Saturday, August 29, 2015

Slew of Exciting September Releases

It has been seven long years since we heard from former Go-Between Robert Forster. Based on what I have heard so far, 'Songs to Play' will have been well worth the wait. Here are two takes of "Let Me Imagine You." This first clip is a solo acoustic performance from the other day at ABC Radio Tasmania. The second is with his latest band. NPR streamed album opener "Learn to Burn" a couple of weeks ago too.

Coming off their triumphant appearance at this year's NYC Popfest, German janglers Brideshead continue their 20-plus years of, well, my kind of music. You'll hear all kinds of odes to bands of yesteryear, including Mighty Mighty, McCarthy, the Brilliant Corners and the Bodines. The fellas don't seem to have any problem wearing their influences on their sleeves, as you will see in the video for "At 45 RPM." There are quite a few 7" singles from my collection that pop up in that one... and a few more I wish I had! Start saving your shekels because 'Never Grow Up' hits the shelves the same day as Forster's new album, Sept. 18.
The sophomore album 'Colours & Changes' from UK band Presents for Sally is another one that took me back to the late '80s and early '90s, but this time with the guitar turned way up. Shoegaze is a label that seems to have stuck, and there are plenty of the sounds of My Bloody Valentine, Lush and Ride to be found here, but don't pigeonhole this trio. There is plenty more going on here, and I even detect influences from this side of the pond as well, especially the more accessible side of Sonic Youth. The single "Wishawaytoday" deserves to be played on radios 'round the world. Saint Marie Records releases this one on Sept. 11.
I know I write about the School ad nauseum, but that's tough. They are just about my favorite band out there, and this is another reminder the new album, 'Wasting Away and Wondering,' will be out in less than a week. I'll shut up about them until December when their work will be plastered all over my lists for best albums and songs of the year. Don't watch that, watch this!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 23)

23. "Race For the Prize"
Artist: The Flaming Lips
Year: 1999

I was a bandwagon jumper. Prior to 'The Soft Bulletin,' I had never given the Flaming Lips a moment's notice. Here in America, the band had made some noise in '93 with the silly "She Don't Use Jelly." Thankfully, I was in Japan then and had missed the attention completely. Use of the song on MTV's "Beavis and Butthead" propelled the song to minor hit territory. If I had been around for all of that, I'm quite sure it would have clouded my willingness to give 'The Soft Bulletin' a listen six years later. I do hold musical grudges, and that could have been a deal breaker.

Wayne and the fellas should (and I think will) be remembered for this masterpiece. I explored a few of the band's earlier albums after the release of 'The Soft Bulletin,' and it confirmed that the leap made at the end of the century was nothing less than astounding. Some critics have gone so far as to call it that era's 'Pet Sounds.' I'm not touching that one, but the arrangements and tone sure make it feel grand. 'Yoshimi' was a terrific followup, but I feel there have been only a few nice moments since then. The Flaming Lips have always felt like a band just about to go off the rails, and you're bound to have quite a few failures when you're willing to take so many left turns. I don't buy their music anymore, but I like knowing they are still out there spreading their brand of wackiness. I hope you got to see the Lips in their heyday. In 2002, they opened for Beck and then backed up the headliner for the rest of the show, and I would place it high on my list of all-time show experiences.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Summer Drive (Part 3)

The will be our last stop on the ol' family road trip. I'm starting to feel like Gramps when he used to pull out the slides from my mother's childhood. So that means you're probably as miserable as I was as a kid sitting cross-legged in front of the screen. This was our first trip to Crater Lake, and I found it fascinating. Here's what you need to know: It's a myth that the crater was created by a meteor millions of years ago. This is Mount Mazama, and the the whole top collapsed into itself during a huge volcanic eruption about 7,700 years ago. The water is nearly 2,000 feet deep. There is a boat that can take you around, and you can swim too. There are no streams that filter into the lake, but there are two surviving fish species in the water. They were introduced into the environment more than 75 years ago. You can fish as long as you use artificial bait. There are some great hikes, and the views will take your breath away.

Now the drawbacks. This was kind of a major one. Like much of the West, everything was on fire. There was a haze over the crater, and I could see smoke in the distance. You could smell it too. In fact, I just checked, and the north entrance we used is closed right now because of the Crescent Fire. Also, you really have to want to come here because it's way off the beaten path. I suggest staying over at Crater Lake Lodge. That's the building in the photo above. It was built in 1915, and it's open during the warm weather months. It looks a lot like it did back in the day. The halls are narrow (we sure were thinner back then), but the lobby is grand with an enormous fireplace, and just about everything is made from beautiful woods. There is a back porch with rows of rocking chairs and wonderful views. Everything moves a little slower here. So grab a chair, order a drink and relax. Yes, there's complimentary Wi-Fi, but don't even think about it.

