Monday, June 30, 2008

The Furlongs - 2300 Ward (1988, Alias)

The Furlongs lone LP 2300 Ward, had the distinction of being the first record to bear the Alias label imprint. Alias would later go on to releasing scads of albums/eps by bands like Small 23, Archers of Loaf, and the Loud Family, but as far as this post is concerned I suppose this is irrelevant. Even if you're a rabid aficionado of '80s college rock, the Furlongs are not likely to come as a revelation, but this album is consistently satisfying, if a tad less than inspired. Traces of such contemporaries as The Replacements, Soul Asylum, and the Nils waft about, particularly on the brisk and gritty "Name No Names," and "In Flight." Elsewhere, there's just enough jangle to encourage a scan of the album credits in expectation of seeing Mitch Easter on the roll call, but for better or worse, he had nary a hand in this affair.

Yes, the sleeve is a bit daft, even in person. A more artful motif, and full color instead of black and white could have made all the difference, perhaps in album sales as well. Don't let this scare you off though. Still, I have to wonder if 20 years after the fact, if this trio is having a healthy, collective laugh at it.
01. Bed She Made
02. Daddy's New Car
03. See You
04. Fatal Smile
05. On the Water
06. Speak No Evil
07. Look It Up
08. Happy All the Time
09. Everything You Say
10. Name No Names
11. Hide in Plain Sight
12. In Flight

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Heavy Blinkers - Hooray For Everything (1998)

For fans and critics alike of this exceedingly scarce album, Hooray for Everything isn't the Halifax-based Heavy Blinkers proper debut album, so much as a solo project for it's architect, Jason MacIsaac. Being familiar with the Blinker's entire catalog, I have to agree and disagree with this assertion. Before opining any further, I don't personally own a copy of Hooray For Everything as it's truly impossible to come by, save for the occasional, not to mention expensive Ebay listing. Since I can't refer to the credits, I'm making an educated guess that MacIsaac play most or all of the instruments here. Despite that likely prospect, Hooray generally exudes the palpability of a full-fledged outfit. However, with the exception of perhaps "Something Clean and True," and "Deliriously Happy," what Hooray lacks are the buoyant harmonies and orchestral grandeur that would become calling cards for the Heavy Blinkers on subsequent records, namely their 2000 self-titled stunner, and Better Weather two years later. In other words, the Spector-esque "magic" didn't really kick in until MacIsaac bolstered his lineup (with rising star Ruth Minnikin among others), shortly after releasing this debut. Taking all of this into account, this was a respectable and interesting precursor of the much more rewarding music from the Blinkers to come.

01. Intro to
02. Deleriously Happy
03. Something Clean and True
04. Fishes
05. Smile and Show Your Teeth
06. Chloe's Christmas
07. Dumb Angle
08. All Choked Up
09. Canary Five
10. End of Summer Suite
11. Three Sleeps
12. Wild Blueberry Eyes 

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Singles Going Single #'s 49 & 50 - Skiploader 7" (1993, Schizophrenic) & Neighborly 7" (1997, Simple Stars)

Thought it would be appropriate to bundle these together, since both Skiploader and Neighborly revolve around the nucleus of one Tom Ackerman. If you haven't been acquainted with either, it would be of little surprise to myself, as well as an of the lucky few he's entertained and inspired.
Just south of Space Needle country lies Portland, Oregon. While the Sea-Tac scene was flourishing as all-get-out in the early '90s, their neighbors due south were pumping out some substantial music themselves, including but not limited to Hazel, Pond, Heatmiser, Sprinkler, and Skiploader.

Spearheaded by Ackerman, Skiploader were something of a missing link between the last vestiges of the Seattle grunge movement, and today’s more emotive rock contingent (e.g. Nada Surf and Jimmy Eat World). The band signed on the dotted line with Geffen in the mid-90s, but released this single and a full length album, Sprainy, both for indie imprint Schizophrenic before taking the plunge. Despite Skiploader's amped-out and poignantly melodic, post-hardcore rock, their 1995 Geffen debut, From Can Through String, was woefully underpromoted, and the trio went splitsville shortly thereafter. Call it bad timing or what you will, but had they just come along about five years later... If you dig this, please investigate their albums, which I begrudgingly have to admit are likely to be found in a bargain CD bin.

