Sunday, December 27, 2020

You are swimming in her ocean, you are sensitive to light and motion.

From 1997.  Their third album exuded another riveting splay of punk riffage and acute pop overtones, with an advancement in songwriting chops. There's a TMBG cover here too.

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


Saturday, December 26, 2020

V/A - Popcan - (A Refreshing Taste Of Pure Canadian Pop) (1997, Alert)

Had a relatively recent request for this one. Along with Rhino Record's Poptopia collections and Big Deal's renown Yellow Pills series, 1997's Popcan compilation went a long way in whetting my appetite to take a closer look under the under the hood of this life affirming venture we refer to as "power pop."  As opposed to the other aforementioned compendiums, Popcan differed in several respects, particularly due to the fact that it consisted exclusively of (then) current Canadian artists - and it came in a single serving. No additional volumes came to pass as it presumably wasn't designed to be a series.  Pretty much one-and-done here, but I kind of wish there had been a follow-up, as this disk exposed me to some seriously phenomenal combos.  Yes, there's an abundance slotting in the power pop realm - Sour Landslide, Cool Blue Halo, The Nines, and Admiral among several others, but Punchbuggy and Shortfall leaned into something more vigorous, a la the Doughboys, while Noah's Arkweld and By Divine Right subscribed to a craftier indie rock aesthetic. Sixteen different flavors in all to sample from this fizzy, overflowing can.  One (or more) is just right for you.  Enjoy responsibly.  

01. The Roswells - Like It This Way
02. By Divine Right - Fearless
03. Granny - Baby Baby
04. Cool Blue Halo - Too Much Kathleen
05. Universal Honey - Wouldn't Wanna Be In Your Shoes
06. Admiral - A Million Ways to Go
07. Crimson - Some Other Guy
08. Noah's Arkweld - Mornin'
09. The Nines - Ghost Town Saturday
10. Sour Landslide - Hired Goons
11. Shyne Factory - Pop Song
12. New Deposits - Mother Molotov
13. Shortfall - Drive
14. Minstrels - These Days
15. Cinnamon - Another Edit
16. Punchbuggy - Karen


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Joyeux Noel.

                                                            MP3   or   FLAC

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Shut your mouth before I shut it for you...

Four eps from four artists you're likely unfamiliar with...and sometimes that's the way we like it.

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


Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Heats - Have An Idea (1980/2007, Albratross/Air Mail)

So we've reached the final evening.  The candelabra has reached full capacity and it's time to unfurl one more gift.  Technically, it's the fortieth anniversary of this record, though that isn't my motive for presenting it.  Nor is it because it's especially innovative or visionary, and in fact, outside of power pop enclaves The Heat's lone LP, Have An Idea would probably strike pedestrian ears as a good rock and roll album and not much more.  I like to think we know better.

Hailing from Seattle and beginning life as The Heaters, these four youngsters soon shortened their name, cut a few singles and Have an Idea, and tried to make a name for themselves.  To a certain extent they did, and are still remembered and hopefully still discussed and revered in the Northwest, but they failed to break big, and from what I've been able to gather weren't encouraged enough to keep the band on the proverbial front burner for a second studio platter.  Weened on the likes of Cheap Trick, and to a lesser extent Petty and the Heartbreakers and even UK pub rock, The Heats were too overtly pop for the Emerald City's still active punk scene, and were often reviled for it.  According to Clark Humphrey's highly recommended book on Seattle music history, Loser, for an indie record ...Idea was recorded on a major label budget.  Well, it's nowhere near as slick as say, The Wall or Rumors, or even Shoes Elektra catalog, but it's sharp, clean, bejeweled with warm analog hues, and even packs in a respectable modicum of reverb.  

As you might expect, what makes Have An Idea so effective are a strikingly consistent and satisfying batch of tunes.  "When You're Mine," "Remember Me," and "Night Shift," are all deftly honed salvos of guitar pop manna from the heavens, emanating romantic sentiments without any syrupy aftertaste. Saucier items like "Sorry," and the particularly biting "Divorcee" mine a Rockpile-ish vein, while the guys get downright Beatlesque within the two and a half minute confines of "Some Other Guy." No shortage of dynamite moments here. Have an Idea wasn't the most stylish or groundbreaking album to see the light of day in 1980, but in the four-decade rear view it strikes me as equal parts classy and classic.

Just a couple more quick observations.  A 2010 review of the remastered and expanded version of ...Idea over at indicates the album wasn't remastered from the original master tapes, and thusly isn't as rich of an audio experience.  The 2007 reissue on Air Mail Records is the version that I own and am offering here, and even though I'm not acquainted with the original vinyl incarnation, I have to admit that this could benefit from a bass-ier treatment.  That being said, it does append four bonus cuts from surrounding singles, and the artwork is faithful to the original jacket. Finally, there's a bootleg cd-r version floating around that includes a patch of live bonus offerings. in 1983 a live Heats record, ostensibly released by the band and titled Burnin' Live, was issued, albeit featuring nothing familiar from Have an Idea.  
01. Have An Idea
02. When You're Mine
03. Sorry Girls
04. Nights With You
05. Some Other Guy
06. Remember Me
07. Ordinary Girls
08. I Don't Mind/She Don't Mind
09. Call Yourself a Man
10. Don't Like Your Face
11. Night Shift
12. Divorcee
13. Questions Questions
14. Let's All Smoke
15. Rivals
16. Count on Me
17. In Your Town 

