Thursday, December 31, 2015

Welcome to 1984

It's another wild New Year's Eve for me. I will do what I have done every Dec. 31 since 1990. I'll watch Big Country usher in 1984 from Glasgow's legendary Barrowland. I have written about this show so many times that I really don't have anything new to say. This is my No. 1 time machine moment. I love the unbridled enthusiasm from everyone in the ballroom. Stuart and the lads were kings of the world, and this was their homecoming. They had just returned from taking America by storm, and they were exhausted but exhilarated. Big Country played two shows on Dec. 31, 1983. There was an early show for the youngsters and a later one for those old enough to ring in the new year. Bassist Tony Butler called it "one of the best moments in my gigging life." Drummer Mark Brzezicki said, "Even just before the gig the atmosphere was electric, and just walking on stage can only be described as being at a cup final and scoring the winning goal." Guitarist Bruce Watson recalled, "The excitement going on in the room that night was really a Scottish thing. We tried to make it a huge party." And frontman Stuart Adamson remarked that the crowd "was out of their heads."

I bought Big Country's 'At the BBC' box set when it came out a few years ago, and their show from the Edinburgh Playhouse on Dec. 31, 1984 is part of the DVD package. It's a very nice show, but the magic from a year earlier just isn't there. The crowd is restrained, sitting in seats and in posh surroundings. There are no foot stomps and chants of "here we go!" The band is different too. The innocence is gone. They are well dressed, polished and downright professional. That night at the Barras could never be recaptured.

As the clock struck 12 and 1984 began, Big Country abandoned "The Storm" and left the stage for a quick breather. The Deysart and Dundonald Pipe Band took over in what can only be described as one of the most unique moments in the annals of rock history. As Watson said, it's a Scottish thing.

Enough pontificating. Enjoy the band's first four singles from the show. Happy New Year!

"Fields of Fire"
"Harvest Home"
"In a Big Country"/"Auld Lang Syne"

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Wife's Not Away, But Scritti Politti Will Play

Hope you had a happy Christmas. I got a few musical delights, including the books 'Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records' and 'What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos.' I'll give you the lowdown on the rest of the bounty in future posts, but I made quite a haul. Needless to say, per usual, Mrs. LTL was at the top of her game. How am I repaying this generosity? By playing her nemesis, Green Gartside, within earshot. This will be the last of the holiday songs. I promise. It's a duet from Tracey Thorn's inspired 'Tinsel and Lights,' easily my favorite holiday album from this decade. The Scritti Politti song "Snow in Sun" can be found here, but let's listen to "Taking Down the Tree." It's a cover from Low's less than festive 1999 'Christmas' album, and the duo of Thorn and Gartside perform it with the same malaise. It's the perfect day after Christmas tune. So, start untangling those lights and nursing that post-holiday hangover with a new classic.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my nine-year-old son believes in Santa, and the photo above is the letter he got back the other day from the big man himself. I'm thankful there are still volunteers out there making sure kids who take the time to write get a little something in the mail. He's never been so excited to see what will be under the tree when he comes down Christmas morning, and I'm pretty excited that he's so excited, you know?

Maybe there is something from this little mix that will help you with your holiday mood. I listened to all of these while baking cookies with the family this evening, and a good time was had by one and all. I hope you find an album under your tree this Christmas, or at least a 7" in in your stocking. Happy holidays to you all!

Apples in Stereo - "Holiday Mood"
Freedy Johnston - "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
NRBQ - "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas"
Solomon Burke - "Presents For Christmas"
The Wedding Present - "Step Into Christmas"

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Favorite Songs of 2015

I decided to draw the line at 30 this year (31, if you look closely), and that meant leaving many songs on the outside looking in, including the likes of Sarah Cracknell, Belle and Sebastian, Paul Weller, Comet Gain, Nic Hessler, Gwenno, Cattle, Wreckless Eric, the Chills, Chris Stamey, the Outdoor Type, Wire, Postal Blue, FFS... I could go on and on. As you would expect, lots of jangle to wrangle and quite a few old mature acts that continue to impress lo these many years, but there were many new discoveries too. Hopefully you find something here to like as well.