Now on to the music. About a week before we took off, I found this nugget at a bookstore in town that also boasts a small shelf of vinyl. I'm glad I took the time to download a digital copy because it was a hit with the entire family as we wound down the back roads of central Oregon. The studio audience at Ultrasonic Studios must have thought they entered a boogie-woogie wonderland when Dr. John performed this one for WLIR-FM out of Hempstead, Long Island in June of '73. The show has been bootlegged for years, but this double LP put out by Let Them Eat Vinyl in 2013 is thought to be the gold standard. Here is a song you will know well. It was written by Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegün and first recorded by Ray Charles as his debut single for the label back in 1953. Dr. John's ensemble just shreds it, and the live atmosphere gives the organ, horns and background singers a little extra bounce. Just try not to dance to this one.

"Mess Around"

We listened to this particular song from Dr. John multiple times on the trip, and it was always followed up by this one from Squeeze because it came up next alphabetically on my iPod. Is this a great twofer, or what?

"Messed Around"

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 24)

24. "Sea Song"
Artist: doves
Year: 1999

As far as the decade goes, this song just creeps in under the wire. "Sea Song" was part of the "sea ep" in 1999. I'm not too sure how many are familiar with that three-song set, but there is a good chance you heard the song when it was included on doves' debut long player 'Lost Souls' in the spring of 2000. If I created a top 100 songs for the decade of the 2000s, doves would have the dubious distinction of cracking the top 25 of both lists. "There Goes the Fear" is an all-timer for me (actually, "N.Y." is too), but there has always been something about the atmosphere of "Sea Song" that tugs at me... excruciating and beautiful all at once. I don't think there have been many weeks in the past 15 years that I haven't listened to this one at least once. It's one of those songs that seems to find its way on nearly every mix I make.

One of my fondest memories of a live performance was seeing doves at Chicago's Vic Theatre on June 13, 2002. A few weeks before the show I was shopping at my neighborhood Tower Records. While being rung up I filled out an entry to win free tickets. I stuck my name in a big box on my way out and never gave it another thought. The night before the show I got the call. My wife and I were going to have to leave the show early, and I was disappointed at the prospect of "There Goes the Fear," the band's current hit, closing the show after we departed. The gods continued to smile on me. "There Goes the Fear" and "Sea Song" were the second and third songs played. I don't want to give in to hyperbole, but I would put those 15 minutes among the best concert-going moments in my life. Pure euphoria.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ocean Blue Reissues Sure to Make Splash

These have been some heady days to be a fan of the Ocean Blue. The comeback album 'Ultramarine' was a real highlight of 2013, and last year's vinyl reissue of 'Waterworks' helped me realize the fellas had a lot more to offer than that brilliant debut album back in '89. So, in typical fashion, just as I have finally filled the gaps in my collection of all things Ocean Blue, Shelflife and frontman David Schelzel's own Korda Records are teaming up to reissue the band's trio of Sire albums, on colored 180-gram vinyl, no less! To the best of my knowledge, only the debut was ever released on wax, and it certainly wasn't in deep blue. Check out the label's pre-order page for pricing options and vinyl colors set for November release. Can't wait for autumn.

You'll notice the 1993 album 'Beneath the Rhythm and the Sound' will include the bonus track "Sea of Green." I'm assuming that's the same version first issued as the closer to the long out of print 'Peace and Light' from 1994. I have been saving a song from that EP for a rainy day. Since it never rains here in Seattle anymore, in celebration of these stellar reissues, why don't we listen to it now? Here is a spot-on rendition of what I'm sure must be one of your favorites.

"There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (Live)"

Monday, August 17, 2015

Summer Drive (Part 2)

Today's vacation shot is of Devils Punch Bowl in Otter Rock, Oregon. It's a beautiful stretch of beach known for great whale watching and surfing. During low tide, the tide pools and rocks make for some fascinating investigation, but you don't want to be around the bowl during high tide. The water churns and foams in a most violent way. It's really cool to watch from above. If you're down there, though, your ultimate demise is imminent. During winter storms, the water in the bowl is known to rotate like a toilet in mid flush. How's that for a visual?

We took a long walk from Beverly Beach State Park north to Devils Punch Bowl. Everyone was pretty tired after all of that exploration, and nobody in my family was excited to take the trek back to the park. I seemed like a selfless hero when I suggested I could go it alone to Beverly, hop in the van and drive to the Devils Punch Bowl viewpoint to pick up everyone. Truth is, I wanted to go for a run and listen to music along the way. You steal these moments when you can. Here was my soundtrack of new sounds during the jog:

As you may recall, the comeback LP 'Lunchbox Loves You' was way up on my list of the best albums of 2014. Happily, Tim and Donna don't seem interested in another lengthy hiatus. The duo has quickly followed up with "Smash Hits," a six-song 7" EP that, incidentally, I found quite difficult to spin while running on the beach. I kid, but those turntables do tend to wreak havoc with split times. The songs have been described as having a slightly punkier edge than its predecessor, but I couldn't help but think these 13 minutes sounded like Apples in Stereo during the 'Velocity of Sound' era. Yes, that's a very good thing. Looks like Lunchbox will be vying for a spot on the year-end list once again.