MP3  or  FLAC

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Pointed Sticks - live San Francisco 12/15/79 & 1980 demos

In discussing the recently released Strum & Thrum compilation (and my revisionist take on it) I expelled a pretty expansive dose of text, therefore, forgive me if this is write-up is comparatively leaner.  This isn't the first time I've dedicated bandwidth to The Pointed Sticks.  Their 1979 Out of Luck 7" on Stiff Records was the subject of one of my first posts, reaching back to 2007.  This was later followed up by the live disk Raw Power Pop (recently made available on Bandcamp) featuring recordings from their 2006-07 reunion tour.  

I've got a couple more bundles of Sticks goodies to bestow tonight, but for the uninitiated, this Vancouver quintet was a legendary, but short-lived institution in their hometown, circa 1978-1981. Possessing the energy and sass of punk, the band's aptitude resided more in the pop domain.  What separated the Pointed Sticks apart from the then-burgeoning power-pop pack?  In a nutshell, an organ player by the name of Gord Nicholl, whose Farfisa-style accompaniment proved to be a key facet in defining the group's incisively catchy modus operandi.  Responsible for a trio of phenomenal singles on Quintessence Records, a well-above-average 1980 LP, Part of the Noise, and other juicy morsels like "Apologies" on the Waves Vol. 2 compilation, P/S left behind a somewhat brief but enviable legacy when they put the kibosh on things in 1981.  I didn't make my acquaintance with them until a good fifteen years or so after they called it quits, but I was quick to catch up, and I don't think anyone or anything on the planet could dissuade me from thoroughly loving this band.

As stimulating as they were on record, the energy of their live performances was searing and rambunctious (even their reunion gigs two and a half decades on).  Some of that fervor was captured and bottled in a performance recorded at San Francisco's New Wave A Go-Go (aka Temple Beautiful) in late '79.  The fourteen-song set has circulated before, but outside of torrents and such, not in abundance, so I'm presenting it here.  It features signature Pointed Sticks soon-to-be classics like  "Lies," "The Real Thing," "What Do You Want Me To Do?" and the aforementioned "Out of Luck," alongside a cover of the Sonics "The Witch," always a reliable live favorite for these chaps.  Attendees of this gig also heard a preview of a few nuggets that would appear on Part of the Noise, namely "True Love" and "American Song."  An encore run-through of "Christmas, Baby Please Come Home" might very well be exclusive to this gig, I might add.  Thanks to Terry Hammer committing this show to tape way back when.

Additionally, I'm also giving you a set of 1980 demos that have made the rounds for what seem like ages, often appearing on other blogs and file sharing platforms.  Tracked fast and loose, most likely in preparation for Part of the Noise, these guys cooked, even in an informal setup.  The recording features a handful of P/S tunes that never turned up anywhere else, "Middle Aged Teenagers" and "Careless," while another rarity on the tape, "All My Clocks Stopped" eventually found it's way to the Souvenirs - Little Gems of Pop comp in 2009.  

Reissues of the album and singles/rarities collection, Waiting for the Real Thing, along with two reunion albums are still available through Sudden Death Records.

San Francisco, CA, New Wave A Go-Go (aka Temple Beautiful)  12/15/79

01. The Witch
02. Wasted Time
03. (title ?)
04. Putting You Down
05. American Song
06. Baby I Love You
07. All That Matters
08. Worse
09. The Real Thing
10. Out Of Luck
11. What Do You Want Me To Do?
12. True Love
13. Lies
14. Christmas,Baby Please Come Home

MP3  or  FLAC

1980 demos
01. The Real Thing
02. Marching Song
03. True Love
04. All That Matters
05. All My Clocks Stopped
06. Nothing Else to Do
07. Careless
08. All I Could Take
09. Part of the Noise
10. How Could You
11. Middle Aged Teenagers
12. Worse
13. Love or Money
14. American Song
15. New Ways
16. Apologies


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

V/A - Strum & Thrum: A benign reimagining (1983-88)

Howdy everyone.  Before I launch into my spiel (and it's a bit of a wordy one), I just want to acknowledge that any music shared in this entry does not contain that which has recently been made available on Captured Track Records' Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987.   I don't usually do disclaimers, but I have no intention of raising concern or confusion with any associated parties.