As for Ackerman's next endeavor, Neighborly, the apple fell mere inches from Skiploader's proverbial tree. Much like that band, Ackerman was able to retain the loud and slightly dissonant quotient in his new trio, which also featured Adam Orth on bass, who I previously introduced to you in my Shufflepuck posting this April. Neighborly released one album, Grass is Greener, which you can still get here, and is every bit as consistent with Skiploader's modest oeuvre. On this single, the centerpiece is “By The Way,” a bittersweet slice of life that somehow manages to stitch together such disparate themes as reverence for Dinosaur Jr (gotta love the Mascis reference!), spinning brodies on front lawns, and oh yeah…vomiting. Trust me, it works. 
Tom Ackerman would later go on to play drums in Sunday's Best for the early portion of this decade.
Skiploader 7"
A. Name Dropping
B1. Unlimited...
B2. Name Brand Nada 
Neighborly - A Moment For Us 7"
A1. By the Way
A2. Cut to Chase
B. Like a Car Crash

Skiploader: Hear
Neighborly: Hear

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Native Tongue - s/t ep (1981, Detente)

Sounds to me like Native Tongue obtained a copy of Gang of Four's seminal Entertainment LP, found religion, and decided to take a crack at it themselves. Maybe it wasn't as simple as that, but to my ears it might as well have been. Presumably hailing from Boston, MA, or thereabouts, Native Tongue were quintessentially post-punk: jagged riffs, intermittent chanted/sung vox, and so damn rhythmically intense it's not funny. Some of their material is so derivative that I'm tempted to specify which Gang of Four songs their copping, but I'll stop just short of that. Nevertheless, "Speaking In Captions" lead-off riff is just as infectious as U2's "I Will Follow," or even "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Overall, this ep is roughly as approachable as any given Pylon record, if that's your thing. N/T have a Myspace page, where I believe you can listen or even buy some of these songs and more. Might not be a bad idea to head over there, given the annoying, omnipresent pops and crackles of my rip. This was released on Detente Records, which was distributed via the esteemed and still very much in operation Newbury Comics. Lastly, the band thanks none other than Roger Miller on the lyric sheet.

01. Speaking in Captions
02. All Wronged Up
03. No Sense
04. Carving the Future From Soap


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tubetop - Three Minute Hercules (1997, Laundary Room)

Almost as soon as this disk landed on the desk of my college station's music director, it made its way into my knapsack. In a matter of hours thereafter, I discovered that Seattle's short-lived Tubetop had unleashed an unexpected masterpiece of near-monumental proportions. To offer an initial clue, former Posies drummer Mike Musburger and bassist Dave Fox played drums in Tubetop. Fitting, Jon Auer of the Posies mixed Three Minute Hercules. All the more fitting. See where I'm going with this? Tubetop's power pop tact was to the '90s what The Records were to the late '70s - straightforward, unembellished, and downright visceral in it's appeal. The Posies influence is heavy, even pervasive in certain moments, but leadman Gavin Guss' timbre falls more in line with Branden Blake, vocalist for another Sea-Tac combo, Super Deluxe. What separates Tubetop from their hometown counterparts, is a semblance of warmth and coziness that was all but lost on the Posies by the time they recorded Amazing Disgrace, in all that album's grunge-ified, havey-handed "big rock" muck. Instead, Three Minutes... relative subtlety suggests the pure pop proclivities of the Greenberry Woods and Matthew Sweet. Regardless, this is an album ablaze with worn-in, deftly crafted songs that push no proverbial envelopes, yet satisfies instantly. As Bruce Brodeen of Not Lame Records would say - extremely, highly recommended! If there's any interest, I have a handful of Tubetop singles ready and waiting for a future posting.

01. Full Bloon
02. Erika Smiles
03. Passes For Love
04. M.I.A.
05. Bleeder
06. What You See
07. With You
08. If I Were You
09. Once Upon a China
10. Oceans Cracked
11. The Weight Of The World
12. The Rules

Get it from Bandcamp.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Life Before Superchunk - Part 1: The Slushpuppies - Blacklisted 2x7" ep (1990, Meat Records, rec 1987-88)

Greetings. This post is what I anticipate to be the first in a five part series that takes an in-depth examination into the various recording projects involving one Mac McCaughan before he went on to helm one of the most successful and prolific indie rock acts of the '90s, Superchunk, not to mention the established Merge Records label. I narrow the focus of this series to Mac, not out of disrespect to the other Superchunk alumni, rather the empirical fact that for the most part, Mac's pre-Superchunk tenure was the only one properly and thoroughly documented.

