Friday, June 29, 2018

Tune in to Wolfhounds on Peel

The brilliant squad at Slumberland Records have been known to unearth gems from the age of C86. Chin Chin, 14 Iced Bears and St. Christopher are a few to come to mind. The label is about to up the ante, this time with a literal alum of NME's famous cassette. 'Hands in the Till: The Complete Peel Sessions' from Wolfhounds hits the shelves in July and, as the title implies, all three of the band's four-song appearances on the legendary BBC program, recorded between March 1986 and January 1988, are included. Several of their best known songs from debut album 'Unseen Ripples From a Pebble' through 'Bright and Guilty' are here, such as "Me", "Sandy" and "The Anti-Midas Touch". Here's a quick breakdown of the tracklisting. All songs are mastered from the BBC original tapes. If the following Soundcloud clip is any indication, we are in for quite a treat.

March 1986
1. The Anti-Midas Touch (listen below)
2. Hand in the Till
3. Me
4. Whale on the Beach
May 1987
5. Boy Racers, RM1
6. Disgusted E7
7. Rule of Thumb
8. Sandy
January 1988
9. Happy Shopper
10. Non-Specific Song
11. The William Randolph Hearse
12. Son of Nothing

Note: I don't see a link up quite yet, but for buyers outside of America, order from the equally fabulous A Turntable Friend Records. Also, I have read Rough Trade Records will have 100 copies of an exclusive and strictly limited yellow vinyl version with an additional art print. So very tempting, even to this Yank.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Ship Passing in the Night

Welcome to another edition of small-town news. I took the boys to see a nautical marvel last night at one of our favorite spots in Seattle. The largest ship to ever navigate Ballard Locks passed from Lake Washington out to sea on its way to Alaska. We go to the locks quite often in the summer to picnic and watch the yachts and fishing boats as they make their way to and from the Pacific. In the fall, we come to watch the thousands of salmon use the fish ladder as they make their way back to their birthplaces to lay eggs and spend their final days in the creeks and streams. Yes, we love Ballard Locks, and we joined the hundreds that lined the waterway to watch this curiosity. The 443-foot cruise ship had a slim seven feet to spare on each side of the lock. Most of the 208 passengers and 164 crew seemed to enjoy the spectacle as much as we did. I hope they liked the ukulele band performing "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" as they waited for passage too.

On the way home, I thought about boat- and ship-themed songs that would make good candidates to accompany this post. Too many to count, really, but "Six Months in a Leaky Boat", "Ship of Fools", "Chris-Craft No. 10", "Me Ship Came In!" and "Shipbuilding" were some early contenders. I decided on a rather obscure B-side by Close Lobsters from the 1987 12" "Never Seen Before" because the title works so well, and I'm always looking for an excuse to play this band anyway. What's the first song that popped into your mind?

Wide Waterways

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Live a Life of Ease and Dine on Green Cheese

I'm really digging Alyson's series on full moons as we follow the lunar calendar, and her latest is on the Strawberry Moon because, as she puts it, "for the Algonquin tribes of North America, June was the month the wild berries started to ripen and could be harvested." Upon reading this post last night, I began rolling moon-themed songs in my head, and the first one to pop into my mind was Echo & the Bunnymen doing "The Killing Moon", but then my mind wandered into jazz and easy listening territory. Frank Sinatra's delivery on "Fly Me to the Moon" is pure cool, and Julie London's take on "No Moon at All" is so sultry I blush just thinking about it. Having said that, I think my favorite might be Mel Tormé's "Swingin' on the Moon".

In 1960, as the race to space became an international obsession, the Velvet Fog recorded an entire album of moon songs. Most of them were standards, such as "How High the Moon" and "Moonlight in Vermont", but the title song and album opener was a Tormé original and a real gas. Backed by Russel Garcia's Orchestra, Tormé sings about taking a space trip with his gal. Here are a few of my favorite lyrics.

Let's have a honeymoon on the moon, honey
Far from the noisy earth below
And if your mama asks, "Why the moon honey?"
Just tell her your feller has gone inter-stellar

Hey, let's grab a holiday on the moon, honey
Far from the hustle of the crowd
And if your folks ask about our house, honey
Tell mater and pater we live in the crater

Now that's a smile! The song fades with Tormé singing, in order, the titles of every song on the album. Buckle up and take a rocket ship back to a simpler time.

Swingin' on the Moon

Monday, June 25, 2018

Piecing Together Jigsaw's Recent Releases

I had a fruitful trip to Jigsaw Records on Saturday. I picked up all four of those Sarah-related releases from Emotional Response I mentioned last month, and I also got a few of the latest records from Jigsaw I had been listening to incessantly via Bandcamp the past couple of weeks. When it comes to Chris and his prolific label, though, you had better be quick if you want to keep up. I got PZL139, PZL140 and PZL141, but he has already added 142 and 143 to his ever-growing list of releases.

