Saturday, December 28, 2013

Favorite Reissues of 2013

1. 'Scared to Get Happy: A Story of Indie Pop 1980-1989'
Some of the 134 songs on this massive box set from Cherry Red are a bit obvious. I mean who doesn't already have Aztec Camera's "Oblivious"? At least go for a Postcard single. There are, however, just as many that are inspired... like the original flexi version of the Bluebell's "Happy Birthday." Even the biggest fans will find many tracks they don't own. The 54-page booklet is very well done, but I do have a complaint: The discs are ridiculously difficult to get in and out of the box. If you have this one, you know what I mean.

2. 'At the BBC'
At 81 tracks, a vast majority of which cover the pivotal years 1983-1986, this is a Big Country fan's dream. Do yourself a favor and splurge for the box set over the two-disc edition or you'll miss out on a must-have DVD and well-done 32-page hardcover booklet.

3. 'LSXX'
I already had most of the extras from around the Breeders' 'Last Splash' album, but I didn't have the live show that comprises disc three, and that made the steep price worth it for me. Plus, I was just hoping the record would sound better, and I was rewarded with slightly less mud in the production. This still stands as one of the best albums to come out of the '90s.

4. 'The Hurting'
This is the first of two selections on this list that may have some of you scratching your heads with disappointment, but I'm an unapologetic fan of Tears for Fears' first album. The deluxe edition never sounded better, and some of the B-sides and 12" singles on the second disc were new to me.

5. 'Everything's Shining Bright, The Lazy Recordings 1985-87'
I didn't have the entire set of five singles/EPs prior to the Primitives' major label jump, let alone the scores of unreleased material, but the real reason I wanted this two-disc set was for the full-length live show from Aug, 15, 1987. It's great fun to hear this band with grit.

6. 'Cartography for Beginners'
Six weeks ago I told you the best place to start your introduction to the Lucksmiths was 'Warmer Corners.' Three weeks later Matinee Recordings gave us all a better idea. This 35-song two-disc "best of" covers all 16 glorious years of the Aussie band's indie-pop existence. I don't have some of the early albums, and they are long out of print. So, I had to get this one.

7. 'Summer Rain'
Hard to believe, but I actually got two cassettes in 2013. The first was this c60 compiled by the Pastels from favorite songs in their discography since 1995 and sold as part of Cassette Store Day. For the record, my other tape was the live Orange Juice bootleg from 1981 AED Records handed out for free with December orders. I mention it because it deserves to be on one of my year-end lists somewhere.

8. 'Ta!'
My favorite Danish band only has one full-length album, but Northern Portrait has kept busy through the years with a bevy of EPs, singles and slots on compilation albums. I have tried my best to keep up, but a few songs slipped away before becoming tough finds. 'Ta!' has filled all of those holes in my collection. I do, however, miss having all of those brilliant picture sleeves. At least I can continue my search while listening to these great tunes. Oh, and that sophomore full-length album is slated for a 2014 release!

9. 'Vehicle'
After nearly a decade of stellar singles and EPs, the Clean's first full-length studio album was released in 1990. It has been out of print for ages, but Captured Tracks and Flying Nun rescued it so those late to the party can finally move on beyond the excellent but broad 'Anthology' that has appeased fans for a decade.

10. 'Pop Can! The Definitive Collection 1986 to 1988'
I only knew Mighty Mighty from the various C86 compilations in my collection, but I liked every song I ever heard. There really weren't that many recordings. So, when I picked up this two-disc set chock full of jangle I basically had the band's entire history.

and the next 5 (in no particular order...)

The Blue Nile - 'A Walk Across the Rooftops' and 'Hats'
14 Iced Bears - 'Hold On Inside: Complete Recordings 1991-1986'
Paul Young - 'Remixes and Rarities' (second disappointment?)
Lansing-Dreiden - 'The Dividing Island'
The Brilliant Corners - 'Heart On Your Sleeve - A Decade In Pop 1983-1993'

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Favorite Albums of 2013 (or When Did I Get Old?)

1. 'English Electric'
It's not often a 35-year old band can conjure enough magic to sustain an entire album... especially one that rivals its best work. Usually, if you're lucky, you get an uneven album like 'History of Modern.' I was more than happy to get that reunion gift in 2010, but it turned out to be merely a warm up to OMD's real comeback.

2. 'Crimson/Red'
I have already written about Prefab Sprout's latest until I was red in the face. So, for now, this will have to suffice: It's Paddy McAloon's best-ever effort not linked to Thomas Dolby and one of the biggest surprises of 2013.

3. 'The Next Day'
A David Bowie sighting was the real miracle of 2013. Released without fanfare and to a public that no longer expected anything from him, 'The Next Day' instantly became his best release in 30 years. I wasn't too pleased with a money-grab reissue coming out the same year as the initial release, especially when I thought the album was already a bit too long, but the first six songs are still giving me goosebumps nine months after buying it.