Before proceeding, one Mac footnote I won't delve into is A Number of Things, technically his first rock and roll, or to be more precise, hardcore punk venture. You can indulge your curiosity by clicking the hyperlink above.

The three-member Slushpuppies were one of two bands, the other being Wwax (more on them in the next installment), Mac was simultaneously commandeering in the mid-to-late 1980s. The band had the luxury of woodshedding in a barn in Chapel Hill during their formative years. Due in part to Mac's NYC college priorities, the Slushpuppies performed live irregularly, but impressively, managed to open up for Fugazi on dates in Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.
From a musical standpoint, out of Mac's four pre-Chunk projects, The Slushpuppies vigorous punk-pop offered the most accurate indication of the trajectory Superchunk would initially take. There were a handful of 'Puppies recording sessions, the first of which resulted in an eleven-song cassette dubbed, Big What? From the liner notes ensconced in the Blacklisted double 7" ep, my understanding is that the five selections within were culled from subsequent sessions. If you're a true connoisseur of the first two Superchunk albums, Superchunk (1990) and No Pocky For Kitty (1991), Blacklisted will prove to be a revealing, not to mention entertaining prequel. Enjoy.

01. Blacklisted
02. Calendar
03. This Long
04. Sleep
05. Lost at Ten

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sometime Sweet Susan - Fuse (1993) & Point ep (1994)

Whomever has tried to kill-off the memory of Milwaukee's Sometime Sweet Susan over the last decade-and-a-half has done a pretty damn good job. In fact, a Google search predominantly pulls up links for dozens of references to a psychotic, hardcore-skin flick from the late '60s that the band usurped their moniker from. I suppose I can rationalize the trio's lack of web presence by virtue of them burning out just before the WWW truly became ubiquitous, but anyway...

Taking their barbed cues from legends like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, and to a far lesser extent Smashing Pumpkins, Sometime Sweet Susan manicured a scalding amount of dissonance and unruly guitar feedback into something relatively listenable. This isn't to say their debut, Fuse is an unremitting hook-fest. Hardly in fact, but bubbling up from all the noise is the tuneful charge of "Blanket Kiss," which I like to regard as quintessential, indie-rawk gold. For the album's unlikely finale, SSS obliterates Madonna’s “Justify My Love” into an all out shronk-fest, retaining the lyrics and precious little else.

The melody quotient is raised a few notches higher on the even more consistent follow-up ep, Point, that is if you subtract about 15 minutes from the clamorous, meandering "Cecille B. Dumbshit," which in itself totals the better part of a half-hour. The four much briefer cuts that sandwich it are worthy of your respect, particularly if the aforementioned Fuse left any positive impression on your frazzled eardrums.

Sometime... called it a day after their second full-length, The Coming Lights in '95. More recently, singer/guitarist Jim Warchol delved into this curious musical project. 
01. Piss Take
02. Blanket Kiss
03. 20,000 Volt Monster
04. Installer
05. Beam
06. Crush
07. Hacker Vibe
08. Justify My Love 
Point ep
01. Kendall
02. Pathological Liar
03. Tannery
04. Cecille B. Dumbshit
05. Point 
Fuse: Hear
Point: Hear

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Singles Going Single # 48 - Sammy 7" (Hep Cat, 1995)

Although no one in Sammy was named "Stephen Malkmus," the band seemed to have the stylings of the Pavement/Jicks frontman hard wired into their collective DNA nonetheless. Sammy's transcontinental core of Luke Wood and Jesse Hartman were slanted, enchanted and crooked to a fault, especially on their excellent first LP, aptly titled Debut Album, which is still available some 14 years later. Inspired, to say the very least, their uncanny resemblance to Pavement accorded them a decent following, which led to a deal with Geffen. Prior to their second album, Tales of Great Neck Glory, which disappointed on many levels, (mostly commercial) a slew of eps and singles preceded it, and this is one of them. "Chili Lite" unofficially signaled the dawning of a slightly less-derivative Sammy, but still maintained their overall aesthetic - one that eventually became stifled after the big boys rang the dinner bell.

