A Chanukah-worthy return to Mystery Mondays. This one might as well count as night nine. It's a two-fer from a should've-been-huge Motor City alt-rock act that would have fit in like a glove on 120 Minutes back in the day.
And so we bring Chanukah to a close with a veritable doozy. If you're at all surprised I went with XTC to close things outs, that's understandable, because in the past twelve years I think I've mentioned them by comparison at best. So why did I finally take a full scale plunge into the realm of Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, et al? Essentially this bundle of relatively uncirculated booty was too good to keep to myself, and I had a hunch it would have a lot of welcome ears in this humble cyberspace outpost.
I've been an XTC fan since Oranges and Lemons, though wouldn't consider myself a hardcore adherent, and by no means a completist. I'm not sure if I have a favorite XTC album, but I indeed have a preferred era, namely Mummer, The Big Express and Skylarking. To one extent or another, the band were considered eccentrics from the outset, and while always on the more creative end of the post-punk continuum, this perception would multiply by the mid-80s, in large part to Partridge's 1982 announcement that XTC would cease to exist as a live performing entity, due in large part to a growing intolerance towards touring and almost paralyzing bouts of stage-freight.
And with this development Mummer was eventually born, XTC's sixth album. Feeling more unshackled than anytime before, Partridge was at ease in exercising his idiosyncratic muse. As he put in a 2006 interview, "Quitting touring allowed us to go Technicolor," - not unlike the Beatles when they made the decision to becoming a studio-only entity towards the middle of their career. XTC's creative development on Mummer was a stepping stone to what some regard as the band's visionary apex, 1986's Skylarking. In an increasingly elaborate move, key album cuts like "Great Fire" and "Deliver Us From the Elements" exuded pocket-orchestral sweeps. While not as elaborate, "Beating of Hearts" and "Human Alchemy" were vividly textured, and elsewhere Mummer emanated pop grandeur as only Partridge and Co. could on "Love on a Farmboy's Wages" and "In Loving Memory of a Name." In fact, Mummer was an out-and-out fantastic XTC album, that is in it's original 1983 incarnation. The 1987 expanded CD edition included six extra cuts, many of which sounded like mere afterthoughts. This wasn't frustrating in itself, so much as the decision to insert them smack dab in the middle of the record's original running order, thus breaking the continuity of an otherwise consistent album. Always been a gripe of mine, but I digress.
With that brief critique/history out of the way, I present you with two sets of demos. One consisting primarily of Andy Partidge's home demos, and another entirely different set of "rough drafts" providing an alternate working version of Mummer. In fact it even had a working-title, Fallen From the Garden. Between these sessions are no less than 34 tracks, with some significant title overlap mind you. Represented are all ten songs from the original vinyl variation of the record in question, and a healthy amount of outtakes. Some of these would be hammered out to perfection and utilized as b-sides and the aforementioned CD bonus tracks, while a few like the excellent "Young Cleopatra" would find their way onto XTC fan club cassette releases. Although they're amusing to listing to in prototype versions, it's understandable why pieces like "Monkeys In Humanskin Suits" and "Do the Dwarf" were left on the cutting room floor. In the grand scheme of things these demos and early takes reveal quite a bit - not only the genesis of several future XTC classics, but where Andy's head was at in the wake of unshackling himself from the rigors of being a live performing artist. Enjoy (or not). A big round of applause to whomever went to the trouble of digitizing these tracks.
Mummer home demos
01. Great Fire
02. Gold (studio rehearsal)
04. Beating of Hearts
06. Love on a Farmboy's Wages
07. Human Alchemy
09. Me and the Wind
10. Desert Island
11. The World Is Full Of Angry Young Men
12. Happy Families
13. Young Cleopatra
14. Monkeys In Humanskin Suits
15. Motorcycle Landscape
16. Disque Bleu
17. Dripping Basin
18. Do the Dwarf (Semi Instrumental Outtake)
19. Jacob's Ladder (Instrumental Studio Demo)
Fallen from the Garden (Mummer rough takes)
03. In Loving Memory of a Name
04. Happy Families
05. Funk Pop a Roll
06. Young Cleopatra
07. The World Is Full Of Angry Young Men
08. Motorcycle Landscape
09. Me and the Wind
10. Spend a Penny
11. Human Alchemy
12. Deliver Us From the Elements
14. Love on a Farmboy's Wages
15. Desert Island MP3 or FLAC
This isn't a rerun, rather a continuation of the Powerpearls series of compilations I shared three years ago. In 2016 I made volumes 1 & 2 available, and this year I'm giving you the fourth and fifth installments. Why no Vol. 3? Well, I haven't come across the third one, not in the wild anyways. To get a better gist of what the Powerpearls m.o. is please refer to the link above, which lays things out nicely. For the uninitiated, the Powerpearls serial were glorified, not to mention fairly well assembled DIY compilations of rare(ish) vinyl singles that hit in the late 70s/early 80s of long departed obscure power-pop and melodic punk acts that most of us wouldn't have encountered otherwise. An unfortunate thing that would be, because the majority of what's presented is of par excellence quality. In short, they're perfectly curated for the aesthetics of the very site you're visiting right now. Also, the emphasis is predominantly on European artists, contrary to the like-minded Teenline series which was exclusively America-centric
Each of these two platters consist of 18 songs apiece. And while I went to the effort of providing a track list below, I'm not going to have time to profile everyone on board. Nonetheless, if you're looking for a shortcut or two I'd be happy to disclose a few of the highlights. Vol 4. breathes life into under-examined 45" wonders from English power-chord bashers 23 Jewels, The Elevators, Resistors and Geneva. The Innocents, a female fronted UK export, deliver the exceptional "One Way Love" sounding a hell of a lot more visceral than Blondie of the Go Gos ever did. Holland's Princes of Piece turn up with a hook-laden slammer that I'd desperately like to hear more of, and there's even a Canadian entry by way of an early Blue Peter cut, before they went snyth-pop and eschewed their bratty sensibilities. And I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention The Keys "I Don't Want to Cry," a primo, Beatles-indebted slice of power pop that arguably beat the Fab Four at their own game.
