Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summer Reading Program

This is the hammock my family got me for Father's Day a few years ago. What a beaut! It's a double tucked in a quiet corner of the backyard between two 100-foot evergreen trees. I don't use it nearly enough. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we only get 90 days of sunshine a year. Finally, this week, it's beginning to feel like summer. I have resolved to spend 30 minutes on my hammock with a good book every day that I can for the rest of the season. It won't surprise you my favorite books are about music. I recently took a trip to the discount book shop and picked up Alan McGee's 'Creation Stories,' Simon Reynolds' 'Rip It Up and Start Again' and Elvis Costello's 'Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink'. I also got the trivia book 'Don't Dream It's Over: The '80s Music Party Game' for our road trip to Yellowstone coming up in a few weeks. In this area, I'm a savant, and Mrs. LTL will be cursing my name before we get through the first mountain pass.

One book that, it seems, will just miss my summer reading program but will be on my shelf as soon as it's available is Robert Forster's 'Grant & I'. The jacket above tells all you need to know... This is sure to be a must-read for fans of the Go-Betweens. Forster recently gave an update on his literary endeavor via his Facebook page:

Here in this post is the cover of my book 'Grant & I'. Seven years in the writing, to be released in Australia and New Zealand on Penguin/Random House at the end of August. I hasten to add it is currently on prospective publishing house desks around the world, and I hope it will be taken up and available everywhere. The book has been a massive undertaking - to tell the story and learn how to tell it over 87,000 words. I have little idea how it will be received, as only a few people involved with its production have read it, and I am in the days before reviews appear and the opinion of friends around the world arrive. So I am nervous. Knowing though that I gave it my best and when I read some of its pages, I always want to read more. A good sign. I look forward to it being in shops and in people's hands and hearing reactions. My final word on it for now, is that it is a book about a friendship, and one that existed almost as much in the years when we weren't in the band, as when we were.

Let's listen to the last joint composition by Forster and McLennan. The song was released on Forster's melancholy album 'The Evangelist'. At the time of the release, in 2008, two years after McLennan's death, Forster told the Independent that McLennan had the melody, song structure and the first five lines of the lyric. Forster finished it. "Demon Days" is stunning in it's beauty. As we hear in the refrain, "something's gone wrong, something's not right". Indeed. Grant, you are missed.

"Demon Days"

Thursday, July 21, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 17)

I didn't really "get" Cocteau Twins until fairly late in the game. The album that did it for me was the 1988 album 'Blue Bell Knoll.' This would be the first album for many of us on this side of the pond because it was the first to receive major-label distribution in America. That happens to be the year I bought my first CD player. I would go back and buy 'Treasure' in relatively short order. Later, in 1990, I would be first in line to get 'Heaven or Las Vegas.' To this day, that's probably still my favorite. What can I say? I'm a pop fan at heart, and that album is the most accessible. It also probably explains why I prefer Kate Bush's 'Hounds of Love' to her other work.

So, I have three albums from Cocteau Twins, but they are all on the wrong format for this series. That's the way things stood until 2012 when I visited Stephen Pastel's record shop in Glasgow. The singles collection 'Stars and Topsoil' was released on vinyl for the first time on that very day, and I thought it would be cool to pick it up in the band's home country.

In recent years, I can't tell you how many times I have been disappointed with new vinyl purchases. If, like me, you buy a lot of wax, you no doubt have run into the same quality-assurance problems I have. Every time I open a new record I cross my fingers it won't be warped, chock full of surface noise or just plain poor in sound. 'Stars and Topsoil' is not one of these problem albums. All four sides of the vinyl sound perfect, and I often play it on my stereo just because I love how wonderfully it fills the room. From that album comes today's selection. "Carolyn's Fingers" was, I believe, a U.S.-only single, and it's the song that got me to buy Cocteau Twins for the first time. I don't think Elizabeth Fraser's voice ever sounded better.

"Carolyn's Fingers"

Friday, July 15, 2016

Georgia on My Mind

I rarely tout upcoming live shows because so many readers come from lands far away, but every once in a while a lineup so intrigues me it seems worth urging you to pack your suitcase and make the trek. Certainly doesn't hurt when the destination is worth a visit on its own merit too. Then throw in the fact that the brains and brawn behind it all are salt of the earth and I just can't help but feel it's my duty as an indie-pop disciple to spread the word.