A. Chili Lite
B. Kohut (Little Darlings)


Singles Going Single # 47 - The 27 Various 7" (1990, Susstones)

This is probably one of my most non-descript entries to date, but read on. The 27 Various emanated out of the late '80s Minneapolis rock scene, but not that scene (i.e. Replacements, Husker Du, etc). Releasing a total of five independent albums between the relatively tiny Susstones label, and later Twin/Tone, the 27 Various seemingly had a difficult time carving out any sort of identity for themselves. Their albums (many of which are available cheaply online through all the usual suspects) were cohesive enough, but failed to yield much that was revelatory to more seasoned indie-rawk ears that demanded something more visceral. Nevertheless, this single's subtle A-side, "Granny Smith" is a keeper, a la Straitjacket Fits by way of early Candy Skins. "E too D," on the flip is a rocker that packs a more sizable bite, but pulls the reigns a few miles short of the station.

A. Granny Smith
B. E too D


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Heaters - Energy Transfer (1980, CBS)

Just bought this one on a whim a few weeks ago. Knew nothing about the very photogenic Heaters at the time, but recently learned of the band's newly minted CD, The Great Lost Heaters Album, which you can read up on here. Energy Transfer was the band's second album. Emanating from the L.A. punk/wave scene of the late '70s, The Heaters were displeased with the production of their two records, which according to the band's lengthy account on their website, failed to capture their live fervor and spontaneity (but isn't that always the case for bands of their era, and for that matter, this one)? Led by Mercy Bermudez, the Heaters were about as radical as say, Blondie, but without the flauntiness and embarrassment maybe for a cover of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers bubblegum classic, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" Nevertheless, as evidenced by the brisk "Is This Madness," and the whirling title track, there are moments of spunky exuberance on Energy Transfer that are impossible to resist.

01. Sail Away
02. Fast Love
03. Thunder Rolling
04. I'll Call You Wherever I Am
05. Is This Madness
06. Why Do Fools Fall In Love
07. Rushing to You
08. Put One Foot in Front of the Other
09. Energy Transfer
10. Stand Your Ground


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Drop Nineteens - Mayfield demo (199?)

Beantown's co-ed Drop Nineteens blissfully worshiped at the tremelo-flanged alter of Kevin Shields and Robin Guthrie, and in 1992 were awarded a deal with Caroline Records, rumor has it, on the strength of no more than two gigs (feel free to correct me on this). Delaware may have been their official debut wax, but preceding it was an album's worth of presumably unreleased demos that were collectively known as Mayfield. None of the twelve numbers here were reworked in any shape or form for Delaware, making this an especially rewarding trove for Drop Nineteen devotees hankering for a belated appetizer to their two commercially released albums.

On Mayfield, the effect is heavy handed (and lo-fi) as can be, with more than just a passing wink and a nod to their overseas contemporaries, namely My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Slowdive, etc. Being the blatant by-product that they were, the Drop Nineteens were hailed by the British press, but were largely invisible on their home turf. Listening to these twelve tracks (including a lovingly mangled take of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun"), you're likely to gain the impression that this quintet didn't merely gaze at their collective Doc Martens, they were downright blinded by them.

As for their Caroline Records debut, Delaware, much of Mayfield's odd feathers were plucked, and the overall swampiness was curtailed to more economical effect. If helps to have an appreciation of Delaware before delving into this cassette-derived set, so partake in some archived Drop Nineteens here, particularly the sublime, bittersweet "Winona," a must have for anyone's desert island mix disc.