Not long ago (mid-August to be exact), I teased the release of a much anticipated double LP compilation, specifically the one I named above that was due to drop this fall.  In fact, I just offered a couple sentences and a YouTube link, and didn't even have a proper link to send you at the time to glean more details about the album.  In the ensuing weeks and months more information on Strum & Thrum was made public, a release date for a limited edition, colored vinyl version was set for a late-October Record Store Day "drop," and currently, it's more widely available, digitally as well as on wax.  For those of you who've done your homework on Strum... (and of course, those of you who already own a copy) know what it's premise is all about.  This is Captured Tracks first foray into self-curated, genre-centric compilations, much along the lines of such veteran reissue labels as Rhino and Numero.  The subject couldn't be closer to my site's wheelhouse - college and indie rock circa those collective genre's halcyon, mid-80s era.  S&T was of particular interest to me since it overlapped so overwhelmingly with artists I've been featuring here since 2007.  The compilation features twenty-eight artists - no less than fifteen of whom I've featured on Wilfully Obscure, and have offered nothing but praise for (One Plus Two, The Windbreakers, Primitons, Bangtails, Riff Doctors, The White Sisters and Pop Art to name about half).  This was an unlikely but wholly wonderful coincidence, and I saw a great opportunity to do some cross-promotion with Captured Tracks, not to mention I felt a sincere personal investment, regardless of the fact I had absolutely no role in bringing the album to market.

A few weeks after the news broke, I emailed C/T proposing Wilfully Obscure not only do a typical feature/review of Strum & Thrum, but perhaps something more encompassing like an in-depth interview/deep dive with the parties involved in assembling such a worthy project.  A day later I received a response from C/T's press contact with a link to an advance download of the compilation.  A fine and much appreciated gesture on their part, but no response on my proposal for doing a full-fledged feature as I had hoped for.  A week or so passed and I decided to try again with the same press person, illustrating how much Strum & Thrum tied into my website, but this time, no reply whatsoever.  What was I doing or saying wrong I thought to myself?  Second to reaching out to the people who assembled the compilation, I entertained the idea of interviewing members of one or two of the artists featured on S&T, but quickly came to the conclusion their stories and observations would be limited to their own experiences, and not those of the entire movement writ large.  So I soon abandoned my idea of going "all-out," so to speak and considered scaling down my "dream" feature to one of my standard 400-word reviews.  Certainly better than nothing, right?  Truth is, at the end of the day, due to C/T's apparent disinterest in working with me, my motivation to do anything surrounding the album gradually deflated, much like the sound of trumpets on a game show accompanying a dejected contestant's inadequate spin of the wheel.  The best laid plans of mice and men... (sigh).  Ultimately I didn't do anything at all - until this week.

I have a physical copy of Strum... within two feet of the computer desk I'm situated at.  I love the track selection, adore the roster of artists involved, and think the presentation is peerless, specifically the accompanying book which is terrifically detailed with personal accounts of the bands involved and loads of rare archival photos. An absolutely phenomenal collection, and to put it in perspective, quite literally the Nuggets of my dreams.  Should you have any doubts yourself, examine the tracklist and some screenshots of the package here.  Whomever prepared this collection delved very deep, culling together a delightfully arcane array of indie DIY-ers who were responsible for some phenomenal tunes that never got their moment in the sun or on MTV, much less their proverbial fifteen minutes of fame.  Arguably, R.E.M. were the outright inspirational antecedents to many if not most of the group's spotlighted on S&T, but contrary to the compilation’s extended title, there's more than just winsome, jangly chords threading their way through this music.  

So-called college/alternative/left-of(f)-the-dial rock was far more intricate than individual sonic properties, guitar tones, etc.  It was about advancements and modernizations in music itself - progressions which managed to maneuver their way through an overcrowded slipstream, in spite of an exceedingly superficial era saturated with gobs of hairspray and neon visuals, not to mention deeply entrenched, corporate-driven bottom lines.  True, combos like the Crippled Pilgrims, The Darrows, Absolute Grey and Salem 66 (all present on Strum) never got within a mile of breaching mainstream playlists. But every band that garnered a morsel of encouragement or inspiration from a dubbed copy of Murmur, or caought a grainy dispatch on some lower rung of the FM dial in the mid-80s played a role, regardless of how minor, in proving that genuinely organic, melodic and earnest musical notions could rub elbows with the fresh, cutting-edge advances of the day, often yielding something fresh and gratifying in the process.

If the purpose of this piece isn't to promote Strum & Thrum itself, what is?  Almost as soon as I was introduced to the premise of the compilation in question, it dawned on me that I've been excavating the very type of music it entails for a sizable chunk of my life, particularly in the form of essays and digital audio files I share on a weekly basis.  I couldn't help but ask, what if I had selected the S&T roster out of whole cloth?  Not as a foil to the version that officially exists, or even an attempt to outsmart/out-obscure the curators at Captured Tracks, rather just as a fun exercise in what my vision for the album might have amounted to, largely based on music that I've presented on Wilfully Obscure.  In essence, I'm presenting a parallel playlist to Strum... predominantly (though not exclusively) adhering to the same parameters divulged in it's title, consisting of like-minded American artists who released independent records in roughly the same time frame. Twenty-eight songs to be exact, matching the same amount of acts on the official record.  This is purely a celebration of the music - all that it's given me, you and the small microcosm of hearts and ears that have partaken it for four decades, two centuries/millennia and counting.  By the end of the week the goal is to provide links in the tracklist below to the original entries I've posted, although some of the download URLs will have likely expired.  I'm going to try to attend to any of broken links as well, so feel free to check back Sunday or so.  Additionally, there are songs/artists I haven't officially featured here before, some of whom I've just become acquainted with this year, and/or don't own official physical releases of.  Enjoy.