Let's start with Flying Fish Cove. This Seattle-based band's self-titled four-song EP is indie-pop at its best and reminds me so much of Heavenly that the first 30 seconds of opener "Sleight of Hand" left me slack-jawed. There is a full-length album in the works, and Chris has recently joined the band on drums. There will be a few shows this summer. Check 'em out. Amelia would approve.

Next up is another four-song EP, and "Singular" should be played at maximum volume. If the name Candybomber sounds familiar, perhaps you have an EP by that name the Kensingtons put out in 2011. One half of the Kensigtons is Stewart Tudor-Jackman, and he has resurrected the name Candybomber for this debut project. The Kensingtons will be remembered as twee indie pop, but there was a clue Tudor-Jackman might be ready to go power pop in the vein of the Posies. If you get the chance, check out "The Ground Came Up To Meet Us" from the 2013 EP "Black Tag Parade" to hear what I mean. That's the song that hooked me on the Kensingtons. As for Candybomber, I'm taken by the crisp production. Not slick by any means but crisp and clean as a whistle.

Now for something completely different. There are some great bands out there paying homage to the sounds of Stereolab. A couple that come to mind are Cosines and Jigsaw alum Le SuperHomard. Watoo Watoo will surely remind you of Tim Gane and Lætitia Sadier when they were at their poppiest, and Chris hears some Felt and Broadcast in there too. No matter the influences you recognize, you will no doubt want to brush up on your French and hit the dance floor when playing long player 'Modern Express'.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Kitchenware Classic

David's excellent Kitchenware compilation featured at the New Vinyl Villain today brings me to another single picked up just last week at a shop in Seattle. I have a real soft spot for those early records from the Newcastle label, and I can't ever seem to pass one up, even if, as is in this case, it's one I didn't really need.

The 12" of Prefab Sprout's 1984 single "Couldn't Bear to Be Special" isn't any different from the version found on 'Swoon', and I already had the two B-sides (in the case of "Spinning Belinda" it has been a flip side on multiple singles), but it was just simply seeing these songs presented in a way my eyes had never visualized before that got me excited. I have always loved that 'Swoon' aesthetic. I didn't hesitate to buy it. In fact, before finding this 12", I didn't even know "Couldn't Bear to Be Special" ever was a single. Even now, as I type, I find myself looking at the cover and smiling. I'm still picking up Kitchenware records in 2018! Is there a better feeling than going into a shop and being surprised like that?

"Couldn't Bear to Be Special"
"Spinning Belinda"
"Donna Summer"

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Picture-Perfect Weekend

Sunday was Father's Day, and this dad couldn't have asked for a better couple of days. I went to a record store on Friday and headed to the ocean for the weekend. Heat. Finally. The mercury neared 90 degrees. Just the way I like it. On Saturday, the family took the ferry to the Olympic Peninsula for a hike along the Dungeness Spit. If you have never seen its majesty, here's an aerial view:
It may not look like it, but that's a 5.5-mile hike out to the lighthouse. That little white spec is the lighthouse, and it's funny to see the spit go quite far beyond the structure. The spit continues to grow 13 feet a year. It's the longest natural sand spit in the United States. Better check the tide tables, or the water just might swallow you up. On Sunday, we had a rare day when my boys were literally standing in snow at Hurricane Ridge in the morning and swimming in the Pacific by afternoon. It's quite a little hike down to Second Beach near LaPush, and you have to climb through an enormous pile of driftwood to get to the sand, but it's well worth the work. As you can see, seems most people are scared off by the terrain. The beach was nearly all ours.
Enough about my adventures. That's not why your're here. As I mentioned, I got the gift of time for Father's Day, and there is no better present, really. I stopped by a Seattle shop I hadn't been to in ages, and I hit the jackpot in the singles section. These days, I have a serious space problem in the music room, and I find myself looking at singles more and more because it's the one format where I still haven't quite exceeded capacity on the shelf. I'll get to the entire bounty in future posts, but here's one I picked up that can't wait.
For those of you who have The Jam's "Live! EP", particularly in the UK, this won't seem like such a big deal, but the American version of the 1983 double-album compilation 'Snap!' didn't come with this bonus 7", not even the first pressing, making it a rare find in this area of the world. The best part is I paid the price of a typical single in 2018 when, frankly, I would have forked out more. If you aren't familiar with the four songs, they were recorded in December 1982 at Wembley Arena. This is an era many fans from the early days don't particularly revere, but I don't apologize for digging the horns, backing vocals and organ. That might be because I discovered Paul Weller during the early days of the Style Council and worked backwards through his discography. Here are the two covers from side A. Hope you enjoy it.

Move on Up (Live)
Get Yourself Together (Live)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Indie Pop on the Pitch

No USA to root for in this World Cup, kicking off today in Russia, but there is just enough for me to hold my interest. I like to support the underdogs. Since Wales, our heroes from Euro 2016, didn't make the cut, I'll move my allegiance to Iceland this time around. More importantly, Eugene Levy as Woody Tobias, Jr. is still playing for the Red Devils, meaning I have to root for Marouane Fellaini and Belgium to go far. Then there's Croatia's horse-racing unis. Yep, that's just about all I've got.