Athens Popfest was in hibernation for a few years there, but Mike Turner and his crew at HHBTM Records have returned with a roster that rivals (if not surpasses) those past parties. Like celebrations of yore, there are plenty of great band's from Turner's label, as well as from personal favorites such as Slumberland, Kanine and Jigsaw. Like over at NYC Popfest, organizers realize there are old "mature" indie fans like myself that still yearn to get out there. Remnants of Elephant 6 remain, like Elf Power and Spaceflyte (Robert Schneider of Apples in Stereo), but the biggest draw for me is the triumphant return of Athens legends Love Tractor. As Duckie would say, "let's plow!"

Unlike some other music festivals, at Athens Popfest, you won't have to choose between different stages and bands going on at the same time. If you want to see all 50 bands, go for it. The schedule abides. And you'll have plenty of money in your wallet to shop at Wuxtry Records too because four-day passes are only $57. To put it in perspective, a certain four-day festival coming up in Chicago will set you back $335, and for that you get the privilege of standing shoulder to shoulder with dehydrated chest-bumping dudes dry heaving in your ear. Just sayin'.

Here are my top 10 reasons why you should go to Athens Popfest, Aug. 10-13. The defense rests.

1. Expert Alterations

2. Lunchbox

3. Deerhoof

4. Daniel Johnston

5. Bent Shapes

6. Casper & the Cookies

7. Elf Power

8. Love Tractor

9. Dressy Bessy

10. Bunnygrunt

Monday, July 11, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 16)

We're up to my favorite C86 band. As you can see from the photo above, I have just about everything a fan of Close Lobsters could want, often on multiple formats, in fact, and I can't wait to add to the collection later this month with the release of the 'Desire and Signs' EP. This one has been pushed back twice already because of production delays. Fingers crossed that July 29 finally ends up being the day.

So, I have kicked around what to play today and have decided since you're an intelligent lot that would most certainly already own the obvious stuff, I would go for songs you might not have in your collections. Let's start with a couple from the band's session for Janice Long's Radio 1 show, recorded on June 29, 1986. To the best of my knowledge, "Nothing Really Matters" never showed up on another of the Lobs' releases. Not sure why. It's quite good. You'll be quite familiar with "Heaven .... Rains," as it was called at the time, because the band's first single "Going to Heaven to See If It Rains" would be released that fall and make it to No. 9 on the UK indie chart in December. Both versions are brilliant and chock full of subtle differences.

"Nothing Really Matters" (Janice Long Session)
"Heaven .... Rains" (Janice Long Session)

This next one comes from Bob Stanley's Caff Corporation, released in the fall of 1989. Both of these songs ended up having proper recordings and, at least in the case of "Just Too Bloody Stupid," would be much improved on the demo you're about to hear. Stanley did not agree, as you will read below, but perhaps he was being cheeky. Let's have Bob explain how and when he got a hold of these versions and what he thought about the lads at the time. Here is the insert. It's a nice piece of Lobs' history. Thanks to Mrs. LTL for snapping this for me. She's the family shutterbug. Caff 4 is my most valuable piece of music from Close Lobsters. The 7" typically goes for about $50, but I would say the investment should be made only by die-hard fans that already have everything else in the band's brilliant discography.

"Just Too Bloody Stupid" (Caff Version)
"All The Little Boys And Girls" (Caff Version)

Let's listen to one more single. The "Steel Love" 7" was released in 2012 on Firestation Records. It was an exciting year for fans of Close Lobsters. The band reunited to play Madrid Popfest, their first live show since 1989. A few other popfests would soon follow, and the fellas have remained fairly active ever since. Only 200 hand-numbered copies of "Steel Love" were made, and they were first sold at Popfest Berlin that year. The A-side was a demo recorded in 1990. The B-side was a live recording of "Head Above Water," captured in 1989. I tracked down a copy online not long after its release. I honestly don't remember what I paid for it, but I don't recall getting the shaft. While researching "Steel Love" today, I came across the song on YouTube. There was one comment, and it appears to have come from Andrew Burnett, frontman of Close Lobsters. He wrote, "Great track terrible sleeve. The group did not sanction the sleeve and completely disown it." He's correct on both the music and the art that accompanied it. Personally, I think these songs deserve a proper go in the studio.

