Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Van Duren - Are You Serious (1978) & Idiot Optimism (1999) (2020 reissues, Omnivore) - A brief review.

2019 saw the release of Waiting, a documentary of an unlikely subject - "small of fame" singer/songwriter Van Duren, who came to prominence...well, never to be honest, at least as far as pedestrian ears were concerned.  Nonetheless that didn't stop two Johnny-come-lately Aussie film entrepreneurs from tracking him down decades after he made his most notable records. Van Duren is as renown for his connections with Big Star alum Chris Bell and Jody Stephens (and technically Big Star themselves when they were on their last aching legs in Memphis circa the mid-70s) just as much for his first two overlooked but genius solo disks Are You Serious? (1978) and Idiot Optimism, intended for a 1980 release, but only seeing the light of day nearly twenty years later via the Japanese imprint, Air Mail Records.  Accompanying Waiting was a quietly released soundtrack on Omnivore Records, drawing largely from the aforementioned albums, leaving out tons of key album tracks. Whether you were fortunate to be cognizant of Are You Serious? when it initially came out, or merely became infatuated with Van Duren's music by virtue of the film some four decades after the fact one thing is for certain - you wanted the whole picture.  You're in luck, because Omnivore has made both Van Duren solo records in their entirety available again.

Emanating out of the speakers like a wizardly and often soulful amalgam of Paul McCartney, Eric Carmen, Emitt Rhodes and Todd Rundgren, Van Duren's debut, Are You Serious? not only professed his influences on his sleeves, but functioned as a subconscious declaration that none of the prevailing trends of the day - disco, punk and increasingly staid album rock barely held a candle to well-composed, deftly crafted pop music, be it conveyed on guitar, piano or both.  Even if ...Serious? had been whittled down to a hypothetical single of two heartfelt ballads, say "Waiting" and "Positive (Wedding Song)" Van Duren's could have cemented his reputation right there based on his melodic strengths and romantic intuitions.  But he proves himself to be far more than a mere piano-pumping balladeer, with the remainder of his debut evidencing itself in a myriad of motifs and textures.  "Grow Yourself Up" is a buoyant uptempo feast of hooks and sass from the word go, sounding like the greatest thing the Raspberries left out of their repertoire, while "New Year's Eve" could have passed for an outtake from Big Star's Radio City had Chris Bell stuck around for a second LP.  In the forty year+ rear-view, Are You Serious? is a doggedly period sounding record, but despite a lack of studio innovation Van Duren more than gets by with a deliriously strong and capable selection of songs, any one of his higher profile contemporaries would have gladly staked as their own. 

...Serious was met with ample positive acclaim and a respectable amount of airplay upon it's '78 release, but it didn't cast a wide enough net to grab the audience it deserved.  If that record was a custom fit for the AM dial, it's follow-up, Idiot Optimism was it's FM-ready analog.  Tracked over the span of 1978 to 1980, IO, with it's bolder arrangements and loftier production values sounded like a veritable radio hit - and it likely would have been if it ever came to market. Slated for release in 1980 on the same indie label, Big Sound that was responsible for Van Duren's debut, Optimism languished on the shelves for a good two decades for some curious reasons laid out in the album's liner notes.  Nonetheless. it was to the detriment of not only the man in question but millions of potential fans. Despite sounding firmly rooted in the mid-70s, his should-have-been '80 sophomore effort was a doubly more lucid and state-of-the-art affair that it's predecessor, and boasting an even bigger sonic debt to Rundgren, Optimism offers sophistication in spades, and often flirts with functioning on a yacht-rock tier of aptitude (not necessarily a detriment in my book).  Armed with memorable numbers like "Tennessee, I'm Trying," and the muscular and McCartney-esque "Woman Needs Man Needs Woman," the album also manages to pay tribute to friend and collaborator Chris Bell, by way of "Make a Scene," a then-unreleased Bell composition - and boy, does Van Duren nail it!  Song for song, Optimism is both a marked progression from, and a fitting follow up to Are You Serious?  And at long last, both albums can finally be heard on a wide-scale basis in both digital and physical iterations, with Omnivore Records and Amazon being your most immediate and recommended options.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

...and tricks I could not learn in lava so hard.

From 1997.  A debut album that got absolutely everything right.  Sadly, the singer passed away late last month due to cancer.  This post is a tribute to him.  

