Sunday, June 28, 2020

I'm sick of the things I do when I'm nervous, like cleaning the oven or checking my tires...

I just missed the fifteen year anniversary of this one by a couple weeks, darn it.  Anyway, this may have been my favorite album of 2005, and possibly in my top five for the decade.

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


Buzzcocks - Sell You Everything 1991-2014 box (2020, Cherry Red) - An extended review.

When the Buzzcocks (specifically the songwriting nucleus of Steve Diggle and the recently departed Pete Shelley) reconnected in 1989 after a nine year-long breakup, the band already boasted roughly 50 songs from their initial 1976-80 run.  And not just any 50 tunes, but some of the most distinctive, nervy and enduring in the history of British punk and power pop, including "What Do I Get," "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't 've)," and "Harmony in My Head," among copious others.  If three near-perfect albums from this era (Love Bites, Another Music in a Different Kitchen and A Different Kind of Tension) alone weren't enough, The Buzzcock's legendary first blush of 45s were of such caliber and consistency the compilation they were assembled into (1979's Singles Going Steady) is often referenced/revered more than their proper LPs.  In short, when they resumed doing live gigs in '89 (upon adopting a new rhythm section) they could have sold out rooms and concert halls for years and decades to come strictly on the strength of their back catalog.  And to large extent,  Buzzcocks concerts from this era forward contained numerous, highly in-demand standards from yesteryear.  However, between 1993 and 2014 they managed to pump out six brand new studio records, literally tripling their album discography in the process.  To boot, almost all of them produced accompanying singles.  Cherry Red's leave-no-stone-unturned eight disk Sell You Everything box collects all half-a-dozen of these later records, along with every single, solitary b-side, plus outtakes and some surprisingly intimate home demos from the Diggle/Shelley archives.

With a new lineup cemented in place by 1992 entailing new bass-wrangler Tony Barber and drummer Phil Barker, the band's much belated fourth record Trade Test Transmissions followed a year later.  Before I delve into that one, I should point out the Buzzcocks began recording in earnest in late 1990, namely at Drome Studios in their native Manchester, where they laid down over a dozen demos.  Online bootlegs of these tracks have been circulating for ages, but on Sell You Everything,  Cherry Red prefaces the band's proper mach II albums with The 1991 Demo Album (also available separately on vinyl).  Perhaps not as rambunctious or even as sassy as their first incarnation, the Buzzcocks were still plenty spry with a more expansive sonic aptitude to boot.  A handful of songs from the 1991 sessions were soon re-cut for an ep, Alive Tonight, that followed later in '91, while others would be-recorded for future albums, but there's approximately half a dozen tunes from the Drone Studios sessions that were accounted for exclusively here, including the groove-laden, proto Brit-pop experiment "Tranquilizer," and Steve Diggle's immensely melodic "Searching for Your Love."  The bonus portion of the disk is comprised of the aforementioned Alive Tonight ep, and some preview demos for Trade Test.

The Drone Studio sessions weren't as representative of the Buzzcocks' comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions as one might expect.  Instead, the plenty-good and almost return-to-form reunion album slots the band ever so close to their distinctive chainsaw-pop aesthetic of yore, wherein the quartet is rarely encouraged to pump the brakes.  Swift slammers like "Energy," "Innocent" and "Last to Know" have the telltale tincture of classic Buzzcocks, and Diggle's comparatively subdued "Isolation" and lusciously catchy "When Love Turns Around" work wonders amidst the band's slightly modified doctrine.  TTT is one of those rare reunion ventures that's actually worth the decade-and-a-half long wait.   As if fifteen album tracks weren't enough, this reissue tacks on all the contemporary b-sides, and some wholly unreleased titles courtesy of Steve Diggle's clutch of home demos.