"Steel Love"
"Head Above Water"

More music from Scotland in the next installment...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 15)

Here's the first from the Flying Nun stable to be featured in in this series. So, it begs the question... what happened to the Chills? Patience, my friends. They are coming up in the D section. Huh? Trust me. It will all make sense. Anyway, back to the Clean, probably my favorite band from New Zealand to this day. This first song is taken from 'In-A-Live,' a five-song 12" recorded at London's Fulham Greyhound on July 13, 1988, when they opened for the Bats. This was an incredibly important show in the history of the band. They hadn't been together for several years. Craig Taylor, manager of the Chills, invited Geoff Travis (of Rough Trade fame) to see them. Within a day or two, Travis was ready to sign them. Without that show, there may have never been 'Vehicle,' the Clean's first full length album, released in 1990, nine years after the band's first single. I have mentioned 'Vehicle' quite a few times on these pages already. So, suffice it to say the album is a masterpiece. Incidentally, 'In-A-Live' isn't too shabby either. It was single of the week in Sounds upon release in 1989.

From 'In-A-Live,' here is "Anything Could Happen." The studio version appeared on the 1981 EP 'Boodle, Boodle, Boodle.' To reacquaint you with 'Vehicle,' let's listen to "The Blue" as well. If, by chance, you haven't heard the Clean, I would suggest starting with the 46-song double CD 'Anthology' Merge Records unleashed on unsuspecting Americans in 2002. It's quite a collection made even better with a four-album vinyl box set that came out in 2014. As for 'Vehicle' and 'In-A-Live.' these were tough finds until Captured Tracks lovingly reissued them together in 2013. Since then, the label has continued to dig up gems from the glory days of Flying Nun. You would do well to seek out more of this "Dunedin Sound."

"Anything Could Happen" (Live)
"The Blue"

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 14)

This will be short and sweet for two reasons. I don't really need to rip much of my vinyl from the Clash. I already bought them all up on CD many years ago. Plus, I assume you're a well-versed scholar on one of the most vital bands from this or any other era. Otherwise, you probably wouldn't be here. Still, skipping them in this series seemed such a pity.

Since JC over at the (new) vinyl villain recently concluded the excellent 19-week series "The Clash on Sundays," taking us on a ride through all of the band's singles, I thought I would just pick my favorite album track and move along. Easy, right? I ended up sweating it out for quite a while today before finally deciding on this song, track one, side two from the double album 'London Calling.' If the entire song was sung in a foreign tongue and called "Spanish Blooms" or something else dainty, the Clash might have had a world-wide hit with this perfect piece of pop. Yes, this is a pop song to these ears, and I love the contrast between tune and topic. Like most great works of art, it's thought provoking and beautiful. Was there any genre the Clash couldn't conquer? Expect lots of crackles and pops because I played this one to death until I bought it on CD when it was reissued in 2000.

"Spanish Bombs"

So, what's your favorite from the Clash? I go back and forth between "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais" and "Straight to Hell," and I think the most underappreciated single was "Hitsville U.K."

Sunday, June 26, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 13)

This one hasn't been played for more than 30 years, but spinning it today immediately took me back to when I bought 'Golden Shower of Hits' in 1984. I know it was 1984 because that's when I saw 'Repo Man,' and this 14-year-old became immediately smitten with everything about the movie (the word "film" just doesn't apply here), including the soundtrack. Here are but three great moments of many from a movie I could probably recite by heart:

1. Kevin: There's fuckin' room to move as a fry cook. I could be manager in two years. King! God!

2. Bud: Credit is a sacred trust, it's what our free society was founded on! Do you think they give a damn about their bills in Russia? I said do you think they give a damn about their bills in Russia!?
Otto Maddox: They don't pay bills in Russia, it's all free.
Bud: What are you, a fuckin' Commie?
Otto Maddox: No, I aint no Commie!
Bud: I don't want no Commies in my car! [pause] No Christians, either!