01. Beauty Constant - Ed's Anthem (1987)
02. Dreams So Real - Maybe I'll Go Today (1986)
03. The Shakers - All Tied Up (1987)
04. Buzz of Delight - Southern (1984)
05. Neon Rock Garden (NRg) - Don't Say Baboon (1986)
06. The Big Picture - Poison Town (1986)
07. Even Greenland - Another Place to Hide (1986)
08. The Libertines - Voices From the Past (1986)
09. Cordy Lon - Covering the Ground (1988)
10. The Need - Clandestine Shield (1985)
11. The Pedaljets - Sensual Cardboard Event (1986)
12. Northern Pikes - Teenland (early vers.) (1985)
13. October's Child - I Can't Stand It  (1987)
14. The Blinkies  - Waiting for April (1985)
15. The Lift - Monetary Means (1985)
16. The Bandables - Cynicism (1984)
17. The Spliffs - You Know What They'll Say (1986)
18. The Wake - Lion's Heart (1985)
19. The Reivers (Zeitgeist) - Sound And The Fury (1985)
20. Not Shakespeare - Get Well Soon (1986)
21. Jagged Rocks on the Perimeter - The Soldier And The Painter (1986)
22. Beat Feet - She's on Time (1986)
23. Other Bright Colors - Time Was (1986)
24. Cannon Heath Down - Bone of Contention (1987)
25. Turning Curious - Out Into The Light (1985)
26. Spooner - Walking With an Angel (1986)
27. U Thant - Little Chlorine (1986)
28. The Square Root of Now - Bent Around Corners (1987)


Monday, December 14, 2020

Three highly stimulating vinyl EPs: Eyes, Modern Pioneers & New Radiant Storm King

Well, I didn't get around to putting together a batch of singles together this Chanukah like I did last (maybe next year?).  Got the next best thing though, a collection of some of the better EPs that made it to my turntable in 2020, including one that had been sitting on my shelf, shrink-wrapped no less for a good eight years since purchasing it.  And you think you're backlogged?  I think you'll appreciate at least two of these three, and just remember what Meat Loaf had to say about that quotient.

Eyes were bygone L.A. punks, who may have still been in existence when Penelope Spheeris directed The Decline of Western Civilization, although I'm pretty certain they weren't featured in it.  For their brief duration the Joe Ramirez-fronted combo only had one single to their credit, the "TAQN"/"Topological Lies" 7" on Dangerhouse Records.  In 2009 Artifix Records expanded the 45 to a six-song 10" containing everything the band ever committed to tape for Dangerhouse, and voila, here it is.  The word 'rollicking' comes naggingly to mind when describing the Eyes whirling, organ-laden punk pop, vaguely reminiscent of the Dickies and Pointed Sticks, albeit keyboards weren't really the Dickies thing.  At one point or another the Eyes lineup included member of X, Go-Gos, Screamers, Bags and Wall of Voodoo, but this band had something more unique coursing through their veins than all of the aforementioned could muster combined.  In the process, the Eyes delightfully parodied southern California culture on "Disneyland" and self-medication ("TAQN" was an acronym for "take a quaalude now"). There hasn't been anyone quite like them before or since.

01. TAQN
02. Research Bee
03. Eniwetok
04. Disneyland
05. Go Go Bee
06. Topological Lies 

MP3  or  FLAC

Another outfit that never quite made it to the album phase was Long Island, NY trio Modern Pioneers.  In fact, the EP I'm featuring was their longest proper recording, a glorified single with Ione of the songs, "Far Away Places" being an instrumental.  The "The Big Hookup" is a resounding left-of-the-dial anthem brimming with confidence and verve driving the point home that these guys didn't take the telephone, of all things, for granted. "Roman Times" chooses a subtler tack but is equally well written.  Excellent stuff, and if it's more content you crave from M/P, Jim Santo's Demo Universe has you covered with a live show at CBGBs from 1986 and even some unreleased studio tracks.

A. The Big Hookup
B1. Roman Times
B2. Far Away Places (A Tribute to Ben Gazzara)

MP3  or  FLAC

For a band I've been following for close to 30 years, it took me almost that allotment of time to become aware of the first installment in their discography.  Turns out, New Radiant Storm King had a 1991 ep under their belt that I didn't learn of until this very year - an unusual circumstance given I thought I had everything on them.  The title piece, "Milky Way" is one of the crown jewel's in their oeuvre I might add, a near-perfect five minutes of serrated noise pop.  Absorbed as a whole, Milky Way, tends to meander (and occasionally aggravate) on side deux, but as far as introductory releases go it was a nice lead into their 1992's commendable My Little Bastard Soul, and their second full length, Rival Time which I've been sharing nearly as long as this site's been in existence.  You can also find some further NRSK 7" action here.

