Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Ray of Sunshine

bye-bye bitter winter
here's the sun
welcome back at last
that day has come
another year of joy
just begun...

These are the opening lines to the perfect song to listen to today. Give the 1990 song "The First Day of Spring" from Friends a spin. You may not know the band, but their tale will sound familiar. Mid-'80s UK indie-pop band gets a tiny following at home but finds a larger and more passionate audience in Japan. Far-East labels worship them and reissue their catalog to this day. Like I said, old story. I hope the sun is shining where you are. If not, sit tight. It's coming. Really. In the meantime, this song will warm the cockles. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it's like summer (until tomorrow, anyway), but I won't rub it in. Happy spring!

The First Day of Spring

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

At the Movies

We lost one of the greats the other day with the passing of Wrecking Crew alumnus Hal Blaine. In the early '90s, I really got into the drummer's work with Phil Spector's 'Back to Mono' and the Beach Boys' 'Good Vibrations' box sets. Imagine the tales Blaine must have been able to tell. During that same period I was discovering the Wrecking Crew, I read Brian Wilson's book 'Wouldn't It Be Nice,' and 29 years later I still remember when Wilson told of showing up at Blaine's house unannounced soon after Wilson's father Murray sold all of Brian's songs... for a song. Click on the image below to read about that one. Man, the things Blaine saw...

Do yourself a favor. This weekend, fire up Denny Todesco's documentary 'The Wrecking Crew' or Gil Baker's 'Session Men: Los Angeles' and get educated. Here are a few clips:

And now for something completely different. With spring comes hope, and I'm sure hoping the following concert movie comes to my town. When Aretha Franklin passed away last year, you may remember me mentioning my affection for her jaw-dropping live album 'Amazing Grace.' The inspired performance was from the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in the Watts section of Los Angeles. The original album was a Grammy winner, but it was an abbreviated version of the Jan. 13-14 shows. In 1999, Rhino expanded the Atlantic release and included both nights, along with the wonderful introductions by the Rev. James Cleveland. I didn't get 'Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings' until my mother gave it to me for Christmas, but I have been making up for lost time by keeping it in the car and playing it over and over again. I digress.

The late director Sydney Pollack filmed the making of the album, but he didn't synchronize the picture and sound correctly, and his footage sat for decades. The film has been fixed and will be released in New York and Los Angeles on April 5. Like I said, with spring comes hope. Hopefully, the film will get a wider release soon after. Seattle, please. Here's the trailer. It looks even better than I imagined it while listening to the album years ago...

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Bowing at the Feet of B-I-D Spells Bid

The Monochrome Set
Barboza, Seattle
March 5, 2019

What with dinner, dishes, homework, kids' lunches and a 6AM alarm call, it takes something pretty special to get me out on a Tuesday night. A rare sighting of the Monochrome Set on this side of the Atlantic, celebrating 40 years, no less, meant the plates would have to pile up just this once.

The show was to begin at 8, and that's when I arrived. I knew there was an opening act, and an unfamiliar record store down the block called to me like a siren. When I had broken out of my trance, it was 8:30, and I dashed to the quaint little basement venue. There was only one person in front of me trying to get in, and he told the gatekeeper he was with the band. She eyed the distinguished gentleman up and down suspiciously and asked with doubt, "You're with the band?" Even from the back I could tell it was Bid. I sidled beside him, put my hand on his shoulder and told her, "Believe me, he's with the band. He's been with the band since before you were born." He looked at me, smiled at her and asked, "So, I'm with the band then?" She waved him through, and I had a brief but memorable encounter with my musical hero.

Turns out the opening band still hadn't gone on yet, and I was able to walk right up to the stage. I held my ground on this 1 sq. ft. piece of property as if my life depended on it and never moved again for the rest of the evening. The opener eventually introduced themselves. "We're the Purrs and we're from down the street." For the next 30 minutes or so this quartet made me feel like the guy being blown away on those iconic Maxell ads. Two songs in I noticed the guy standing beside me stuffing Kleenex in his ears. I envied him. Don't get me wrong. There was nothing wrong with this band, and the crowd seemed to appreciate their efforts. Their sound was just made for much bigger rooms, and my delicate indie-pop sensibilities and auditory nerves were shaken by the assault.