30. Goodly Thousands - "Walking Home"
30. Try the Pie - "It's Been Days"
29. Boyracer - "Everyone's a Critic"
28. Colorworks - "Paris, You Take Care"
27. The Spook School - "Burn Masculinity"
26. La Luz - "I Wanna Be Alone (With You)"
25. Eleanor Friedberger - "He Didn't Mention His Mother"
24. Crayon Fields - "Love Won't Save You"
23. Destroyer - "Dream Lover"
22. Blur - "Ong Ong"
21. Strawberry Whiplash - "Time Takes You Away"
20. Makeout Vertigo - "Parking Lot Snots"
19. The Mantles - "Hate to See You Go"
18. Twerps - "Back to You"
17. The Fireworks - "Tightrope"
16. Lunchbox - "Heaven"
15. The Hermit Crabs - "I'm a Fool"
14. Finnmark! - "Can't Go On"
13. Mammoth Penguins - "Propped Up"
12. Courtney Barnett - "Pedestrian at Best"
11. Expert Alterations - "You Can't Always Be Liked"
10. The Luxembourg Signal - "Dying Star (Cirrus)"
9. Brideshead - "At 45 Rpm"
8. Popguns - "Bn3"
7. Moon Types - "Know the Reason"
6. The Granite Shore - "Nine Days' Wonder"
5. Robert Forster - "Let Me Imagine You"
4. The Monochrome Set - "Iceman"
3. Lightning in a Twilight Hour - "The Memory Museum"
2. The Catenary Wires - "When You Walk Away"
1. The School - "Love Is Anywhere You Find It"

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Q&A With Pete Astor

Photo: Susanne Ballhausen

'Tis the season to celebrate and share our favorite music of 2015, but please pardon this interruption to hear a few tracks from an album sure to be on many of your "best of" lists this time next year. I received an advanced listen of Pete Astor's 'Spilt Milk', out Feb. 12 via Slumberland Records, and became so smitten by this master work that I felt like I had to let him know. The following is the result of this bold (and somewhat out of character) move on my part. Thanks for taking the time, Pete. You have been a hero for almost as long as I can remember.

[Dec. 23 Update: For you UK readers, Fortuna POP! is taking pre-orders for 'Spilt Milk' now.]

Linear Tracking Lives: The Loft seem to be remembered as much for the band's legendary onstage implosion and split as the wonderful singles "Why Does the Rain" and "Up the Hill and Down the Slope." With an additional 30 years of living, if you could go back and chat with the young Pete Astor backstage at the Hammersmith Palais on June 24, 1985, what pearls of wisdom about music and the business would you pass on to yourself?

Pete: Hmmm. Yes, good question! I think the thing which happened with The Loft was totally down to our inability to properly communicate with each other. I didn't seem to have the ability to negotiate what I felt; instead I let my frustrations build and build until there was an explosion. By the time I was in the dressing room at the Hammersmith Palais, it was probably too late; before that, I would say to myself to try and express what I thought. But, unfortunately, me - and the rest of us - didn't really acknowledge feelings in our day-to-day lives.

LTL: Last year you released a study of Richard Hell and the Voidoids' Blank Generation through Bloomsbury's 33 1/3 Series. It's actually on sale right now at the publisher's site. Let's sell some books. What was it about this quintessential New York band that shook you up as a young Englishman? .

This is how the book starts and I think this says it best:

Richard Hell was the one for me. He embodied exactly the right mixture of nihilism and ego that a sixteen year old needed. And he looked right. Like all the best rock and roll, here was someone - as we would all find out in the passage of time - who remained mired in the emotional onslaught that adolescence brings. And had no intention of doing anything other than continuing to wallow in its endless contradictions and rail against it with poise, poetry and an elegant sneer. Just another permanent adolescent, staring down the world. This was glamorous, elegant and damaged and signposted a universe of possibilities and I wanted in. It was love at first sight. It's hard to say exactly when the love affair started, because before you're really ready, so many things have to be in place...

LTL: I was immediately taken by how 'Spilt Milk' sounded so much different than projects like the Wisdom of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. This one will remind fans of your days with the Weather Prophets. How aware were you this was a return to form?

Pete: Everybody has different sides to their work but finally I feel like I've come back to being 'me'. I'm quite happy to make the music I am at the moment, within it's particular strictures. Doing the kinds of songs that I do I think of a bit like writing a sonnet or painting a painting a portrait or something: I'm not trying to re-invent the wheel, but working on doing something worthwhile using song structures, etc.

I also really like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's ideas about creativity; he talks about 'flow', which is basically a state where you get to forget yourself, lose yourself in what you do. I realised that I could always achieve this when writing, singing, playing music - so I had to do it.

LTL: I'm a huge fan of Veronica Falls, and I see James Hoare is on the new album. How did you get together? What was his involvement with 'Spilt Milk'?

