Thursday, December 31, 2020

NYE With Big Country

Another New Year's Eve is upon us. As I always do at this time, I will spend the evening getting drunk on nostalgia and partying like it's 1983. Yes, it's time to pull out my DVD of Big Country's legendary New Year's Eve show at Barrowland.
I'll hit the play button at exactly 11:31PM, and the bells will toll at midnight right along with the show, about four minutes into "The Storm." Stuart and the lads will welcome the Dundonald & Dysart Pipe Band to the stage for the most Scottish moment you'll ever see at a rock concert. For a moment, I'll be filled with the same excitement I felt as a fresh-faced 14 year old watching the spectacle on MTV. Then I'll pop a cork, raise a toast to 2021 with Mrs. LTL and watch the rest of the songs from 'The Crossing.' We will no doubt reminisce about our own adventure to see a reformed Big Country at Barrowland in 2012. No, not quite the same as the show we will be watching from the sofa, but it's the closest we will ever get to this time-machine moment.
I imagine your plans will be a little bit different. No matter how you celebrate tonight, and I know this is a particularly tough one, just remember better times are ahead. Happy New Year! Take care. Stuart's words were never more apt: Stay alive!

The Storm
Dundonald & Dysart Pipe Band Sequence
In a Big Country/Auld Lang Syne
Interview with Stuart Adamson about NYE show

Monday, December 28, 2020

Favorite Albums of 2020

Sorry, but this is going to be a humbug moment. As you can see in the photo above, there are quite a few CDs on my pile of 2020 albums (about 50/50 this year). There are a few reasons for this, and at least one of them is unique to 2020 in that I bought so many records online and paid a small fortune in some cases to get them shipped. If I have to spend more than the price of an album itself in shipping costs, then I would rather pay $10-$15 for a CD than, say, $35 for a piece of vinyl.

This is a plea to the powers that be. I would almost accept the high prices for vinyl if I was guaranteed a nice crisp sound when I put it on the turntable. Too many times in the past couple of years I have received vinyl that sounds just terrible. Surface noise, pops, warps and inferior transfers seem so commonplace now I often don't want to take the risk and go the CD route instead. It's no fun to put on a new record and feel anxiety as the first chords come on... will it be alright? This should be my favorite moment of the day. Oh, and don't feel like colored vinyl is needed on my account. I don't care.

I'll save my gripes about dinged covers and bent corners for another time. That's often a postal service issue, and I know I will eventually get back to the shops when I can see the product before I buy it. All I'm asking for is more quality control when it comes to the vinyl, please. Now back to our regularly scheduled program. As mentioned on my list of favorite songs, lost albums seeing the light of day for the first time in 2020 are elgible.

1. Even as We Speak - 'Adelphi'
My favorite album six months ago is my favorite today. I was certain of this when I did my list of favorite songs last week and off the top of my head came up with a half-dozen candidates from this LP. Quality.

2. The Muldoons - 'Made for Each Other'
From the ashes of the Church Grims, one of my favorite Scottish jangle bands, arose, well, a more sophisticated Scottish jangle band... and they didn't forget the trumpet!

3. Dead Famous People - 'Harry'
Dons Savage has quite the pedigree. Her band was on Flying Nun and Billy Bragg's Utility Records. She sang lead on Saint Etienne's cover of "Kiss and Make Up" and background on The Chills' "Heavenly Pop Song." After raising son Harry, she returns with a stunning debut LP.

4. Close Lobsters - 'Post Neo Anti: Arte Povera in the Forest of Symbols'
My only beef is side 2 came from previously released EPs. The album takes you right back to 'Foxheads' as if the last three decades never happened.

5. Jetstream Pony - 'Jetstream Pony'
Indie heroes Beth Arzy and Shaun Charman are no strangers on these pages. This band had my No. 7 song in 2017, No. 1 song in 2018 and No. 1 song in 2019. Yes, you could say a good showing for their debut long player was inevitable. They kept their top-10 streak alive on my list of favorite songs this year too.

6. Strawberry Generation - 'Afloat'
The Providence band blossomed this year with a stellar EP and LP on Sunday Records. This is sunny indie pop best described as the edgy side of twee. Often when a boy and a girl share lead vocal duties, my allegiance tends to eventually favor the female, but I have enjoyed both Luk and Val at the microphone. Comparisons have been made to Alvvays and Say Sue Me, but the former has more synths and the latter is harder. I'll go with later Pains of Being Pure at Heart when Kip got all poppy.

7. Dropkick - 'The Scenic Route'
They're a little bit country (early Jayhawks) and a little bit rock 'n' roll (Teenage Fanclub around 'Songs From Northern Britain') and have somehow improved upon 2018 album 'Longwave...' and that's saying a lot.

8. The Apartments - 'In and Out of the Light'
I confessed on these pages I didn't know much about Peter Milton Walsh or the Apartments until a couple of years ago when I read Robert Forster's 'Grant & I.' That book lit a fire under me, and I have been making up for lost time. If you are already a fan, you no doubt understand a trip with Walsh is going to be beautiful, emotional and, by its conclusion, exhausting but highly rewarding. This is a true album best heard from beginning to end.

9. Exploding Flowers - 'Stumbling Blocks'
When the Beautiful Sound signed these guys this year, their sound was described in the press release as follows: "...[J]angle pop that touches on 70's-era Chilton/Twilley, mid-80's 'Splash Of Colour' scene and the early Creation sound, New Zealand guitar pop of The Chills & The Bats, hints of the Australian label Summershine Records, L.A.'s Paisley Underground, and 90's noise pop all perfectly mutated, and swirled into their own modern day hook-filled racket." I can't do any better than that.

