Sunday, November 27, 2022

Wish us all the luck, 'cos we are making record time.

From 1997. Their third album, and while it doesn't outdo their previous LPs, there are some splendid tunes to be had here.

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


Faith Over Reason - Eyes Wide Smile (1991, Big Cat)

Eyes Wide Smile is a mini-album masquerading as a full length, and isn't even a "proper" LP, rather a compilation of early demos. The Moira Lambert-fronted Faith Over Reason sure could've had me fooled if I didn't know better, as this record flows with not only seamless continuity but the kind of care and perfectionism that most outfits couldn't muster on their sharpest day in the studio.  Contemporaries with the likes of the Sundays, Shelleyan Orphan and The Cranes, albeit with a mildly more pronounced acoustic lilt, Faith Over Reason skewed a bit closer to the hipster, UK indie scene of whom they were certainly a byproduct of. In the grand scheme of things they seemed to have been rarely, if ever, name-checked alongside the aforementioned, and saw little promotion in the States. Eyes Wide's "Not So" and "Sofya" best exemplify what this coed quartet were capable of, and illustrate that Faith's comparatively low profile was to everyone's disadvantage. A passionate reading of Nick Drake's "Northern Sky" is also an enormous treat. 

01. Lullaby (mother love)
02. Sofya
03. So Free
04. Northern Sky
05. Song for Jessica
06. Evangeline
07. Not So
08. Eyes Wide Smile
09. Fallen


Sunday, November 20, 2022

No clue.

A 2016 joint from down under. Dream pop tempered with jangly guitarchitecture. This is downright glorious. 

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


Soul Asylum - Hang Time/Clam Dip... demos (198?)

They say that you dance with the one who brought you. In 1988, Soul Asylum along with the likes of such varied names as Wire, Killing Joke, and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry were responsible for yanking my chain to the left end of the dial and keeping it there. The single/emphasis track, "Sometime to Return" on their fourth album (and first for a major) Hang Time, and it's accompanying video was a revelation for me, and I stayed an adherent to the band long after it was fashionable to do so.  By the late-90s just about everyone whoever boasted ties to the Minneapolis quartet let go completely, but at the very least I was still a champion of their halcyon era just presaging their fleeting bit of stardom circa Grave Dancers Union. For me, Soul Asylum never delivered a definitive, front-to-back corker of an album, but Hang Time came mightily close.  Though they had recently kissed Twin/Tone Records goodbye, the restless and loose melees that made 1986' Made to Be Broken and While You Were Out so impressive were still functionally intact when they made the jump to A&M. Hang Time was S/A's last hurrah, so to speak, in letting their rambunctiousness run wild, evident on deeper album cuts, "Little Too Clean" and "Standing in the Doorway."  Dave Pirner and Co. certainly still rocked post-Hang Time, albeit with more polish and noticeably less grit. 

With that, I've decided to share a collection of demos cut in preparation for the album, as well as the Clam Dip and Other Delights ep, also minted in '88 and was the band's final release for Twin/Tone. Most of the songs from both records are represented here and though, it's easy to distinguish these rough drafts from the finished products, Soul Asylum had done their homework and clearly hashed out the arrangements for virtually all the songs prior to heading into the studio with Ed Stasium. This is a nice treat for fans, and not a bad place to delve into if Grave Dancers... is where you got on board.

01. Sometime to Return
02. Ode
03. Secret No More
04. Twiddle Dee
05. Standing in the Doorway
06. Endless Farewell
07. Down on Up to Me
08. P-9
09. Artificial Heart
10. Saving Grace
11. Forever and a Day
12. Just Plain Evil
13. Jack of All Trades
14. Secret No More
15. Just Plain Evil
16. Juke Box Hero
17. Chains
18. Set Me Free
19. P-9


Monday, November 14, 2022

Senseless Things - The First of Too Many - expanded edition (1991/2022, Sony/Cherry Red). A Brief Review.

Think back to 1991, from both an international and British perspective. There was war in the world. A prolonged recession was around the corner, the Tories still stubbornly clung to power in England, and a few of us just became introduced to something called 'email.' Then consider what was afoot in the guise of rock music. An alterna/grunge sea-change was well under way in the States supplanting nearly a decade's worth of formulaic, cosplay-ridden glam metal. On the other side of the pond the roots of Britpop were threatening to unfurl into full bloom at any second, while the more subterranean dream-pop movement had just reached it's apex via the woozy and enthralling mechanizations of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless.  So where did that leave London's Senseless Things who would be launching their sophomore record that year?  Hardly in any of the aforementioned categories.