01. Mayfield
02. Shannon Waves
03. Astral
04. Kissing the Sea
05. Slylight
06. Snowbird
07. Pentatonic/Another Summer
08. Here Comes the Sun
09. Damon
10. Song for JJ
11. Back in Our Old Bed
12. Soapland

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Catherine Wheel - some eps (1991-93)

Britain's Catherine Wheel came to prominence in an era when it was a veritable necessity for bands to have an equal, if not greater number of b-side tracks as album cuts. A tall, daunting order to say the very least, and although such prolific expectations have lessened these days, there were a number of '90s UK outfits who were up to the task, particularly "shoegazer" and Brit-pop bands ranging from Swervedriver, Boo Radleys, Teenage Fanclub, and yes, Catherine Wheel. Between their scintillating 1992 debut album, Ferment, and these three contemporary eps (and possibly even another that slipped by me) Catherine Wheel had two albums worth of quality material on their hands. The Rob Dickinson-led quartet produced dense, walloping guitar rock amidst a dream-pop subtext that imbued the aforementioned Ferment, and the subsequent Chrome with a feedback-addled purity that Catherine Wheel could only lay claim to.

All ripped from the original CDs, this quartet isn't a bad introduction to CW's more unbridled, nascent period, or for that matter a sweet afterthought for established fans who justifiably opted to pass by the pricey import racks. 
Painful Thing ep (1991)
01. Shallow
02. Spin
03. Painful Thing
04. I Want to Touch You 
I Want to Touch You ep (1992)
01. I Want to Touch You
02. Ursa Major Space Station
03. Collideoscopic
04. Our Friend Joey 
Balloon ep (1992)
01. Balloon
02. Intravenous
03. Let Me Down Again (live)
04. Painful Thing (live) 

Crank ep (1993)
01. Crank
02. Pleasure
03. Tongue Twisted

Enjoy all four here

Friday, June 13, 2008

Singles Going Single # 45 & 46 - Big Chief (1992, Sympathy) & Die Kreuzen (1990, Touch and Go): Germs/Wire tributes

...but what would Darby Crash think?

First a Darby-less (but surprisingly respectable) reunion, then a biopic, and now...Germs footwear and apparel? A t-shirt is one thing, but when you pole-vault into Vans slip-ons territory you're talking some crass commercialization my friends. Has the Germs "legend" really warranted this level of saturation, and to an arguable extent, exploitation? All it takes is one red-hot album, a bevy of violent punk gigs, a young suicide, and voila: El Producto! Unbelievable. 
Prior to all the recent hype, and even a few years before a pair of tribute albums hit the shelves, were a couple of modestly issued singles by two Midwestern bands: Detroit's Big Chief and the Milwaukee-based Die Kreuzen.

Big Chief's grunge-cum-funk approach ironically makes for a less melodic spin of The Germ's GI classic, "Strange Notes" than the original, and believe me, that's saying a lot. Then again, straight covers can get boring real quick. As depicted, this was a one-sided single pressed on luscious blue wax, with an etching on the reverse side. It comes courtesy of Sympathy for the Record Industry.

It doesn't get much more lacerating and intense than the long-departed Die Kreuzen, and their rendition of "Land of Treason" is about as feral and savage as it gets. Presently, they'd be mistaken for a "screamo" combo, and rightfully so I suppose, but none of today's new schoolers could craft a lethal, full-throttle, number like this, whether it be a cover or otherwise. Quite simply, this has to be experienced to be believed. The single's A-side is their retooling of Wire's "Pink Flag," which pales held up against it's counterpart.

Were Darby Crash to rise from his coffin, I like to think he'd salute the two bands in questions, and hack a nice fat loogie on the fugly Vans loafers. For further enlightenment, check out my October '07 posting of the rough mixes for the Germs GI album right here
Big Chief: Hear

Update:  Apparently, Touch & Go is not comfortable with me sharing the Die Kreuzen single.  Sorry. 

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Days Of... lp (rec. 1987/released 1997, A-Team Records)

What would Wilfully Obscure be without a curveball now and then, especially when the band in question tacks on ellipses to their already oblique moniker? Days of...what? I just can't say, and apparently neither could these circa '86-'87 North Carolina noiseniks. Let's just say wine and roses and call it a day, huh?