10. The Luxembourg Signal - 'The Long Now'
Beth Arzy strikes again (on my lists this year with Jetstream Pony and the Treasures of Mexico 7")! The Luxembourg Signal are seasoned vets on this countdown and continue to satisfy with their lush and fuzzy dreampop. On the darkness scale, their third album is in the middle between the poppy debut and the somewhat bleak but beautiful 'Blue Field.' Perfect production makes this (along with 'Adelphi') the best sounding album on the list.

And the rest...

11. Candy Opera - 'The Patron Saint of Heartache'
12. Basic Plumbing - 'Keeping Up Appearances'
13. Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8 - 'Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8'
14. Bob - 'You Can Stop That For a Start'
15. Wolfhounds - 'Electric Music'
16. Whyte Horses - 'Hard Times'
17. The Proctors - 'Summer Lane'
18. The Beths - 'Jump Rope Gazers'
19. Supercrush - 'SODO Pop'
20. Gary Olson - 'Gary Olson'
21. Andy Bell - 'The View From Halfway Down'
22. Nah - 'Nah...'
23. The Bell Streets - 'Monument'
24. A Girl Called Eddy - 'Been Around'
25. X - 'Alphabetland'
26. The Bats - 'Foothills'
27. The Stroppies - 'Look Alive!'
28. Lunchbox - 'After School Special'
29. Smokescreens - 'A Strange Dream'
30. Ezrat - 'Carousel'
31. The Just Joans - 'The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of The Just Joans'
32. Easy - 'Radical Innocence'
33. The Proper Ornaments - 'Mission Bells'
34. Davey Woodward and the Winter Orphans - 'Love & Optimism'
35. BOAT - 'Tread Lightly'
36. Various Artists - 'Somewhere in England: A Sunday Records Tribute to They Go Boom!!'
37. Peel Dream Magazine - 'Agitprop Alterna'
38. Paul McCartney - 'III'
39. The Psychedelic Furs - 'Made of Rain'
40. (tie) Mt. Doubt - 'Doubtlands'
40. (tie) The Flatmates - 'The Flatmates'

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Have a Merry (Allo Darlin') Christmas

I know there are a few scrooges out there that don't care for holiday music. I get it. The same handful of tired songs heard over and over again gets on my nerves too. If you know where to look, however, I also think there are plenty of original tunes and takes to keep you in a festive mood. I have made it a tradition to pick up a holiday title every Christmas for as long as I can remember. Given my age, at this point, you can guess I have a pretty decent collection. This year's find nearly had me jumping up and down in the shop when I came across it a few months ago. I'm a huge fan of Allo Darlin'. In fact, along with the School, I would say they are probably my favorite band of the last decade. It was a very sad day when Allo Darlin' called it quits.

For those of you who own the Japanese version of the band's self-titled debut on Fastcut Records from 2010, finding the EP "Merry Christmas from Allo, Darlin" is no great shakes because it was included as a bonus disc. Still, it's cool to have the separate sleeve and CD from the original. This is very early Allo Darlin', 2008, to be exact. So early that the band was still using a comma between Allo and Darlin' in their name. So early, in fact, Elizabeth Morris was going by Elizabeth Darling, fresh off of her brief stint as the Darlings. She shares time on the CD with Allo Darlin' drummer Mike Collins on glockenspiel, bass and background vocals. It is described on the back cover as a lo-fi Christmas record, and it is, as the miniscule contrast between "S P A C E Christmas" recorded in the studio and at home illustrates. Like all Allo Darlin' recordings, it's still a charmer.

S P A C E Christmas
Will You Please Spend New Year's Eve With Me?
Baby, It's Cold Outside
Wannadies Christmas
S P A C E Christmas (Demo Version)

While we are back in 2008, let's check out a little bit more of Elizabeth before Allo Darlin' hit the big time. If it isn't already obvious, I have had a little crush since seeing her in the video for "Do You Want A Boyfriend?" when she was in Tender Trap more than a decade ago...

I still owe you a list of my favorite albums for 2020. I'm tardy, but it's on the way. Happy holidays, everyone, and thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Favorite Reissues of 2020

Music is what got me through this miserable year. To be more specific, in many cases, it was the music from my youth that soothed me. Hell, even much of the new music I bought sounds like it came from my youth, but we'll get to those later. For now, let's listen to the literal old stuff. First, a quick rundown of the reissues I wish I had picked up but didn't because they were either too expensive or sold out too quickly. That would include mammoth box sets by Prince, Pylon and the Divine Comedy. All three have been heralded, and I will probably regret not picking them up for years to come.
One of my resolutions this year was to avoid reissues if I already owned all or nearly all of the material already. In many instances, I failed, but I did manage to stay away from amazing releases from the Chills, Lou Reed, the Specials, Bob Mould, Razorcuts and McCarthy for that reason. I can't tell you how difficult that was. I had to tell myself over and over it was okay to stick with my old CD even though it was finally out on vinyl. As I have said before on these pages, it's a sickness, but even I realize it's ridiculous to pay $36 for 'Submarine Bells.'
I decided to cap this list at 30 (although I cheated a bit by having more than one title in a few places). In case you're curious, the last two out were the 'Elektrafied - The Elektra Years 1979-1982' box by power-pop band Shoes and "Dubs" 10" from the Specials. I was pleasntly surprised to find vinyl was still the majority on this list. I'm not sure that will be the case when I get to new releases. More on that subject next time too. I usually try to give a brief explanation of each with the list, but I'm pressed for time this year. Where I could, I have linked to pages that should help with questions and how to buy (if not already sold out). Happy listening.