As the Monochrome Set were setting up (yes, they took care of their own gear), I couldn't help but wonder how they were feeling. As the tour poster above attests, the lads played New York the night before. That's nearly 3,000 miles, folks. In case you're a fan who has lost track and are wondering about the personnel these days, the most recognizable name to you outside of Bid would be Andy Warren on bass. He's been with the Monochrome Set off and on since 1980. Keyboard wizard John Paul Moran has been around off and one since the reformation in 2010. No, Lester Square was not there. He was part of the reformation as well but left after recording the 'Spaces Everywhere' album in 2014. Mike Urban behind the kit is the newest member, but even he was in the band briefly in 1990.

Shockingly, the show was not a sellout, but the room was fairly full and definitely full of enthusiasm. Just the right age group too. Some of you know what I mean. Feeling like the old man in the room has become tiresome. I went to this show solo, which can be a drag, but these were my people. I wanted to become friends with all of them. I wanted to scream, "I can't believe you're all from Seattle! Where have you been?" I read that tickets had not sold briskly on the East Coast, and one fan on social media claimed the Bowery Ballroom had been 75-80 percent empty. I hope that was an exaggeration, but at one point Urban told us with a big smile that they had just come from the East Coast and that this was better. Since we were the first show on the West Coast, we could take that as a huge compliment.

On to the set list. As you can see, they dove right into the classic era with the first three songs and, as you would expect, latest album 'Maisieworld' received a fair representation. That was fine by me. Like all of their albums this decade, it's a beautiful piece of work. I would have been fine if every note of 'Eligible Bachelors' would have been played, but I'll take the trio they ripped through.

After 17 songs and an impending car ride to Portland ahead of them, you would have thought they would have said goodbye after the crowd-pleasing 40-year-old "Eine Symphonie des Grauens," but there was encore after encore. "Goodbye Joe" was my personal highlight until they came out for what was to be the last time. Bid and the gang seemed perplexed as they scanned a tablet trying to figure out if they could come up with even one more song they knew. Someone nearby shouted, "Jacob's Ladder!" To say the room was encouraging is an understatement. Bid rolled his eyes, sighed, and said with a chuckle, "I wrote it, but I'm not sure I played it." They gave it the ol' college try, with Moran hitting the difficult bass vocal parts with perfection. Bid got a case of the giggles here and there as he attempted to conjure up the lyrics, but it was a damn fine rendition and the topper of the night for me. Their last song was the first song I ever heard by them (34 years ago!) and the one I wanted to hear the most.

I ran into Bid outside a few minutes later and was able to tell him, "Best Tuesday ever."

'Fin' is a 1986 release of live performances spanning the Monochrome Set's career through 'The Lost Weekend' era. Seems like a few from that one is the most appropriate to listen to today.

Jacob's Ladder ('Eastern Eye,' March 19, 1985)
Alphaville (Electric Ballroom, May 23, 1985)
Eine Symphonie Des Grauens (Bristol Trinity Hall, May 21, 1980)

Saturday, March 9, 2019

As the Record Turns

On our last exciting episode of As the Record Turns, Chris at Jigsaw Records had procured two big boxes of singles from an indie-pop fan and put them up for sale in his shop. I made a nice haul, and you can read about that here. The cliffhanger was there would eventually be another shipment from the same seller, and this time it would be vinyl not of the 7" persuasion. Those records arrived a week ago Thursday. There would be 116 pieces, mostly of the LP variety, along with a smattering of 10" EPs and 12" singles.

For those of you who live vicariously through the record purchases of those in our little corner of the 'Net (no judgments, I'm one of them!), here's what I picked up. I didn't get to peruse the boxes until Friday afternoon, and a few of the best pieces had already been snatched, such a few early 12" singles from the Popguns, but there were still a few interesting scraps. Overall, the boxes of 7" singles were a bit more exciting to me because they were just about all from my favorite genre. That wasn't completely the case this time. Here's my catch:

Clockwise from the upper left we have:

The Wolfhounds - "Me" (12")
The Popguns - "Landslide" (12")
The Wedding Present - "Anyone Can Make a Mistake"(12")
The Fireworks - "Black & Blue" (10")
The Groove Farm- "The Big Black Plastic Explosion" ‎(12")
The Groove Farm - "Driving In Your New Car" (10")
The Groove Farm - 'Alvin Is King' (LP)
Boyracer - "We Are Made Of The Same Wood" (10")
Microdisney - 'The Clock Comes Down The Stairs' (LP)
The Lucksmiths - "Staring At The Sky" (10")
The Wolfhounds - "Cruelty" (12")