Whether it's Jon Hunter from the June Brides, Dan Pacini from the Brilliant Corners or Fran Dimech from the School, I'm an absolute sucker for pop bands with trumpeters. I haven't acquired enough knowledge of Sweden's Moon Types to know if Mirjam Pettersson's talents on the trumpet are a regular part of their repertoire, but I sure hope so because "Know the Reason" has rapidly become one of my favorite singles of the summer. Even if you would rather take a pass on brass, all three songs on this 7" are filled with enough infectious jangle to keep your head bobbing. I'll be anxiously awaiting their next release. That's enough horn tooting for tonight. There will be a third and final installment of my vacation soundtrack later in the week.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 25)

25. "California Stars"
Artist: Billy Bragg & Wilco
Year: 1998

I'm not going to insult you by puffing myself up as this huge early adopter of Wilco. Uncle Tupelo had a sound I wasn't into at the time, and I didn't even have 'A.M.' when 'Mermaid Avenue' came out. I did own 'Being There,' and I thought a handful of the songs were really good, especially "I Got You (At the End of the Century)" and "Outtasite (Outta Mind)." Overall, though, I thought the double album was a mixed bag. My shelves weren't crammed with the works of Billy Bragg either. 'Brewing Up...' was all I had, and that was purchased on the strength of one song, "Love Gets Dangerous." Incidentally, still love that one. Anyway, it was upon my first listen of today's song that, instantly, I became a real fan. On the chance that either Wilco or Bragg on their own should come up later in the countdown, I'm going to leave it at that.

Most of you already know the story of how the 'Mermaid Avenue' albums came about. So, I'll keep this brief. Woody Guthrie's daughter, Nora, had piles of lyrics he never used. She gave Bragg access to the unused words after he had performed a passionate tribute to Guthrie. Wilco accepted Bragg's invitation to join him. Some of the music was written by Bragg, some by Wilco and some were collaborations. "California Stars" was mainly written by Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett, but Bragg did perform on the song. The sessions were recorded in Dublin, Chicago and Boston, and there was a well done 1999 documentary on the recordings called 'Man in the Sand' that is part of a 'Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions' box set. The name 'Mermaid Avenue' came from the Coney Island street where Guthrie once lived. He also had a song called "Mermaid's Avenue." That ought to get the uninitiated up to speed.

I have never seen Bragg live, but I have taken in about a dozen Wilco shows. "California Stars" has been played at every one of them, and it has always been the highlight for me. I have quite a few live recordings of the song but would like to keep it in the decade. So, as a bonus, here is a performance Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett did at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music on July 25, 1999. As you'll hear from Tweedy, Steve Earle followed them. Must have been quite a night.

"California Stars" (Live)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Summer Drive (Part 1)

Just back from exploring the Columbia River Gorge, Crater Lake and most of the Oregon Coast. The photo above is from the tiny town of Bandon. The rock formations, sea caves and largely undeveloped beach made this one of my favorite stops, but let's get to some music. Logging approximately 1,400 miles on the road afforded me many hours of listening time, and I tried to spend much of it taking in new releases, but here are two from a couple of years back I found myself listening to over and over again:

I'm not at all sure if these Carrots are still a bunch, but I really dug their throwback girl-group sound, particularly on album opener "Baby, You Don't Know." They were out of Austin, as I recall, and I remember there being quite a buzz around the band after some killer hometown appearances at SXSW a few years ago. While we wait patiently for the good word, fingers crossed, at least 'New Romance' is still ripe for the picking.

Upon The Swede's, recommendation, I picked up 'Broken Heart Surgery' from Pete Fij & Terry Bickers back in the spring. This is an understated album, full of melancholy and razor-sharp lyrics and one I really took to while wearing headphones and walking on the sand as the sun was setting. The Swede nailed this one from 2014, and now I'm passionate about passing on this one. I'll have a few thoughts on a couple of new releases I enjoyed during the trip later in the week.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Still Sweet on Sweet

It's a bandwidth buster today! Kevinpat, a relatively new and very welcome visitor to these pages, dug around the archives and found a post on Matthew Sweet from 2012 that piqued his interest. So, per his request, here is a rerun of some non-album material surrounding the 'Altered Beast' era. In 1993, I couldn't get enough Sweet and had to have everything. I bought the singles while while working at a record store that summer. When I moved to Japan that fall, the first music purchase I made was upgrading to the Japanese version of 'Altered Beast.' I spent ¥2500 for it, which was about $26 at the time. I'll let you decide whether that was too high of a price for these two bonus tracks. The 'Altered Beast' demos are from a high-quality bootleg called 'Superdeformed.' This one is worth a future post.

I hate to be a statistic, but I'm following many of my blogging peers by taking a break. This will be my last post for about two weeks. I'm busy hosting family that came into town beginning yesterday, and we are about to head to Route 101 and down the coast for beach combing and other Pacific adventures. Sweet! I'll resume the final 25 of my 100 favorite songs from the 1990s as soon as I return. Let's all enjoy these final weeks of summer!

'Altered Beast' Bonus Tracks (Japanese Edition)
"Genie (The Second Coming)"
"Swan Song"

"The Ugly Truth" B-Sides
"Born in Sin"

"Time Capsule" B-Sides
"Speed of Light"

'Altered Beast' Demos
"The Ugly Truth"
"Time Capsule"