1. Various Artists - 'Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983 - 1987'
2. The Bluebells - 'Sisters' (Monorail Edition)
3. Various Artists - Optic Sevens 2.0
4. The Bachelor Pad - 'All Hash and Cock' and "Meet the Lovely Jenny Brown"
5. Robert Forster - 'Danger in the Past' and 'Calling From a Country Phone'
6. Kirsty MacColl - 'Other People’s Hearts'
7. The Church Grims - 'Yankee Mags'
8. The Primitives - 'Bloom! The Full Story 1985-1992'
9. Heavenly - 'A Bout De Heavenly: The Singles'
10. Wilco - 'Summerteeth'
11. East Village - 'Hotrod Hotel'
12. The Haywains - 'The Haywains Have Left The Building!'
13. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings - 'Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In)'
14. The Times - "Red With Purple Flashes"
15. The Monochrome Set - 'Little Noises 1990-1995'
16. BMX Bandits - 'C86'
17. Love Tractor - 'Love Tractor'
18. Hangman's Beautiful Daughters - 'Smashed Full of Wonder'
19. Joy Division - "Transmission," "Atmosphere" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart"
20. Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks - 'Orange Crate Art'
21. Roger Joseph Manning Jr. - 'The Land Of Pure Imagination'
22. Pretenders - 'Live! At The Paradise Theater, Boston, 1980'
23. The Pale Fountains - 'Longshot for Your Love'
24. The Lucksmiths - 'A Good Kind of Nervous'
25. The Friday Club - 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning'
26. Marshall Crenshaw - 'Miracle of Science'
27. The Distractions - 'Nobody's Perfect'
28. The Pale Saints - 'The Comforts of Madness'
29. The Revillos - 'Stratoplay'
30. The Wee Cherubs - 'The Merry Makers'

Friday, December 18, 2020

A Festive 50: Favorite Songs and EPs of 2020

The photo above is a sample of singles and EPs on this list, as well as a couple of LPs that featured a song or two I liked but won't make the cut on my countdown of favorite albums. Some years it's tough to keep the songs/EPs list at 50. Other years I scrape a bit to round it out. In 2020, it was the former, and I had to leave off some great tunes from the likes of Peter Hall, Pauline Murray, Helen Love, BOAT, A Girl Called Eddy, Helen Love, Spinning Coin, the Just Joans, Flatmates, the Bell Streets, Red Sleeping Beauty, Swansea Sound, Secret Shine ("Ember" was the odd one out at No. 51), the Psychedelic Furs, Real Estate, the Verlaines... well, you get the point.

A quick reminder on the rules: A couple of these songs debuted in various ways before this year but appeared on 2020 albums. I consider these fair game. As usual, one slot per band. Songs from lost albums that have never been given a proper release are eligible (such as from Bob and the Proctors). You will notice Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8 have two songs at No. 12. I'm cheating a little there. These are tracks one and two from an album that are fine on their own but work much better listened to back to back. What did you like this year? What did I miss? Rants and raves in the comments, please. It's a great way to discover new music. These should keep you busy while I assemble my albums and reissues lists. Hope to have those up early next week. Thank you for listening.

1. The Muldoons - "In Love Again"
2. Even As We Speak - "Forgiving"
3. The Treasures of Mexico - "Heart Shaped Clock"
4. Close Lobsters - "All Compasses Go Wild"
5. Jetstream Pony - "It's Fine"
6. The Claim - "Spring Turns to Winter"
7. Strawberry Generation - "Lying to Lauren"
8. Gary Olson - "Giovanna Please"
9. Candy Opera - "These Days Are Ours"
10. Dropkick - "Feeling Never Goes Away"
11. Basic Plumbing - "As You Disappear"
12. Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8 - "What Will Be?" and "Trip & Ellie's Music Factory"
13. Pale Lights - "You and I"
14. Nah... - "Finger on the Map"
15. X - "Alphabetland"
16. King Creosote - "Cath"
17. Whyte Horses - "Ça Plane Pour Moi"
18. Andy Bell - "Love Comes in Waves"
19. Dead Famous People - "Looking at Girls"
20. Green Gartside - "Wishing Well"
21. The Apartments - "Pocketful of Sunshine"
22. Northern Portrait - "At Attention"
23. The Luxembourg Signal - "Mourning Moon"
24. The Beths - "Jump-Rope Gazers"
25. Nick Lowe - "Lay It on Me Baby"
26. Seablite - "High-Rise Mannequins EP"
27. Pretenders - "The Buzz"
28. The Bats - "Warwick"
29. Strawberry Whiplash - "Press 4 for Love"
30. Jeanines - "Things Change EP"
31. Exploding Flowers - "Stumbling Blocks"
32. Lunchbox - "Over Way Too Soon"
33. Stuart Moxham & Louis Philippe - "Tide Away"
34. Sleuth - "Flowers"
35. The Umbrellas - "Maritime E.P."
36. The Proper Ornaments - "Purple Heart"
37. Bob - "Telepathy"
38. Wolfhounds - "Can't See the Light"
39. The Lickerish Quartet - "Fadoodle"
40. Peel Dream Magazine - "Pill"
41. Supercrush - "Get It Right"
42. Smokescreens - "Fork in the Road"
43. Royal Landscaping Society - "Frost"
44. The Proctors - "These Ember Days"
45. Ezrat - "Loud Sounds"
46. Davey Woodward and the Winter Orphans - "Occupy This Space"
47. European Sun - "Favourite Day"
48. The Stroppies - "Look Alive"
49. Elvis Costello - "No Flag"
50. The Jayhawks - "This Forgotten Town"

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Catching Up on 2019 (Part 3)

I thought I would follow the two previous posts featuring a reissue and and two albums that should have made my best-of lists in 2019 with something that would have rated highly on my favorite songs/EPs of 2019... if only I had picked it up sooner. I became aware of Toronto-based jangle-pop band Ducks Unlimited through my pal Howard at IndiePopSavedMyLife. He did not miss giving this outfit accolades on his year-end list, and I made a note to keep an eye out for "Get Bleak," a four-song EP Spanish label Bobo Integral released near the end of the year. (With bands like Dropkick, Blue Jeans and Ezrat on the roster, Bobo Integral really deserves a post of their own, but I'm getting off topic.)