**Please do not reveal artist in comments!**

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Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Phones - Blind Impulse (1984, Twin Tone)

What little I heard from The Phones I presented here about five years ago, namely an ep of outtakes.  This, the Minneapolis quartet's second proper album may as well be the work of a wholly different combo, and I'm not really complaining.  Seemingly having nothing in common with Mpls "big three" (Husker Du, Replacements and Soul Asylum) aim from a rhythmically-informed wavelength without bearing the tired cliches of so much ubiquitous, dancy new wave that permeated their era.  They don't futz with keyboards at all in fact, and opt to intermittently rely on saxophone a la the Psychedelic Furs instead.  The serrated, staccato guitar lines on the opening "Waiting on Patience" are a delight, but the band's  sophistication and finesse is more evident on side two, housing the pulsating title cut and "Angel of Money's" challenging guitar fills, gracefully incorporating some winsome post-punk angularities.  The overarching effect of the Phones vibe here is not unlike what Japan might have conjured up if they ditched David Sylvian and swapped him out for Peter Murphy.  An interesting and affecting record delivering some choice sonic maneuvers when the band is at it's most inspired.  

01. Waiting on Patience
02. Daylight
03. Civilization
04. Kiss the Earth
05. Blind Impulse
06. Rain
07. Besides the Facts
08. Angel of Money
09. Don't Take It
10. Chainsaw

https://www31.zippyshare.com/v/NyR2YC2n/file.html 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Aztec Camera - (mostly) live ep (1985)

I guess sharing this one is a no-brainer, seeing how popular my previous Aztec Camera entries went with you.  Before going much further sorry for the unsightly splotch in the upper right corner of the sleeve, that's the state it was in when I purchased it for a mere $2.  This is actually a 10" record housed in folder, roughly the same dimensions of the kind you probably stuck in your backpack when you were in grade school (with "pockets" on the inside no less).  The sole studio offering here is a cover of Van Halen's "Jump," a version I really resisted hearing when it came out, because the combination seemed too ironic to feasibly work. In the rear-view, Roddy Frame's reading of that smash hit was downright smart and tasteful, recalibrating the meter, melody and tenor where appropriate to make it fit in an acoustic context.  

The remaining four cuts are sublime performances culled from a 1984 concert at London's Dominion Theatre, which followed up Aztec's most recent LP, Knife. Fittingly enough we're treated to two songs from that record, and equally from it's even more renown predecessor, High Land, Hard Rain.  For the purists out there who never got over the impeccability of High Land (classic and crucial as it was), and opted not to venture further into A/C's catalog, "Backwords and Forwards" and "The Birth of the True" make a really convincing case for investigating what followed.  By the way, this EP was appended to no less than two different CD reissues of Knife, both of which I regrettably slept on.  

01. Backwards and Forwards (live)
02. Jump
03. The Bugle Sounds Again (live)
04. Mattress of Wire (live)
05. The Birth of the True (live)

https://www49.zippyshare.com/v/A0HkR5pH/file.html

Sunday, November 15, 2020

How could I fall without a shove?

The 1982 debut solo album from a frontman who commandeered the most consequential dirigible in the history of rock and roll.

**Please do not reveal artist in comments!**

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Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Books - Expertise (1980, Logo)

Conducting a search for any relevant data on The Books proved a fruitless effort given that their moniker and album title are so ubiquitous by themselves (and just as much so paired together) that it wasn't long before I relented.  I don't own a physical copy (yet) so I can't even provide any biographical data a cursory set of album credits might have offered, including where they hailed from, but the UK or elsewhere in Europe is a virtually assured bet given the accents I'm picking up on.  Not quite as dark or noir as Expertise's album jacket might suggest, The Books were heavily reliant on keyboards, and deviate between an array of styles, hopscotching from the cheeky title cut and the even more high strung "Dusters," arguably running parallel to Devo, to the more conventional 'wave' inclinations of "Osterreich" and "Metaphysic."  As for "Rain" ballads don't necessarily suit them, albeit there are no outright missteps on this platter.  Recommended, and if you're really impressed Discogs enlightens us that three singles accompanied the surrounding era of Expertise.  

01. Spillage
02. Metaphysic
03. Hirohito
04. Osterreich
05. Rain
06. Expertise
07. Ballroom Debut
08. Dusters
09. I'll Be Your Friend

https://www74.zippyshare.com/v/8gCYaxYH/file.html

Thursday, November 12, 2020

TMA - What's For Dinner?/Beach Party 2000/Just Desserts Deluxe reissue (2020, Left for Dead) (rec. 1983-87) - An overview.

I made my acquaintance with New Jersey's long departed TMA for almost thoroughly superficial reasons - the eye-catching sleeve of their first album, 1984's What's For Dinner?  Ironically, not the album jacket depicted to the left, but the original cover which featured a full color illustration of a dinner plate (which could also pass for a turntable) with a curiously distorted fork and knife atop it.  The record in question, along with it's follow-up, Beach Party 2000, and an accompanying EP (Just Desserts) on top of that, have all been reissued digitally and on gorgeous splatter colored vinyl by Left For Dead Records as a limited edition box set, featuring radically retooled album art.

