. It's gotta be the Postcard 7", and I know I will get it eventually. What really intrigues me are the four CDs, but is that worth the $160 price tag? That's a lot of used records at the local mom-and-pop shops... but I do love Go-Betweens so. Domino is taking preorders until the end of the month, and 'G Stands For Go-Betweens - Volume One' will be out in January. I may have to think about this one a little further.

What do you think about this box set in particular and box sets in general? Have you ever forked over $160 for one of these?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Another 'Lovely' Album From the Primitives

The Primitives first album of original material in 23 years is out today stateside, but it's as if no time between releases has elapsed at all. 'Spin-O-Rama' is chock full of the same timeless indie pop PJ Court and Tracy Tracy gave to us in their heyday. That's a sentiment you see in review after review as our favorite bands from days of yore make their way back to us. In this case, however, I promise it's not a cliche.

For fans who have been paying attention, the high standing of this new work will come as no surprise. We have known since 2012 this triumphant day would arrive. The inspired choices the band made on its covers album 'Echoes and Rhymes' were just too good for this to be a fleeting moment. Our feelings were confirmed early last year with one of the catchiest choruses the band ever put on a 7". If you missed it, don't worry. "Lose the Reason" is on the new album.

So, it really comes down to this: If you used to be into the Primitives, you will enjoy 'Spin-O-Rama' immensely. For the rest of you, now is as good a time as any to give them a try. I'm wording it this way because it must be assumed you never heard them in the first place. Otherwise, you would already be in the first camp. Check out this trio from the new one:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sailing Through Discography of the Ocean Blue

I have no idea why I gave up on them. I loved that self-titled debut. So much so, in fact, I rushed out to see the Ocean Blue open for the Mighty Lemon Drops in early 1990. They sounded like all of the bands I loved from the other side of the ocean. How could they be from Pennsylvania? Whereas the Mighty Lemon Drops took the stage like confident rock stars, the Ocean Blue seemed like polite young boys that were giddy to be seen and heard. Every gesture screamed, "How did we get here?" I found it all endearing, and the show is a happy memory from my youth. Even though I have listened to that album consistently for going on 25 years, I never bought anything else by the Ocean Blue.

Fast forward to February 2013, and I'm in the car. I flip over to KEXP just in time to hear frontman David Schelzel of the Ocean Blue doing an in-studio performance. I put it in park to take in the entire 20 minutes. I enjoyed it so much that I bought the band's new album when it came out a few weeks later. 'Ultramarine' turned out to be one of my favorite albums of the year.

Suddenly, I felt like I might have missed some great music between that 1989 debut and 2013. There was a 2004 EP called 'Waterworks' that was reissued last month with three bonus tracks. I decided to ride this Ocean Blue wave, and I'm glad I did. I'm a vinyl guy, however, and now that we are approaching a release date for 'Waterworks' at 33 1⁄3, I may have to buy it again. Listen to a couple of songs below, and then preorder 'Waterworks' on vinyl through Shelflife. It should be out Oct. 28, and the first 100 orders get this one on baby-blue vinyl. To me, 'Ultramarine' felt a lot like that first album, but 'Waterworks' takes you to some new places:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Big Country's 'Steeltown' Gets Bigger

Slowly, but surely, Big Country's back catalog has been getting spruced up and expanded. It started with 'The Crossing' in February 2012. The followup, 'Steeltown,' has been on the docket for ages. It was due to come out this past April but was pushed back to this week. I assume this lengthy delay was designed to coincide with the 30th anniversary tour that's on the road right now. As some of you may know, as a lad in 1983 and 1984, Big Country was my favorite band. Period. Although 'The Crossing' was the only hit here in America, I have always ranked 'Steeltown' right beside the debut album as Big Country's best work. 'Steeltown' is dark in theme and tone. The patented Big Country guitar riffs are fewer, and the songs don't have that same sing-along feel as earlier singles like "Fields of Fire" and "Harvest Home." In other words, the listener is challenged, and Americans didn't like that one bit. Meanwhile, in the UK, the album debuted at No. 1 and spawned three hit singles. I'm just sayin.'