Powerpearls Vol. 5 couldn't commence with a stronger contender than one of Stiff Records finest stablemates, Any Trouble, only to be matched a little further in by my faves The Freshies with one of their signature numbers, "Oh Girl." And there's scads more gold to be plundered in these hills - The Snips, Time Wasters, Boyfriends, and Young Lords among others. A couple of American entries on this one, and pretty fantastic ones in my opinion, specifically the Windbreakers and The Jetboys. I'm under the impression that each of these comps included one token Netherlands act, and the contestant on Vol. 5 is the Undertones-inflected Rotjoch. And not to overlook the land down under, Australia's in the house with a strummy tune by Division 4. By the way, don't be scared off by the non-English singing entrants either.
One quick disclaimer. These are
vinyl comps, that were presumably, in most cases, sourced from the
original singles. There are a handful of glitches amidst these grooves
that I couldn't do squat about, not to mention intermittent surface noise. Nothing too egregious, and naturally, as compensation the music is pretty superb.
Powerpearls Vol. 4
01. Tunnelrunners - Words
02. 23 Jewels - Playing Boghart
03. Elevators - Your Eyes Are Too Close Together
04. Cuban Heels - Downtown
05. Fingers - Isolation
06. Singles - That's Just Someone That I Knew
07. Blue Peter - Living in the 80s
08. Diestinct - Ett Gevär I Min Hand
09. Innocents - One Way Love
10. The Keys - I Don't Wanna Cry
11. X-Conz - Do Dead People Tan
12. Geneva - Geneva Street
13. Babij Jar - Ice Age
14. Cigarette - Gimme Cigarettes
15. Vice Creems - Won't You Be My Girl
16. Princes of Piece - X-Ray Proofed
17. Resistors - Takeaway Love
18. Strate Jacket - You're a Hit
Powerpearls Vol. 5
01. Any Trouble - Yesterday's Love
02. Dagen D - Fel
03. The Windbreakers - Black & White
04. Snips - 9 o'Clock
05. The Zips - Over & Over
06. Time Wasters - On the Street
07. Division 4 - Stop Dreaming
08. Odds - Spare Rib
09. Y Trwynau Coch - Wastod Ar Y Tu Fas
10. The Freshies - Oh Girl
11. Rotjoch - Bad Boy
12. The Vandells - Ruby Toot
13. Boyfriends - Boyfriend
14. Young Lords - Big Burden
15. Jetboys - Get the Kids Jumpin'
16. Bikini - Tu Ne Paries Pas
17. Heartbreak - Jag Ar Inte Kar
18. Regents - Ride Cowboy Ride
Fifteen seconds is all it took to sell me on The Big Picture. I found The Homeless House while browsing a shop in Akron, OH last year. The sleeve intrigued me. I inquired if there was an in-store listening station where I could preview it. Nope...but the clerk kindly offered to throw it on the store's turntable. And within fifteen seconds of absorbing the opening of "Poison Town" I knew this was going home with me.
In case you're wondering BP were not local to Akron, or for that any matter any locale in the Buckeye state, rather Mississippi. In fact, once I took a closer look at the back cover it was obvious that these gents were in cahoots with an even more established MS band of the same ilk, the Windbreakers, whom BP also shared a producer with, Randy Everett.
By the mid-80s, the Windbreakers, featuring the songwriting duo of Tim Lee and Bobby Sutliff, had staked out a reputation for themselves as part of the vanguard of southern "new music" that had made national inroads at college radio outlets. While generally cut from similar cloth as the 'breakers, the Big Picture opted for a slightly less rambunctious tact, slotting in a little more closely with contemporaries the Grapes of Wrath, Fire Town and Dreams So Real. Per the album itself, the aforementioned "Poison Town" is an anthemic, indie rock clarion call of a song most bands would trade a collective limb to possess in their repertoire, even surpassing the Windbreakers strongest material. It's a near perfect mesh of crunch and jangle with chiming arpeggios and a gripping melody. While I can't say there's much else on side one that can compete with it, the second half of The Homeless House is markedly more consistent, where you're bound to hear something fetching virtually wherever the stylus drops. Best of all, this trio thoroughly circumvents the gaudy superficiality the '80s gave us in such abundance. My much belated discovery of BP may not qualify as an outright revelation, but the band's most intoxicating songs often project such an illusion...if that make any sense. Enjoy, and feel free to shed any light on these guys, as I can't find anything relevant on (or off) line.
01. Poison Town
02. The Homeless House
04. Two is a Crowd
06. No One Dances
07. Say No More
08. Lines of Pretty Pink
10. Giving Up the Ghost
Alright ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to night five of Chanukah. Since this entry concerns six singles it might have more sense to wait until tomorrow night, but my hectic schedule won't allow that. I skipped the singles bundle last year, but not this one. It is a little more time consuming to string this array of 45s together than you might think, so I hope you'll excuse me if the "essay" portion of this entry seems a little brief. Maybe it will encourage more downloads if my brevity lends a sense of mystery to this whole endeavor. Hmmm... All audio files have been bundled into one folder, with links at the tail end of this write-up.