01. Milky Way
02. Queezy
03. Ouch
04. Pipe

MP3  or  FLAC

Sunday, December 13, 2020

R.E.M. - Reckoning demos & such (1983)

They may not have been a literal "household name" until the early '90s, but even R.E.M. fans who were introduced to them through Out of Time or Automatic For the People were curious enough to explore their back catalog, and in doing so likely made some posthumous but revelatory finds, specifically the five albums they cut for I.R.S. in the 1980s, and perhaps to a lesser extent 1988's Green.  The general consensus is that of their early records, Murmur was their finest and most incendiary moment, and flabbergastingly impressive for a debut (not counting the preceding Chronic Town ep and "Radio Free Europe" single).  Their third and fourth albums, 1985's Fables of the Reconstruction, and Life's Rich Pageant which followed a year later, were tremendous fan-faves (pardon the cliche) and are critically lauded to this day.  Of course, 1987's Document, took on a life of it's own, and eventually went platinum on the strength of it's attendant, bona-fide hit singles, "The One I Love" and "It's the End of the World..."  While certainly not forgotten, nor a commercial disappointment the band's follow-up to Murmur simply isn't discussed or revered nearly as much as the rest of their "indie" releases (not that I.R.S. really struck me as being indie to begin with, but I digress).  I'm talking about Reckoning, Michael Stipe & Co.'s sophomore effort.

I was a relatively late-blooming and even slightly reluctant R.E.M. follower, circa Document, which belatedly introduced me the Athens, GA quartet.  Since I didn't actually sit down with Reckoning until the very, very late '80s I don't have the benefit of hindsight to remember what people's initial response to this record was upon it's 1984 release.  I can't imagine any fan of Murmur disliking Reckoning outright, given there's little if anything to be dissatisfied with.  In fact, the only slight anyone could reasonably have against Reckoning is that it isn't the revelation the first album was.  With the exception of the lively "Pretty Persuasion" and "Second Guessing" there isn't much else here that's as combustible as what R.E.M. delivered on Murmur ("Radio Free Europe," "Sitting Still," and "Pilgrimage" immediately spring to mind).  Still, it's a fallacy to say that Reckoning was a mellower affair than it's predecessor, even though the notion often strikes me as such.  "So. Central Rain," and "Camera" are certainly ballad-esque in tone, but conversely so was Murmur's "Talk About the Passion."  In the grand scheme of things, I suppose it isn't quantifiable to determine how/why Reckoning doesn't boast the same status as some of R.E.M.'s surrounding albums. A few of you reading this might regard this as their peak album, but I don't imagine there's more than a couple folks in the audience raising their hands.

This is all leading into what I'm presenting today, which is essentially a "dry run" of the majority of the songs that would materialize into Reckoning - that and several other tunes that would be relegated as b-sides and outtakes.  Per UNCUT magazine:

"On November 9 [1983], R.E.M. demoed 24 songs at Rhythmic Studios, San Francisco, with Elliot Mazer, who'd produced Neil Young's 'Harvest'. They recorded nine songs that would eventually appear on 'Reckoning': 'So. Central Rain', 'Letter Never Sent', 'Little America', 'Camera', 'Second Guessing', 'Harborcoat', '7 Chinese Bros', 'Pretty Persuasion' and 'Time After Time (AnnElise)'.

All cut in a single day, live to two-track.  Quick and dirty you might say, but the arrangements weren't fussed over much more on the finished product than they were on these prototypes, comparatively raw and spontaneous as they are here.  There's covers too, ranging from the Tokens to the Velvets.  Additionally we're treated to an early take of "All The Right Friends," a song that wasn't released in it's fully realized form until it's inclusion on the expanded import of Dead Letter Office in 1993, and later on a much more widely available best-of.  Then there are a patch of cuts that I seem to recognize from some really early live R.E.M. bootlegs, like "That Beat" and "Just a Touch," and "Skank."  As for "Cushy Tush," the boys were just having a frivolous stab at a potential commercial jingle. 

As die-hard fans of any given innovative artist go, they tend to want to hear alternate versions, regardless of how close the similarities might be.  Luckily, R.E.M. were apparent sticklers for demoing new material - and that's very much to our benefit.  This boot is also known as the Elliot Mazer Demos. Someone other than myself went to the trouble of prepping this collection for a torrent some years ago, and even provided liner notes that you'll find in the download folder, so big props to whomever went to the effort.  By the way, if the depiction of the album sleeve above seems a bit off, I futzed with some of the colors in Photoshop.  

01. That Beat
02. Walter's Theme
03. Cushy Tush
04. Burning Down
05. All The Right Friends
06. Windout
07. Femme Fatale
08. Burning Hell
09. The Lion Sleeps Tonight
10. Skank
11. So. Central Rain
12. Letter Never Sent
13. Little America
14. Camera
15. Second Guessing
16. Second Guessing Take 2
17. Harborcoat
18. Seven Chinese Brothers
19. Just A Touch
20. Pretty Persuasion
21. Pale Blue Eyes
22. Time After Time (Annelise)

MP3   or   FLAC

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Great Outdoors - Making Allowances For the Jargon (1986, Upright)

Usually I can inform and opine at length about titles I share as part of my annual Chanukah series, but in the case of the Great Outdoors, a mid-80s export from Birmingham, England, I'm afraid I can't supply you with an excess amount of background detail (though there is a short write-up/pictorqal on them over at Birmingham Music Archive).  To paraphrase a certain Death Cab For Cutie album title, sometimes you don't have all the facts, but are still overwhelmingly inclined to vote "yes."