Pete: James and I have been friends a long time, since he was a student of mine, many years ago. In terms of 'Spilt Milk', he was the band, recording and producing the record in his studio. It was brilliant working together, we understood each other so well, we rarely had to say very much when we were working, with very few words we were able to make big and useful aesthetic decisions while apparently just drinking tea and looking out of the window.

LTL: I can't stop listening to "The Getting There". There is such a McLennan/Forster vibe on this one. What can you tell me about this song?

Pete: I always think of "The Getting There" as maybe taking place at a party, any party, where stuff happens which leads to big changes in your life, but you never know this at the time. Perhaps. McLennan/Forster vibe - thank you!

LTL: Since it's the end of the year, I have to ask. What are your favorite songs and albums of 2015?

Pete: So much fantastic music – just now, I'll grab these. I’m sure I've forgotten something, but...

Elvis Perkins – 'I, Aubade'
Robert Forster – 'Songs to Play'
Ultimate Painting – 'Green Lanes'
Father John Misty – 'I Love You, Honeybear'
Bill Ryder-Jones – 'West Kirby County Primary'
Mbongwana Star – 'From Kinshasa'
Waxahatchee – 'Ivy Tripp'
Darren Hayman – 'Florence'
Sleaford Mods – 'Key Markets'

Monday, December 14, 2015

Favorite Reissues of 2015

Because I'm an old guy, I look forward to compiling this list every year almost as much as the new releases, which I hope to have ready later this week. One conspicuous absence you might be wondering about is the 'G Stands for Go-Betweens' box. I didn't pull the trigger. Felt a little too pricey at the time, and I have the studio albums. Eleven months later, I regret that decision. Anyway, here are 13 reissues I have enjoyed in 2015...

Bubbling Under:

Dr. John
'The Atco/Atlantic Singles 1968-1974'
This is the era you gotta have!

Various Artists
'The dB's & Friends: Christmas Time Again!'
The 1986 holiday classic has been expanded to include new songs by Yo La Tengo & Jeff Tweedy, Marshall Crenshaw, Robyn Hitchcock and more, and the dB's tracks have been on my holiday mixes for years.

Strawberry Story
Talulah Gosh-inspired band's tough to find 7" singles, cassettes and flexis are collected on two CDs.

My Top 10:

10. The Ocean Blue
'The Ocean Blue,' 'Cerulean' and 'Beneath the Rhythm and Sound'
The Sire years get the vinyl treatment... and two of these have never been on that format. Thanks to Shelflife for tackling this project.

9. McCarthy
'I Am a Wallet'
Cerebral C86 double album (in red, of course) includes 13 bonus tracks and a slew of extras.

8. The Comsat Angels
'Waiting For a Miracle' and 'Sleep No More'
Missed these dark wavers the first time around but came highly recommended through the years by Echorich and Post Punk Monk. Only have the first two albums so far, but the first seven have been reissued, most as double disc deluxe editions.

7. The B-52's
'Live! 8-24-1979'
All of your favorites from their self-titled debut and a few from soon to be released 'Wild Planet' performed at the Berklee Center in Boston. What a performance!

6. Lush
Everything is here. More than 100 songs across five CDs and housed in a beautiful hardcover book. I bought it for the B-sides and radio sessions. Doesn't come out here in America for five more weeks, but why wait? The price is right at the 4AD store.

5. Various Artists
'Creation Artifact: The Dawn Of Creation Records 1983-1985'
I have just a teeny bit of buyer's remorse because I already had the 'Creation Soup' box, but the sound and presentation of this five-disc set is better, and the demos alone made it worth the splurge.

4. Game Theory
'Real Nighttime'
Omnivore continues to release the '80s paisley underground legend's entire catalog with loads of bonus tracks. I'm not alone in saying this album was their best.

3. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
'Collected Recordings 1983-89'
If I didn't already have so much of the material in this five-disc plus DVD box, this would be my No. 1. Still, there are 18 unreleased tracks, and the studio albums have never sounded better. The 48-page hardcover book is beautiful.

2. Close Lobsters
'Firestation Towers 1986-1989'
When this came out on Record Store Day, I recommended it but added I wouldn't be buying it because I had everything on it. About six weeks later I saw it in my local mom-and-pop store and felt my heart jump. I held it in my hand for what felt like the longest time. Why buy it? I asked myself this question over and over and decided since I only had 'Foxheads Stalk This Land' and 'Forever, Until Victory!' on CD, it was worth springing for the vinyl box. Yes, it's a sickness.

1. Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs
'Completely Under the Covers'
I have the CD versions of all three 'Under the Covers' albums, but collecting all of the digital bonus tracks through the years made my blood boil. Finally, this vinyl box gave me all of those inspired covers from the '60s, '70s and '80s in one place, and what beautiful pieces of colored plastic these six records are.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

When the Wife's Away, Scritti Politti Will Play

With Mrs. LTL in Cincy this week, I was going to have us listen to "Taking Down the Tree," a duet by Tracey Thorn and Green Gartside from Thorn's excellent 'Tinsel and Lights' album, but it really is more appropriate for the day after Christmas. So, perhaps we'll do that then. In the meantime, I have pulled out a wild card that will probably go over about as well as most of these Green ditties you've become accustomed to me pushing on you. A few of you might see this and think you're getting off easy because this is Elvis Costello and the Attractions, after all, with Green providing only the backing vocals. Most of you, however, know this song is taken from 'Goodbye Cruel World,' quite possibly Costello's lowest point, both personally and professionally.

Costello couldn't "get happy" in 1984. He was in the midst of a divorce and going through the motions of life. Although there had been some commercial success with 'Punch the Clock' the year before, it was fairly obvious he had gone to the Clive Langer/Alan Winstanley well once too often. In his defense, I will say some of Costello's rearrangements in future years have placed some of these songs in a better light.

As a 13 year old and fairly new fan to Costello ('Punch the Clock' was the first of his albums I bought as a new release), even I knew this wasn't a great album, but I did kind of like "I Wanna Be Loved," and I liked flip side "Turning the Town Red" more than anything else from the 'Goodbye Cruel World' era. The song was the theme from the Granada television show "Scully" and not produced by Langer and Winstanley, but that piece of trivia didn't mean anything to this American. I bought the 12" for the extended version of "I Wanna Be Loved," and I'm glad I did because Costello didn't include the 12 inchers on any of those subsequent album reissues. I suspect he loathes them. So, here is the Extended Smooch 'n' Runny Version taken from my gently used 30-year-old vinyl. That will give you an extra minute of Green's fantastic harmonies. Yes, this was all about Costello, not Green, but I'm sure you didn't mind.

"I Wanna Be Loved (Extended Smooch 'n' Runny Version)"

Thursday, December 10, 2015

'Dying Star' Gets Second Life

Only a stunning comeback by the Popguns kept the Luxembourg Signal from attaining my album of the year for 2014. A year later, it's nice to take a look back at that list with no regrets about those two long players. Doesn't always work out that way, and there it is floating about the 'Net forevermore, but I digress. Thinking about the Luxembourg Signal today because there's a dynamic new take of self-titled album opener "Dying Star" being released tomorrow via Test Pattern Records, and I have had it on a constant loop all evening. Speaking of Loop, I hope you have fond memories of that pioneering shoegaze outfit because frontman Robert Hampson is the one who took the courageous step of tinkering with this dreampop masterpiece. I always meet the remix of a favorite with some trepidation, but my worries have proven to be unfounded. Mr. Hampson's touches are inspired, and the spirit of the original is intact.

"Dying Star (Cirrus)" is one half a beautiful limited edition split 7" with "Breaking" by Soft Science on the flip side. A better complement to the Luxembourg Signal's sound you will not find. A nice discovery just as I'm compiling this year's list of best songs. Order from Test Pattern Records now.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Fifth Best Band in Hull?

Frontman Paul Heaton famously proclaimed the Housemartins the fourth best band in Hull, behind Red Guitars, Everything But the Girl and the Gargoyles. If I ever run into Heaton, I will forgo the customary handshake and immediately ask him who his No. 5 was. Could it have been the Bloody Marys? This, their first single, came out in the summer of '86, exactly the same time as the Housemartins' 'London 0 Hull 4.' So, I guess they didn't really have a chance to sneak into Heaton's top 4. Plus, they quickly left Hull for the bright lights of Bristol anyway, with drummer Matt Higgins of Red Guitars in tow, by the way.

The Bloody Marys never found success like the Housemartins did. In fact, they don't appear anywhere in my copy of 'Indie Hits 1980-1989: The Complete U.K. Independent Charts,' and the Bloody Marys called it quits in 1990. This double-A side debut, produced by legendary Hull resident Steve Larkmen at his Angel Music Recording Studio in nearby Saltend, is a nice bit of jangle and reminds us Paris remains a wonderful place to fall in love. "Paris" sounds a bit like the Housemartins, doesn't it? Must be something in the water. "Party Hour," on the other hand, seems right out of the Driscolls' songbook, and they were from Bristol. Hmm.