The End - 7 Day Servant/Dasvidanya 7" (1985, Pool)
I suppose I'll start with my choicest find of the year. The End were composed of three Dallas denizens, who eventually renamed their unit End Over End. Theirs wasn't very typical of the whole "Deep Ellum" sound, rather this trio were more content to wallow in post-punky entrails. Not quite goth mind you, but boy did they nail that echo-y guitar tone on both of these numbers. Kinda reminiscent of those early Comsat Angels albums like Sleep No More, albeit End's frontman Tench Coxe is a lot sweeter in the vocal department.
The Terrible Parade - Ed McMahon Says/Telephone Man 7" (1992, Presto)
No strangers to this page, I featured the Terrible Parade'sfirst and only album a good ten years ago. I like virtually everything I've heard by these Cleveland, OH anglophiles and these two numbers cut the mustard as well. The band evocatively ponders how life would change if they were to win a certain sweepstakes in "Ed McMahon Says, " while the acoustic flip, "Telephone Man," entails an unrequited romance. Thematically it's not far removed from a similarly titled song from a charting R&B outfit had a few years prior, but trust me, I prefer Terrible Parade's take on this premise just about any day.
Snatch the Pebble - way/window 7" (1992, esync ocular interchange)
Up for a slice or two of sublime, distortion-laden dream pop? Sure you are. I'm pretty much turning up goose eggs on this woozy quartet, presumably from Florida. Per Discogs Snatch the Pebble had a mere three records to their credit and this appears to be the middle one. And they did their thing splendidly on this 7" circle of manicured noise, not unlike their equally arcane but excellent contemporaries Ultra Cindy and Smashing Orange. True, StP may not have been originators of the form, but they're phenomenal practitioners, especially on the A-side "way."
Bok Bok - Come Back to Me/Misfit (1980/2014, Bok Bok/Captured Tracks)
You could say that these UK pop-punks were an offshoot of an offshoot. A little known band called The Teardrops came into being circa the very end of the '70s featuring alumni from the Buzzcocks and Fall. I don't own the Teardrops lone album, Final Vinyl, but I've heard it, and sad to say it's downright mediocre, embarrassingly so at times. The 'drops were out of commission by 1980, and two of the members Steve Garvey (ex-Buzzcocks) and Fall-guy Karl Burns incorporated Bok Bok with a mouthpiece named Dave Price for what turned out to be a self-released, one off single (this one). In a nutshell, both songs from this fleeting project fulfilled the promise that the Teardrops never capitalized on. "Come Back to Me" and "Misfit" definitely owes a bigger sonic debt to the Buzzcocks than Mark E. Smith and Co., and given the caliber of these tunes I wouldn't have done things any differently. The single was released with an alternate sleeve for Record Store Day 2014, and unsold copies may still be available here.
Another Pretty Face - All the Boys Love Carrie/That's Not Enough 7" (1979, New Pleasures)
The Scottish born and bred Another Pretty Face put out this thoroughly winsome wax forty years ago, and could have almost tricked me into thinking it was some long lost Stiff Records artifact. We're treated to five and a half minutes of old school power pop bliss a la Any Trouble and Dirty Looks, perhaps even a smidge of the Undertones and Records. "All the Boys Love Carrie" is a classy and perfectly executed banger and it's flip-side is no slouch either. Four singles and a cassette album was APF's recorded legacy, this 45 being the first of all of them. They certainly don't churn 'em out like this anymore, but luckily we can take a spin back in time anytime we want.
The Teardrop Explodes - Treason/Read It in Books 7" (1980, Zoo!)
And finally, I'm tossing in one a good lot of you should have some familiarity with. This, as they say, is a gem. A pearl. A nugget of gold. The Teardrop Explodes were one of the most successful and innovative bands to have emanated from Liverpool, England, post-Beatles. "Treason" illustrates precisely why, and is the band's finest moment alongside the almost equally appealing "Reward." In case you don't know the story, after the band's dissolution, prime mover Julian Cope ventured out off onto a successful solo career, yielding gold albums...and as you may know, the usage of all manner of hallucinogenics. Here is the first of two incarnations of the "Treason" single, this one backed with an Echo & the Bunnymen cover, and released independently on the band's own Zoo! imprint.
They're not often spoken of, but in the rare instances The Necessaries name pops up, it's almost always with a certain amount of reverence. Never heard of them? Despite having two albums on Sire, and serving as a launching pad for the late singer/songwriter/composer/avant-ist Arthur Russell, there's been no effort up until very recently to acknowledge the existence of this often stunning quartet.
Formed in 1978 and originally consisting of renown producer/performer Chris Spedding on guitars, Ed Tomney on lead vocals/gits/snyth, ex-Modern Lover Ernie Brooks on bass and Jesse Chamberlain handling percussion, the Necessaries were lazily pegged as power pop. Not aggressive enough to be classified as punk, nor did they possess the flowery adaptations to attach themselves to the coattails of the budding New Romantic movement, the Necessaries may have lacked an uber-colorful identity, but had integrity for miles. Unfortunately, integrity will only propel you so far, especially if you're under the wing of a major label.
Chris Spedding didn't even stick around long enough to appear on the groups first single, 1979's John Cale-produced "You Can Borrow My Car" for I.R.S. In fact, by the time Necessaries debut, Big Sky, he was replaced altogether by Russell. An album, especially a debut needs to start out with a bang, and Big Sky does precisely that via the sonically advanced "Back to You," a flabbergasting melange of dueling staccato/chiming fretwork, Tomney's spoke/sung prose and a sophistication beyond the band's collective years. "Driving and Talking at the Same Time," tamps down the dynamics a bit in favor of a breezier mystique that subtly channels everyone from the Talking Heads to Television and even Roxy Music. Then we're soaked in the rolling boil that is "Born Yesterday," a piece that taps into the acumen of contemporaries X, simultaneously offering a wink and a nod to '70s, New York proto-punk. If the Necessaries had stopped at just those first three songs, they would've one of the finest EPs of all time on their hands, but they were only getting warmed up, as the album continues for eight more songs. Some of the remaining numbers are more essential than others ("Detroit Tonight" and "My Baby's Explosive" are favorites). The record skews more towards post-punk than rote, four chord power pop. Particularity demonstrative of this, "On the Run" finagles with skittish Gang of Four guitar interplay. To my ears, Big Sky contains nothing dismissive.
