Sunday, September 29, 2019

Save me, I got my falling arms around ya...

A 2011 album, and a shortly preceding ep from one of my best musical discoveries of the last couple years.

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


China Criss - Fine and Also Rare China (2008)

Here's another act that amazingly I haven't brought up before until now.  I knew who China Crisis were as far back as the mid-80s, but never made a concerted effort to investigate them until I started finding their records in used bins.  For Brit new wavers, they were the yin to the yang of most of what was happening during their 1982-89 peak.  Bearing a markedly disciplined and mid-tempo tact, Crisis' smoother sonic palette was no doubt interpreted as high-brow by some, but it worked to their advantage, because their early run of albums (Difficult Shapes..., Flaunt the Imperfection, etc) stand up remarkably well three decades after the fact.  In fact, C/C went so against the dayglo-techno pop grain they even hired Steely Dan's Walter Becker to produce their second LP, Flaunt the Imperfection.  New romantic yacht rock?  Well, not exactly, but pretty damn refreshing after hearing Depeche Mode and Duran Duran ad nauseam. 

Fine and Also Rare China is a cobbled together collection of demos the band sold on their tour in 2008.  Thought this might be fun to share since their official catalog is still available, and I'm not at liberty to host much or any of it.  Spanning 1979-97, Fine and Also Rare China leaves out early prototypes of many of their more renown songs - "King in a Catholic Style," "Black Man Ray" and "Working With Fire and Steel," among others.  What's here however is still pretty respectable, including nascent takes of early gems "African and White" and "Seven Sports for All," plus the Diary of a Hollow Horse-era "Northern Skies."  Surprisingly much of this collection is contemporary to the band's hibernation period (relatively speaking), when they were keeping a low profile in the '90s.  Established customers will find a lot to love here, and even if ...Rare China isn't a perfect introduction to the band it's an enjoyable listen.

01. African and white (demo 79-80)
02. Its Not Over Here (live demo 96-97)
03. Northern Skies (album demo 88)
04. Real Tears (home demo 93)
05. Seven Sports for All ((home demo 79-80)
06. Christian (home demo 79-80)
07. Song 4 Andre 3000 (home demo 92)
08. Thank You (home demo 93)
09. Wishful Thinking (live in Liverpool 85)
10. Slow Houses (home demo)


Friday, September 27, 2019

The Expression - s/t (1984, Oz/A&M)

Had a request for this one years ago, but only spotted a copy of it recently.  Not a bad $3 find in the wild, but hardly a revelation. The Expression were native to Sydney, Australia and sorta resembled another down under band, the considerably more popular Icehouse.  This is rather polished synth pop with the most exotic attribute evidencing itself via some occasional fretless bass.  We're treated to a few relatively memorable cuts - "With Closed Eyes," "Dawn, Day and Sleep," and "Right to a Slice."  Nothing particularly offensive or embarrassing mind you, and to the Expression's credit I'll take this combo over ABC or Go West in a heartbeat.  Enjoy (or not).

01. Present Communication
02. With Closed Eyes
03. Total Eclipse
04. Keep Appointments
05. Right to a Slice
06. Dawn, Day and Sleep
07. Decisions
08. You and Me
09. Nothing Changes
10. Satisfied Strangers


Sunday, September 22, 2019

It's a sticky contradiction...

The bonus disc, and only the bonus disc of an expanded reissue of a stellar 1978 debut LP.

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


Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Cars - Candy-O: The Monitor Mix

Sorry once again for waiting until the weekend to hook you up with something new.  This whole past week felt a little abnormal, and it didn't help that it began with the rather jarring and unexpected news that Ric Ocasek, frontman for The Cars, record producer, and solo act in his own right died of heart failure Sunday, September 15th at the age of 75.  I don't think I've brought him up before on this site, and save for the band itself only when using The Cars comparatively speaking.  That being said 1983's Heartbeat City and it's associated singles were a big component of the entry drug that got me hooked on rock music, thus placing me on the most significant trajectory of my life.  At one point or another I owned all of the band's albums, and had recently invested in a series of expanded reissues.  Still, they were never a top-tier favorite of mine despite the fact I rarely objected to much of anything they did.  I saw them on their 2011 reunion tour that summer in Toronto, and was mightily impressed.  I knew it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.  In recent years I wasn't waiting around for another reunion album.  Or tour.  Or anything.  Besides getting the occasional Cars or (less occasionally) Ocasek solo track stuck in my head, I never kept tabs on him or any of the other surviving members (co-frontman and bassist Benjamin Orr passed away from natural causes in 2000).  Still, the news on Sunday made a dent with me.  In addition to the Cars catalog, I got to know him through interviews and his production work with unrelated artists like Weezer, Motion City Soundtrack, and Guided by Voices.  A life fantastically well lived, even if he had been a bit dormant for the last few years of it. I'd say a well earned retirement.