All Set followed a comparatively mere three years later in '96, and didn't futz much with the prior album's overarching tenets.  True, Shelley's prose isn't as biting or provocative as it was in say, 1978, but the energy quotient remains sufficiently intact on "Totally From the Heart" and "Your Love," while "Kiss 'n Tell" makes some subtle but gradual concessions to '90s sonic proprieties without encroaching into anything grungy.  1999's Modern on the other hand, if not an entirely different kind of tension was a certainly a different kind of album, wherein the Buzzcocks cautiously partook in some experimentation. They vaguely channel their inner Gary Numan on the synth-tweaked "Soul On a Rock" and "Stranger in Your Town."  Despite demonstrating they're ready to graduate to the twenty-first century there's still your daily allotment of power chords to be imbibed on Modern - just don't expect anything as inspired as the band's two preceding records.  A fairly straightforward spin on the Small Faces "Here Comes the Nice," and a chilled out acoustic piece, "Autumn Stone" (the latter credited to Steve's Buzz, are bonus-ized.

I'm not sure if it was in response to mixed reactions to Modern or if the band was try to compete with all the competition they had spawned over the ensuing decades, but 2003's self-titled effort is the most obvious attempt the Buzzcocks ever made to sound punk, save perhaps for the band's initial 1976 recordings (Spiral Scratch anyone?) when original co-frontman Howard Devoto was still part and parcel of the lineup.  Vigorous isn't merely a watchword here's it's the band's full throated modus operandi on the positively rampaging "Jerk," and "Driving You Insane," among others.  Speaking of Mr. Devoto, a song he co-wrote with Pete Shelley way back when, "Lester Sands" is revisited to appropriate effect here (you can hear the original version on the Buzzcock's Time's Up compilation of pre-record deal demos.  As with Modern, only a handful of bonus tracks on this one, the most revelatory being a live version of ...Tension's spunky "Paradise," an exceedingly scarce song to crop up on the band's setlists despite it being one of their finest.

As is frequently the case with bands who've enjoyed a lengthier than expected reunion, even veteran punk bands can sound a bit routine going into their eighth record.  Not that the Buzzcocks overstayed their welcome, but by 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy a bit of a holding pattern had set.  No histrionic highs or crashing lows, just another steady and sturdy pallet of Shelley/Diggle compositions that were a welcome listen to fans of their more recent albums - but not exactly a godsend either.  There was a disproportionately generous portion of FPP b-sides, all eight of which are graciously appended.

When A Different Compilation came out, I automatically mistook it for yet another best-of collection.  While it is chock full of hits, this 2011 double LP length release was the Buzzcocks covering...themselves - and to outstanding effect.  They certainly weren't the first band to play this sometime cliched card, but their new paint job applied far more grit than polish.  With raw passion and renewed energy they bowl through all the standards you'd expect them to - "Fast Cars," "What Do I Get," "Whatever Happened To?," "I Don't Know What to Do With My Life," and naturally, the immortal "Orgasm Addict."  And they don't just do justice to the classics, but also inspired and more recent material like "Alive Tonight" and "When Love Turns Around You."  ...Compilation caps off with an extra deep-cut off of Love Bites, "Love is Lies" than even I almost forgot about.

When the band recorded their ninth studio LP, The Way, I'm not sure if they intended for it to be their last, but in all likelihood it is (though from what I understand Steve Diggle is carrying on under the Buzzcocks banner for the time being).  The crowd-sourced album in question came a good 35 years after the last album with their original lineup, A Different Kind of Tension, was recorded, so naturally the guys didn't sound quite the way longtime adherents remember them.  A little more grizzled, and not quite as sardonic, the crew still has teeth, and occasionally turn in a gem or three. "In the Back" features another phenomenal Diggle chorus hook, proving once again he was the Townsend to Pete Shelley's Daltrey.  And speaking of Pete, his most gratifying contribution here is technically a bonus cut, the true-to-form "Disappointment."  Not a bad way to go out, which sadly for him and the rest of the world was quite suddenly on December 6, 2018.  Rest in peace and pop.

Housed in a sturdy and handsome cardboard case, Sell You Everything is available exclusively on CD from Cherry Red Records, or in the States and elsewhere on Amazon plus the usual spate of online retailers for a remarkably reasonable price.  Buzzcocks die-hards may have a good 80% of this already, but the supplemental material and sharp packaging should accelerate this collection to the top of your want-lists.   

