Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A brief review: Mumps - Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That... (2021, Omnivore), Holsapple & Stamey - Our Back Pages (2021, Omnivore) and The Rubinoos - The CBS Tapes (2021, Yep Roc)

Even if the late Lance Loud had never pitched his hat into the nebulous arena of rock/pop music in the 1970s, his legacy would have still been very much cemented by virtue of his stature in the pioneering 1973 TV serial An American Family.  Though the term "reality television" hadn't been conjured up yet, the short-run, twelve episode program filmed in 1971 and airing two years later honed in on the comings and goings of The Louds, a successful middle class family in Santa Barbara, CA. Unscripted (and if it's to believed, with no financial compensation accorded to the Loud clan) America was introduced to seven perfect  strangers who were a perfectly intact nuclear family when it's first installment aired, and were somewhat fractured by the time the series finale rolled around with the heads of the household Pat and Bill Loud separating, and ultimately divorcing not long after the film crew had packed it's last tripod.  The prime-time show garnered as many as ten million sets of eyeballs, and although the majority of the "cast" went back to living their quiet, private lives one of Pat and Bill's kids, Lance inadvertently parlayed his profile on An American Family into cult iconography, due in no small part to him fronting the New York City art/glam rock quintet, Mumps circa the Carter-era.  Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That - Best Case Scenario, You've Got Mumps, is the most recent compilation of the band's relatively sparse body of work, and makes a compelling case for Loud & Co.

Despite American Family's popularity during it's initial (and for better or worse, only) airing in '73, the show is rarely talked about these days (with the latest blip on the radar occurring earlier this year with the death of the aforementioned matriarch, Pat). It hasn't been in syndication since, nor has it been offered up on DVD or streaming services, and at best, even YouTube has archived merely a few tightly bite-sized minutes of the program. I haven't viewed so much as one entire episode myself, however American Family's most noted moment came when Lance came-out to his father Bill in one of the later installments.  Keep in mind, this all transpired in the early seventies.  In what little video I've taken in of AAF, Lance did boast something of a flamboyant persona, vaguely suggesting an interest in the arts and theater, eventually leading him to the Big Apple where at one point he ingratiated himself in Andy Warhol's inner circle.  Mumps were actually born out of a larger contingent of players, simply dubbed Loud, containing as the moniker might suggest some of his siblings, specifically sisters Delilah and Michele on backing vocals. By 1975 the group was pared down to a more succinct five-piece, with keyboardist Kristian Hoffman serving as the combo's predominant songwriter.  Mumps were legendary fixtures at CBGB's with Lance playing the role of a very extroverted and animated frontman, often working himself into such a sweaty frenzy that the first front rows of onlookers couldn't help getting saturated in some of his...uh...stuff.  

Despite their venue of choice the Mumps were not akin to the Ramones, or even the Stooges or Heartbreakers. In fact, their proto-punk bona fides didn't emanate as much as aggression as the New York Dolls or T. Rex, two of the band's closest sonic counterparts. They wielded a mild theatrical and sardonic bent for certain, but beyond their magnetic stage presence they were fortunate enough to fall back on memorable songs...of which there was something of a deficit of.  Save for two independent singles released in 1977 and '78 the band had little else to boost their profile, save for gigs in New York and the occasional tour.  And it wasn't for lack of ambition or effort. Mumps had the competency and potential to be if not outright stars, they easily possessed the chops to hold down a deal with say an imprint like Sire Records.  The cold hard truth is that at the time major labels weren't willing to gamble on openly gay artists, regardless of their capabilities (e.g. Freddie Mercury was still very much in the closet during the '70s and most of the '80s for a legit reason).  