The general consensus is that the Cars self-titled debut was their high-watermark, and it's not hard to understand why given its sheer consistency and it's reputation as a crossover new wave/AOR record that appealed to the mainstream and those with an edgier appetite.  Candy-O followed a year later, and despite not generating as many singles as it's predecessor it doubled-down on the band's mildly offbeat penchant and was responsible for such fan favorites as the punchy "Got a Lot On My Head" and the noir power pop of "Double Life."  Prior to heading out to L.A. to recording the album, Ocasek and Co. tracked some demos at Northern Studios, in Maynard, MA near their native Boston.  Four of these demos wound up on the expanded version of Candy-O that dropped in 2017...but these weren't part of the so-called Monitor Mixes. 

Cars/Ben Orr-centric blog sweetpurplejune goes into a rather thorough extrapolation on what the mixes are all about and how the tapes went missing for decades, so I'll try to sum it up in a nutshell.  The album proper was record at Cherokee Studios in L.A.  As the aforementioned site explains, a "monitor mix" is a set of quickly recorded pre-production demos usually cut live in studio as a dry-run of sorts before the formal recording of an album commences, so the engineer/producer has a reference for setting levels in the recording studio and such.  It's a common practice, especially for big budget studio sessions, which naturally, this was.  In short, the monitor mix of Candy-O is a de-factor alternate version of the album in question.  There are differences between these takes and the finished products, albeit not always dramatic.  In fact that's largely the case with the brunt of what's here, with some of the most discernible deviations being rooted in Greg Hawkes keyboard parts.  One particular anomaly among this set of recordings is a the one and a half minute take of "Sho Bee Doo," just a fraction in length of the final album version, highlighting the song's eerie "coldwave" synthesizers.  We get variations of all eleven LP cuts, the b-side of "Let's Go" ("That's It") and "Slip Away," a track that literally slipped away for almost two decades before it found a home on the band's 1995 double disk anthology Just What I Needed.  Again, if you decide to download this, you'll be shortchanging yourself if you don't take a peak at the informative backstory laid out over at sweetpurplejune, which goes into way more detail than I did here.  While you're at it, please consider buying the remaster of Candy-O here.  Rest in peace Ric!

01. Let's Go
02. Since Held You
03. It's All I Can Do
04. Double Life
05. Shoo Bee Doo
06. Candy-O
07. Night Spots
08. You Can't Hold On Too Long
09. Lust For Kix
10. Got a Lot On My Head
11. Dangerous Type
12. That's It
13.. Slip Away


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Black Watch - The Vinyl Years 1988-1993 (Atom, 2019) & "Crying All The Time" 7" (2019, Hypnotic Bridge) - A brief review

If you remember the 1990s you weren't really there - oops...wrong decade.  If however, you remember The Black Watch, a veteran, four decade-long indie rock endeavor from Los Angeles it's very likely you familiarized yourself with the band via some of their best known releases, including 1994's Amphetamines and a little further into the decade '99s The King of Good Intentions.  In total, the John Andrew Fredrick-helmed contingent, with it's varying lineups, has produced no less than 17 albums, ten or so EPs and singles, seemingly released among a dozen different record labels.  In fact, the Watch's discography has become so unwieldy and elephantine it was all recently corralled in MP3 form on a handy USB drive.  So what the hell am I actually getting at here?  Mr Frederick has been making music longer than some of you have been alive.  Though the compact disc made it's way into the market place in 1982 (or thereabouts) the ubiquity of the format didn't quite extend to the majority of independent and lower-rung artists until as late as a decade afterward.  The Black Watch were no exception, as their debut album, 1988's St. Valentine, and their Short Stories ep following a year later were vinyl and cassette only affairs.  Save for blogs like mine, these titles have languished out of print an un-digitized for thirty years (wow!)  The newly minted CD/digital collection, The Vinyl Years 1988-1993, remedies this travesty in one fell swoop.