The deluxe edition of 'Steeltown' has many more highs than lows. Let's get to the best and most important news first. If you're familiar with the original CD release, you know the sound barely passes muster. To these ears, it wasn't as good as my old vinyl copy I bought the day 'Steeltown' was released. Subsequent remasters, remarkably, made matters worse. Now, I'm no audiologist. I haven't broken down the various channels and checked for compression, volume, etc., but I have listened to the album several times (in fancy headphones, no less, impressive, eh?), and I proclaim this the best sounding version of 'Steeltown' on CD.

For me, the second disc is more about what isn't here. Like the deluxe edition of 'The Crossing,' producer Steve Lillywhite's amazing 12" extended versions are nowhere to be found. If you haven't heard the nearly eight minute remix of "Just a Shadow," you are really missing out. We do get a few B-sides, and my two all-time favorites are here (a cover of "Prairie Rose" and "Winter Sky"), but the rest of the songs are either radio edits of singles, which I find kind of boring, or rough mixes. Now, these mixes have superior sound and are miles away from the usual demos you find in packages like these, and I was completely floored by the jam-packed final two minutes of "Where the Rose Is Sown," but these are for die-hard fans. The 12" singles would have appealed to more listeners than radio edits and rough mixes.

Like the deluxe edition of 'The Crossing,' the CDs are housed in a paper cover that's a little on the flimsy side. I will be handling with care. The booklet is a whopping 22 pages, and the liner notes by Tim Barr do a great job of taking you back to 1984, a real up time for the band but a real low time for the United Kingdom. By the end of the read I felt I had a new appreciation for the themes Stuart Adamson was tackling in these songs. For example, before yesterday I never knew "Flame of the West" was about Ronald Reagan.

The new-and-improved 'Steeltown' will be released here in America on Tuesday. Amazon has it listed at roughly $32.50. Yes, that is rough. Well, I bought it at Amazon UK and paid about $23.50, and the shipping was more or less the same cost as a domestic order. Furthermore, I got it a week earlier. Yes, there is a way to make your import music feel like a domestic purchase. I would be remiss if I didn't mention there is a vinyl version of all this, and none of the songs were cut to make everything fit on the double album. That's a real rarity for these deluxe editions.

To get you in the mood, here are those aforementioned 12" versions that didn't make the cut.

Big Country - East of Eden (Extended)
Big Country - Where the Rose Is Sown (Extended)
Big Country - Just a Shadow (Extended)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pull Trigger on New Single From the Popguns

Remember back in June when I was fawning over a stream of "Lovejunky," the first new song from Popguns in nearly two decades? Well, Matinée Recordings has just announced the arrival of the 7", and it's a real corker. A couple of things to keep in mind: The physical release is on cherry-red vinyl and limited to 500 hand-numbered copies. If you're saying, "So what? That song is going to show up on 'Pop Fiction,' the band's full-length album out later this year... I can wait," then shame on you.

Don't you remember what it's like to actually hold a single in your hand and to gaze at the picture sleeve as the record spins seductively? And believe me, as you can see above, this cover is a beautiful piece of art. Do I sound like an old coot? OK, then, how about this? There are two B-sides, and neither one of the songs will be on 'Pop Fiction.' Mmm-hmm. Thought that might get your attention. I have had the good fortune of hearing "Long Way To Fall" and "Home Late," and let me tell you, if these are the songs that didn't make the album, we are in for a real treat.

Matinée is selling the "Lovejunky" single exclusively for the next two weeks before your local mom-and-pop shop gets a crack at some copies, but I suggest you don't wait around for that. Give the A-side another listen right now, then get to the label's online shop.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reissue Roundup (Part 2)

Artist: Dexys
Album: 'Nowhere Is Home': The Deluxe Editions
Label: Absolute Dexys
Release Date: Oct. 20
Details: Dexys' comeback album 'One Day I'm Going to Soar' is a tremendous piece of musical theater and one of the most interesting albums of this decade. Fans lucky enough to see the record performed on stage have lamented that although the recording is wonderful, it's nothing compared to experiencing it live. That's why all four distinct versions of 'Nowhere Is Home' look so special. The one you buy all comes down to fandom, choice of format and, of course, funds.