If the band's sound wasn't necessarily advanced or cutting edge, the arrangements themselves were sophisticated, wherein warm reverb had plenty of space to waft around in.  The Curators of Rock & Roll This... were wise to designate some of the Mumps most nascent material (predominantly recordings from 1975/76) as "bonus " tracks, as they weren't up to the caliber of the singles and demo recordings, they committed to tape in the late '70s. And while everything on this compilation is certainly listenable, it's easy to discern what's dated and what isn't.  As for the Mumps creme de la creme, there are dazzling single sides in the form of the taught, power pop-tinted "Crocodile Tears," and "That Fatal Charm," the latter exuding a hint of New York Dolls-y savoir faire. "Muscleboys" a Lance Loud-penned piece, busts out an even glammier stride, with the topic of it's title leaving little to the imagination.  A bevy of outtakes from Mumps creative peak, including "Did You Get the Girl," "Just Look Don't Touch" and the pure-pop delight "Anyone But You," should have all found their appropriate slots on the group's first proper studio album, that alas never transpired. There's sheer gold to be had here, but given Mumps fleeting time in the studio those nuggets were preciously limited.  

In fairness Rock & Roll This... is the third attempt to compile Mumps recorded output, and for better or worse we aren't provided any visual evidence, as the DVD that was bundled with 2005's How I Saved the World collection didn't make the migration here.  Still, we get virtually every single one of the band's recorded highlights, and this set features a couple of exclusive songs from the rambunctious pre-Mumps outfit Loud, who I mentioned in one of my earlier paragraphs. Rock & Roll This... can be purchased directly from Omnivore or Amazon

In 2005 fans of the dB's were treated to a full brown reunion of the NYC-by-way-of North Carolina quartet for the first time in some twenty-plus years with all original members present and accounted for: Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby and Gene Holder, if only for handful of shows. 2012 saw the reconstituted college-rock pioneers releasing their fifth album, Falling Off the Sky, their first collective recording venture since 1981's Repercussion.  While the lineup for Falling... mirrored Repercussion (and the dB's debut, Stands for Decibels, also an '81 effort) thirty years had nevertheless passed.  Well received as that reunion disk was, it didn't quite exude the band's indigenous, jangly hot mess of yore.  With such a substantial layover it wasn't a surprise so much as a mild letdown.  

It should be noted that there was a dB's respite or sorts in all those intervening years. Under their own names, Stamey and Holsapple collaborated for 1991's Mavericks.  Well, what do you know but another three decades flew by and the duo in question worked up a nostalgic Jones in the most delightful way possible, with the self-explanatory dubbed Our Back Pages.  No this isn't some slapped together retrospective of old dB's standards, rather a fresh acoustic reinterpretation thereof...and then some.

The dB's halycon era arguably stems from 1978 single "(I Thought) You Wanted to Know," up until the aforementioned Repercussion LP.  Two more albums followed with a Stamey-less incarnation of the band, specifically 1984's excellent Like This, and The Sound of Music following three years later. Needless to say Our Back Pages emphasizes the era when the dB's were still composed of the Stamey/Holsapple nucleus. Early masterstrokes "Black and White," "Happenstance," "Nothing is Wrong" and "Dynamite" all make the setlist here, in lucid, stripped-down readings that only an acoustic motif could reveal. There's more from the Stands For.../Repercussion tenure as well, but I don't want to extol any more spoilers. Our protagonists revive a couple of the choicest cuts The Sound of Music Had to offer, namely "Molly Says" and "Today Could Be the Day," plus "Depth of Field," a tune from Stamey's early solo venture, It's a Wonderful Life. "Picture Sleeve" is a much more recent piece, plucked from the dB's 2011 Record Store Day single, and another post-Stamey cut shows up as well, "Darby Hall" circa Like This', which functions splendidly in a more economic context.  All versions herein are exclusive to Our Back Pages, and is not to be passed over by aficionados of any era of the dB's. The vinyl variant of this album was yet another RSD exclusive, and CDs and downloads are ripe for purchasing over at Omnivore and Amazon.

Four guys walk into...a recording studio.  And not just any studio, rather one owned by CBS.  Those "guys," The Rubinoos, were on the cusp of etching their baby steps in the then newly excised granite slab most of us refer to as "power pop."  Here's the scene: November 3rd, 1976 - the day before the foursome in question were about to get down to the brass tacks of recording their 1977 self-titled debut.  Before their work began in earnest they decided to use that particular date in November (just a day after Jimmy Carter's election win, per Tommy Dunbar's liner notes) to get a feel for the studio - and ostensibly get some rambunctiousness out of their systems. Eleven songs were cut to tape in a seemingly random, freewheeling session, all of which hadn't seen the light of day until this year as The CBS Tapes.  As Dunbar puts it:

Imagine that someone followed you around with a camera for an hour in high school and showed you the film 40 years later.  That's what it's like listening to this tape we made in 1976.