Well, needless to say, I didn't get to too many shops in 2020, but I did find the 7" at my lone trip to Jigsaw Records this year. You'll hear a lot of Flying Nun and Sarah in their songs that do indeed cover the bleakness of life while sounding anything but. These are the only songs we have in the brief career of Ducks Unlimited, but they have whet my appetite for more. Here's a song about the new expensive condos consuming their hometown. This works well for those of us who live in and around Seattle too. Anyone remember the '80s new-wave band of the same name?

Gleaming Spires

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Catching Up on 2019 (Part 2)

Going to be a quick one today but wanted to tout a couple of albums I purchased in 2020 that most certainly would have been on my year-end list for 2019 if only I had picked them up sooner. Both of these bands can be summed up in one word... class.

First up is James Clarke Five. The Liverpudlian Clarke (not his real name) has had this incarnation since 2003, but he has been making music for decades. Perhaps you remember "Kardomah Cafe" when he fronted the Cherry Boys. I have to admit, this year was my first foray into his vast library, and that's because 'ParlourSounds' came out on Canadian label the Beautiful Music. I'm always willing to take a punt on any of their stable of stars, and this album turned out to be the most rewarding risk I have ever taken with the outfit. 'ParlorSounds' will take you back to the '60s, sometimes swingin', sometimes mod, sometimes baroque but always right on the mark. I can't recommend this album enough.

James Clarke Five - 'ParlourSounds'

In a coincidence, I have just seen my pal JC at the (new) Vinyl Villain is featuring this next band on this very day. That happens from time to time. If you know JC's true identity, this is not the only coincidence on this page, but I'll leave you to figure the other one out. Please visit his place to fill in the blanks about David Scott and one of Glasgow's most underrated bands, the Pearlfishers. Until this year, I always felt 2007 album 'Up With the Larks' was their best, but the gorgeous and lush 'Love & Other Hopeless Things' is the one I would direct you to now, especially if you can appreciate a little Burt Bacharach. There will be lots of banter in these parts about the best music that has come out this year, but if you missed these two albums from 2019, you need to go back and fill the holes.

The Pearlfishers - "Love & Other Hopeless Things"

Friday, December 11, 2020

Catching Up on 2019 (Part 1)

As I wait for a few records to come in from overseas before tackling my best-of lists for 2020, I'm going to spend a few posts highlighting a handful from 2019 that should have been on my countdowns last year but didn't get purchased until 2020. Here's one that would have ranked high on my reissues list.

I don't care one lick who gets into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I did smile when I heard the Zombies were going to be inducted in 2019. If I ran the show, they would have been a charter member, but I digress. To celebrate and capitalize on the event, label Varese Sarabande pushed out 'The Complete Studio Recordings,' a 5LP box set done on 180-gram black vinyl. When it came out, I felt the price was a little high. I was rewarded for my patience. As with all "complete studio recordings," there are songs missing, such as the covers of "Road Runner" and "Sticks and Stones," but the label did come pretty close to living up to the billing

'The Complete Studio Recordings' was made for the American market. At about the same time as this release, Demon Records took care of the UK market with a similar box called 'In the Beginnng.' Weird name for a collection that encompasses the band's entire life span, isn't it? The differences between the two boxes seem to be mostly (but not completely) aesthetic. The box for 'In the Beginning' isn't as nice to look at, but the UK box does have colored vinyl... if you're into that sort of thing. Die-hard fans that have both boxes give a slight edge to 'In the Beginning' because it has a cheaper price tag, but 'The Complete Studio Recordings' does have extensive liner notes from the great Andrew Sandoval that goes with two of the LPs, and that's what sold me on this box. Also, it's nice to have the original album covers on the previously released albums. I'm not a big fan of specially-themed covers (such as 'The Early Years') found on 'In the Beginning.'

Sandoval's notes are particularly important on the fifth LP, 'Oddities & Extras, since these are the songs that need introductions. It's a plus to have some historical context to go along with 'R.I.P.' as well since this is an album that sat on the shelf from 1960 to 2000. If you're a fan, the other three albums, particularly 'Odessey & Oracle' need no introduction. The vinyl on 'The Complete Studio Recordings' sound crisp, and the remastering has had few online complainers. The Decca years are in mono, and 'Odessey' and 'R.I.P.' are in stereo.

If you're happy with your copy of the 1997 CD box 'Zombie Heaven,' you may find both of these boxes a wasted opportunity, but for those of us who pray at the altar of vinyl, both 'The Complete Studio Recordings' and 'In the Beginning' have been welcome additions to the Zombies' canon. Here's a demo that appears on 'Oddities & Extras.' "A Love That Never Was" was recorded in late 1966 just as the band was moving to CBS and the making of 'Odessey & Oracle.' "As Sandoval says, "Although it would never be included on any of their proper albums or singles, it was a song that deserved a better fate." Back next time with a couple of missed albums from 2019.

A Love That Never Was

Sunday, December 6, 2020

From Duncan's Parcel of Pop (Part 7)

Although not all of these are on the beloved label, a little deeper dig into my special delivery from New Zealand brings me to a bunch of bands that spent at least a little time on the Subway Organization. A couple of these records have been covered here before, but they are certainly worth a repeat. Let's start with Subway's most successful alum. Duncan's feelings on the Soup Dragons mirror my own. Take it away, Duncan...

As a 15/16 year old, was there a more fun band to listen to and go see in 1986 than the Soup Dragons (well, okay, Talulah Gosh, but they came along a bit later)? The Soup Dragons were the second group I saw live: The Garage club, October 1986. They were explosive! A week later I saw the Smiths and it was a long, tedious yawn...