Depending on the edition, there is a film, complete live performance and many other extras centered around Dexys' residency at the Duke Of York's Theatre in the spring of 2013. For a complete rundown, including a very tempting six-disc whopper, check out the band's Pledge Music page. As for me, I'm all about the four-album 180g vinyl, but I will get the double-DVD film and performance separately. Brother, can you spare a dime? OK, I agree this isn't for the casual listener, but I do think the 2012 album 'One Day I'm Going to Soar' is an absolute must... and you can buy that these days for a song.

'Nowhere Is Home' Live Quadruple LP Vinyl Tracklist
1. Now
2. Lost
3. Me
4. She Got A Wiggle
5. You
6. I'm Thinking Of You
1. I'm Always Going To Love You
2. Incapable Of Love
3. Nowhere Is Home
4. Free
5. It's Ok John Joe
1. The Waltz
2. Geno
3. Listen To This
4. Until I Believe In My Soul
5. Tell Me When My Light Turns Green
6. Until I Believe In My Soul Part 2
1. Liars A to E
2. Old
3. This Is What She's Like

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Reissue Roundup (Part 1)

So far, I have set my sights on six reissues out this fall, and half of them are from the fine folks at Optic Nerve Recordings. The label has done such a fine job with past vinyl resurrections from the likes of McCarthy, the Flatmates, Cleaners From Venus and the Monochrome Set that I'm sure I'll want these new releases in my collection. I'll get to the other three reissues I'm interested in procuring next time around, but today is all about Optic Nerve.

Artist: Girls At Out Best!
Album: 'Pleasure' (Preorder)
Label: Optic Nerve Recordings
Release Date: Oct. 20
Details: They weren't all gals, but the band was fronted by "Jo" Evans, and she certainly knew how to deliver a line. This 19-song version of the 1981 post-punk classic 'Pleasure' is a double LP with gatefold sleeve. The vinyl is a transparent yellow with pink, red and blue splatter. Optic Nerve's stab varies just a bit from the 22-track 2009 CD reissue from Cherry Red, but the must-have singles released through the band's Record Records, Rough Trade and Happy Birthday labels are here. The inner sleeves are printed with lyrics and photos, and the album will include a "Pleasure Bag" with four postcards, two stickers, a stencil, a reproduced tour poster and reproduced promo posters for the "Go For Gold" and "Politics"/"Its Fashion" singles. Other goodies include a press photo and flyer. Whoo!

'Pleasure' Tracklist
A1 Pleasure
A2 Too Big For Your Boots
A3 I'm Beautiful Now
A4 Waterbed Babies
A5 Fun-City Teenagers
A6 £600,000
B1 Heaven
B2 China Blue
B3 Fast Boyfriends
B4 She Flipped
B5 Goodbye To That Jazz
C1 Getting Nowhere Fast
C2 Warm Girls
C3 Politics
C4 It's Fashion
D1 Go For Gold
D2 I'm Beautiful Now
D3 Fast Boyfriends
D4 This Train

Girls At Our Best! - Getting Nowhere Fast

Artist: The Monochrome Set
Album: 'Eligible Bachelors' (Preorder)
Label: Optic Nerve Recordings
Release Date: Nov. 24
Details: The gifts aren't quite as plentiful as with 'Pleasure,' but there are two bonus tracks on the cream-colored vinyl, and I don't have either one of them. Also included is a "Cast A Long Shadow" poster. You won't care about the lack of swag when you see that the preorder price is an absolute steal. The Monochrome Set made a few must-have albums, but I believe this 1982 album is the band's best.