And pre-tell what did that particular reel capture?  Well, just a bunch of coming-of-age miscreants busting out a deluge of (mostly) covers - "Heartbeat It's a Lovebeat," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You," "Sugar Sugar," and "Walk Don't Run." among others.  To their credit they up the credibility ante with an unorthodox reading of Jonathan Richman's "Government Center." We're also treated to a couple of originals that ironically didn't make The Rubinoos album - the catchy "All Excited," plus the ragged and lovingly loose "I Want Her So Bad."  The studio banter is chockablock with vulgarities (as occasionally are the lyrics).  They demonstrate competence in the studio, albeit having no shortage of cheeky fun in the process, but in the grand scheme of things, The CBS Tapes is predominantly just that - good frivolous fun.  Die hard Rubinoos acolytes will appreciate this audio snapshot in time, yet it's in no way, shape or form a pivotal artifact, not to mention it's an inadequate jumping off point for the unacquainted.  Don't shy away if you're an established fan, but if you're a Rubinoos neophyte, stick to their first two albums, 1983's Party of Two ep, and if you can locate it, the excellent Basement Tapes outtakes collection.  The CBS Tapes is available from Yep Roc Records as we speak.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

"I'm on my own, home all alone." So I got off the phone.

From 1982. Far from the weakest link in their chain of good-to-excellent albums, it is however a bit of a guilty pleasure.  To this day I cringe at the song that employs mechanized vocals, but the other ten are easily keepers. Enjoy

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


Angst - Cry for Happy (1988, SST)

So I've belatedly come to post the only Angst album I haven't shared previously.  Fittingly it's the last album in their catalog, and I think it was the only one to be made available on CD.  Like most, if not all of their SST brethren, Angst weren't necessarily going for accessibility, yet Cry For Happy did boast a host of tunes that could have at the very least crossed over to the upper echelons of college radio playlists - "Time to Understand," "The Weather's Fine," and "She's Mine."  All three of the aforementioned operated within the parameters of say, the Feelies or perhaps the Dream Syndicate had that outfit opted for a more casual modus operandi.  There's a few anomalies wafting around this half hour of power, but nothing radical - maybe a little ZZ Top riff-worship on "Lonesome Heart" and "Meine Frau's" relentless blasts of trumpets that don't do much to augment Angst's otherwise humble shtick.  Overall, another nice record by this decades-long bygone troupe. 

01. Time to Understand
02. The Weather's Fine
03. Only Fools
04. Meine Frau
05. Motherless Child
06. I Could Never Change Your Mind
07. Leaving's Been Easy
08. She's Mine
09. Long Road
10. Lonesome Heart
11. My Dinner With Debbie
12. untitled


Sunday, June 20, 2021

And what she couldn't take she found a way to break...

From 1984. The frontman for this band calls this album his probable favorite by them, and I'm inclined to agree.

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


Saturday, June 19, 2021

The redo: Schatzi - Joni Loves Schatzi (1998, Humungous Fungus)

It hasn't exactly been smooth sailing in Wilfully Obscure world this week.  My "rig" for conveying vinyl to a format obtainable in ones and zeroes simply wasn't cooperating with me, forcing me to ditch a couple of titles I would have otherwise fondly shared.

Luckily I had a backup ready to go.  Way back in 2010 I lamented not being able to locate an original copy of a very obscure locally released title by a band that grew very near and dear to my heart in the early '00s, Schatzi.  It took the better part of TWO DECADES for me to finally obtain a physical incarnation of Joni Loves Schatzi, the 1998 debut from the band in question. Yes it's merely a jewel case with an aluminum coated circle of plastic tucked within, but it felt like a remarkable effort after so many years of hunting and making hundreds of web queries.  And here it as at a superior bitrate with scans of the entire booklet.  The original 2010 write up is below.  I'd be neglectful if I failed to mention Schatzi guitarist Monte Williams fell victim to a flood in the summer of 2020.  R.I.P.