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Lifers - This House (1981, Gammon)

Besides token entries on Discogs and YouTube, I'm pretty certain another music blog (now likely defunct) shared files of this one.  Evidently I was impressed enough to seek out a copy of my own, a sealed one at that.  The Lifers were one of many San Francisco treats from the Reagan-era that I've parceled out cyberspace to in recent years, but this is one of the ones I'm proudest to present.  Why? Because this is downright, red smokin' hot post-punk just the way I love it.  Sweet, clangy guitars a la Comsat Angels and Pylon mingling with Clay Smiths urgent spoken/sung vocals make This House a more then welcoming musical abode.  The Lifers overarching sonic mystique coincidentally resembled a couple of contemporary bands that would advance a similar sound to at least modestly more substantial highs - Middle Class and Rifle Sport.  I'm finding satisfaction wherever the needle lands on this one, chilly and insular as it often tends to reveal itself.  A wonderful find.

01. A Quick Draw
02. Wealthy Additions
03. Walking Distance
04. Island Dreams
05. Waves
06. The River
07. Big Rock Candy Mountain
08. Missing Person
09. Car Mirrors
10. Spotlight
11, The River


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Clive Langer and the Boxes - I Want the Whole World ep (1979, Radarscope)

Yet another gem of a disk that I had zero awareness of when it initially hit the racks.  Not that it caught fire, or to my knowledge was even released in the States.  In fact Clive Langer's stature in his native UK wasn't know primarily on the basis of his namesake, rather his involvement in more renown acts Big in Japan and Deaf School.  For the five song I Want the Whole World Langer wasn't one to dig in his "punk" or "wave" heels, but instead opted for a more natural approach.  In his case, "natural" was loosely akin to what the Kinks were dispensing around the same time (coincidentally, Langer's vocal aplomb wasn't dissimilar to Ray Davies).  Deftly crafted tunes like "Lovely Evening" and "I Know I" are pleasingly sophisticated without resorting to anything pretentious, and are ample proof that the man and his accompanying Boxes boasted considerable talent.  A follow-up LP, Splash, surfaced a year later.

01. The Whole World
02. Lovely Evening
03. I Know I
04. Those Days
05. Simple Life


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks - Orange Crate Art (1995/2020) - A brief overview

The "myth" of the Beach Boys once long-unreleased SMiLE album loomed larger than the music enshrined in it's grooves, if only because the album wasn't issued in it's entirety until a solid 45 years after the sessions were abandoned in 1967.  In fairness however, a good chunk of SMiLE's most crucial selections accumulated a half-hour in the band's career spanning Good Vibrations box in 1993.  The Beach Boys main collaborator for the should've been follow-up to Pet Sounds was Van Dyke Parks, a composer/producer by trade for a variety of big and small screen shows.  In his role as co-conspirator on the SMiLE sessions, he was also a key songwriter alongside Beach Boy's prime mover and creative backbone Brian Wilson. Stories as to why the album was never fully completed (at least under the Beach Boys banner) are long and legion, but I'll let you investigate that on your own.  Roughly thirty years later, in 1995, Wilson and Parks reunited for an album that would be fully realized, Orange Crate Art, which is seeing a thoughtfully padded reissue on it's 25th anniversary.

It wasn't so much nostalgia that reunited the two as coincidence.  Brian Wilson hadn't been doing much in the years since his 1988, comeback solo album Brian Wilson came out, and was ready to resume recording when Van Dyke Parks phoned him (presumably in the mid-90s) to float the idea of working together again.  The idea wasn't to continue where they left off in 1966-67, nor did either of the two men have designs on out-smiling SMiLE.  Far closer to the truth, Parks had written a new batch of songs that happened to appeal to Wilson, although the Beach Boy emeritus concedes in Orange Crate Art's liner notes, "We were hoping to catch some of that SMiLE energy."

Sonically, they did - to an extent, as examples of Wilson's fabled "pocket symphony" sprout abundantly on the record's twelve selections, offering orchestral sweeps aplenty (albeit from one gradation to another).  What differentiates OCA from SMiLE is the whimsy and surreal aptitude the latter record possessed.  That's not a slight or complaint, nor is that to say the music on Orange isn't fun, rather a more mature and measured modus operandi is at play here.  Parks wrote virtually every morsel of text here and handled arrangement duties, leaving his companion with little else to do but sing and harmonize (and I'm assuming play a little piano).  By the '90s Wilson's vocals had taken on a remarkably deeper and huskier tone.  This development would have been outright startling to listeners had his 1988 solo debut not happened.  Luckily, most of his fans were prepared, but the transition still took some getting used to (personally, I'm still coming to terms).