This one takes a moment to explain. Otto is trying to have a serious conversation with his parents while they are watching a televangelist. This is what you hear in the background coming from the TV.

3. Reverend Larry: The lord has told me personally, 'Yea, for I walk with the lord, Amen.' He said, 'Larry you and your flock shall seek the promised land. But only if you first destroy the twin evils of godless communism abroad and liberal humanism at home.' Oh, joyous hallelujahs. Smash'em down. Now my friends. Occasionally we get a letter from a viewer that says now the only reason Reverend Larry comes on your television set is because he wants your money. And do you know what? They're right! I do want your money. Because god wants your money. So I want you to go out and mortgage that home and sell that car and send me your money. You don't need that car...

Wow, I'm really getting off topic, and I'm not going to have anything to write about when I get to the soundtrack later in the series. Anyway, for a few minutes in 1984, thanks to the movie, I really got into punk, specifically from the West Coast. That's why I have Circle Jerks on the shelf. The title of the album sounds like a compilation, but it's their third studio album, circa 1983. I heard this first song on 'Repo Man,' but it's on this album too. It happens to be my favorite and quite fitting given the political atmosphere here and around the globe. Hold on tight.

"Coup d'etat"

If you remember the "Stars on 45" disco medley from 1981, this might be a smile. "Golden Shower of Hits (Jerks on 45)" is six pieces of schlock that tell the story of a couple's love affair, surprise pregnancy, quickie marriage and ultimate divorce using the songs "Along Comes Mary," "Close to You," "Afternoon Delight," "Having My Baby," "Love Will Keep Us Together" and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." I don't know if they quite pulled it off, but it's a hell of an effort. Fans from their earliest days hated it, but it's almost as if they weren't in on the joke. The name of the song and Keith Morris' belch at the end of "Close to You" should have given them not-so-subtle hints.

"Golden Shower of Hits (Jerks on 45)"

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Record Shop + Live Show = Dreamy Afternoon

My favorite equation! Local indie-pop legends Math and Physics Club played an inspired in-store set at Sonic Boom in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood yesterday, and the shop was fully stocked with smiles from a throng of loyal fans that had not witnessed the boys at the Boom for about a decade. As touted a couple of weeks ago on these very pages, Math and Physics Club have a "new" release of sorts, and all but one of the songs performed came from 'In This Together,' a collection of B-sides, rarities and unreleased songs from the past decade. You might be asking yourself how a band could pull off playing only the bottom-feeders. Rest assured, Math and Physics Club never added by subtracting on the flip side, and jangly songs like "Graduation Day" and "It Must Be Summer Somewhere," (and, oh, how apropos that one was!) sounded like the hits they should have been in a just world.

The highlight for me (outside of finally meeting Jimmy from Matinée Recordings) was brand-new song "Coastal California 1985," which we'll listen to below, and I left the shop with a little hop after learning there would be another show at the Vera Project on Aug. 6. Unfortunately, within minutes, my mood was dashed as I ran smack into a bevy of naked bikers leaving the Fremont Solstice Parade. My eyes! My eyes! Secure your copy of 'In This Together' now!

Friday, June 17, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 12)

We spin the hits here at LTL... occasionally. I'll forgo trying to make myself sound like I knelt at the altar of the Church from the band's inception. There have been 24 studio albums in 35 years, and I own three of them... and none after the 1988 breakthrough 'Starfish.' It's also, in fact, the only one I have on vinyl, and that's why we're here. So, without further adieu, here is the Church's lone hit here in America, peaking at No. 24. These days, it's often heard while shopping for canned peas at the local supermarket, which should be depressing, but I love it wherever it pops up. I think it has held up rather well.