An Austin, TX outfit called Schatzi made the "Dubya" years at least a little more tolerable with two choice releases on Mammoth Records - the Death of the Alphabet ep in 2001, and the ensuing long player, Fifty Reasons to Explode a year later. Marrying seismic hooks to booming power chords, a la '90s Weezer and Smeared-era Sloan, but with even smarter songs than both, Schatzi possessed a winning formula, but received inadequate exposure (BTW, Fifty Reasons made it into my top-95 albums list of the decade). The band went their separate ways not long after some 2003 recording sessions and a national tour with the Ultimate Fakebook, but even after their demise, I was starving for more.

Via their defunct webpage, I learned of a pre-Mammoth Records release, Joanie Loves Schatzi, that the quartet issued on their own Humongous Fungus label. To this day I have never come across a copy of this unspeakably impossible to locate disk, but about two years ago I was fortunate enough to bag high quality MP3s of the entire album, which I'm sharing with you today. Joanie... doesn't scale the heights of their later releases, but a respectable and worthy debut nonetheless. 
01. Nadine
02. Green Velvet Neckbrace
03. Dirty Room Lament
04. Selfish Please
05. Snowflake
06. Stalking The Girl (With Wintergreen Stockings)
07. Acetaminophen
08. All
09. Surrogate Savior
10. Laika
11. Smashplate
12. Radiate
13. Mr. Kent, You're Out Of Gas

Sunday, June 13, 2021

...and the plans I've made don't include you, I'm afraid

A singles & b-sides compilation of this band's intermittently rewarding "middle" era.  Doesn't quite beat the early stuff, but conveniently, there are a couple of live songs here that show some reverence to their past. 

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


Salvation Army (Three O'clock) - Live From Torrance and Beyond (2019, Burger rec. 5-22-82)

Yesterday was Record Store Day (technically the first of two 2021 "drops" thereof).  In the past I've occasionally shared purchases from prior RSDs, and I'm following suit this year with a title I camped out in line for at 4 a.m. on an unspecific Saturday in April of 2019.  Fans of L.A.'s The Three O'clock, long defunct but insurgent innovators of the so-called "Paisley Underground" movement in the mid-80s, might be aware of the precursor to that band, the Salvation Army.  A name change was forced upon the trio for very obvious reasons after their LP surfaced in 1982, and soon thereafter the Three O'clock was born with the threesome eventually expanding to a quartet, not only epitomizing said mini-movement, but to a certain extent the burgeoning new-romantic scene itself. 

The Michael Quercio-helmed Salvation Army were well received in their native southern California and were just starting to make ripples nationally by the time their self-titled debut arrived.  To give you an indication of how far the group's popularity had progressed, this live performance cut in May of 1982 found the band sharing a bill with two other very significant up and coming contemporaries, Red Cross (later Redd Kross) and The Minutemen (see a replica of the gig flyer to your right). If the Three O'clock veered to psych-inflected new wave, S.A. bore more of a punky sheen, reflected in this brief but delightfully raw set.  The performance commences with with two of their album's most convincing songs, the hooky "She Turns to Flower" and the driving two-minute salvo, "Upside Down."  In the banter that ensues just prior to launching into a cover of Pink Floyd's "Lucifer Sam," Quercio encourages the audience to engage in wanton free love, a la Woodstock (after all this '82 gig was an outdoor show).  In between another wise choice of a remake (The Byrd's "Feel a Whole Lot Better") the band previews two soon-to-be Three O'clock fan favorites "Marjorie Tells Me" and "(With a) Cantaloupe Girlfriend." There's a mere eight songs all in all here, totaling roughly 22 unbridled minutes making for an enjoyable snapshot in time.  The album was said to released in a limited edition of 650 copies, a few of which can be obtained on Amazon...and if it's to be believed, Target online.  