Simply put, I really fell for this album.  Not only does it's 1986 timestamp alone indicate something promising, or the fact that it was released on a UK indie label (Upright) boasting an obscure but enticing roster, Making Allowances for the Jargon is the sound of an upstart band with it's integrity fully intact.

Integrity alone doesn't necessarily exude talent, but this quintet seemed to have both cards firmly in hand.  At the time, many of their ilk were crafting strummy/jangly and literate guitar pop with no shortage of appeal, which hardly placed G/O in a class unto themselves.  Still, they had the chops and the songs that should have slotted them somewhere amidst combos ranging from the Housemartins to the Railway Children, and even Trashcan Sinatras.  Right out of the starting gate, "World At My Shoes" sparks a sprite, visceral charge with a dynamite chorus hook and an aptitude far advanced for a band who were just unleashing their debut salvo.  Other selections here are nearly as vital - "Heaven Sent," "Newspapers" and the concluding "Guitar is Drunk" to name three more.  Some of Jargon's ballads, like "Buried in America" and "Acid Rain" could use a tad more lift, so to speak, but I like to think that some of the record's slower pieces are growers.  There's only ten songs here, so I shan't give much more away.  In a nutshell this is yet another great "lost" indie-pop album from a coveted era that I hope you'll give a spin or two.  By the way, the record's complete title is Making Allowances For the Jargon...Until All Intentions Are Clear.  

01. World At My Shoes
02. Laughing Stops
03. Bird in the Hand
04. Heaven Sent
05. Glass Houses
06. Newspapers
07. What Did you Expect
08. Buried in America
09. Acid Rain
10. Guitar is Drunk

MP3   or   FLAC

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Sugarplastic - live & rare (1991-2005)

A few weeks ago when I was updating a broken link for one of several Sugarplastic entries that I've posted, it occurred to me they were deserving of a deeper dive, so to speak.  True I'd already shared all manner of singles, an outtakes collection and even an early demo tape, but there was still plenty of juicy morsels I had accumulated over the years to be plucked and brought to market. Whether you've already imbibed their four proper albums, the rarities I've been sharing heretofore or both...or neither, you can regard these recordings as a bountiful appetizer or a downright succulent dessert.

I've spilled so much text with no shortage of biographical details on these guys already, but for the uninitiated, The Sugarplastic are/were an immensely talented L.A.-area pop trio whose body of recorded output spanned the entirety of the '90s and well into the first half of the next decade.  Garnering a small but dedicated following, the trio of Ben Eshbach (vocals/guitars), Kiara Geller (bass) and Josh Laner (percussion) seized on a mildly eccentric poise, offering considerable Anglophile nods to the likes of XTC, The Monochrome Set, and yes, The Beatles.  There's a not-so-subtle undercurrent of whimsy and mercurial charm threading their way through just about any song they leave their imprint on, and Ben & Kiara's barbershop harmonies merely buttressed the band's indigenous and often addictive tenor.  Weird, without being weirdos, the Sugarplastic were a unique proposition for a major label, especially in 1996 when their second and perhaps most representative album Bang, The Earth is Round saw the light of day on Geffen Records.  Such a singular species was bound to be a hard-sell in an era when Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots still ruled the roost, and as fate would predictably have it the masses were indifferent or outright ignorant to the curious threesome.  They persevered with two more studio LPs, 2000's Resin, and Will three years later.  Following up a series of subscription-released singles dispensed between 2003-05, they carried on as a live entity for a few more years, and to my knowledge are currently on an extended hiatus, or perhaps completely put to pasture.  Ben and Kiara have relatively recent solo outings to crow about, albeit far removed from the typical Sugarplastic mold.

Recommendable as the albums are as an ideal jumping off point, the quintessence of what they were about is demonstrably summed up in a nine-song, in-store gig held at Los Angeles' No Life Records in April of 1996.  Captured straight from the soundboard, the Bang-era performance is crisp and nimbly executed, and plays to every iota of the Sugarplastic's spartan but melodic strengths.  Included are then current nuggets "Polly Brown," "The Way This Is," and "Montebello," earlier triumphs "Skinny Hotrod" and "Sun Goes Cold," and even a tune that was apparently reserved for live sets, "29¢ Stamp."

There's considerable song overlap between a KCRW, Morning Becomes Eclectic live-to-FM set from the same era as the No Life Records performance, but I'm including it for the interview segments intermingled between the tunes.  Sugarplastic songs often take on the gist of romantically-sentient, if not surreal and crooked fables, but the conversation entails background details and provides a sense of where the band's collective heads were when the emerging combo was briefly under the auspices of a major record company.