Apparently the band and/or management didn't see it that way, because in 1982 the record was apparently withdrawn and dramatically re-calibrated with half of the original track-listing removed/replaced, rechristened with a new title (Event Horizon). and given a wholly different sleeve. From what I've been able to glean, Event Horizon was only released to European markets, and both albums were out of print for decades, until the UK based Be With label reissued Horizon in 2017 in an exclusive vinyl edition. If you enjoy what you hear on Big Sky, please considering purchasing the reissue (linked above). A full review of it can be imbibed over at Pitchfork.
The Necessaries svelte discography could fit comfortably on a single compact disc (hint, hint Omnivore), but either Tomney & Co. or
Sire have been resistant to migrating the band into the
digital era. It's something that's frustrated me for ages, so I'm happy to provide you with half the story, and as mentioned above the rest can now be purchased. Arthur Russell was the only one in the Necessaries lineup to enjoy any visibility after the band dissolved, that was until his untimely passing in 1992. A recent collection of unreleased demos, (Iowa Dream) saw the light of day in '19. It, along with a healthy swath of his discography is available on Bandcamp.
01. Back to You
02. Driving and Talking at the Same Time
03. Born Yesterday
04. My Baby's Explosive
08. Detroit Tonight
10. On the Run
11. Cuba Mortis
Welcome to night three. Now, after this trifecta of short form 12"s (EPs, duh) you might be asking yourself, is this really the best he could come up with this year? Well...yes, the best I had time to listen to anyway. Every year I must come into possession of 20-30 eps from the 1980s that never made into the digital era, and believe it or not I may not get a chance to listen to all of them in depth - or even until a subsequent year. In short, here's what rattled my bones in 2019.
Now this one I was real eager to pick up. You might say Seattle's Tree Climbers (spelled as one word on the cover, but as two on the spine and just about everywhere online) were a pre-supergroup of sorts, featuring no less than three members that would go onto more prominent roles. Foremost among them, bassist Jonathan Poneman who would in a few years become co-founder/owner of Sub Pop Records with Bruce Pavitt. Guitarist Gary Thorstensen became a member of Tad, playing on all of that hallowed trio's Sub Pop releases (God's Balls, 8-Way Santa, etc) and even a bit beyond. Loren Evans was front Climber, and in the early '90s went onto lead another obscuro Seattle fave of mine, Gnome, albeit his vocals sounded completely different there than what you're about to hear on this record. At any rate, the word "grunge" was nowhere near the Tree Climbers vernacular, who instead sported a clean, alt-rock aplomb that didn't really steer towards any particularly describable angle, merely they had a batch of excellent songs. "Second and Counting" and the sax driven "Chills" had very faint latter-era Roxy Music tendencies, but in reality the Climbers were more muscular than that. Track two, the driving "On Location" is the one you're most apt to get stuck in your noggin. The band's roster numbered five members, yet only three are depicted on the sleeve. Hmmm. Just wish there was more where this 1985 ep came from. You can read a little bit more about these guys here.
01. Second and Counting
02. On Location
03. Greener Pastures
04. Chills (aka Longing)
Regrettably I don't have very many pertinent details regarding Spiderbaby. I first made my acquaintance with this L.A. combo via Flipside's The Big One compilation, but they largely fell off my radar until I found this disc from 1988. The two bookends here, "When I" and "About Her" exemplify everything I love about melodic, indie guitar rock, only these co-ed kids managed to shoehorn a little piano in there as well. "Pilsner Song," as you might surmise is a lager anthem of sorts, with a suitably catchy blue-collar chorus. The only other tune I have yet to mention, "Twisted," sort of has it's own vibe. Spiderbaby also laid claim to a 1992 album that I do believe I need to get my mitts on.
01. When I
02. Pilsner Song
04. About Her
Honour Society, as it turns out, aren't as much of a cold case by virtue of the band maintaining a Soundcloud page with an ample amount of content. I swiped this bio blurb from their page, because I really couldn't put it any more succinctly myself.
Honour Society lived from 1984 to 1990. The brain child of Dean Wilson,
Honour Society played and recorded around the Philadelphia area while
hailing from Wilmington DE. Dean continues to play and record. The
latest incarnation can be heard as 'Illyah Kuryahkin' with several
releases through Arena Rock Records.
Not unlike the Tree Climbers (profiled above) Honour Society mingled nicely with what was happening on left-of-the-dial outlets circa this record's '88 release. I can't get enough of Dean Wilson's clangy, ringing guitars which really fused "Ambition" and "Faith" into primo, collegiate rock pearls that deserved a much more renown fate. What We Like isn't wall-to-wall excellence but there are enough moments that come close. The last track is an untitled/unlisted six minute acoustic demo. Besides a flexi disc, this was their only commercial release. Per the bio above, check out Dean's follow-up stint, Illyah Kuryahkin if you enjoy what you hear.
02. Walk Alone
04. What We Like
Now for some unreleased stuff. Teenage Fanclub. I'm a bigger fan than you might think. Up until now I haven't shared much by them, and it's likely to stay that way since the bulk of their material is still available. My first encounter with the Fannies is still pretty vivid. By the miracle of in-store-airplay at Erl Records in Albany, NY circa early 1991, they were spinning The "God Knows It's True"/"So Far Gone" 45 on Matador. It struck me as melancholy, perhaps even a tad depressing, but a visceral love at first listen. I quickly picked up their first album (on cassette no less) A Catholic Education, and was generally treated to more of the same. At that phase in T/F's tenure they weren't regarded as pop purists, and from my standpoint they may as well have been an emo band...but anyway. Was thoroughly on board for Bandwagonesque too,and subsequent records like Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain stand as pop/rock pillars for the ages.