That being said, there are some immaculate songs to be had here, the stunning title track being foremost among them, one of Brian Wilson's post-BB performances.  "Sail Away" and "Summer in Monterey" are discernibly breezier, and perfectly in line with the Wilson/Love aesthetic, even though it's Parks' ink adorning the lyric sheet.  Elsewhere, "Wings of a Dove" is plush and modern, and the story-line vibe of "San Francisco" might be the closest thing that Wilson was aiming for in the late '60s.  The trademark harmonies weaving their way through every song here are nothing short of impeccable, not to mention soothing and consoling as ever.  Perhaps it wasn't Orange Crate Art that triggered Wilson's impulse to finally complete the long-belated SMiLE (under his own name in 2004) but one has to reckon if the successful pairing of him and Parks all those decades later didn't spark a few robust embers.

Omnivore's two disk expansion of OCA features three outtakes - all genteel covers of such established standards as "What a Wonderful World" and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."  The bonus disk is composed of most of the album in instrumental form, falling somewhere between a classical score and the pop-friendly "pocket symphonies" Wilson had always relished.  You can find Orange Crate Art at what brick and mortar music retailers are left, or obtain it straight from OmnivoreAmazon has you covered as well.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

You always sound so bitter when you call me on the phone, so I just erase the message.

This LOUD, but sophisticated album of indie rock distinction is celebrating the quarter century mark this year.  And to think, this was only the beginning for these young San Diegans.

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


Friday, June 19, 2020

Nyack - I'm Your Star ep (1995, Echo)

Before the weekend is over, I'm going to try to get something resembling a full length up, but here's a loooong belated followup to Nyack's 11 Track Player I shared over a decade ago!  Almost forgot I had this accompanying ep, featuring "I'm Your Star," one of the highlights from the LP, and three otherwise unavailable b-sides.  And b-sides appropriately enough they are given they're the chilled out in yin to 11 Track's distortion soaked power pop yang.  While nothing here is particularly revelatory, the reaction to Nyack's aforementioned album (and two EPs from the group's earlier guise, Aenone) were so well received I didn't want to deprive you any longer.

01. It's Your Star
02. Mean Streak (demo)
03. Love is a Stranger
04. Dreamland


Sunday, June 14, 2020

You can tear this city down, but all good things come back around.

This UK band's 2016 sophomore effort is a spot-on slice of Brit pop revivalism that almost rivals what I was hearing a quarter century ago.  Primo stuff. 

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


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Dumptruck - CanYou Please Crawl Out of Your Window? - live at the Cabaret Metro 1987

Hey folks.  Not much time for a write-up tonight, but for those of you who've been visiting these pages for a spell know that I'm a fairly hardcore acolyte of Dumptruck.  The band's first three albums of serrated indie rock with a mild Americana jones were the stuff of near-flawlessness.  This concert finds the band supporting their third, and in my opinion most gratifying record, '87s For the Country. At this phase of their career Kirk Swan had departed, leaving Dumptruck with only one principle songwriter, Seth Tiven.  Kevin Salem soon filled Swan's stead. This exemplary audience recording of a gig at Chicago's Cabaret Metro in late '87 finds the reconstituted lineup playing a confident, substantive set, placing the emphasis on Dumptruck's most recent two records, the aforementioned For the Country and Positively.  A pair of surprise covers, Dylan's "Can You Please Crawl Out of Your Window?" and The Embarrassment's "Sex Drive" nicely accent the band's already capable and charismatic originals.  I'm making this available in MP3 and FLAC.  A hearty thanks to whomever archived this gig to tape, and furthermore set us up with some artwork.

