Wednesday, February 28, 2018

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter G, Part 2)

In the '80s, you could probably count the number of Scandinavian bands I had in my collection on one hand. My, how times have changed, particularly this century. Back then, Copenhagen-based Gangway were quite an anomaly. I saw a video for their '88 single "My Girl and Me" and fell hard for their aesthetic. This was a big hit in Denmark, and it should have been in the UK and America too. With the benefit of hindsight, I realize the music is awfully slick and of its time, but I still love the lyrics. Part playful, part dark and oh so very, well, Scandinavian. Here's the chorus:

My girl and me we hang around in bars
and we're usually drunk but never too drunk
to fight like cats and dogs all night

After buying the album 'Sitting in the Park', I soon discovered many of the songs were re-recordings of a 1986 album out on Danish indie label Irmgardz. It took some doing, but I eventually found the earlier album and was shocked to hear the originals. This is an old story that comes up many times in our collections, but hearing that indie album up against the antiseptic polish of the newer edition on London Records left me thinking either Gangway had been swayed by all that major-label flash or they left their hearts at the fancy studio door because the '86 version of 'Sitting in the Park' sounded much better to these ears... then and now. See if you agree.

"My Girl and Me" (From 'Sitting in the Park')
"My Girl and Me" (From 'Sitting in the Park Again')

Now I'll leave with you with my favorite song from the original 'Sitting in the Park'. Again, here are some wonderfully bizarre lyrics that have you feeling a pop song like this could have only come from that part of the world. It sounds so uplifting, and yet...

"Once Bitten, Twice Shy"

Last night I had a terrible dream
I dreamt I was present at your funeral
the scent of carnations pleased my mind
the sound from the organ filled me with joy
I was so pleased by your death
I was so happy at your funeral
But seeing you now fills me with remorse
I'm trying so hard to show that I like you
my tap on your shoulder makes me embarrassed
I'm laughing and joking a little too much
you're like a Sunday afternoon
you fill me with sadness, depression and gloom

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Twofer From Our Nottingham Correspondent

Mister Prime returns with reviews from shows last week on back-to-back nights. Those were the days...

A Week of Indie Royalty Old and New
(in the dank East Midlands of Old England)

On Wednesday night this week I went to an in-store at Rough Trade to see Pete Astor promoting his fine new album, 'One For The Ghost', with a signing and a short live set. He was ably accompanied on second guitar by Neil Scott (who was apparently one of the "ever-changing succession" of guitarists for the mighty Felt after Maurice Deebank left -- cheers, Wikipedia) who rounded out the sound nicely, what with the addition of a bit of stamped-foot percussion. And they bought their stools down off the small stage, got the audience to sit on the floor and played without mics to ensure an intimate and convivial atmosphere for the set -- half a dozen songs from '...Ghost' and his last album, 'Spilt Milk', and an encore of a rather marvellous version of the Weather Prophets song 'Like Frankie Lymon'. Excellent stuff.

Mr. Astor is an engaging host ("You'll see that I'm quite old..." were his first words to the frankly mostly less than youthful gathering of the faithful), and there was a certain amount of gentle chiding from Scott about the lack of rehearsal time and the number of pre-gig setlist changes that had been made and some suitably mordant between-song chat. Apparently the title of the song 'Tango Uniform', for example (for me, one of the highlights of the latest album), is a phonetic alphabet acronym for "Tits Up". ("As in, you know, dead..." explains the man himself, helpfully.)

As always, thanks, Mister Prime. I nicked a couple of wonderful YouTube clips of this very show from a Mr. Jim Bethell. Well done to you too, sir. One of the songs is brand-spankin' new and the other will take you back to aforementioned days in the Weather Prophets.

And up next from Mister Prime's impressive back-to-back nights...

And then on Thursday it was off to Leicester for the altogether more lively prospect of Canada's finest young purveyors of indie pop, Alvvays. Molly asked the crowd at one point what Leicester was like and the answer -- possibly misheard, misunderstood or both -- was "basic." "That's like a big insult in the UK, right...?" she asked, cheerfully. Not such a basic crowd though in that it was both significantly more youthful and significantly larger than the previous night's entertainment. Indeed, the O2 Academy at the University was a boisterous and sweaty sellout -- even if we were, in fact, in "Academy 2", round the back, not as it happens my favourite venue (despite the fact that it reminds me of the Riley Smith Hall at Leeds Uni, and thus of Fall gigs in the late '80s and the Afghan Whigs in particularly ferocious form) since it's rather like a school hall, unusually chill and characterless and redolent of suet farts and desultory crowds for midweek Wedding Present gigs, however much blue light and dry ice they try to disguise it with. "Nice room!" said Molly, cheerfully.