Submitted for your approval is a collection of twelve, early-ish demos surrounding the aforementioned first T/F albums, A Catholic Education in 1990, and Bandwagonesque following a year later. The source of these tracks are unknown, but it looks like they've been in low circulation at best. In most cases they're markedly different than the finished versions, making this a pretty sweet revelation. A lot of the "hits" are unaccounted for here - "Radio," "What You Do to Me," "Star Sign," etc.. but I'm down with deeper cuts anyway. We're treated to a sublime, eleven and a half minute reading of "Alcoholiday," and early takes of "Everything Flows" and "Guiding Star" give me an even greater appreciation of songs I thought I couldn't love more. The demo specimen of "Pet Rock" is totally acoustic, and a cover of "I've Got a Feeling" doesn't appear to have carried over to any official release in any rendering whatsoever.
But *sigh* there is a snag, and kind of a bummer at that. The concluding piece, "Metal Baby" inexplicably cuts out shortly after the two minute mark. A pitiful shame because not only is it one of Bandwagonesque's halcyon moments, but the version here is extra raw and distorted, almost over-modulating into the red. If anyone has the complete version of it, please speak up. BTW, I won't be sharing this one in FLAC, as I could only locate it in it's MP3 incarnation. Enjoy, warts and all.
01. Critical Mass
02. Everybody's Fool
03. Everything Flows
04. Eternal Light
05. Free Again
06. Bad Seeds
07. Guiding Star
08. Pet Rock
09. Is This Music?
11. I've Got a Feeling
12. Metal Baby (end cuts)
It all has to start somewhere, and in this case "it" is my affection for power pop. Thing was, back in the early '80s I was already tuned in but simply unaware of the genre. Tommy Tutone, The Romantics and the Knack were heavy hitters on on my FM playlist. They all qualified as practitioners of the form, but by and large the music overshadowed categorization and nomenclature. Later on, I became a little more power-pop conscious upon adopting bands like Cheap Trick and Material issue, but I simply wasn't wed to the genre - not yet anyway. Fast forward to 1996 of thereabouts. A local record shop had a modest bargain/freebie section near the front cash register. One afternoon upon checking out, I spotted what appeared to be an advance cassette of The RecordsMusic on Both Sides album. Since MoBS was a 1982 release, I'm not sure how an ancient promo tape was still lingering around fifteen years after the fact, but whatever, I bit. I think at that point I was acquainted with the Records signature tune "Starry Eyes." Other than that I was going into Music... fairly cold. Turns out I was in for quite a startling treat, and what would turn out to be a quickly growing appreciation and adoption of power pop wholesale. In fact, that old and worn out tape was such a gateway, I could make the argument that Music... was one of the key impetuses for me starting Wilfully Obscure. Tonight I'm presenting you with the now out-of-print definitive CD remasters of The Records three proper albums that were reissued by On the Beach Records between 2002-07, featuring a host of b-sides, non-LP goodies and even some live material. So far as I know these aren't available through the usual digital vendors like Amazon and iTunes, or even Spotify.
In the beginning there was the Kursaal Flyers, a mid-70s UK pub act who churned out a three studio LPs and at least twice as many singles. The Flyers' featured future Records drummer Will Birch, and towards the end of the Flyers' tenure John Wicks (deceased 2018) on guitar. After K/F's dissolution in 1977 both men would soon found The Records with bassist Phil Brown (deceased 2012) and guitarist Huw Gower. The quartet's first single, "Starry Eyes" hit in 1978, and set the table not only for the band themselves, but modern day power pop with it's merger of Wick's jaw-dropping vocal hooks and Gower's jangly chords. 1979's Shades in Bed was the name of the UK version of the Records debut album, which was later released in the States simply as The Records featuring an entirely different sleeve (with less risque cover art) and an alternate track order. As far as debuts go, it's a sheer corker, featuring alongside "Starry Eyes" another equally strong single, "Teenarama," and a devastating array of deeper album cuts like "Girl," "All Messed Up and Ready to Go," and "Affection Rejected," all of which would be live staples for years. The Records mightily advanced and perfected what presaging bands like The Raspberries and Blue Ash had initiated, retooling the power pop formula writ large, setting the template for dozens of bands to follow on both sides of the Atlantic. No exaggeration. The 2002 CD reissue features yet a third variation on the album jacket, and rewardingly an album's worth of bonus cuts. Tracks 11-14 are covers by Blue Ash, The Kinks, Spirit and the Rolling Stones respectively. This quartet of tunes was featured on a bonus disc, originally bundled with both versions of the original 1979 album. We also get some key contemporary b-sides, the album worthy "Paint Her Face" and "Held Up High," alongside the contents of a post-Shades in Bed single - an improved upon cover of the Bay City Rollers' "Rock 'n Roll Love Letter," and another classic original, "Wives and Mothers of Tomorrow."