01. She Turns to Flowers
02. Upside Down
03. Lucifer Sam
04. Marjorie Tells Me
05. (With a) Cantaloupe Girlfriend
06. Feel a Whole Lot Better
07. I Am Your Guru
08. Going Home

MP3  or  FLAC

Friday, June 11, 2021

Solid State - "Let it All Out" 7" (1987)

Yet another record I don't own a physical variation of, so thanks in advance to whomever went to the task of ripping this.  This southwestern Connecticut five-piece set may not have realized it at the time it was cut, but this 45's a-side, "Let It All Out" is a Casio organ-laced doozie of a top-down summer song, boasting a relentless and irresistible groove, hearkening back to the last era when Top-40 radio was still a listenable proposition.  Wouldn't necessarily refer to Solid State as power pop, and certainly not new wave (despite "Be Bops" pronounced snyth treatments) but certainly more organic and sincere than say, Glass Tiger or the like.  Even if fun bests innovation by a long-shot here. it's hard to have any objections.

A. Let It All Out
B. Be Bop


Sunday, June 6, 2021

At warped speed on the beltway loop...

This is probably my favorite album of the last three years. A bit left-field for what I offer, even by MM standards. Enjoy (or not).

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


Saturday, June 5, 2021

Fade to Black - Corridors of Gender ep (1984, CD Presents)

Yep, you can discern by the cover alone what this one is all about.  Goth. Darkwave. Deathrock. Embrace it or dismiss it. In the case of the Bay Area's Fade to Black. I'm absolutely inclined to the do the latter for the opening salvo, "Black Box," an exercise in contrived, pious-as-hell vocals with appropriately accompanying timpani percussion. All tension, no release here.  Thankfully this quartet (who by the way feature a pre-Game Theory Gil Ray on skins) recover swiftly on the next three cuts, effectively finagling with Anglophile affectations pioneered by the likes of Bauhaus, Siouxsie and Bauhaus.  Heck, I'm even picking up on trace elements of everything from the Chameleons to Christian Death on Corridors of Gender. Unfortunately, the finale is another maudlin waste.  Per Discogs, attempts were made around a decade ago to anthologize the sounds of FtG digitally, but you'd be hard pressed to locate them at a reasonable price if at all.

01. Black Box
02. Forward From Hell
03. Towers Open Fire
04. Soundtrack
05. Cinema Blue


Friday, June 4, 2021

Liquorice - Stalls 7" (1995, Simple Machines)

Back in the mid-90s, a lot of us who indie folk who got off on Tsunami's guitars-y, but constructive angst (and even front-woman/wunderkind Jenny Toomey's pristine lounge-pop spinoff supergroup Grenadine, entailing Unrest's Mark Robinson and Eggs' Rob Christiansen) were a bit taken back by her third simultaneous foray, Liquorice.  Perhaps she was multitasking a tad much in 1995 and our brains were fried on Toomey-overload.  More likely though, Liquorice were too subtle and refined to spark the visceral charge we were so accustom to hearing from her.  Alongside her telltale vocal and guitar tones, the trio was composed of fellow strummer Daniel Littleton, who was Toomey's co-conspirator in the pre-Tsunami combo Three Shades of Dirty, and shortly thereafter, Slack, both of whom left behind little known cassette releases as evidence. Littleton would eventually be renown for his role in Ida, while drummer Trey Many rounded out the trio that cut this single. 

In music industry-speak Liquorice didn't have much "furniture" populating their humble and relatively serene parlor, relying predominantly on acoustic motifs and delicate interplay, albeit there's an oblique and slyly dynamic tenor to this single's centerpiece "Stalls."  It's five and a half minutes of Toomey's indigenous stripe of tension and texture that's downright rewarding if absorbed in multiple doses. There are two b-sides, the downcast but affecting "Artifacts" featuring Littleton on the mic, and the hazy, ambient-esque "Squawk of the Town."  Liquorice followed this 7" up with the considerably more widely  circulated LP, Listening Cap on 4AD Records.  

A. Stalls
B1. Artifacts
B2. Squawk of the Town