4. 'Personal Record'
Eleanor Friedberger's hook-filled "My Mistakes," my No. 2 song from 2011, helped erase my angst toward her previous band, the Fiery Furnaces, and I imagined I might even love one of her albums someday. By her sophomore effort, with the addition of co-writer John Wesley Harding, it happened.

5. 'Waiting for Something to Happen'
Is this really Slumberland's only appearance? Veronica Falls' debut album is one of the best I have heard this decade, and I'm not quite sure why this followup didn't quite capture the crowd of enthusiasts like the first one did. The moody jangle and pop still had me staring at the tops of my shoes like it was 2011.

6. 'Our Hearts Beat Out Loud'
What do you get when you take sophisticated indie pop and add the whimsical atmosphere of Olympia's fabled Dub Narcotic Studio to the equation? I'm no mathematician, but the sum seems to be one of the most rewarding listens of the year. Feels right to join the Math and Physics Club.

7. 'Standards'
I had all but given up on this idol from my youth, but Lloyd Cole surrounded himself with some old friends, Fred Maher, Matthew Sweet and Blair Cowan, to name a few, and it sounded like old times.

8. 'Love From London'
At age 60 and with nearly 20 studio albums under his belt, how can Robyn Hitchcock seemingly be getting stronger as a singer/songwriter? I have really loved what he's done this past decade, and this is the best of that lot.

9. 'Lovesick Blues'
I'm a huge dB's fan, but I can honestly say I liked Chris Stamey's solo record much more than the band's reunion album. Whether he goes big, like the lush orchestration of the title track, or small like the croon of "Occasional Shivers," the legendary (at least in my mind) singer/songwriter pulls it off.

10. 'Beyond The Dreams There's Infinite Doubt'
I have been known to like a little synth with my pop, and there's no doubt Swede Tobias Isaksson feels the same way. In another time Azure Blue would have fit right in with Factory's stable of stars.

And the Next 10...
11. The Ocean Blue - 'Ultramarine'
12. Edwyn Collins - 'Understated'
13. Neko Case - 'The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You'
14. The Pastels - 'Slow Summits'
15. Camera Obscura - 'Desire Lines'
16. Phoenix - 'Bankrupt!'
17. Vampire Weekend - 'Modern Vampires of the City'
18. Paul McCartney - 'New'
19. Kid Canaveral - 'Now That You Are a Dancer'
20. The Bicycles - 'Stop Thinking So Much'

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Favorite Album Covers of 2013

Going back as far as I can remember I have always enjoyed holding the cover and losing myself in the art while listening to the album. These paintings and photos really captured the moods of the music and continued to catch my eye with each listen. This is why I will never be able to embrace the digital download. You only get part of the story.

Album: 'Pretty Decent Swimmers' by Northern Portrait
Photo: Carla Acevedo-Blumenkrantz
Note: The Beverly Hills Hotel turned 100 last year. To celebrate, the legendary spot hosted several live poolside performances by the water ballet entertainment company Aqualillies. This photo was taken there.

Album: 'Slow Summits' by The Pastels
Painting: Annabel Wright

Album: 'Bankrupt!' by Phoenix
Illustration: Ben Garvie

Album: 'Songs Cycled' by Van Dyke Parks
Painting: Kenton Nelson
Note: The art of 'Songs Cycled' is the best I have seen this year. Each song has an accompanying painting by artists like Klaus Voorman, Ed Ruscha and Frank Holmes. The artists also share their insights next to the lyrics of each tune. You could look at this booklet for hours.

Album: 'Desire Lines' by Camera Obscura
Painting: Daniel Ablitt

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When the Wife's Away, Scritti Politti Will Play

After a week away Mrs. LTL! returns today. So, I had better hurry because these are looong versions, and it would not be good if I'm spinning this 12" single when she comes in the door... no, not good for anybody.

Scritti Politti's full-length debut, 'Songs to Remember,' had a series of lengthy delays before its release. So, by the time the album was in the rack on Sept. 3, 1982, three singles had preceded it. This one, "Faithless," was sandwiched between "The Sweetest Girl" and the double A-side "Asylums in Jerusalem"/"Jacques Derrida." It's nice to have all of these as 12" singles, but if you can only have one, "Faithless" is the one to grab because it's the lone song of the trio that was extended from the album version. And if you don't have 'Songs to Remember' you should go get it right now.

If you're most familiar with 'Cupid & Psyche '85' material, it may come as surprise to you that prior to that pop phenomenon the music of Green Gartside was chock full of some serious themes. Green spoke to Smash Hits about "Faithless" in '82. He said the song was about "how living without faith brings you both happiness and sadness. I've never had any religion, except maybe politics, although I am interested in having some means of achieving social order and progress." You 'Cupid' fans may be shocked by the production of the early work too.

"Faithless" peaked at No. 56 on the UK singles chart and and was listed at No. 35 on NME's best singles list for 1982. These two versions from the 12" add up to more than 19 minutes!