Not much time was wasted for the second Records' long-player to make it onto the marketplace, specifically 1980's Crashes. John Broack'sShake Some Action, guide to Power Pop albums (now in a revamped edition) acknowledges that as good and even seminal as Shades... was, Crashes was the band's crowning achievement, featuring an even tighter performance acumen, plus more importantly a richer and more developed batch of songs. Despite leading off with another fantastic single, the mid-tempo "Hearts in Her Eyes" (soon to be covered by The Searchers) the album didn't take off on either side of the Atlantic, but Crashes featured a dizzying array of resonant, melodious guitar pop tunes that few bands of the Records ilk have yet to perfect upon - "Man With the Girlproof Heart," "The Same Mistakes," and "Rumor Sets the Woods Alight," all expanding upon the bittersweet affectations that cropped up intermittently on the debut. Sophisticated, but not the least bit show-offy, Crashes is downright untouchable. The supplemental material features two knockout b-sides, paralleling anything on the LP itself, "Injury Time" and "So Sorry." There's also "Vamp," a mainstay of the Records live shows, appearing here in a studio incarnation for the first time, along with another solid outtake, "Faces in the Window." I'd be remiss not to mention that the album featured a key lineup change - Huw Gower was gone, replaced by Jude Cole. Topping off the bonus tunes are early takes of "The Same Mistakes" and "Girlproof" while Gower was still in the Records.
And speaking of lineup alterations, one of colossal proportions was on deck for the third and final Records platter, Music on Both Sides. Not long for life as a Record, Jude Cole's stint was over by 1981, and in his stead, new lead axe-slinger Dave Whelen was brought aboard. However the far more significant development involved new frontman, Chris Gent. While Wicks maintained his role as guitarist it was decided upon, apparently on the band's own volition (per the liner notes), that The Records needed a more prominent mouthpiece to advance them commercially. While not particularly known post or pre-Records, Gent was an appropriate "replacement" vocalist with a commanding but not overpowering set of pipes who more than did the bands new tunes justice, even if the vast majority of them were still written and composed by Wicks and Birch. Ironically, the album that introduced me to the band (this one) didn't feature their original singer in his key role, however the songs didn't suffer in the least, and were largely on par with Crashes. "Heather and Hell," "Keeping Up With Jones," and "Clown Around Town," if not perfect-tens, came within spitting distance and were out-and-out catchy as anything the band offered prior. Both Sides lead-off (and I believe sole) single featured none other than Paul Carrack on keyboards, but interestingly enough the anthemic b-side, "Your Own Soundtrack" took on something of a life of it's own in the years following it's release. Not so much by the BBC, but by fans like myself who really ended up taking to it - so much so that for the reissue of Both Sides it was reassigned as the first song on the album itself, not merely as a bonus cut! And rightfully so. As for the bona fide supplemental selections, we get four original demos with Wicks singing, including the heretofore unreleased "On Time." A clutch of randomly plucked live cuts ("Starry Eyes" among them) are bonus-ized as well, including The Records collaborating with Jane Aire of the Belvederes on "Lovin You Ain't Easy." While vinyl copies of Both Sides are virtually worthless, the CD re-ish is going for exorbitant asking prices on all the usual sites. In 1982 the group called it a day, reuniting in 1990 for a song on a Beach Boys tribute album.
For the time being I'm sharing these as 320 kbps MP3s, but will consider lossless versions at some point if demand is great enough. Don't hold your breath.
Shades on Both Sides/The Records
03. Girls That Don't Exist
04. Starry Eyes
05. Up All night
06. All Messed Up and Ready
08. Affection Rejected
09. The Phone
10. Another Star bonus:
11. Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)
12. See My Friends
14. Have You Seen Your Mother Baby?
15. Starry Eyes (45 version)
16. Paint Her Face
17. Roch 'n Roll Love Letter
18. Wives and Mothers of Tomorrow
19. Held Up high
20. Teenarama (remix)
01. Hearts in Her Eyes
02. Girl in Golden Disc
03. Rumor Set the Woods Alight
04. I Don't Remember Your Name
05. The Same Mistakes
06. Man With a Girlproof Heart
07. Hearts Will Be Broken
08. Spent a Week With Your Last Night
09. The Worriers
10. Guitars in the Sky bonus:
11. Injury Time
13. So Sorry
14. Faces at the Window
15. The Same Mistakes
16. Man With a Girlproof Heart
Music on Both Sides
01. Your Own Soundtrack
02. Imitation Jewelry
03. Heather and Hell
04. Selfish Love
05. Clown Around Town
06. Not So Much the Time
07. Keeping Up With Jones
08. Third Hand Information
09. Real Life
10. King of Kings
11. Cheap Detective Music
12. Everyday Nightmare bonus:
13. Your Own Soundtrack (demo)
14. Not So Much the Time (demo)
15. Third Hand Information (demo)
16. On Time (demo)
17. Insomnia (live)
18. Affection Rejected (live)
19. Starry Eyes (live)
20. Lovin' You Ain't Easy (live with Jane Aire)
That time is upon folks. You guessed it, our annual tradition of eight consecutive days of extra-special, BFD uploads of my choicest records, bootlegs and such that I've been holding out all year for are about to be unfurled in tandem with the eight days of Chanukah themselves. This year the festivities run from the evening of Sunday December 22nd to that of the following Sunday.
If you're new to the site please check out the preliminary details for past Chanukah roll-outs (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016,2017 and 2018). You might be asking what initially motivated me to start this tradition altogether. For one, it gives me a
convenient excuse to share several mind-blowing "gifts" instead of just
one big reveal on Christmas. Secondly, Chanukah represents
relevance to me. We all know you were envious of
that boy down the block who had a yarmulke festooned to his head, who
was given the privilege of lighting the menorah, and of course, reveling
in eight glorious nights of presents. Once again, I'm paying it
forward. Previous Chanukah entries have featured Wire, Velocity Girl, Jellyfish, Husker Du and Redd Kross, but name recognition is hardly a guarantee. As in past years, there will definitely be familiar faces, but also
several participants that have never garnered face-time on W/O. Bear in mind that what's a revelation to me, may not be the equivalent of a holy grail to you...but hopefully you'll come around.