And so Alvvays continue their seemingly inevitable rise to greatness, and it's in a setting like this you realise that for all their impeccable jangle-pop pedigree pretty much everyone of this band's songs has a pretty unstoppable groove and killer, sing-along chorus. Alvvays were great, then, as ever -- and my regular afternoon trawl of the Internet for stage times (potential boon for the middle-aged gig goer that it is...) had revealed the added bonus that Spinning Coin were supporting! I made the effort to get there early for a change and was treated to a short but sprightly set-- the two front men swapping vocals and lead lines to great effect and making pretty determined inroads into warming up an initially skeptical crowd.

-- Mister Prime

No such luck finding clips from this particular show. We will have to make due with this video of my favorite song from the latest album. Thanks again, Mister Prime.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Another Peach From Portland

Here's another record I picked up last week at Crossroads Music in Portland. When one of your favorite bands has released a paltry six albums in 37 years, well, you find yourself digging deep for rarities like promo singles, limited-edition EPs, bootlegs and the like for just one more song you don't possess. I can feel the empathy out there. The 1986 four-song 12" "No One Knows" from the Feelies eluded me for decades, but I can finally cross it off the shopping list. When I saw it in the bin, I swear I started to feel lightheaded. Did I overpay? As Discogs tells me, yes, yes I did, but I wouldn't trade that rush of adrenaline for an easy click of the add-to-cart button for anything.

As for "No One Knows", two of the songs come from the 1986 album 'The Good Earth'. All of the band's albums are fantastic, but I would rank this as their second best behind 1988 album 'Only Life'. I was a huge fan of Twin/Tone Records because of early releases by the Replacements and the Suburbs, and I thought it was really cool the Feelies found a home with them and Coyote Records in '86. Alas, this EP and 'The Good Earth' would be it from that label tandem.

The other two songs on "No One Knows" are covers that feel extra familiar because the Feelies have covered these acts more than once. Neil Young's "Sedan Delivery" is here, but the real gem for me is "She Said, She Said". The Feelies covered "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey" on debut album 'Crazy Rhythms' in 1980, and what a wonderful take that is, but this version of another classic from the Beatles may just eclipse it.

"She Said, She Said"

Friday, February 23, 2018

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter G, Part 1)

It has been about three months since I concluded the letter F in this vinyl-ripping series. I thought I might whip through the letter G with about a dozen or so selections. For a few of you, this will be a finger across the brow and a "phew". "Could be worse," you may be saying to yourself. "At least it's not something from 'So'. I'll come clean. I have four of the five 12" singles from the 'So' era, and they are those slick '80s extended versions you're fond of spinning. So, count yourself lucky, my friend. And that "so" at the beginning of the sentence was for my pal CC. I still remember his spirited diatribe from 2016.

These live versions of some earlier hits from Peter Gabriel come from a 12" of "I Don't Remember", circa 1983. I haven't played these in many years, but this trio is sounding great in the headphones tonight. Those first four studio albums have held up quite nicely.

"I Don't Remember" (Live)
"Solsbury Hill" (Live)
Kiss of Life" (Live)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Perusing Portland's Bins Again

Last week my boys were off school for something called mid-winter break. Back in my day, we didn't have this vacation. I hope you pictured me in a cardigan sweater, glasses on the end of my nose and waving a cane at no one in particular as I typed that last bit. Get off my lawn! Anyway, the family went to an indoor water park for a couple of days and then further south to Portland for a couple more days of fun. That gave me the chance to stop by one of my favorite used record stores. As I wrote back in 2013 when I discovered Crossroads Music, this place is not your usual shop. It's 35 sellers under one roof. Truth be told, I'm really only into the wares of one particular seller, and I couldn't wait to see what he had this time around. More than a year had passed since visiting, and the night before I checked online for the address only to find the shop had been forced to move across town last summer. Reading this on the one-year anniversary of my favorite shop in America closing (Wombleton Records in L.A.) made my heart sink, but at least Crossroads had weathered the storm.

One of the aspects of the old Crossroads that worked well for us was the neighborhood. The family had plenty to do nearby as I perused the bins. The new Crossroads, well, let's just say there was some thumb twiddling by the kids while Mrs. LTL guessed the occupations of the customers walking into the pot shop next door. I would have to work fast. I went up to the counter with my phone in hand. On the screen I had a 360-degree image of the old shop, and I was able to show the fella exactly where my seller's spot had resided. I was in luck. My guy still had a section in the store. As expected the already high prices were a little bit higher than I remembered, but he still had the goods.