So what did we care if the older and wiser heads, and the cynics in the music press, responded with a world weary sneer of "duh, Buzzcocks"? Wasn't it grand to discover a band who (along with the Bodines) were almost as young as we were, and who definitely DID NOT reminisce about seeing the White Riot tour in their interviews?

I know the precise time and place I first heard the Soup Dragons: 22 April 1986 on John Peel's show, when I taped their first radio session. And then through that summer I collected tapes of their excellent "You Have Some Too" demo, their "lost e.p.", a Janice Long session and a brilliant live tape at Dingwalls club. I loved that first set of songs they had: "Too Shy To Say"! "Aha, Experience"! "Same Old Story"! "Spilt Milk"! "The Label Said Not"! "Lindy's Realised"! "Make My Day"! "Learning to Fall"! "Quite Content"! I loved the unorthodox song structures, the witty words and the sheer bravado and energy of the music.

It's difficult now not to feel cynical and dismissive of the Soup Dragons. Has there been a more egregious example of careerism and shameless bandwagon jumping? But they left us with a brace of classic singles before things started going horribly wrong, and for that we should be very grateful.

Here's the title track from the "Hang-Ten" EP, as well as one from slightly earlier Duncan mentioned really digging. We'll take a pass on "I'm Free."

"Quite Content"

This review above was also planted in the parcel, and it makes for a nice segue to our next band. The night in question is Feb. 15, 1986, at Brixton Old White Horse, and the triple bill of Shop Assistants, 1000 Violins and the Soup Dragons, the latter making their London debut. As it is penned by the legendary Adrian Thrills, the piece is well worth your time. He has a tangent about John Peel's use of the label "shambolic" while calling Shop Assistants "the best band in Scotland." Yep, this one will take you back. Click and read. I'll wait. After some online digging, I found the show poster too. Thrills says this was not the best night to see the Shoppies, but I still wish I could have been there for this trio of bands.

"I Don't Wanna Be Friends With You" was the walk-up single to the band's lone LP. "Looking Back," the non-album B-side, wasn't widely available on anything but this single until 'Shop Assistants' was reissued on CD in 1997 on Overground and Cherry Red in 2008. You won't spend a better minute and 45 seconds today. Many believe the album, released on Chrysalis' Blue Guitar label, didn't really hold up to the classic 7" releases that preceded it. If there was a drop off, it was a slight one.

I Don't Wanna Be Friends With You
Looking Back

Through my exchanges with Duncan, it has become clear Martin Whitehead is one of his heroes. Here's Duncan discussing his brushes with the prince of indie-pop.

I owe a huge personal debt of gratitude to Martin Whitehead, the Subway Organisation owner. Not only did he release some mighty fine records (including the "Shopping Parade" EP and "Sorry To Embarrass You" 12" -- two of the greatest singles ever released), he was also generous enough with his time to write me some brilliant letters and send me some much treasured tapes that introduced me to the likes of Josef K, Fire Engines, Modern Lovers and Swell Maps. I was lucky enough to see one of his Subway showcase gigs in 1987 at the Nottingham Old Vic: Razorcuts, Chesterf!elds, Flatmates, and that is a brilliant memory. But before all that, he also wrote a great fanzine called 'The Underground', which just happens to be the first fanzine I ever read. Just take a look at this 'Underground Hit List' to see what great taste Martin had.

The fourth issue of 'The Underground' came with a free flexi containing my favourite tracks by two of the Subway bands: "Home Again" by Shop Assistants, and a simply superb early version of "Nose Out of Joint" by the Chesterf!elds. This version is much slower than the one that appears on the 'Kettle' LP, and the lead guitar is beautifully distorted and overamped (think "Blueboy"). The solo that plays out the song is one of my all-time favourites. I loved these two songs so much that I even designed my own sleeve for the flexi disc!
I know Brian is the world's biggest Subway fan, so I'll leave him to talk about the other records in the pop parcel. I'll just sign off with a big thank you to Martin Whitehead -- you are a legend!

Well, if I'm such a big fan, why don't I have this flexi? Duncan's description of this version of "Nose Out of Joint" has me scouring Discogs. Gotta have it. If you are a regular reader, you may remember during my Summer of Subway series last year I mentioned how although I'm set with Subway releases from the Groove Farm I only had a smattering of music they released on the band's own Raving Pop Blast! Records. I have been trying to rectify that, particulalry during the era when the Groove Farm was on both labels simultaneously. Duncan has done his part by including the "Only The Most Ignorant Gutless Sheep-Brained Poltroon Can Deny Them Now" EP from 1987. What a racket! These are four of the loudest tracks in my collection. Don't believe me? Give this one a listen...

In the Summertime

Let's close with one from my favorite Subway band. I have already played "Shimmer" a time or two through the years. Here is the B-side of the 7" instead. Okay, you got me. I played this one in 2017. When you have been doing this for more than 11 years, you are bound to repeat yourself. I want to thank Duncan again for the records and for throwing in his two cents on the music. He is putting down the pen, but believe it or not, there are at least a few more treasures in the box worthy of a mention. I'll post them from time to time and gush about how lucky I am to have a pal in New Zealand.

On My Mind

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Triumphant Return of Matinée Recordings

The Santa Barbara-based indie-pop label didn't go anywhere, actually, but after a relatively quiet year and some time off to rebuild the Web site, Jimmy has relaunced Matinée's online shop with a bevy of brand-new downloadable singles from its stable of stars. For you longtime fans of Matinée, two of the bands will be familiar, but we haven't heard from them in so long you will no doubt get goosebumps from the moment you press play.

Our favorite Danes, Northern Portrait, are back in our good graces with "At Attention," and it's like no time has passed at all. (Has it really been seven years since the "Pretty Decent Swimmers" 10" and 'Ta!' compilation? Sheesh.) This lovely bit of jangle is the walk-up single to the full-length long player 'The Swiss Army.' Expect that one in your hot little hands early next year. Can't wait.