At the top of each Chanukah upload will be a thumbnail photo of a
menorah, with the appropriate number of lit candles to denote each
succeeding evening until all eight slots in the candelabra are occupied
on the concluding night, December 29th.
Kindly bear the following in mind:
Look for the first Chanukah posting this Sunday evening, and then
for the remaining seven nights 'round supper time all next week.
Mystery Monday will be taking a break this coming Monday (Dec 23rd)
so as not to interrupt the continuity of the eight consecutive nights of
Some offerings will be made available in FLAC (in addition to standard
MP3), but not as much as in past years.
If you've frequented this corner of cyberspace for the last five years or so the name Lannie Fowers is bound to be familiar. From nicely padded archival releases of material from his '80s power pop cabal The Pengwins to a bouquet of riff-tacular solo LPs (Same Old Story, Circles, etc) in recent years, he's been ubiquitous, albeit in small circles like ours. Not an experiment so much as a slight departure, his latest, Home is still a (mostly) plugged in affair with the emphasis on reflective, personal themes. Wielding a mature singer/songwriter tact without succumbing to the more cliched trappings of such a venture, Home is as engaging as it is heartfelt recalling everything from 1970s soft pop (check out the masterclass ballad "Missed You Tonight") to more upbeat triapses that could rightfully take their place on the same shelf as Wilco's Summerteeth. The vinyl incarnation of Home is set to ship in March of '20, but the CD version is ready to go, and is available digitally through Amazon and even Spotify.
If nuanced, modern-day dream pop (i.e. "nu-gaze") is one of your proverbial wheelhouses, Mexico's mercvrial are your next go-to destination. Helmed by an American expat, mercvrial are prodigiously adept conveyors of ethereal haze who opt for melodic songcraft over sheer white noise - and they have a new five song EP, the stars, like dust to show for it. For a band bearing a self-described Anglophile bent this quintet ironically recall some excellent Yankee purveyors like For Against, Spirnghouse, and more recently the Daysleepers. Drizzles of chiming guitars and heady sonic structures agilely waft their way around pensively themed originals "Otherworld" and "Carnival." mercvrial know how to wrap their way around a cover as well, namely The Chills' Kiwi-pop chestnut "Pink Frost," and the considerably less renown but doubly rewarding "Girlwish (II) by Fudge, a bygone Richmond, VA combo I've given no shortage of exposure over the past couple of decades. the stars... is available physically through CD Baby, and through digital liaisons Bandcamp on a song-by-song basis.
Last but not least, New Jersey punk-pop stalwarts Stuyvesant still make the rounds intermittently, and when they do they always make it count. Their latest for Dromedary Records is a two song 45 with a brilliant picture sleeve that cops one of those animal file-card thingys that were all the rage among nerdy sixth graders in the '80s. And oh yeah, the music too! "Aardvark" is a sturdy, devastatingly melodi-core scorcher pointing to Stuyvesant's inspirational antecedents All, Samiam, and Porcelain Boys. Would really love a whole new album of these. The flip, "Gauntlet" rocks a considerably more dissonant stride that dare I says flirts with different time changes. Just a heads up, the vinyl of this one is lathe-cut and strictly limited with most of it's 40 copies being sold out already, so head here pronto! You can buy it digitally from that link as well, and of course, Amazon downloads is always there for you.
Australia's long departed Dugites were one of my foremost rewarding retro-discoveries of 2019. I shared their 1980 self-titled debut over the summer, and a lot of you seemed to concur. Arriving one year later, their sophomore LP, West of the World followed a similar formula, and was nearly as consistent, albeit this time around the bubble-gummy aesthetic was curtailed just a tad and the Blondie-isms weren't quite as apparent. Helmed by frontwoman Lynda Nutter, the Dugites possessed an infectious pop acumen, and despite utilizing relatively traditional arrangements on "Part of Me," "There's a Place" and "No Noise," the band lends a certain sophistication to these tunes that elevates them into something remarkable. The comparatively rapid-fire "Malcolm's Got a Problem" throws in an interesting dynamic as well, and believe it or not I even enjoy the more mature (i.e. "serious") ballads on here "Waiting" and "After the Game."
01. Part of Me
02. No Noise
04. Malcolm's Got a Problem
05. Go to Sleep
06. There's a Place
07. Who Loves You More
08. Rely on Us
09. Being Used
10. After the Game
The liner notes to Cherry Red's thorough and well-assembled canonization of the late '70s not-so-chart-ascending punk-era rock act The Flys bemoans the myriad bands from their era (and otherwise) that had the chops and songs to grasp full fledged notoriety, only to have their collective fingers slapped away by the fickle and unpredictable hands of fate. Despite two albums for EMI Records (Waikiki Beach Refugeesin 1978, and Owna year later) and some startlingly smart and promising singles, the Coventry, UK act in question barely made any headway on their home turf, and weren't privileged enough to have their records released Stateside. When the story is told however, chart positions and sales numbers are ultimately outweighed by what's left on studio reels and lacquer, and the Flys legacy is surprisingly robust. The two disc Today Belongs to Me covers the band's entire recorded output, not only tacking on the singles found on the Captain Oi! Records reissues from 2001, but expands upon those with outtakes and demos from the band's personal archives, plus alternate single versions of several tracks.
Breaking out of the nest in 1974 under the guise of Midnight Circus, Flys frontman Neil O'Connor didn't have a "punk" ethos in mind for his fledgling four piece, rather the band's m.o. was inspired by the likes of the Pretty Things, or so it's been observed. It wasn't until the initial wave of UK punk took hold, including O'Connor's first live encounter with the Damned in 1977, that Midnight Circus' trajectory shifted in a rather obvious direction - so much so that a new name was in order. The Flys were born that year, and so was their debut EP, Bunch of Five, featuring the particularly incendiary blast, "Love and a Molotov Cocktail," a mid-tempo basher roughly on par with the Adverts "Looking Through Gary Gilmore Eyes" and the Buzzcocks "What Do I Get?" No small feat that, and speaking of the Buzzcocks it was none other than Pete Shelley who invited the Flys to open for them - a move which the band would soon parlay into a record deal with EMI.