'Eligible Bachelors' Tracklist
The Jet Set Junta
I'll Scry Instead
On The 13th Day
Cloud 10
The Mating Game
March Of The Eligible Bachelors
The Devil Rides Out
Fun For All The Family
The Midas Touch
The Ruling Class
The Great Barrier Riff
Cast A Long Shadow

The Monochrome Set - The Jet Set Junta

Artist: The Wolfhounds
Album: 'Unseen Ripples From a Pebble' (Preorder)
Label: Optic Nerve Recordings
Release Date: Nov. 17
Details: I'm tempted to repeat the above message that this is the one to get, but in recent years, the Wolfhounds have reunited and have been recording. So, that feels kind of rude. If you're searching for a comprehensive chronicling of the band's early years, however, this reissue of the 1987 album is the place to start. Just about everything from their time on the Pink Label and Idea Records can be found on the double LP. In fact, there are a whopping 15 bonus tracks. The only song I see missing is "Feeling So Strange Again." You may remember that one from NME's 'C86 ' cassette. Choose between clear or black 180gram vinyl. There's a lyrics sheet and plenty of press clippings, flyers and photos. I can't wait to see what Optic Nerve digs up next.

'Unseen Ripples From a Pebble' Tracklisting
A1 Me
A2 Sandy
A3 Rain Stops Play
A4 Goodbye Laughter
A5 Lost But Happy
A6 The Anti-Midas Touch
B1 In Transit
B2 Cruelty
B3 Rule Of Thumb
B4 Progress Caff
B5 Public Footpath Blues
B6 Handy Howard
C1 Stars In The Tarmac
C2 L.A. Juice
C3 Another Day On The Lazy “A”
C4 Cut The Cake
C5 Dead Think
C6 Midget Horror
C7 One Foot Wrong
C8 Slow Loris
D1 Restless Spell
D2 Whale On The Beach
D3 Me (7” Version)
D4 Hand In The Till
D5 Disgusted, E7
D6 Cold Shoulder
D7 Boy Racers RM1

The Wolfhounds - The Anti-Midas Touch

Monday, September 22, 2014

Home in on the Luxembourg Signal

For fans of Sarah Records, it's been a year to reminisce and rejoice. So far there has been an art exhibit, a documentary film and a book announcement. Looking back is all well and good, and it's certainly wonderful to see Sarah receive accolades in a way it never did when it existed, but let's not forget there are still some label alums making great music in 2014. For starters, check out 'Cornish Love Songs' from the Hit Parade and 'Kick to Kick' from the Steinbecks. (That's the Sugargliders' Josh and Joel Meadows.)

Back in the spring I heard a most wonderful piece of dreampop. The single "Distant Drive" had a timeless sound -- familiar but fresh at the same time -- full of soaring guitars and a just a hint of shoegaze sensibilities. Wow, who were these guys? Turned out I did know the Luxembourg Signal. Three members of the band were from Aberdeen, a Sarah band that, gasp, came from right here in America. It's kind of like Go-Betweens on Postcard. Geography be damned. They were, simply, a fine fit. If you were a fan of those Sarah days, the impending full-length release will be right up your alley, but this is no retread. Expect a slightly louder, darker and more mature affair.

The album was due for a Sept. 30 release, via the always dependable Shelflife Records, but a delay in the delivery of the vinyl has pushed the date back to Oct. 21. This is becoming an old story as the scarce number of vinyl pressing plants struggle to keep up. Tough not to have mixed feelings about that development, but that's a story for another day. I'm going to spend the rest of the week on more new releases and reissues. They are coming fast and furious now. In the meantime, here are a couple of real gems from the Luxembourg Signal. Preorder now!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Couple of Killer Album Closers

Just another day. It's not like I'm voting on the future of my homeland or anything. All the best to my pals in Scotland. If I could do anything to mark this auspicious day, I would be on a plane to Los Angeles to buy Scottish sounds from Postcard, Creeping Bent, Fast Product, Chemikal Underground and the like. You see, Wombleton Records is celebrating its 4th birthday tonight. If it's not my favorite shop in all of America, it's certainly in the top 2. Wombleton just got back from one of their legendary vinyl-finding trips, this time to England, and they will be unveiling a bevy of used booty at 8PM. Check out some of what you'll find right here. Man, I'm 1,135 miles from heaven, and it feels even further.