"Party Hour"

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

When Sub Pop Took a Sponge Bath

When you think of Sub Pop in the '90s, a particular genre that's not real popular in our little corner of the blogosphere is bound to come to mind. Truth is, by the middle of the decade, the label had made a real effort to diversify itself, and I quite liked the power-pop bands in its stable. One only has to look as far as No. 46 on my top 100 songs of the '90s to see Velocity Girl was a great listen in 1994, for example.

Zumpano was another one of Sub Pop's up and comers that received serious consideration for my countdown. The band signed in '94 during the label's Canadian phase. These fellas were out of Vancouver and, unfortunately, have been boiled down to a trivia question these days. (What was the band A.C. Newman was in before joining supergroup the New Pornographers?) That's too bad because they put out two fantastic albums chock full of bounce, both of which have been physically out of print for some time. Today's listen is the opener from their first long player, 'Look What the Rookie Did.' There is a section near the end of "The Party Rages On" that sounds just like the Turtles, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. Crisp, clean and just about as far from grunge as possible. Find this album if you can. You'll be able to hear some early Feelies (especially on "Jeez-Louise") and Sloan in there somewhere too.

"The Party Rages On"

Friday, December 4, 2015

Stax of Seasonal Favorites

Ever so slightly getting into the holiday mood. When you have kids, sometimes you have to fake it a bit. Lots of excitement in the LTL household, especially from my 9-year-old son. In this day and age, you may find this difficult to believe, but he still believes in Santa Claus. Nearly all of his peers think they know the score. Instead of Lil' LTL going along with the pack, he actually feels sorry for them. Yesterday he said, "Don't you think it's sad they don't believe in Santa? Christmas must be so boring." So, he wrote his annual letter to the bearded one (Santa had one long before it was hip!) and closed by asking if the elves were "staying on task." Hilarious.

There is nearly nothing we do in life that can't be made better with the addition of music. My family will be putting up our Christmas tree tomorrow. Mrs. LTL had to go to California yesterday. So, instead of my usual bachelor activity of listening to Scritti Politti*, I had some free time last night to assemble a soundtrack for our impending tree trimming activities. Lots of classic Beach Boys, Spector, Ella, Rat Pack and the Motown roster mixed with indie, power pop and new wave.

One seasonal set that never seems to be in the same conversation as the biggies but really should be is the 1966 album 'In the Christmas Spirit' by Booker T. & the MG's. These are all traditional songs performed by Stax's stellar house band, and Booker T.'s organ really sings on favorites like "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." This is the perfect record for a holiday party because you don't have to battle vocals while making awkward small talk with the spouse of someone you work with but don't really like... or, in my case, I can yell at my children about being careful with my Chicago Cubs ornaments without battling Mariah Carey's wails. Man, all I want for Christmas is to not hear that song again... and it's only Dec. 4.

Booker T & the M.G.'s - "Jingle Bells"

*Mrs. LTL will be in Ohio all next week. So, prepare yourself for something from Green Gartside.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Buried Gem From the Bodines

Sandwiched between very good songs from the Wolfhounds and Mighty Mighty on NME's legendary 'C86' comp is the even better "Therese" by Derbyshire's the Bodines. If you've been a regular visitor to this blog for a while, you know this band is one of my favorites of the era, and I still pull out my Creation singles and the grossly underrated 'Played' album with regularity.

The Bodines' career was short lived, and I always wished for more of their brand of jangle. I was granted a small gift in 2007 when Firestation Records unearthed three tracks from 1988. Based on the year and the classic lineup credited on the back cover, I assume this was early work for an aborted followup to 'Played' just before Magnet Records dumped them. Plus, these songs sound more like 'Played' than the single they did for Play Hard Records before they called it quits in 1989.

I have known about these unreleased tracks on "Shrinkwrap" for several years, but I stupidly didn't buy the CD when it came out. Although it didn't seem likely, I always hoped I would be obliviously flipping through the racks at a little hole-in-the-wall indie shop someday and it would just appear. Like manna from heaven, that's exactly what happened a couple of months ago, and it has turned out to be one of my better finds this year. No, this isn't "Therese," but within seconds of putting on "Shrinkwrap" the first time I had goosebumps hearing Michael Ryan's unmistakable voice again. I dedicate this one to retired blogger Friend of Rachel Worth. I know he's a big fan too.