The misanthropically titled Waikiki Beach Refugees wasn't cut from hardcore or even three-chord punk cloth, rather the Flys maiden voyage was a casual and occasionally brash pastiche of pub rock, New York Dolls-y proto punk, not to mention some of the group's longtime inspirations like Bowie and the aforementioned Pretty Things. The results were mixed, and unfortunately not wholly stimulating, but it delivered more than a few standouts - "We Don't Mind the Rave," "Looking for New Hearts" the spirited "Fun City" and the hedonistic title cut. The single variation of that last one is even more stimulating the LP take, and the early EP ditty, "Just For Your Sex" beat a similarly themed George Michael song to the punch by a good ten years. The bonus content portion of Waikiki also entails the previously unissued "Adrian (Don't Call Me Jimmy)" a nascent tune that was one of the band's fiercest punk volleys, just seeing the light of day now.
Disc two of Today Belongs to Me, appropriately enough, contains the band's second long-player, Own, an improvement on all fronts stacked up against their debut. Riding the crest of some serious creative momentum and a newfound raison d'être, Own found the Flys modernizing their forte without diminishing any of their initial charm. Tauter, classier, and doubly more assured than just a year prior, the band actually sounded like a genuine product of their era here. Bristling power pop stunners "16 Down" and "Energy Boy" deftly balance muscle and hooks, flirting with anthemic punk constructs. There's plenty more where those came from, but Own impresses with a volley of relative anomalies to boot. "Fascinate Me" is a sleek, synth-laden new wave foray, the whimsical "Freezing" might have fit on one of the Kinks more theatrical indulgencies (say, Preservation Act), and "Night Creatures" offers a bouncy, mod-inflected gait so irresistible indie icons Superchunk went to the trouble of covering it for a 1990 single.
Commercially, Own didn't garner the returns the band were hoping for, and it didn't help that EMI failed to issue a single upon it's '79 release, rather a quickee EP via a new label, Parlophone, a few months later, seemingly as an afterthought. A new single, "What Will Mother Say?" arrived in early 1980, but not long after the Flys were grounded altogether - a crying shame given the strength of their sophomore album. Today Belongs... winds down with more unreleased material, including the strikingly melodic "Come on Stupid" and "I Say."
Clocking in at roughly two and a half hours and featuring a generous 53 tracks, Today Belongs to Me is an essential investment not only for established customers, but fresh ears with a taste for late '70s punk and power-pop. It's available now directly from Cherry Red or Amazon.
From 1992. More of a compilation of early eps than a proper debut album, but this disc made a convincing case for a UK trio who got caught up in the dream-pop zeitgeist of their era...whether they wanted to or not.
This bygone New Hampshire quartet were audacious enough to dub themselves after a vintage Fender amplifier. Furthermore, The Princeton Reverbs Colonial also had the audacity to limit the release of certain full length albums to a mere one hundred copies. Luckily, the one I'm presenting today is considerably more findable, and find it you must because the Reverbs were all about wrenching warm, analogue hues from just the kind of apparatus they purloined their moniker from. It could quite easily be a coincidence, but perhaps their close proximity to the Canadian border informed them about bands from such locales as Nova Scotia, 'cos I'm hearing heaps of fuzzy, mid-fi guitar rock a la Eric's Trip and early Hardship Post populating some of ring the pair-a-bells finest endeavors like "He Interprets the Dream" and "Calliope." Upon unfurling what little of the band's history I was able to glean, I learned the Reverbs had ties to the Elephant Six collective, including working with Bill Doss of that movement's preeminent outfit, the Olivia Tremor Control on this very record. Any experimental/neo-psych affectations that crop up on ring are faint at best, but if you're familiar with the aesthetics of such aggregations as Apples in Stereo and Beulah you have some throwback feels in store for you, albeit intermittently. And I'll be damned if the illustration on the sleeve doesn't resemble that of an Of Montreal pictorial.
03. Lamb's Workshop
04. Our Separate Way
05. When the Boat Goes Down
06. Row Away
07. The Problem
08. Trumpet Sounds
09. He Interprets the Dream
10. Turning the Tides
11. Waves Crash
12. Ring the Pair-A-Bells
I wasn't able to uncover much relevant info on The Visigoths, so forgive me if this write-up seems a tad brief. A trio with apparent roots in Massachusetts, this less-than-gothic combo had a penchant for ballsy, searing garage rock on I.B.B.Y's roiling opener "If It Wasn't For Me." The following piece "Raga Rock" is cut from moderately dissimilar cloth, and possesses a juicier vocal hook that really did the trick for me. "Third Speaker From the Left" plays out like Twin/Tone-era Soul Asylum, not to mention former labelmates Agitpop, while "Syphillitic Urge" evidently didn't require any lyrics, though I enjoyed the keyboards. This disc was a radio station copy, which I was successful in Photoshopping the call letters from on the front sleeve, the back not so much (however I found the caricatures amusing).
01. If It Wasn't For Me
02. Raga Rock
03. Third Speaker From the Left
04. Syphillitic Urge
Sometimes a collection of b-sides, comp tracks and odds 'n ends can be just as useful introduction to a band as one of their proper albums, or even a best-of. For better or worse (probably for better) this band didn't have hits, but I digress. Anyway, this collection spans 1989-95. Enjoy.