What little I'm able to glean about the band comes entirely from the LP insert sheet, bejeweled with pics of several gig flyers of bands they served as openers for, including the Flaming Lips, Fugazi, not to mention proto-Superchunk luminaries Wwax, and the Slushpuppies, which I promise to dedicate a future posting to. The back sleeve is features a blowup of a flyer for their opening slot for the Angels of Epistemology - and we all know far those guys went. 
Days Of... were akin to Squirrel Bait yodeling a mating call to Rites of Spring, though somewhat lacking the aplomb or exponential future influence of either. The quartets brand of distorto-hardcore is restrained just a smidgen to let some stray tuneful notions creep in now and again, with "Dreamgirl" being the most representative of this observation. The live tracks that wrap out side two are rough going, but Days Of... is still worth a...

01. Men & Minds
02. I Confess
03. September
04. Dreamgirl
05. Friday
06. untitled
07. A View From Above
08. Skin Deep (live)
09. Consumed (live)
10. Blinded (live)
11. A Day In the Life (live)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Grays - 'The Companion' (acoustic and rare bootleg)

For a good portion of you surfing this blog on a regular (or even a less than regular) basis, The Grays will likely not require much introduction. For the rest of you, grab a quick earful of their one and only album, Ro Sham Bo from 1994 on Epic Records. Falling somewhere between a launching pad and a showcase for gifted singer-songwriters Jason Falkner (formally of Jellyfish and The Three O' Clock) and Jon Brion, The Grays were a four piece, filled out by bassist Buddy Judge and skins-man Dan McCarroll, who after their demise in 1995 were regarded as something of a cult legend in power-pop circles. Ironically, the Grays' "power" quotient didn't quite pack the thrust of say, contemporaries The Posies, or old schoolers like The Records. Ro Sham Bo, possessed a clutch of sublime moments, namely "Very Best Years," "Friend of Mine," and "The Same Thing," among a handful of other keepers. Although many might take umbrage with me on this, the record wasn't a wall-to-wall goldmine, however the solo albums recorded by Falkner (Author Unknown & Can You Still Feel) and Brion (Meaningless) after the band's dissolution were in my opinion far more consistent, and fully delivered on the promise of The Gray's short-lived collaboration.

The ten-song 'Companion' bootleg as it is called, was not assembled by yours truly, but rather derived from a file sharing site, which was probably originally propagated on a torrent, or whatever those dang things are called. It not only contains acoustic versions of some of Ro Sham Bo's finer moments, but several covers and unreleased studio booty. FYI, Some tracks originally appeared on official Epic label promo CD singles. Essentially all the stray Grays studio material left on the cutting room floor. The audio quality is consistent, and was ripped at variable 200-something kbps. Enjoy (or not).

01. Compilcated (Rolling Stones)
02. He's Frank (The Monochrome Set)
03. Blessed
04. Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell)
05. Oh Nevermind
06. Outdoor Miner (Wire)
07. Very Best Years (acoustic)
08. Same Thing (acoustic)
09. Nothing (acoustic)
10. Both Belong (acoustic)


Monday, June 9, 2008

The Windbreakers - Electric Landlady (1991)

The Windbreakers were one of several bands arising from "The New South" indie/jangle-pop scene in the mid-80s. Like many of their cohorts, including REM, Game Theory, and Oh-OK, The Windbreakers were taken under the wing of producer and Let's Active leadman Mitch Easter. The core Windbreakers lineup consisted of Tim Lee and Bobby Sutliff, both talented singer/songwriters who followed solo pursuits, and eventually became power-pop demigods in their own rite.

Electric Landlady was the Windbreakers last hurrah after a respectable stream of inspired albums. Mitch Easter did not produce this record, however he did oversee the Windbreakers second ep, Any Monkey With a Typewriter, which quite amazingly, is appended here as six bonus tracks. With the Windbreakers catalog long out of print, the thoroughly excellent compilation, Time Machine (1982-2002), was issued in 2003 offering 20 career highlights.
02-Big Ideas
03-Keep It On Your Mind
04-Elayne Lies Looking At The Sky
05-Since I Last Saw You
06-The Girl From Washington
07-Devil & The Sea
08-The Wall
09-Do Not Be Afraid
10-Tell Me Something
11-Forever Ago
12-Waltzing Matilda
14-Make A Fool Out Of Me
15-You Never Give Up
16-I Never Thought
17-You Gotta Go Away
18-I'll Be There

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Singles Going Single #44 - The Belltower 7" (1995, Scratchie)

Their sweet, ringing shoegazer rock aside, The Belltower had a couple of pre and post notoriety points going for them to boot. Singer Britta Phillips was the voice behind '80s chick cartoon Jem. A few years after the animated program ended, she teamed up with pre-Fountains of Wayne axe-slinger Jody Porter in the New York based, Belltower a highly promising dream-pop protege band of sorts, that released a lauded, but woefully underpromoted major label album, Popdropper in 1992. In addition to the album, The Belltower released a handful of independently released eps, which may be a subject for a future post.