Though the Black Watch's origins date back to the Reagan-epoch, Fredrick and Co. never sounded like they were a product of the era - not an obvious one anyway.  No wonky keyboards or cheesy affectations for these guys.  From the get go, the BW formula wasn't an equation that could be easily quantified.  Without (re)inventing the wheel the band's forward-leaning indie rock had a faint Anglophile bent, but not overbearing.  A pensive, thoughtful undercurrent was a vital calling card as well, yet not one to be couched in an elitist or erudite subtext.  And reverberating through every nook and cranny was rich, full bodied musicianship - resplendent ringing guitars anchored to a crack rhythm section, with Fredrick's passionate (albeit not excessive) vocals gliding over the top of all of it.  The Vinyl Years is twenty songs in length, with exactly the first half dedicated to the band's 1988 debut full length St. Valentine.  It's almost unfathomable that songs as engaging and proficiently executed as "These Dreams," "Ghosts From the Past," and the commanding title piece were the product of a baby bandCertainly there was probably some serious woodshedding that preceded this album, and subsequent to this BW made some considerably more sophisticated records, but St. Valentine sounds uncannily like the work of a seasoned band with a good five years or so of preparation to show for it.

Next up is the Short Stories ep from '89, a record cut from the same accomplished fabric as it's predecessor.  But check this out. The Black Watch adds violin to mix, and incorporate it so seamlessly that even when rubbing against serrated axe chords on "Dream in Blue" it doesn't sound a stitch out of place.  Elsewhere, the chiming leads on "The Ginger Man" predict the charm of soon-to-be-contemporaries the Ocean Blue, and "All Over Again" is a gutsy, indie-rock keeper for the ages.  The Vinyl Years is rounded out by a handful of track from subsequent singles that arrived shortly thereafter, including a driving, violin-laden stomp through "Eleanor Rigby," and "Just Last Night" is another ace original in the then nascent BW cannon.  I'm not saying the Watch's early material marked their apex, but this band sounds more inspired in the few first years of their inception than U2 did by the time they got to War.  Pretty damn remarkable, and as thoroughly essential as anything they would go on to do later.  The Vinyl Years is available from Atom Records or Amazon

On the opposite side of the coin we have brand new Black Watch in the form of a three-song 7" on Hypnotic Bridge.  "Crying All the Time! (Psyche mix) - which by the way doesn't necessarily scream "psychedelic" nonetheless it has it's own share of headiness going for it, not unlike recent Swervedriver and Less of Memory.  We're treated to two new b-sides as well, both indicative of how far this band has come since those astonishing-in-of-themselves early albums.  The single is available direct from Hypnotic Bridge, and copies appear to be limited.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

No clue.

Jangly (sorta) dream pop from 2008.

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


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Crumbs of Insanity - Spiral Stare tape (1989)

For a change I decided not to make you wait until Friday for some new tunes.  It didn't hurt that I had this one digitized and ready to go.  My initial draw to these Buffalo suburbanites was the involvement of one Mark Freeland (R.I.P.), a unique and talented savant-garde multimedia artist who made several records under his own name in the '80s-'90s.  It wasn't until I looked at Crumbs of Insanity's roster on the cassette inlay that I learned Freeland merely played percussion in this particular combo.  Nonetheless, not a regrettable purchase, albeit not the essence of what the man was responsible for. 

The Crumbs were actually spearheaded by Dave Rapp, whose parlance vaguely hovered in the vicinity of Boy George at times.  No shortage of hedonism is implied on these five cuts, with the Crumbs stopping short of any frivolous maneuvers.  Decked out in a white-boy, Caribbean melange of reggae-lite and new wave inklings (maybe a hint of Haircut 100 on "Keys"), I'm not sure what the band's ultimate objective was, or even if there were other releases surrounding this one.  World domination wasn't in the cards I'm afraid. Some of the material here strikes me as a tad underwritten, but I'm generally not apt to complain about what I'm hearing, particularly on side one (selections 1-3).  At some point I'll indulge you with some of Mark Freeland's proper studio delectation's.