Twenty minutes later, I had some decisions to make. This was the biggest selection of the Fall that I had ever seen, but the ones I wanted most were out of my price range. There were a couple of early albums from the Jazz Butcher I regrettably had to pass up too. I left with four albums and the hope I would have more cash next time I visited Portland. I'll get to all four purchases in time. For today, let's start with Rough Trade 46, the 1983 self-titled album from Jazzateers. I have a soft spot for any band with a Postcard Records connection, and the price was right. If Postcard had survived until the end of its second year, the "Wasted" 7" would have been Postcard 81-14. That's a cover of the 1976 single by Donna Summer. The version by Jazzateers finally saw the light of day on Cherry Red's 2014 release 'Let Your Son Grow Up To Be A Cowboy - Unreleased Recordings 1981-82'. Here's a racket from their first album where you hear the plea not to let your son grow up to be a cowboy.

"Looking for a Girl"

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Good to Be the King

Not to be confused with the king of the French from 1830 to 1848, Philippe Auclair is known as Louis Philippe when the Frenchman records music, and his gorgeous sound is chamber pop that's reminiscent of the Left Banke or the Clientele to these ears. Philippe's heyday came between those two bands, and today's single is from 1987.

Philippe's a real renaissance man, known as much as a football journalist as a musician, but it's amazing how often his name pops up on records in our collections. He's worked with many of my favorites, including Dave Gregory, Martin Newell, Stuart Moxham and Sean O'Hagan, and he was the backbone of the short-lived but legendary Cherry Red subsidiary él Records, in one way or another appearing on more than half of the label's recordings. When él folded, Japan's rabid indie scene saved his recording career, and this song comes from the 1996 Polystar best-of collection 'I Still Believe in You.' Prepare to get hooked to lush indie-pop royalty!

"You Mary You"

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Couple of Cowards

When nothing nothing comes to mind to write about, I usually end up saying to myself, "Well, there's always Elvis Costello." Actually, this one was inspired by the Swede a couple of weeks ago when he remembered T-Bone Burnett on his birthday. Costello and Burnett have worked together often and are probably most known for their single "The People's Limousine", recorded under the pseudonym the Coward Brothers. Costello was Howard Coward, and Burnett went by Henry Coward. Burnett should be thanked, I think, for helping Costello break out of the malaise that was the period around the album 'Goodbye Cruel World'. The duo played quite a bit in late '84, and the noise they made together had quite an influence on Costello's next move, 'King of America', which Burnett co-produced.

There are plenty of songs to illustrate their time together, and I'm half tempted to play Burnett's guitar work on the cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" or the '86 appearances when Burnett was part of Costello's live band the Confederates, Instead, here is the single version of "Blue Chair". It's a more raw and raucous take than the one Costello did with the Attractions on 'Blood and Chocolate'. It was produced under Burnett's alter ego Henry Coward, and he played guitar on the song as well but is credited as Burnett. Confused? How about this? Many of the instruments were played by another T-Bone... this time Mr. Wolk. Wolk is all over 'King of America', and it must have been quite a time for all with two T-Bones in the studio. The lone Attraction on this recording is Steve Nieve.

I have this single as a 12", and it includes a couple of other Burnett sightings, including "Shoes Without Heels" and "American Without Tears". If you find this one in a used bin for a few bucks, I would say it's well worth picking up. Of course, with all of the reissues and reissues of reissues of Costello's work, chances are you may already have these songs on the shelf.

"Blue Chair" (single version)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

New Formula Adds Up for Math and Physics Club

After five long years, 'Our Hearts Beat Out Loud' has been dethroned, and I can continue to say my favorite album by Math and Physics Club is whatever happens to be the band's latest release. 'Lived Here Before' came out a couple of weeks ago, and it's getting plays at LTL HQ daily. To these ears, the sound is a little richer, a little fuller and a little darker. This is not a metamorphosis, however, and that melancholy mood that's like manna to us indie-pop fans is still here. In short, this is the first vital release of 2018.

Order heavyweight blue vinyl from Fika Recordings, or get the fancy six-panel sleeved CD from Matinée Recordings.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

This Is Pop

As the shopping list grows, expect brief mentions of important new releases the next few posts. On this, the 25th anniversary of Martin Newell's album 'The Greatest Living Englishman', Captured Tracks is celebrating with a special vinyl reissue that includes a 10-page booklet with updated liner notes by Newell himself. If you only know Newell from his brilliant lo-fi recordings under the moniker Cleaners From Venus, this gorgeous piece of pop immaculately produced by Andy Partridge will come as quite a surprise. In my humble opinion, the name Newell should be included with the likes of English icons Hitchcock, Davies, McCartney and, yes, Partridge. Preorder 'The Greatest Living Englishman' for a Feb. 23 release.