To my knowledge, this two cut single on the Chicago Scratchie Records label was their final hurrah, and boy did they go out in a blaze of glory with the hypnotically enthralling a-side, "Underwatertown." The flipside, "Orbit," on the other hand is laughably brief, clocking in at a mere 86 seconds. Needless to say it didn't quite do the band justice, but "Underwatertown," is still pretty decent compensation. Britta Phillips would further her music career in Luna, and later as a duo with husband Dean Wareham. 
A. Underwatertown
B. Orbit

Singles Going Single #43 - The Stars of Rock - Fighting Robots 7'' ep (1996, Stab Stab)

Here's a dandy lil' one-off single by a post-collegiate, Schenectady, NY trio dubbed The Stars of Rock. Cynical without being sardonic, the lead-off cut, "I'm Not Punk," is still downright bratty in it's admonishment of said genre, and furthermore overlooks the very DIY ethic the band partook in pressing this chunk of wax on their own in-house label. Not that I'm being critical or anything. With their often costumed and prop-laden live sets (from what I'm told), The Stars of Rock were probably the most amusing thing the Albany, NY-area scene had encountered since Blotto. Vocalist/guitarist extraordinaire Brent Gorton went on to some modest local success as a solo act, and later as prime mover for the wonderfully monikered Brent Gorton & The Tender Breasts.

01. I'm Not Punk
02. Storm Drain
03. You're Not Pissing Me Off
04. The Prize is Rightfully Mine 

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Playmates! - Short Wave (1995)

It’s hard to argue with free, and boy did I hit the jackpot with this gratis gem several years ago. As often is the case, I have precious little background to extol on The Playmates, a Japanese trio that belt out their indelibly penetrating power-pop (with that gratifying punk edge) exclusively in English, retaining their native accent of course. “Catchy” can’t even begin to describe the Playmates dexterous, melody-drenched savvy, that consistently finds them employing more hooks into one song than a lesser band would be lucky to accumulate over the course of an entire album. Think Buzzcocks, early Undertones, Pointed Sticks, and dare I say 39/Smooth-era Green Day, but the Playmates tact tends to go down a little smoother than the aforementioned. A quick listen to the material on their MySpace page, all recorded post-Short Wave, finds them adopting a mellower, but no less impressive tenor. The album in question though is mind shatteringly fun and addictive. You have been warned.

01. Love Is You
02. When It Rains
03. Do It Again
04. Sleep
05. Salty Dog
06. Tonight
07. Short Wave
08. Finger Action
09. Yes, It's True
10. Don't Tell Me
11. Leave Me Alone
12. My Little Soul
13. We Don't Wanna Know


Monday, June 2, 2008

The Icons - Art in the Dark LP (1985, Press)

Yet more Athens, GA mid-80s rock that barely made it's way onto my radar. The Icons started life as Art in the Dark and released a scarce ep under that moniker in 1983. Rechristened The Icons a couple years later, ’85 saw the release of their one and only album, it’s title being the band’s original namesake. Hmmm…wonder what that was all about? Not particularly new-wavy or post-modern, Art in the Dark was still several notches above the mainstream fray. For all intents and purposes, the Icons fit in nicely with local yokels Dreams So Real, as well as west coast contemporaries Translator from San Francisco. The boys do a nice cover of Big Star’s “Way Out West,” amid eight worthy originals, including the ‘live’ “The Girl Is Mine” fleshed out with a faux arena audience, cheering their heroes on. What little else you can familiarize yourself about The Icons with can be perused here and here.