After the initial euphoria began to wear off, I started to question how many of these records I really needed. For instance, take that 12" of "Me" from the Wolfhounds. I had the 7" already and, worse, I also have the Optic Nerve Recordings edition of 'Unseen Ripples From A Pebble' on CD with the B-sides. The same can be said for many of the finds pictured above. I have said it before, and I'll say it again. Collecting all of these formats is a sickness, isn't it? I'm most happy about the three picked up by the Groove Farm. That brings me just a little closer to having the entire discography of the Subway Organization... probably my favorite label. I came to the Wedding Present late in life, and I'm still trying to gather all of the singles from the 1980s. Nearly there now. All in all, a decent haul. It could be a while before the next episode of As the Record Turns. We don't get too many boxes like these showing up in these parts.

I'll never pass up the Lucksmiths on vinyl. Here's one from 1999.

The Lucksmiths - The Golden Age of Aviation

Hold the phone! This old man actually went to a show the other night. All about that next time.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Indie-Pop Sounds From Seattle

It has been six long years since we had a long player from Tullycraft. Could seventh album 'The Railway Prince Hotel' be the one that takes our twee heroes from relative obscurity to household names? No, of course not, but only because the world is not a just place. Here's an end around. Let's add a new word to the lexicon:

tullycraft /təhl·lē·kraft/ v., -ed, -ing to create something extraordinary after years of inactivity.

Decades later, U2 finally realized they never had the slightest ability to tullycraft an album.

Paddy McAloon sure tullycrafted it with the release of 'Crimson/Red.'

Could the Wild Swans be tullycrafting their masterpiece right now?

Use Tullycraft as a verb as often as possible and they will be remembered long after we're gone... as they should be. 'The Railway Prince Hotel' is an absolute treasure. Album of the year so far. Mine a few gems below. And as a bonus to our pal George who is taking us around the U.S.A. state by state at CC's place, you finally have a song for Delaware. Pick this one up via the always reliable HHBTM Records.

Chris over at Jigsaw Records has been known to search the globe for indie-pop gems. In the last couple of years he has discovered jangle in Indonesia and disciples of Stereolab in France, to name just a couple, but lately it seems he has found you don't need to leave the friendly confines of the Emerald City to discover fine indie pop.

Seapony put out a couple of wonderful albums on Seattle-based Hardly Art earlier this decade, as well as a handful of EPs, but prolific is not exactly a word you would use to describe the band. A few years ago they seemed to be finished for good but then surprised everyone with an EP in 2017. Where the band stands now is a head-scratcher, but at least that hole in your soul is being filled by Seapony offshoot Space Daze, solo project of guitarist Danny Rowland. The sound on 'Too Mystical' isn't worlds away from Seapony either. The album has that laid-back tone of Real Estate, or for those whippersnappers of my generation, late '80s or early '90s Feelies. This one is sure to hit the spot.

Here's some indie pop that won't make you feel like a sad sack staring at the top of your shoes. On "Every Kiss (Feels Like It Could Be The Last)," the Regrets seem sugary sweet on the outside but feel sour on the inside, and that juxtaposition makes for perfect pop. The songs on the five-song EP "Endless Desire" hearken to another age, much like the School or early Lucky Soul, but the band isn't afraid turn it up for some 1966 garage on "Temporary Attachment." Can't wait to hear what direction they decide to go on their first long player.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Frozen Outside But Feeling Warm on the Inside

If you have never heard of the "Seattle Freeze," that's the old axiom, put as kindly as I can, that it's difficult to make friends around here. Well, we are experiencing a more literal freeze these days. Falling temperatures and a rare blizzard has all but closed the Pacific Northwest the past few days. I didn't step foot in a record store in January. Is it any wonder the month sucked? Before the snow fell, I defeated the winter doldrums with a trip to Jigsaw Records in Seattle, and the photo above was the prompt to leave the warmth of home. That's two big boxes of used singles (mostly from the golden age of indie pop!) acquired by Chris and posted on the shop's Facebook page. I was the third customer to browse the bounty, and I came away with 11 records. Quality. The bounce is back in my step. Don't worry, Seattle indie-pop fans. I left plenty of good stuff. Word on the street is there will be a big box of LPs purchased from the same fella coming into Jigsaw any day now. Suddenly, February rules.