"Under the Milky Way"

EMI dropped the Church just before 'Starfish.' I suppose there was repenting and head rolling at HQ, but the label wasted no time riding the wave of enthusiasm, releasing the compilation 'Hindsight 1980-1987' one month after the meteoric rise of "Under the Milky Way." If you have that one or any of the early albums, then you know the sound of 'Starfish' is a bit of an outlier. Anyway, the follow-up single, "Reptile," ended the momentum, but I really liked it, especially the biting lyrics. The song was written while the band was living and recording the album in Los Angeles. This and a couple of others on 'Starfish' document how much they hated it there and missed being in Australia. L.A. has been known to have that effect on people.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bubblegum Lemonade Leaps From the Bedpost

Admit it. The past few years have felt like life has been slowly losing its flavor like a piece of old gum. Glasgow band Bubblegum Lemonade haven't had a long player since 2013. Coincidence? While you chew on that, I'll happily pass on the news from Matinée Recordings that we are, indeed, expecting new album 'The Great Leap Backward' later this year. In the meantime, to whet your appetite, the indie-pop stalwart presents the four-track EP "Beard on a Bike."

Watch out for this two-wheeled weirdo. He's crazy. "Beard on a Bike" will be included on the new album, but the other three tracks are exclusive to this CD. So pedal over to the Matinée site and preorder it right now because that's where they are peddling it. The return of Laz's Rickenbacker will have you poppin' wheelies and dreaming of warm summer days. If you know Laz from Strawberry Whiplash, a band that made my year-end top 10 albums list just six short months ago, I would rank "Beard on a Bike" right up there with "Stop, Look and Listen" as his best single in the rack. Certainly not a lot of coasting from Laz these days.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 11)

This will sound familiar to regular readers because, well, I listen to a lot music with this aesthetic. You know... loud, fuzzy, female and oh, so very DIY. Subway vets Bubblegum Splash! and the Rosehips might come to mind. Karen, Esther and Marie-Anne hailed from Switzerland, but Chin Chin always seemed Scottish because they were closely associated with Shop Assistants. They used to open for them, and many of Chin Chin's songs from the self-released 'Sound of the Westway,' their one and only long player, showed up on an eight-song band compilation legendary Scottish label 53rd and 3rd released in 1987. Like many of the bands already lazily name-dropped here, Chin Chin were influenced by the punk of the Clash and the harmonies of Phil Spector's girl groups in equal measure. Just lovely.

Chin Chin's music on their own Farmer Records is a difficult and costly endeavor, but you have been able to find a reissue of the 1985 album 'Sound of the Westway' fairly easily since 2010. I have had an original copy of their 1984 single "We Don't Wanna Be Prisoners" on my shopping list for decades, but the going rate on Discogs is about $275. Too rich for my blood. Anyway, here is a favorite from 'Sound of the Westway.' New music next time.

"Never Surrender"

Monday, June 13, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 10)

As expected, not much love for China Crisis this past weekend, but the following three songs were mentioned in the comments section, and they just happen to be the ones I had planned to post if there was to be a part two to the China Crisis story. So, why not? Speaking of comments, Echorich went into quite a bit of detail about the band last time, and I can't do a better job of encapsulating China Crisis' entire career. I'll refer you there for his heartfelt description. As always, thank you, Echorich. I mentioned last time China Crisis went through quite a metamorphosis with third album 'Flaunt the Imperfection'. The fellas were enamored with producer Walter Becker of Steely Dan fame. His influence was so strong Becker was named as a member of the band on the album credits, and there's no denying the long player bears a resemblance to Becker's more popular band. This may have alienated a handful of seasoned fans, but 'Flaunt the Imperfection' attracted many more into the fold. In 1985, the album peaked at No. 9 on the UK chart. This may seem like a minor feat, but it also charted here in America (a first!), peaking on the Billboard 200 at No. 171. I can even remember hearing single "King in a Catholic Style (Wake Up)" on the radio once or twice.

China Crisis would turn to Becker once more for 1989 album 'Diary of a Hollow Horse,' but preceding that was 'What Price Paradise.' The 1986 album was produced by the hit-making team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. Once again, I think you can feel the influence of those behind the glass. Echorich described it as a "sparkling gem of sophisticated pop craft," and I couldn't agree more. This would prove to be the band's high point on this side of the Atlantic (No. 114), just as their popularity was beginning to wane at home. The lush "Arizona Sky" found regular airings on MTV, and it has always been my favorite song from the era we are listening to today. As with the previous post, the numbers alone reflect highs on the UK singles chart.

"Black Man Ray" (No. 14, 1985)
"King in a Catholic Style (Wake Up)" (No. 19, 1985)
"Arizona Sky" (No. 47, 1986)