Jimmy over at Matinée Recordings, however, is the real football fan over here, and I bet he and his kids will be glued to the tube the next month. To drum up excitement for the Cup, he has gathered five exclusive soccer-themed anthems from his international stable of indie-pop stars that make for a souvenir EP sure to bring you to your feet. Here's a quick look at the lineup in Matinée's words:

Australian stars Last Leaves kick things off with the splendid guitar pop classic "Golden Days To Come" with its call and response chorus, trumpets, and a choir of fanatics to cheer on the Socceroos. Swedish band Red Sleeping Beauty makes its Matinée debut with the glorious electric pop hit "Dressed In Yellow And Blue" featuring an infectious chorus about one life-changing goal in the summertime. Spanish duo the Royal Landscaping Society shows its support for La Furia Roja with the absolutely mesmerizing track "2010" recalling Spain's World Cup championship earlier this decade. English legends the Popguns deliver in spades with "Red White And Blue" posing the question "is it so unimaginable thinking we could win?" and using brilliant harmonies, furious guitars, cheering crowds, and handclaps to advance the English side to the next round. Finally, Brazilian popstars Pale Sunday break a six-year silence with the ace fuzz pop song "Dirt Pitch Superstars" in honor of their team's campaign for an unprecedented sixth World Cup victory.

Order your 'Official Matinée World Cup EP'. Now on with the matches.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Unearthing Early Mann Quite a Discovery

Let's wrap up this trio of posts on the genius of Jon Brion with his work as producer. I could pull out any number of albums from the shelf, and I was nearly tempted to choose something from Robyn Hitchcock or the Polyphonic Spree, but his influence was probably most felt on the early solo albums of Aimee Mann. Their relationship goes back to the waning days of 'Til Tuesday when Brion joined the band on guitar as a touring member. Brion co-wrote a couple of songs on Mann's 1993 solo debut, 'Whatever', and he also co-produced. It was a well-received album, and you could hear there was a lot more there than she had shown in the 'Til Tuesday days.

Brion was even more involved in 1995 followup 'I'm With Stupid'. He co-wrote four songs, including the two we are going to listen to today. He also played a myriad of instruments on the long player, including bass, harmonica, cello, drums, acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, percussion and backing vocals. I have always pictured the making of 'I'm With Stupid' being a blast. Several friends stopped by to help out, such as Juliana Hatfield, Bernard Butler, Neil Innes, future hubby Michael Penn, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook.

Mann has never been a letdown through her nine solo albums, and she is touring with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit in my neck of the woods this September. I have never seen her perform in person, but this seems like the perfect time to right this wrong.

Choice in the Matter

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Brighter Days With the Grays

More from Jon Brion today, this time courtesy of very short-lived power-pop supergroup (in my mind, anyway) the Grays. For their lone album, 'Ro Sham Bo', songwriting duties were more or less split into thirds between Jason Falkner, Buddy Judge and Brion. Dan McCarroll played drums and co-wrote a tune. The 1994 long player for Epic was produced by Jack Joseph Puig. He worked on both Jellyfish albums and would produce Falkner's first solo album in '96, the must-have 'Presents Author Unknown.' 'Ro Sham Bo' should have been a smash. For most of the last quarter century, it hasn't even been in print.

You know all about where Falkner and Brion went from here, but Judge and McCarroll did just fine too. McCarroll was former president and head of A&R for Warner Bros. Records, and now he is at Amazon Music as global head of originals and artist relations. Judge worked his way up at Apple Music and is now a senior product manager. If I was a co-worker, I would incessantly question them about the Grays and their other bands. Judge was in the Springfields with Ric Menck and Paul Chastain during the Sarah years, for cryin' out loud! Here is my favorite Brion-penned song song from 'Ro Sham Bo'. You might want to turn this one up.

Same Thing

Thursday, June 7, 2018

'Meaningless' Music From Renaissance Man

I was watching Greta Gerwig's excellent coming-of-age movie 'Lady Bird' last night, and it got me thinking about how much I appreciate the film scores of Jon Brion, particularly on this movie and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'. These days, Brion is probably known more for his film work and producing others, but I have taken a few albums off the shelf that feature Brion as power-pop star, and we'll listen to more of him next time, but let's start with his only solo album.

In the late '90s, Brion was signed to Lava Records, then an Atlantic entity, and 'Meaningless' was meant to be put out by them, but he was released from his contract after completion. Brion put out the album on his own in 2001, calling his label the tongue-in-cheek Straight to Cut-Out. This one-and-only catalog number from Straight to Cut-Out was .00001. Save for one song, Brion plays all of the instruments. That song is "Trouble", and check out this backing band for that one: Jim Keltner on drums, Benmont Tench on piano and Greg Leisz on pedal steel. His girlfriend at the time, the brilliant actress Mary Lynn Rajskub, provides backing vocals. If you feel like you've heard this one before, perhaps you have. Brion's late friend Elliott Smith used to like to cover it.

If you're a fan of Aimee Mann, Jason Falkner or Brendan Benson, you'll want to track down this album.