00. announcements
01. Back Where I Belong
02. Carefree
03. Leaving Here
04. Friends
05. Things Go Wrong
06. From Where I Stand
07. Barking Up The Wrong Tree
08. Island
09. Walk Into Mirrors
10. Going Nowhere
11. 50 Miles
12. Watch Her Fall
13. Encore break
14. Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?
15. Streets Of Paradise
16. Sex Drive

MP3  or  FLAC

Friday, June 12, 2020

Kill the Messenger - Detail (1987, Suede Brain)

Yet another blind purchase that proved to be a far different animal than what I anticipated.  There's virtually not a "pop" lick to be located on Kill The Messenger's lone and very unremarked about Detail LP.  In fact, I'm not even sure where this quartet hailed from, but the locale of their record label, Suede Brain out of San Fran might be a good bet.  Despite an engineering credit from the commercially viable Matt Wallace KtM were largely defiant of anything accessible, given Detail's unremitting art-damaged post-punk leanings.  Tearing a page or three from the likes of Eyeless in Gaza, Savage Republic, Deception Bay, and occasionally Bauhaus, this quartet not only posed a noir, ominous stance, but specialized in dissonant sonic affectations aplenty, yielding an album that's outright creepy in spots.  Though I can't accurately identify the drummer in the album credits, KtM emanate oodles of tribal, percussive angles, with unabashed employment of tom-toms.  And if you crave music with texture, there's no deficiency of that here.  If Kill's whole shtick impresses you as a little foreboding let it be known that there are just enough guardrails within Detail to cling to, so long as you're willing invest a few spins.

01. one night
02. this is america
03. boy anymore
04. i don't know
05. bhopal
06. whisper
07. i want to come back
08. elimate coercion/sucked down the tunnel
09. dna


Sunday, June 7, 2020

This is a photograph of everything I say.

A 1997 platter of raw indie guitar rock...that technically wasn't on an indie label at all. 

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


Caveman Shoestore 7" (1992, Tim Kerr)

If you go by Wiki's analysis Portland's coed Caveman Shoestore were "avant prog" specimens.  Perhaps their full lengths (of which I have yet to hear) validated such an observation, but for better or worse all I have to go by is this 45.  Judging by what I've heard I definitely reside in the better camp, 'cos this trio, commandeered by Elaine diFalco conjure up some dazzling sonic alchemy wherein busy arrangements are pocked with dexterous, post-punk smarts, not to mention the aforementioned singer's hypnotic prowess on the mic.  I'm picking up trace elements of Siouxsie, Tsunami, and their lesser-known neighbors from Boise, The Dirt Fisherman. I desperately need to get my hands/ears on more Cavemen Shoestore in the very near future, belated as this discovery was.

A. An Angel Flew By
B. Still


Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Choice - "Candy" 7" (1983)

Hailing from the college towns of Ithaca and Oswego in New York's central/southern tier The Choice were responsible for this dandy, privately pressed single.  "Candy" is an irresistible not to mention near-perfect fusion of power pop and ska.  "Strange" sticks to a more linear tact, and wouldn't sound at all misplaced on a Teen Line or Powerpearls compilation.  In 1984 this foursome won the BBC Great American Rock n' Roll Talent Search, but after that I'm not sure if the world heard much more from the Choice, as this 45 appears to be the extent of their discography.  The band's archival page, linked above, contains additional audio and video delights that can be explored at your leisure.

A. Candy
B. Strange


Friday, June 5, 2020

The Room - Clear! ep (1983)

Liverpool's The Room had a bit of a cult hit early in their career, with what would become their signature song 1982's "Things Have Learnt To Walk That Ought To Crawl."  The tune in question melded tense post-punk (a la the Soft Boys) with an irresistible chorus hook, and was in all regards a classic.  An album, Indoor Fireworks followed the same year, but by '83 The Room had briefly made the jump to Virgin Records for the Clear ep, originally released on the indie imprint Red Flame.  Adopting a more polished modus operandi the record sports the band's development - if not a mainstream hit-factory, at the very least significantly more focused, in league with the likes of Spandau Ballet and pre-stardom Simple Minds.  Granted, said sonic aptitude was downright common in this era, but the quintet still boasted some bona fide edginess in the guise of the buoyant, keyboard propelled "Ringing," and the chillier "At the Beach."

P.S.  Does anyone have a rip of The Room's Bitter Reaction tape?

01. Ringing
02. Numb
03. The Ride
04. Never
05. Sleep Tight
06. On the Beach