I picked up a couple of other records of the 12" variety too. See if you can spot any old favorites from my spree in the photo below. Here are a couple of hints. There are three Sarah singles in there, and at least two bands made my list of best new releases in 2018.

Yep, there are a couple from the Chesterf!elds in there. I already had the Cherry Red compilation and the "Completely & Utterly" and "Ask Johnny Dee" singles, but I can never pass up anything with the Subway logo on it.

"Sweet Revenge"

Next time we'll listen to a few exciting new indie-pop releases from right here in Seattle.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Been a Bit Since This One Was 'All the Rage'

Hi, all. Been a while, eh? Long enough that a few of you even inquired about my whereabouts. I appreciate the check-ins, actually. That's what friends do. All is well, really, but I have been so busy that when the house settles down for the night I haven't had the gumption to pull out a record, rip it and then write about it, you know? Simple as that. Oh, and I shredded my wrist playing tennis and have been seeing a hand therapist quite a bit with hopes of avoiding surgery. Man, I'm getting old. Speaking of old, I'm going to make you feel a little long in the tooth as well. Ready?

General Public's '...All the Rage' was released 35 years ago this week. Sorry about that. I remember picking it up so vividly that it feels like it was just the other day. Scary. Here's the followup to the hit "Tenderness." The song didn't do nearly as well, peaking at No. 105 here in America, but I do love it so. A perfect piece of pop. You may say it doesn't hold a candle to anything the Beat ever did, and I won't argue. Thing is, the Beat were just a hair before my time, and I never got to experience running into the shop on new-release day to pick up, say, 'I Just Can't Stop It' or 'Special Best Service.' After discovering the Beat, I had that moment in 1984 with '...All the Rage,' and sometimes that makes all of the difference. The following is the album version and not the remix I posted about a year ago.

Never You Done That

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Picked Up in 2018 (Part 3)

Do you ever find a record and ask yourself, how in the world did this get here? Shockingly, I found both of these EPs in two different shops right here in Seattle last year. I like to think I know a bit about Scottish bands, especially of a certain era, but I somehow missed Jesse Garon & the Desperadoes until they appeared on Cherry Red's excellent 2013 box set 'Scared to Get Happy.' Since then, I think indie-pop fans all over the globe have become familiar with the Edinburgh band because they have continued to have a good run with the label, appearing on the 'C86' and 'C87' box sets in 2014 and 2016, respectively. Well, I have fallen hard for them. How can you not love a band that names themselves after Elvis' still-born twin? Brilliant.

Both of the above EPs are from their later years. In fact, along with sole album 'Nixon' via Edinburgh's Avalanche Records, the 1990 six-track 12" of "Hold Me Now"/"Grand Hotel" would turn out to be the band's final release. The four-track 12" "You'll Never Be That Young Again" preceded it by two years. The sound of Jesse Garon & The Desperadoes is a bit hard to pin down. The early years are a nice bit of jangle and right in my wheelhouse. By the late '80s, I hear some 10,000 Maniacs in there, and maybe just a little of my pals the Popguns too. Then they turn it way up on "Grand Hotel," a moving song about the '84 IRA Brighton bombing, and I'm back to square one when trying to describe them. All I know for sure is I dig 'em at any speed and volume. Hope you enjoy them too.

Hold Me Now
Grand Hotel
You'll Never Be That Young Again

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Picked Up in 2018 (Part 2)

I found this 7" curiosity about six weeks ago, and I'm really digging it. Velocity Girl grabbed the spotlight on these pages in 2015 when I was counting down my favorite songs from the 1990s. For those who want to know a little bit more about the band, I'll direct you to that countdown. In 1995, during their peak years at Sub Pop, Velocity Girl did a one-off 7" for Heaven Records out of Nottingham. If you don't know Heaven, it was founded in 1989 by a couple of fellas from Fat Tulips so they could release the single "Where's Clare Grogan Now?" The label managed to stick around until 1996. I thought it was cool that Heaven's singles often came with a fanzine and other surprises. Given that this single was released nearly a quarter century ago, I consider myself lucky to have found a pristine eight-page fanzine on Velocity Girl, as well as a label catalog and postcard, inside the sleeve. I enjoy relics like that.