Beyond the sharp cover was music (imagine that!) - twenty songs to be specific...and given that a 12" side of wax usually housed five or six tracks WFD? stacked in a staggering ten on each partition.  In case you didn't see where I was going, TMA specialized in unadulterated hardcore punk, so flipping speedy and misanthropically bratty that the average timespan of any given song clocked in around ninety seconds - just enough time to get you into the kitchen to pop your "yellow-food" TV-viewing victuals out of the microwave and land you back onto the living room couch.  At this point in their tenure, TMA had little in common with their more renown contemporaries on SST Records or even their home state's recently defunct Misfits.  No, there wasn't really anything artful or visionary to TMA's shtick, but their blistering, slam-you-in-the-face ferocity made them a force of nature unto themselves, loosely drawing inspiration from virtually dozens of hardcore punters of the day, with vague resemblances to the Circle Jerks, and less so the Germs.  Dinner's songs were overtly topical in nature, philosophising not merely on what Mom's prepping on the stove come supper time, but on even worldlier concerns...like having the hots for Nancy Reagan, being perpetually broke, and romantic fantasies involving street urchins.  Heck, they even beat Husker Du to the punch by a good year via their cover of "Love is All Around" (the Mary Tyler Moore theme). The stuff of sophistication and charm for sure, all dished out in startlingly rapid and brusque fashion that manages to insert no small quotient of fun along the way.  Dinner's new black and white sleeve, commissioned by Bruce Carleton, is excruciatingly detailed to a fault, chockablock with an array of dysfunctional and exaggerated scenarios.

So what do you do for a follow-up if you're TMA?  How about ditch your original frontman (David Oldfield), reduce yourself to a trio, and adopt a more measured and poignant modus operandi that makes a break for nuanced post-punk some three years later?  Along with the band's acronym realizing it's true validity (a letter for each member: bassist Tom Emanuele, guitarist/mic fiend Mike Demko and drummer Al Rosenblum) TMA's sophomore disk and parting shot, Beach Party 2000, finds them making a discernible progression from hardcore, without abandoning the maladjusted subplot entirely.  Melody finally squeezes it's way into the picture frame, with sweeter guitars and vocals that approach a conversational level (if only intermittently).  "What Happened to You?" and "Feel Like Hell" aren't just a solid fit for slamming about to in some grimy dive, but double as a soundtrack for the half pipe as well.  Elsewhere, the dark hue of "Joe" occupies a unique terrain, and the post-hardcore sonic environs of "Hipster" smack of SST-era Husker Du guitar textures.  The overarching effect of Beach Party 2000 is similar to what 'reformed' punks like Agent Orange, The Zero Boys, MIA and Die Kreuzen were attempting at the same time, and TMA's broadening prowess really spoke volumes.  A damn fine way to go out.

Released in 2017, but tracked all the way back in '83, the Just Desserts EP (taking up a 7" in the vinyl incarnation of this set) functions more as an appetizer for the aforementioned What's For Dinner?, sporting six but short sweet bangers, with the relatively disciplined "Cylenol" rocking my boat the most.  

The entire three disk package (vinyl or CD) is available now through Bandcamp, but supplies of each are limited to 500 apiece.  A reasonably priced digital download is also at your disposal.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The sun was burning down when I woke up yesterday.

Debut from 1993.  Still missing the frontman/songwriter/fulcrum of this once prolific band, who passed away prematurely in 2007.  Were he alive I have to wonder how many hundreds of releases he'd have for sale on Bandcamp. 

**Please do not reveal artist in comments!**

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Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Waxmen - s/t (1988, Purge)

Apologies for not getting anything to you sooner this week.  I'm lacking virtually any firsthand details on The Waxmen, however despite their moniker this New York trio was only 2/3 male, with Mary Domhan occupying the mic for a good 80% of this platter.  The tunes she fronts on are the most substantive and satisfying - "Hands That Speak," "No Easy Street," and the tension-addled "Lemmings," to be specific.  The most obvious signpost I can point to here is The Bangles, especially those L.A. luminaries' early output.  This trio aren't always a hook factory, but the brunt of The Waxmen is genuinely catchy with Domhan and cohorts not skewing to any particular flavor in excess.  And despite entailing synths, the Waxmen exude none of that starchy, over-produced, 80s glop to ruin one iota of this affair. 

01. Hands That Speak
02. Chameleon
03. Umbrella Life
04. I Don't Want Them
05. No Easy Street
06. Radio Limbo
07. Birds
08. Sparta
09. Lemmings
10. Street Sweeper
11. Secrets

https://www94.zippyshare.com/v/V5XD6LbY/file.html

Sunday, November 1, 2020

"It's an election year...

"...can you feel the changes coming?"  Keep your fingers crossed.

**Please do not reveal artist in comments!**

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