Laz has kept us busy recording as Bubblegum Lemonade, but it's shocking to read it has been five long years since his band with Sandra, Strawberry Whiplash, has had something in the new-release rack. The Scottish duo have promised a new album in 2021, and bouncy single "Press 4 for Love" indicates they aren't planning to fuck with their seasoned fuzz-pop formula. Good news for us. Make sure to take time out for 'Hits in the Car' outtake "A Rainy Day In Glasgow" too. Only an album that good could have kept this gem off the tracklist.

The next two bands are relatively new to Matinée but seem like a perfect fit. You may remember the Royal Landscaping Society and their terrific tune "Clean" earning a spot on my Festive 50 last year. Expect the Spanish duo to make a return engagment this year with the beautiful synth-heavy "Frost." As an added bonus, the virtual flip side is a cover by the beloved They Go BOOM! Can't go wrong with this one. Word is the 17-track album 'Means of Production' is on the way.

One last single for you. Swedish indie-pop duo My Darling YOU! had a bunch of EPs and singles on the Luxury label (mostly) in the first decade of this century, but many missed their often shambolic bursts first time around. Matinée is trying to rectify that with the 20-track compilation 'A Dream Come True,' due out next month. The manic keyboards of "We Break Up On Friday" is sure to whet your appetite for more of their "shouty pop." Great to have you back, Matinée. Now start hitting that download button, indie-pop fans.

Friday, November 13, 2020

More 'Strange Fruit' at the Produce Stand

Our trip through Snoqualmie Pass on Wednesday meant a stop in Thorp, Wa., population 246 and home to Thorp Fruit & Antique Mall, the weirdest place I have ever shopped for records. Some of you long-time readers may remember my first stop there a few years ago. Here's a refresher. This time through wasn't quite as rewarding, but there ended up being another one on Strange Fruit I nabbed, along with a couple of other decent finds. I would have been filled with more glee had I found the 12" of "Please Don't Play 'A Rainy Night in Georgia'" by Twa Toots (selling on Discogs right now for between $200 and $249), but an $8 copy of the band's session for John Peel was a big smile too. It had been on the shopping list for years.
These two titles above, also picked up in Thorp and which you no doubt recognize, are replacing inferior copies I have of two LPs on one CD reissues. Those never sit well with me... especially the art. I took these up to the counter, along with a box of honeycrisp apples, and called it a day. If you ever find yourself driving through Thorp, make your way to stall three on the second floor of Thorp Fruit for a surprisngly good selection of used vinyl. A real head scratcher, I know, but better to just go with it.
Here are a couple from Twa Toots ripped from my latest find.

Yo-Yo (Peel Session)
Please Don't Play 'A Rainy Night in Georgia' (Peel Session)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Two Great Tastes That Go Great Together

Yesterday was a holiday, and we drove to the other side of the mountains to get a few much-needed hours of sun. When we returned last night, my copy of the new 'Love Tractor' reissue was waiting on the porch. Before I even opened it, I couldn't help but notice these beloved labels from yesterday and today sitting side by side in the bottom right-hand corner. Beautiful. Seems we have much to be thankful for from the great state of Georgia. More in a bit.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Love for the Love In and Must-Have New Release

More than two weeks ago, I picked up 'Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987' at the third and final drop of Record Store Day. It's a beautiful double-album box featuring orange vinyl and an 80-plus page 12"x12" book that's an oral history of the scene that bridges early '80s post-punk and early '90s indie rock as told by the band members that lived it. Until a few days ago, it was just sitting here unopened, taunting me, because life got in the way. Finally, the other night, after everyone in the household had gone to bed, I got comfy in the chaise lounge with my fancy headphones and listened and read simultaneously from beginning to end. What a delight!

Even though this is the kind of music that's the cornerstone of my collection, label Captured Tracks has dug deep (no dB's, Let's Active or other usual suspects), and there are only a handful of band names I recognize. Turns out, however, there are many personnel I know from other indie groups. Examples include Archer Prewitt, known for the Sea and Cake long before Bangtails. Donna Esposito is a name I recognize from the Cyclones (who appear on this comp), Cowboy & Spingirl and a couple of other bands, but I had no idea she was also in Riff Doctors. Lynn Blakey, who had a spell in Oh-OK appears here as part of Holiday and on and on. Even our hero Ric Menck, who you will find on my shelves as part of the Springfields (on this comp), Choo Choo Train, Bag-O-Shells and Velvet Crush, was also in the Reverbs around 1984, a band I never knew about until now. That statement can be said about many of the 28 bands featured, which is what makes this such an intriguing collection.
The opening words of the book are, "[w]hat if the U.S. had a compilation like C86?" NME's famous cassette is at least as revered today as it was when it came out 34 years ago. 'Strum & Thrum' is the best compilation of 2020. Like 'C86,' it's a collection fans of the genre will come back to again and again for decades to come. Perhaps we should all thank R.E.M. for releasing the "Chronic Town" EP, "Radio Free Europe" and 'Murmur' because many of the bands on 'Strum & Thrum' say they were inspired by these works... and it shows! 'Strum & Thrum' is set for wide release on Friday, and the only difference from the RSD version is standard black vinyl instead of that gorgeous orange wax. Grab a copy here. A note to Captured Tracks: When the dust settles on this release, how about a reissue of 'The Happy Forest' by the Reverbs?