Both sides of the single are covers. It takes guts to take on 'Ocean Rain'-era Echo & the Bunnymen. Velocity Girl strips away the lush orchestration, but otherwise stays fairly faithful to the original. Not at all bad. The real winner here, though, is the B-side. I keep going back to "Breaking Lines" again and again, and it has taken me back to the original too. "Truck Train Tractor" just might be my favorite song from the Pastels, and after revisiting both sides of my 12" from 1986, I do think this is the best all-around single Stephen & Co. ever recorded (so far). Velocity Girl did themselves proud with this B-side of a B-side. This lot clearly had taste tackling this one.

Velocity Girl - Breaking Lines
The Pastels - Breaking Lines

Postscript: I like the C86 connection too. "Breaking Lines" by the Pastels appeared on the legendary NME cassette, and Velocity Girl was named after the Primal Scream song that opened the tape. Cool.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Picked Up in 2018 (Part 1)

I'm embarrassed to admit until recently the only song you would have found on my shelf by the Apartments was "The Shyest Time." Robert Forster's references to the band and frontman Peter Milton Walsh in his book 'Grant & I' were what lit the fire and got me seeking the album 'The Evening Visits... And Stays For Years,' first released in 1985 by Rough Trade and lovingly reissued by Captured Tracks in 2015.

I use "lovingly" because the 26 pages of liner notes penned by Forster, Steven Schayer of the Chills and Walsh himself, along with photos, reviews and other gems would make this a must-have on its own. Throw in the demos Rough Trade heard before signing them, as well as the three-track EP "The Return of the Hypnotist" from 1979 and the "All You Wanted" single from 1984 and now you've got a must-have reissue even for those who already own the original.

Walsh assembled quite a band and recruited friends like Clare Kenny, Ben Watt and Graham Lee of the Triffids as well. This crew was described by the NME in '85 as "melancholy and lamenting, bitter, exhilarating and extremely witty" and 'The Evening Visits...' as "a pure heart-wrencher" that "should only be listened to after dark." What's in that Brisbane water? This album was arguably my favorite discovery last year.

Great Fool

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A January Moon

An amazing thing happened across the pond in the summer of 2012. Oh, yes, there was that Olympics thing being held in London, but I meant the June Brides reformed and released their first new music since the "This Town E.P" in 1986. This wasn't just Phil Wilson using his old band name either. Jon Hunter, Frank Sweeney and Simon Beesley were there too. The "Moon/Cloud" 7" initially came bundled with 'Between The Moon And The Clouds,' a 10-song CD full of interesting nuggets, including acoustic versions of classics by the June Brides performed by Wilson. Since then, the Brides have released "She Seems Quite Free," a three-song 7" in the fall of 2014, and Wilson has continued to appear as part of the Granite Shore. This fan has high hopes for more from Mr. Wilson and the June Brides.

Off topic, but I have a dream of someday hosting a three-day indie-pop festival here in Seattle. In the dream, Friday night would close with the Popguns. Saturday would wind down with Close Lobsters. The festival would conclude on Sunday with the June Brides. You would show up for that, right?

"A January Moon" is dedicated to blogging friends the Robster and Alyson. The Robster may be retiring (you will be missed!), but he had a tradition of kicking off a month with a song bearing its name. Alyson has penned some wonderful pieces on the myriad of full moons and the names given to them by the Native Americans who kept track of the months by the lunar calendar. You should stop by their places.

Monday, December 31, 2018

NYE With Big Country

New Year's Eve means one thing for me... watching my all-time favorite concert. After a decade of turning the calendar year on these pages, you must know by now it's Big Country at Barrowland, Dec. 31. 1983. This year, I have even less going on than usual, so I should have time to make it a double feature. I have already pulled out the massive 'Big Country at the BBC' box set off the shelf. Disc four is a DVD that includes the last night of a four-day stint at the Edinburgh Playhouse, circa Dec. 31, 1984.

It's hard to believe only one year has passed since the Barrowland show. The band feels much more sophisticated. Nicer haircuts, clothes (no flannel!) and a fancier venue all play a part, but the songs sound more polished too. UK No. 1 album 'Steeltown' had been out since October, but the well-known songs of 'The Crossing' still dominate the short set.

The Barrowland show means much more to me. It was aired on MTV over here at the height of my fandom, and I remember the 35-year-old event like it was yesterday. The Edinburgh Playhouse show has its place, however, and I can't wait to usher in 1985 tonight. Happy New Year to you all. Stay alive!