Finally, I've curated a collection of fourteen (mostly) under-released doses of 'plastic passion, that even the most astute devotee might be lacking on their hard drive or otherwise.  The first six cuts were made available for literally less than 48 hours on Bandcamp, approximately five years or so ago.  No recording dates were affixed to these tracks, but they bear the strident and buoyant gait that so typified the Sugarplastic aesthetic.  Next up are a quartet of songs that appeared on a "bonus" CD that were made available to subscribers of the Tallboy Records 7x7x7 singles series I mentioned in passing above.  Even by Sugarplastic standards, "Overextended And Helpless At A Payphone In Chinatown" and "Hesperus And Phosphorus" exude some relatively oblique properties.  These are followed up by three early, unreleased tracks that were deemed fit for unleashing on YouTube.  Finally there's the band's contribution to the soundtrack of the cutest superhero cartoon enterprise ever. 

Los Angeles, CA @ No Life Records, 4/23/96

01. Intro
02. Polly Brown
03. Skinny Hotrod
04. 29¢ Stamp
05. The Way This Is
06. Spastic Laughter
07. Sun Goes Cold
08. Joyce
09. Montebello
10. Another Myself
MP3  or  FLAC

KCRW Studios "Morning Becomes Eclectic," Santa Monica,CA, May 10, 1996

01. intro talk
02. Polly Brown
03. talk
04. Spastic Laughter
05. talk/The Way This Is
06. talk
07. 29¢ Stamp
08. talk
09. Another Myself
10. talk/Skinny Hotrod
11. outro talk

MP3  or  FLAC

01. Export Number Two
02. Broccoliesque
03. Bottome Line Bounce 1
04. Ship Has Gone Down
05. Put it Away
06. Soldier Girl
07. In Love With Number One
08. Overextended And Helpless At A Payphone In Chinatown
09. The Barber (live)
10. Hesperus And Phosphorus
11. In the Hole
12. Ingersol
13. Magnificat
14. Don't Look Down (Professor's Song)

1-6 Bandcamp "rarities"
7-10 "7x7x7" series bonus CD
11-13 YouTube tracks
14. The Powerpuff Girls Soundtrack
MP3 (no FLAC, sorry)

Thursday, December 10, 2020

V/A - Scared to Get Happy box (2013)

So, I don't always commence my Chanukah downloads with a full fledged box set, but when I do I try to give you extra bang for your buck (that buck being the quite affordable sum of $0.00 😏).  For a good eight years there I regarded Rhino Records 2005 Children of Nuggets to be the finest and most comprehensive various artists box set in existence. Little did I anticipate that in 2013 Cherry Red Records out of the UK would if not up the ante, at the very least rival it.

Enter Scared to Get Happy, a five disk, hardbound book-set spanning the entirety of the 1980s.  It's subtitle, A Story of Indie-pop 1980-89 gets it mostly right, however it doesn't come straight out and explained it's exclusively composed of British indie-pop.  The roughly twenty acts presented on the cover make it pretty evident of this (The Wedding Present, Jesus & Mary Chain and Stone Roses being some of the more predominant inclusions).  The back cover reveals the teaming, total roster of no less than 134 acts!  Perhaps not a record number of participants for a compilation, even by box set standards, but Scared to Get Happy is breathless in its depth, and never skimps on quality to rival its quantity.  As for the "Story of indie-pop" quotient of it's title, Scared to Get Happy literally achieves that end in the sense that this collection is featured in nearly perfect chronological order.  The accompanying booklet manages to feature bite-sized bios of everyone involved, a task that must have been as nebulous as licensing and digitizing all of the songs in themselves. 

If I wanted to be extra-cynical I might be tempted to allocate about 30% of Scared's roster as "bands that influenced the Smiths," with the remaining 70% composed of "band's that were influenced by the Smiths." Unfortunately for me, a small-time music scribe, this collection of 134 artists isn't as conveniently monolithic as that, though the overarching tenor of the six+ hours of music featured here wouldn't be what it is without the shadows of such seminal antecedents like Aztec Camera, the Housemartins, and yes, The Smiths, looming so large overhead.  Arguably the ground-zero year for UK indie-pop was 1986, which was literally codified in May of that year when a particular issue of NME magazine hit newsstands.  Affixed to it was C86, a 22-track, gold-sleeved cassette issued in conjunction with Rough Trade Records of up and coming hopefuls, including on-deck indie luminaries Primal Scream, the Wedding Present, Mighty Lemon Drops, The Shop Assistants, McCarthy, the Pastels and the Soup Dragons among at least a dozen more.  This veritable who's-who (to come, in many cases) wasn't merely representative of the year 1986, but a musical aesthetic virtually unto itself, typified by independent artists boasting a mid-fidelity penchant, often chockablock with jangly guitar chords, humble vocals, and relatable heart-on-sleeve prose, clearly bucking the far bolder, gaudier and frankly obnoxious Top-40 vendors that so dominated the mainstream on both sides of the Atlantic.  Scared to Get Happy contains selections (though not necessarily the same songs) from the brunt of the C86 tape roster, but goes 112 tunes better, thoroughly exploring what came before and after that seminal reel became so literally and metaphorically tangible.                                                                                          