One of the bands on 'Strum & Thrum is Los Angeles trio the Love In. They had one release, a self-titled six-song EP that came out in 1987. A few years ago while going down one of those YouTube rabbit holes I came across album opener "Late as Usual" and was hooked. Problem was, I couldn't find anything on the band. Just try searching the Love In on the Internet and see what you get. It drove me crazy. I did eventually find someone from the band to sell me the record. That's why I enjoyed this passage from band member Tom Sheppard in the book included with 'Strum & Thrum:'

"We printed, sold, and gave away maybe a couple of thousand copies of our EP, and we still get occasional requests from people asking for them. But sometimes it feels like it was all a paper dream, now crumpled and buried at the bottom of a junkyard. Try googling "Love In." You might find us on the 5,000th search page after every song with 'In Love' in the title, just below some archaic 1960s porn."

That's a lesson for you budding bands... he types as if there any kids reading this. Choose your name wisely, please. We didn't worry about such things in the 1980s. "Late as Usual" is the standout, and you can get that on 'Strum & Thrum.' Here are a couple of deeper cuts. Sorry about the surface noise and the pops. That's the way I got it. Again, lots of early R.E.M. influences. In the book, Mr. Sheppard tells a tale of meeting Peter Buck that's a great read but utterly heartbreaking.

Young Mr. Jones
On the Reds

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

From Duncan's Parcel of Pop (Part 6)

More goodies from my friend in New Zealand today. Two of the three 7" singles from the Wedding Present come from their Reception days, including one with additional singing from Amelia Fletcher. Let's find out how Duncan discovered Gedge & Co. It is a story that might sound familiar to many of you in the UK. Duncan, the floor is yours...

In 1985, a couple of friends and I started listening to John Peel's Radio 1 show. As with many others of our generation, it opened us up to a whole new world of music and changed our lives. We would excitedly meet up at school the next day to compare notes on the previous night's listening and swap tapes of missed sessions or new singles. I remember vividly the conversation we had the day after Peel played "Go Out and Get 'Em Boy", by the Wedding Present. We'd never heard anything like it; never heard guitars played so fast or at such ear splitting levels of treble. We loved it, just like we'd loved "Never Understand" a few months earlier. Just hearing the feedback screaming in at the start of the song still brings shivers to the spine.

Between us, over the next year or so, we collected all their singles and taped their two radio sessions. And in November 1986, we went to see them play live at the Garage Club in Nottingham... a very special night, where the crowd refused to let the band leave the stage at the end of their set until they'd finally agree to play "Felicity". It was hot, crazy and tremendous fun. One of those nights when the sweat was literally dripping from the ceiling.
But I have to admit that, by this stage, I'd started to think the band had painted themselves into a bit of a corner. In an early interview they said they would never record an LP, and there was only so many mad thrash-y singles a band could release before people got bored and moved on. Let's face it, how could they possibly top the exhilarating rush of "Living and Learning"? So it was a bit of a shock when the "My Favourite Dress" 7" EP came out. The band had taken quite a major shift forwards. No longer was it all about the guitars, the melodies and the sheer energy of their early singles. Now the focus was all on Mr David Gedge: his voice and his words had taken centre stage, and the music had become more controlled and more of a vehicle for the songs. I'd never paid too much attention to the lyrics in the past, but now there was no choice.

In each of the three songs on the EP, Gedge paints extremely vivid portraits of a peculiarly Northern English white working class milieu. Like Morrissey, but stripped of any of his romanticism, pretension or self-mythologising. Gedge's words are memorable and affecting, but also grim and uncomfortable. Perhaps his most famous line, "jealousy is an essential part of love", is arresting, but it's not a sentiment I recognise or have any empathy with. And even at the age of 16 I found the line "I must have walked behind you for more than an hour" from "Never Said" disturbing and a bit creepy. But it was becoming clear that the Wedding Present would be around for a while, and that Gedge's everyman persona would now be their USP.

Over the next couple of years and through to the release of their debut LP, the Wedding Present seemed to be constantly on tour, and I got to see them four more times during this period. The crowds were getting bigger and bigger and, suddenly, they were a "major act," which even the weeklies started taking seriously. And of course, 'George Best' became a massive seller. But for me, it will always be the period captured on the 'Tommy' retrospective that I return to and cherish. Three classic singles and the euphoric "Living and Learning", and then on to "My Favourite Dress", creating the link to 'George Best' and all that followed.
Duncan also included a couple of early articles from the music papers that were great reads. I particularly liked these quotes from Gedge in a piece by Neil Taylor that appeared just before a repressing of "Go Out and Get 'em Boy!" (repressed by Taylor's own City Slang label, by the way) and the release of "Once More." As Duncan mentioned, here's how David saw it: "I don't think we could ever make an album, unless it was a compilation of singles or something." He followed that up with, "If at the end of a couple of years we've made four great records then I'll be really proud, and that will do for me!" With roughly 36 years of hindsight, that's a smile, eh?

As for my all-too-brief history with the Wedding Present, it doesn't really make any sense. You would assume someone who worships at the altar of 'C86' would be a longtime fan of the band. Truth is, I never owned a single or album until the blogging era. I know. I know. Crazy. After a recommendation by retired blogger (sadly) Friend of Rachel Worth, I picked up the 23-track version of 'George Best' that Cooking Vinyl had released back in the late '90s. It was nothing short of a revelation. A couple of years later, Edsel did that blowout reissue campaign of eight of the band's albums. Rather than spend big bucks on those, I waited for fans to trade in their old copies for the deluxe editions. The only one of those reissues I bought was 'Tommy.' Although I have found plenty to enjoy on all of the albums, like Duncan, it is the fast and furious early singles and 'George Best' I like the most. In the ensuing years, I have been making up for lost time, concentrating specifically on picking up used vinyl copies of everything from the '80s but more recent releases as well. This was my favorite pickup because of the odd place where I found it. All of this fandom culminated in finally seeing Gedge in the flesh in 2017.

Yes, I lost a lot of good quality years when I should have been listening to the Wedding Present, but I'm doing my best to make up for the slight. Thanks for this further nudge, Duncan. I was going to feature the "Kennedy" single, but JC just posted it at his place yesterday. "My Favourite Dress" has appeared on these pages before. Hopefully, you don't mind a repeat.