Since I have "La La Land" on my mind, here are a couple from the city's mid-'90s power-pop scene. Both of these songs are -- what is commonly referred to in the biz as -- deep cuts. In fact, they are final tracks from two absolutely perfect full-length debuts. I love both bands dearly, but neither can be described as prolific, and I have always found their sporadic and extremely limited output frustrating. It probably doesn't help that, to my knowledge, neither band has officially retired from recording. So, I keep holding out hope there will be new work... even though Wondermints haven't had a new album since 2002, and Sugarplastic's last release was in 2005. It really is a pity, but at least we have these catchy gems. Both debut albums are out of print, but you can still find used copies from the links below.

Wondermints - "Carnival of Souls" from 'Wondermints'
Sugarplastic - "Howl a Little" from 'Radio Jejune'

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rays of Summershine From the Rainyard

When I think of great Aussie pop, the first bands that come to my mind are the Go-Betweens, Triffids, Sugargliders, Lucksmiths, Crayon Fields and, going way back, Easybeats. Well, I think the Rainyard should be added to this shortlist. Until recently, the only song I knew from this band straight outta Perth was "Hell Bent Suicidal Over You, Baby." It was the third single the legendary (in a just world, anyway) Summershine Records ever released, way back in 1990. The song was also on the label compilation 'Just a Taste' that saw the light of day here in America via Slumberland nearly two decades ago.

A couple of years ago, members of the band bundled all of their output, from the aforementioned single to songs from a slew of compilations, and self released it as the digital album 'A Thousand Days.' Turns out the lads were jangle gods that would have fit in quite nicely with the C86 crowd that clearly influenced them.

Last month, Pretty Olivia Records took these 15 songs and reissued them on vinyl. The Spanish boutique label pressed 300 copies, and they seem to be going fast. You can still download it too, but c'mon, these hooks were made for wax.

The Rainyard - So Happy Now

Here's a little bonus from the aforementioned 'Just a Taste' sampler.

The Rainyard - Hellbent Suicidal Over You, Baby

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Phil Wilson on Caff

On July 1, 1986, Phil Wilson's band officially called it quits with a press release that read, "The June Brides have decided to part company and become legend." In 1987, Wilson as solo artist would release two fantastic singles for Creation, "Waiting For a Change" and "10 Miles." The label, seemingly, put its weight behind these records by releasing them as a 7", 12" and double 7" with gatefold sleeve. Alas, these songs weren't chart busters, and Alan McGee, busy with his new act the House of Love, was on to bigger things.

It would be about two years before we would hear from Wilson again. Thankfully, Bob Stanley's Caff Corporation released the one-off "Better Days" in the second half of 1989. Like most of Caff's output, this single was a low-budget affair. While Wilson was backed by the Triffids on his first Creation release, now he was playing bass and guitar while being backed a drum machine. In retrospect, the lyrics seem ominous ("I can't find the place where I belong"), but it really is a bouncy number. Here is what Wilson had to say in the insert for this 45:

'Better Days' and 'You Won't Speak' were recorded as demos in Spring 1988 by myself and Andrew Innes at the Acid Factory (this is a rather silly name for his spare bedroom). Creation were no longer interested in releasing my stuff and I couldn't be bothered to tout around looking for a new deal. So the songs have languished on a shelf ever since. I, in the meantime, stopped being a shiny pop person and became a boring old Civil Servant - a position that suits me down to the ground. At the moment I have no plans or desire to return to the cesspool of the music business. Thanks to Caff, however, for releasing this, and to you for buying it!

Phil Wilson

It would be nearly 20 years before another new release from Wilson. If you have heard 'God Bless Jim Kennedy" and the two 7" singles from the reunited June Brides, however, you know this story has a happy ending. Buy the brand-new EP "She Seems Quite Free," and get yourself an education. In the meantime, here's the A-side of CAFF 3. It's one of the toughest singles to find. Currently, there are none for sale on Discogs or Ebay, but it is available on the must-have compilation 'Every Conversation: The Story of June Brides & Phil Wilson.'

Phil Wilson - Better Days