01. Great Fire
02. Sentimental Drifter
03. Keys
04. Waves of Love
05. Lame Duck


Sunday, September 8, 2019

Oil tankers and the National Guard...

From 2000.  This artist's only proper album outside of soundtracks and scores.  Some say it's a classic.

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


Stealer - s/t (1982)

The album jacket depicted to your left may strike you as either innocuous, or perhaps even slightly off-putting.  Nothing about it screams "indie" or "post-punk, or in fact anything particularly visionary.  In some respects these assumptions are right on the money as Stealer were not indie kids, punk, or on the cutting edge of much of anything.  In fact, the foursome in question were marketed as hard rock and AOR.  Probably not the most enticing of musical propositions, and hardly the stuff of this blog's aesthetics, as it were.  "Hard rock," especially the pedestrian variety thereof, reeks of stock riffs, unimaginative FM playlists, antiseptic arenas, and all-too familiar themes of love, partying, and blue collar concerns.  Yet once in awhile I'll stumble across a forgotten hopeful of this ilk that stands out from the pack just enough to perk my ears up, and in this case even get me a little stoked. 

Stealer were major label casualties (we can thank MCA for the hiring/firing) who issued this lone self-titled platter.  While firmly in the AOR mold, the band (whose whereabouts remain unknown) had a stronger melodic prowess than the brunt of their competition.  Bearing a loose resemblance to The Babys, early Loverboy, and Foreigner, with occasional tinges of Cheap Trick, their flirtations with power-pop aren't as frequent as I'd prefer them to be, but I'll gladly take what I'm hearing on "Never Again," "If You Want Me" and "Your Heart Will Burn."  If it's more meat and potatoes hard rock you're craving the opening "On My Own Again" is a screamingly obvious (should've-been) airwaves anthem," and the even hotter second song in, "E.S.P." is a punchy, melodic gut check that genuinely outdid anything along the aforementioned Loverboy/Foreigner continuum, tame as that may sound to many of you.  The only bum item on Stealer is the concluding "Johnny," which regrettably could pass for a limp Bad Company ballad.

Compared to say, any of my Big Star, Husker Du, or Posies entries, Stealer may rank as a comparatively low priority, but I wouldn't be making it available for consumption if I couldn't vouch for it.  Go into this one with an open mind and you'll be pleasantly surprised.  Btw, pickings are woefully slim online for shedding any relevant light on this one.  Best I could find were an album critique and a thread on a hard rock forum

01. On My Own Again
02. E.S.P.
03. If You Want Me
04. Ready or Not
05. Never Again
06. I've Got to Fight
07. Hold Tight
08. Your Heart Will Burn
09. Tell Me It's Love
10. Johnny


Friday, September 6, 2019

Elton Motello - Pop Art 7" (1980, Passport)

Elton Motello was the stage name of Alain Ward, and somewhat confusingly it was also the name of his band in total.   The UK-based Ward kicked off his career in a glam/punk combo, Bastard, before taking up the Motello mantle in 1978, a year which saw the release of their debut long player, Victim of Time.  That album's follow-up Pop Art, came down the pike two years later and also spawned a single of the same name.  The 45 in question served as my intro to E/M, and after surveying the deft chops and somewhat sardonic modus operandi of the A-side, I'd put Ward in the same league as B.A. Roberston, Donnie Iris and for that matter, Bram Tchaikovsky.  In short, a frontman brimming with character and sass, the likes of which we're in dreadfully short supply of these.  The flip, "20th Century Fox" isn't the Doors song, rather another cheeky original with a mildly grandiose sweep, a la something Motello's contemporaries The Motors might have turned in had they not been so straight-faced.  There's a lot of music floating around the halls of Wilfully Obscure, and amidst my numerous stacks and racks I may have the Pop Art LP I spoke of a moment ago, so who knows, maybe that one will materialize on here later.  Feel free to imbibe this two-songer for now.

A. Pop Art
B. 20th Century Fox


Sunday, September 1, 2019

I can't explain what I can't see.

This band's 1979 fourth album was almost as classic and gratifying as their first three.  Almost.

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