My Favourite Dress
Every Mothers Son
Never Said

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Nuggets, Not Nougat, In Your Halloween Bag

Parents heard plenty of scary sounds coming from their garages in the mid-'60s, and these fellas from Tacoma, Wa., certainly weren't afraid to bring the noise. The first single from the Sonics was "The Witch," a huge hit here in the Pacific Northwest in late 1964 and well into 1965 when it was re-released with another original tune, "Psycho," on the flip side. Both of these songs are considered pioneering moments in the punk movement.

The Witch
Like everything else in 2020, Halloween sucks. We just carved our jack-o-lantern, but who is going to see it? Our kids will not don costumes for the first time ever. Costumed children will not ring our doorbell. In case someone shows up, we will leave a bowl of goodies on our porch... away from the door since every kid is actually dressed as the grim reaper, whether they know it or not. We will stay in and watch a horror flick. After the kids go to bed, I'll make my way to the turntable. Not that bad a night, if I think about it. How about one more from the '60s?
If you happen upon any zombies tonight, you can bet they won't sound this good. This is not something you would find on Nuggets. Rather, this is a beautiful piece of baroque pop. 'Odessey and Oracle' is one of my favorite albums, and this version of "A Rose for Emily" is something special. The song was originally recorded with cello accompaniment but, inexplicably, it was left out of the mix for the long player. In 2017, for Record Store Day and to mark the 50th anniversary of the album, the cello version was released as a 7". I snatched it right up. Happy Halloween, everyone.

A Rose for Emily (cello version)

Friday, October 30, 2020

A Quick One From the Jasmine Minks

The stress felt around the world is palpable. What do you get the Jasmine Minks fan who has everything? (Alright, I guess there are more important things going on right now, such as where families will watch 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown' this weekend now that Apple TV has pilfered all of the Peanuts holiday specials. This move has me rethinking capitalism.) Good news, indie-pop shoppers. A brand-new label called Precious Records (Their tag "let's make this precious" is a nice touch.) is releasing the band's complete session, recorded on Feb. 4, 1986 for John Peel's program and broadcast 13 days later. The tracklist is as follows. The studio versions of all four of these songs appear on their self-titled album via Creation Records from 1985.

1. The Ballad Of Johnny Eye
2. Cry For A Man
3. You Can Take My Freedom
4. I Don't Know

There is no official release date as of yet, but it should be out by the holidays and on double 7" vinyl with gatefold sleeve to boot. In the meantime, if you haven't already, do yourself a favor and pick up the "Step by Step" b/w "Gravity" single that came out last year. It made my top 10.

Friday, October 23, 2020

From Duncan's Parcel of Pop (Part 5)

Let's listen to another gem from my pal in New Zealand. This one places a huge spotlight on one of my favorite indie-pop labels out there. Once again, Duncan and I are simpatico. The floor is yours, Duncan...

Other than this 'Calling At Duke Street' budget compilation, I only managed to pick up two other A Turntable Friend releases during its original incarnation in the 1990s: 7" EPs by The Claim and Hope (both total classics!). So it wasn't until I got hold of a copy of the ATF 'The Test of Time' retrospective compilation last year that I realised what other wonderful objects of indie-pop desire I'd missed out on. How I now wish I'd had the good sense to have bought copies of the Bomb Pops' "Girl Daredevil" 7" (a current favourite of mine) in its delicious light blue sleeve and clear vinyl. Or the excellent Sugar Plant "Orange Filter" 7". Or something by the Love Parade, maybe...

The main reason I bought the 'Duke Street' LP was for the Hellfire Sermons' track "Bill & Sarah", which I knew well from their live set. It appears that ATF had planned to put out a Hellfire Sermons EP at the time, which would have been amazing. But it was a track by the group Tea ("Two Weeks") that impressed me the most. I really can't recommend this track highly enough, and fortunately a remixed version is included on 'Test of Time'.

One of the things that really struck me about the ATF label was the clear love and passion for the vinyl format. Great attention was paid to the packaging, and lots of extras and freebies were included. The 'Duke Street' LP even came with a bonus 7". So it's fantastic that ATF has been resurrected and is continuing to put out some of the best vinyl around. They seem to be in friendly competition Optic Nerve to produce the most mouth-watering records imaginable. Long may it continue.

Hear! Hear! I'm pleased Duncan mentioned 'The Test of Time' because this is the best example of how to put together a label retrospective as can be imagined. The 2017 release (and my favorite reissue of that year) is still available. With recent releases and reissues by the likes of Wolfhounds, the Claim, Candy Opera, Tea, Easy and the Jasmine Minks, I don't know about you, but I have been so thankful Ulrich decided to revive A Turntable Friend a few yeara ago. Shop now.

Now on to a few songs from 1993 compilation 'Calling at Duke Street.' Tough choices, let me tell you. First up is the Orchids. "Avignon" would turn up on their 1994 album 'Striving for the Lazy Perfection' (SARAH 617) in '94, and this was a lovely preview of one of the band's best albums. Next up is Stewart from Boyracer joined by Matthew and Mary from Even As We Speak. This was recorded on a 4-track in Stewart's bedroom at 3AM on Feb. 21, 1993. They turned it down and kept it simple with acoustic guitar and banjo, but it's the vocals that make this a must listen. These last two songs are the ones Duncan gushed about... and rightly so. Duncan threw in a promo photo of Hellfire Sermons to boot. I have to say, having listened to this collecton several times in recent weeks, this song from Tea takes the prize. So pleased it was included on the bonus 7". Enjoy, pop fans!

The Orchids - Avignon
Boyracer With Even As We Speak - Friend
Hellfire Sermons - Bill & Sarah
Tea - Two Weeks