01. Number
02. Lots of Money
03. Trouble In Havana
04. Nothin' Left to Save
05. Try
06. Way Out West
07. Tonight (There's a Sign)
08. The Girl Is Mine
09. Chains


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Reeve Oliver - three eps: California (2001); You're Gonna Win (2001); Reevolution (2003)

From the scope of this blog, you might assume that the current decade is largely to my chagrin. On the contrary, the ‘00s have produced some solid bastions of hope, including Motion City Soundtrack, Ben Kweller, Drag the River, The National, My Vitriol, Jack’s Mannequin, Reeve Oliver, and many more I could go on about, but as for this post, we’re going to talk about that last one I just mentioned. Reeve Oliver are an immensely talented power-trio from San Diego specializing in LOUD, riff-roaring power pop that in my opinion nearly outdoes some of their more famous, likeminded contemporaries, specifically Weezer, Foo Fighters, and Superdrag. Singer/guitarist Sean O’Donnell coincidentally recalls Kevin Ridel of Ridel High, and more recently AM Radio. Reeve Oliver was initially a solo vehicle for O’Donnell, but he eventually teamed up with drummer Brad Davis, and more notably, Otis "O" Barthoulameu, helmsman for the vigorous San Diego punk-pop act, Fluf.Before their self-titled debut album on Militia Records hit the racks in 2004, a series of Reeve Oliver eps preceded it. The three collections this post concerns unfortunately do not exist in my physical collection, rather my hard drive, as I was only able to obtain them a few years ago via Soulseek. My understanding is that the 2003 Reevolution ep was an official release, and even boasts the pedigree of being awarded 2003 rock album of the year, courtesy of the San Diego music awards. That ep contains early incarnations of what would become some of Reeve Oliver’s most devastatingly melodic album tracks, including “I Want Burns” and “Yer Motion.”

As for 2001’s You’re Gonna Win & California eps, I plead ignorant regarding the circumstances of their availability to the public at the time. Nevertheless, these precursor recordings give an entertaining insight into what would eventually become a par excellence rock act, albeit invisible to the mainstream. Since some of this material has been unavailable for almost seven years, this post will be a treat for established fans, and something of a sampler for the uninitiated. Additional Reeve Oliver eps were subsequently released, as well as a 2007 sophomore album, Touchtone Inferno.

As a bonus, I have included two Reeve Oliver Juliana Hatfield covers to the Reevolution folder.
California ep
01. Summer
02. California
03. I Play the Sensitive Songwriter Card
04. Sizzle Digits
05. El Cajon
You’re Gonna Win ep
01. Say No to Me
02. In The End, Everything Will Work Out
03. I Play the Sensitive Songwriter Card
04. Christopher
05. Postcards
06. Yer Time
07. Foothiller
08. You're Gonna Win
Reevolution ep
01. I Want Burns
02. California
03. Young and Dumb
04. Yer Motion
05. Reevenge
06. The Great White North
Simplicity is beautiful (Juliana Hatfield cover)
What a life (Juliana Hatfield cover)

Minerva Strain - Blue Tarantella (1995, Jettison)

In the burgeoning Chapel Hill music scene of the 1990s Minerva Strain swung from the lower rungs of the indie food chain. While out of step with the relatively accessible Superchunk and Archers of Loaf, Minerva Strain were more in line with the skewed, distorto-rawk of homies Polvo, not to mention early Flaming Lips. Brandishing dropped, if not completely untenable guitar tunings, coupled with a shrill, art-damaged aesthetic, this crew actually carried a faint melody now and then, best exemplified by Blue Tarantella’s “Jupiters,” and “Seven Seconds Underground.” Call me crazy, but as for the band’s predominately “experimental” vibe, I like to think of Minerva Strain as an unrelated precursor to Robert Pollard’s haywire, post-GBV spin-off bands. Some of Tarantella's song titles look like they’ve been swiped from any given Mars Volta record, but trust me, I’m not complaining.

Blue Tarantella features a Public Image Ltd. cover, but I’ll let you figure that out for yourself. Enjoy (or not).

01. Ricochet Turnstiles

02. Jupiters
03. Dead Fish Calliopies
04. Autocalve
05. Eneavor
06. Seven Seconds Underground
07. J. Edgar Hoover Parachutes
08. In Grace With the SeaQQAS
09. The Blue Guitar
10. Cease to Exist
11. Cadillacland
12. Silverweed (Speedtrials)
13. Yes and Know
14. Poptones