Deriving it's title from a lyric in Hurrah!'s "Hip Hip" (a song ironically not featured in this set) Scared... abundantly serves as both an archive and a taster for almost every key player in Britain's Thatcher-era indie-circuit featuring no shortage of heavy hitters - Aztec Camera, Jasmine Minks, TV Personalities, June Brides, That Petrol Emotion, Brilliant Corners, Another Sunny Day, Primitives, Orchids, Pale Fountains, Wedding Present, Prefab Sprout, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, usually represented by their signature songs.  Oddly enough, for every relatively successful band on Scared... that made their mark in the decade in question, you'll find an equal number of participants who would make a loftier splash in the '90s - Pulp, Soup Dragons, Primal Scream, Del Amitri, James, Pop Will Eat Itself, Wonder Stuff, Stone Roses, House of Love, The Shamen, The La's and the Boo Radleys all taking a seat at the table as well.  You might regard many of the aforementioned as the 'meat & potatoes' of this book-set, so to speak, but for myself and many others who managed to snag a physical copy of Scared... the real draw were the groups that made the indie "small of fame," and for better or worse remained there.  For me having the likes of the Bodines, Close Lobsters, Dentists, This Posion!, The Corn Dollies, The Lines, The Charlottes, Pooh Sticks, Scars, Suede Crocodiles, 14 Iced Bears, East Village and One Thousand Violins all anthologized in one tidy compendium is a phenomenal treat.  The cherry on top is the addition of several songs that heretofore only existed on scarce vinyl singles, or somehow never crossed over into the digital realm.

Revisiting what I mentioned in the middle paragraph, not everyone here owes a sonic debt to Morrissey, Marr & Co, and in fact, you'll find some veritable departures from clangy guitar pop, evidenced by way of the comparatively avant leanings of We've Got a Fuzzbox..., Big Flame, Talulah Gosh, and Josef K.  Virtually no significant sub-genre of UK indie pop (save for maybe shoegaze) is unrepresented here, and there are dozens of worthy unknown quantities that I didn't get to mention in this piece.  A complete track list is depicted above, and as a side note, while the CD book-set incarnation of Scared to Get Happy has long sold out, 28 of its songs were condensed into a double LP vinyl set in 2017, not to mention another manageable, whittled down assemblage of 50 tunes that can be streamed at Amazon and Spotify.  Links to the unabridged version are directly below, but I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that in 2013 I assembled a hypothetical sixth disk of what this box could have potentially contained.  Feel free to dip into that one as well.

CD 1  CD2  CD 3  CD 4  CD 5

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Watching the candles burn - the eight nights of Chanukah returns this Thursday evening.


2020 has got to be good for something...right?  With all the crazy and cataclysmic events that have taken place in the last eleven months or so, even I'm not as jazzed about annual traditions.  Nonetheless, as long as I still have a supply of extra special ear candy to share with you, I wouldn't feel right depriving you of  the usual eight night spread of choice bootlegs, live rarities and standout vinyl scarcities that I've offered every Chanukah since 2012.  The festivities begun this Thursday evening, come around sundown EST.

If you're new to the site please check out the preliminary details for past Chanukah roll-outs (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019).  You might be asking what initially motivated me to begin 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 personal relevance to me.  We all know you were envious of that kid down the block who had a yarmulke festooned to their 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 Teenage Fanclub, but name recognition is hardly a guarantee.  As in past years, there will definitely be familiar faces, but also several entrants that have never garnered face-time on W/O.  Bear in mind that what's crucial to my ears may not be of equal essence to yours, but kindly, try to humor me.

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 17th.

  • 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 14st) so as not to disrupt the continuity of the eight consecutive nights of the holiday.
  • Some offerings will be made available in FLAC (in addition to standard MP3).
  • I'm probably going to be skipping singles this year, and offering an album or concert instead. 
And as always, download responsibly.  Enjoy.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Rain is falling, wind is blowing, sun's not in the sky...

A unique and utterly catchy covers album from 2012.  

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


Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Products - Fast Music (2002, Cabeza De Tornado)

Here's another example of an album that was recorded during the halcyon days of punk/power-pop but didn't see the light of day until the twenty-first century.  In this case, San Diego's Products were discernibly more punk, albeit mid-tempo in pace, with mouthpiece Lee Larson attempting to go for something tuneful on the mic and occasionally succeeding.  Fast Music was tracked in 1981, on the heels of a now sought after 7" ep, In the Midnight Hour.  Despite the band's sunny and warm environs, their southern Cali locale wasn't enough to suppress a bouquet of blue-collar angst and pessimistic themes of alienation.  The quartet's economical execution of the ten songs comprising Fast Music lends itself more to British DIY punk than American hardcore, and Larson's Brit accent is an almost dead giveaway.  Nonetheless, it would have been interesting to hear how the Products developed had they survived beyond their first blush in the Reagan-era.   

01. Factory Town
02. Shooting Your Days Away
03. Show Np Emotion
04. The Changes to Come
05. Letter Dated December 31st
06. On Your Own
07. Punch the Man
08. Hard Word
09. Work Sketch
10. Wild Weekend