Did I mention the wife hates Scritti Politti?

Scritti Politti - Faithless (Triple Hep N' Blue) (mp3)
Scritti Politti - Faithless (Part II) (mp3)

Ballots Cast: Best Comeback Album of 2013

The polls are closed. I want to thank everyone that participated in another one of my less than scientific endeavors. The top two candidates combined for more than a third of the vote. Since the Olympics are right around the corner, here are your gold, silver and bronze winners:

1. Prefab Sprout - 'Crimson/Red'
2. David Bowie - 'The Next Day'
3. Daft Punk - 'Random Access Memories'
3. Mazzy Star - 'Seasons of Your Day'

Others That Received Votes:
Franz Ferdinand - 'Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action'
Johnny Hates Jazz - 'Magnetized' (write-in vote)
Nine Inch Nails - 'Hesitation Marks'
The Ocean Blue - 'Ultramarine'
The Pastels - 'Slow Summits'
Primal Scream - 'More Light'

Now let's enjoy some of my favorites from the ballot. You'll see these again on my year-end lists next week.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

If I Had Another Shot at My 2012 List...

This is one I didn't hear in time to make my best albums of 2012 list, but it certainly captured my attention for just about the entirety of 2013. 'Arab Spring,' the debut full length by Austin-based band Literature, is not the sort of record that breaks new ground, but its beauty is in its simplicity. Others have compared them to the Pains of Being Pure of Heart, but I think I hear the poppy jangle of the Lodger and the hard guitar of the Exploding Hearts... may they rest in peace. And, of course, they are all paying homage to what's best about late '70s punk and rock. History really does repeat itself.

Add it all up and you get 10 tracks and 22 quick minutes of lo-fi fun. If you're a parent, it's the perfect soundtrack when you're sent off to the store or stuck doing the dishes. Have you ever caught yourself doing the pogo while scrubbing that plate? This year, I did.

If you only have two minutes to spare, go straight to "Push-Up Bra" (track 3) on the player below. There's a real Buzzcocks vibe to that one.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Curtain Call: Simple Minds From 1985

I have just about everything through 'Sparkle in the Rain' (including a mess of of 12" singles), but this is the only piece of vinyl I own from Simple Minds beyond -- what can be best described as -- "The John Hughes Incident." I'm consoled by the fact I bought this one for a B-side that was recorded before "Don't You (Forget About Me)" saw the light of day.

This well done live version of "Up on the Boardwalk" was taken from a January 5, 1985 homecoming show at Glasgow's famous Barrowlands and appears on the 12" of "Alive & Kicking." I like knowing Jim Kerr and the lads, as well as their fans in the crowd that evening, have absolutely no idea what's about to happen to one of Scotland's greatest musical treasures. That bloody single from the soundtrack to 'The Breakfast Club' would be released six weeks after this show. So, enjoy one of Simple Minds' last unadulterated performances.

Simple Minds - Up on the Catwalk (Live Version)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vote for Best Comeback Album of 2013

Uh, maybe not. Here is a quickly compiled list of comeback albums for 2013. I defined "comeback" as a band that hadn't released a new studio album in (about) four years or more. I excluded film work. I let EPs slide so the Replacements and Pixies could be on the list. I know it feels like the Blow Monkeys and OMD had great comeback albums in 2013, but they don't pass my four-year rule. Johnny Marr was a tough call, but he calls 'The Messenger' his debut solo album. So, I left him off. I considered Paul McCartney because his last album was a different genre. Then I decided he probably didn't need my comeback accolades.

Apologies to my pal Ian for excluding the Stranglers, but 'Giants' technically came out in 2012. Speaking of 2012, I almost wish it was that year again so I could vote for Dexys' 'One Day I'm Going to Soar,' my favorite comeback album of the decade (so far).... Irrelevant, yes, but I state it whenever I can. If you don't see your album (remember, I threw this list together in haste), please vote "other" and give me your choice in the comments section. I'll tally them all up in a week and let you know the winner. Thanks for voting.

survey solutions

Friday, December 6, 2013

When the Wife's Away, Scritti Politti Will Play

Mrs. LTL! is on the road again. That can only mean one thing: I can spin the hits of Green Gartside without all of that eye rolling. In an earlier installment, nearly a year ago, I posted the UK 12" of "Perfect Way." That "extended mix" is superior to the 12" version we were fed here in America. The "Way Perfect Mix" is more or less the album version with a longer intro and some bells and whistles thrown in for a spell at the 3:15 mark. Still a great song, to be sure, but not nearly as experimental as the UK take. That's my humble opinion, but why don't you be the judge? If you click on the link above, I have uploaded the UK version again on the original post. You'll find the American version below. The wife will be out of town again next week. So, chances are we will give another one of Scritti Politti's 12" singles a listen soon.

Scritti Politti - Perfect Way (Way Perfect Mix) (mp3)