Sunday, July 31, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter C, Part 18)

Capping off my least productive month in seven-plus years of blogging with an all-time favorite. A trip to the shelves shows an even dozen pieces of vinyl from Lloyd Cole. As someone who switched almost exclusively to CDs in 1988, it's no surprise that 11 of the 12 are from the Commotions era. Only a 12" of "No Blue Skies" bucks the trend. In overall quantity, vinyl beats CD by a whisker in my Cole sections, but I go to both formats with regularity. My gaping hole in the collection is the four-disc set 'Cleaning Out the Ashtrays.' I really do need that one.

Today's selection is from the 'Easy Pieces' era. Although it was a smash, some fans don't think it holds a candle to debut album 'Rattlesnakes.' That's a tad bit harsh. 'Rattlesnakes' is perfect. 'Easy Pieces' is not. It's still better than almost anything that came out in 1985. The 12" single of "Cut Me Down" was released in several different versions around the world. For once, those of us in America got a great tracklist:

"Cut Me Down" (Extended Remix)
"Lost Weekend" (Extended Mix)
"Forest Fire" (Live)
"Perfect Skin" (Live)

Depending on where you lived (or how good an import section you had access to), your B-sides may have included an instrumental take of "Perfect Blue," a 7" remix of "Cut Me Down," studio versions of "Forest Fire" and "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?" or a live version of "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?" Based on those selections, it seems early fans weren't the only ones enamored with 'Rattlesnakes.'

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"