Then again the '90s, writ large, would eventually be characterized for it's anything-goes penchant, and in that respect a quartet of vibrant, high-strung youngsters whose buoyant guitar tones and often strenuous punk-pop delivery system fit in perfectly well with the proceedings, presaging bona fide stars like Supergrass. Contemporary to S/T were other like-minded UK exports including Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Mega City Four and arguably the Wonder Stuff, yet the type of tuneage peddled by the four protagonists this post concerns didn't actually slot into any trend or movement, as no such niche really existed. Undoubtedly there was surely a space to be carved out for the Senseless Things, and luckily they garnered fringe notoriety back home on the ranch, but sadly, in the United States and other scant foreign markets their album garnered a reputation for the first of too many...appearances in cut-out and used CD bins.  For the most part The First of Too Many was where the Senseless Things began and ended for the vast majority of us Yanks. College radio picked up on it, and I'm certain a number of fanzines were happy to endorse the album, but it really wasn't until thirty years later that the band would be name-checked again in America, and for all the wrong reasons.  On Jauary10, 2021 frontman Mark Keds passed away at the tender age of 50 with no cause of death announced.   

Would we have been bequeathed with an expanded (and remastered/mixed) incarnation of  The First... at this time were it not for the aforementioned circumstances?  I highly doubt it, but to be certain this reissue is undoubtedly in Mark's honor.  And why not?  It's the band's most definitive statement - an optimistic, albeit sonically careening and nosediving juggernaut of distortion and euphoria that somehow remains poised and approachable thanks to a bedrock of sheer, relentless melody.  Paisley considerations aside, the album sleeve is a fairly accurate depiction of the Senseless Things kaleidoscopic reach - colorful and chaotic. 

While the band had veritable competition on their home turf (to reiterate, Mega City Four, Neds, etc) they had virtually no equal in North America, save for the likes of perhaps Montreal's Doughboys.  And much like the Doughboys, major label backing didn't exactly do wonders for S/T stateside. Epic Records, flush with cash no doubt from ceaseless sales of  Michael Jackson and Wham! albums from the decade prior, apparently weren't capable of raising the band's profile (though they did wonders with their investment in Pearl Jam the very same year). The First of Too Many's most obvious blush of uptempo salvos, "Should I Feel It," "Ex Teenager," and the momentous lead-off number "Everybody's Gone" may not have shared the same angsty DNA of Eddie Vedder and Co's "Even Flow" but would've still been relatively comfortable adjacent to it on '91 rock playlists.  And there were plenty of mellower, not to mention hooky respites to be had here to boot - "Fishing at Tescos," "Wrong Number," and the considerably chilled-out "Different Tongues." To their good fortune the album did make more than a handful of believers in the U.S. - just not enough to justify an American release of S/T's 1993 follow-up, Empire of the Senseless.

So what to make of the reissue of The First...?  Mostly for the positive, and as for a few criticisms I'll leave those for the end.  Expanded to a three CD set, disk one is a 30th anniversary remix of the whole enchilada. It's rarely the fans who clamor for alternate mixes of albums, but they seem to be coming down the pike more often these days, invited or not.  The original '91 mix of The First... was hardly muddy or indiscernible, yet this fresh twiddling of the knobs and levels reveals a far more lucid portrayal of the album's fifteen numbers and is said to reveal new elements that were left out of the initial mix, including banjo (or so the band claims).  To my ears, Mark's vocals, nor is any specific instrumentation especially prominent in the new mix, but considerably brighter with maybe the high end tweaked a tad.  The second disk is a straight version of the more frenetic and amped-out o.g. mix, which is what most, if not all listeners will be more accustom to. Then comes the final CD, a gripping live set from a Camden Palace gig in London from June 1991, featuring not only songs from The First... but also choice cuts from their debut LP, Postcard C.V. and a clutch of rarely heard gems ("Ponyboy" anyone?)

While the music presented across this set ranges from merely good to fantastic, it could have been that much better. How?  Well, this reissue sticks strictly to the original UK tracklist.  Any of the three CDs could have potentially housed another album's worth of bonus material including an ace non-LP single from the same era ("Easy to Smile," which technically made it to the American version of The First...), not to mention roughly a half-dozen contemporary b-sides (including but not limited to "I'm On Black and White" and the fun "Beat to Blondie"). Additionally, it would have been a treat to have the under-released Andi in a Karmann ep from 1990 appended too. Like I said, there was plenty of room for extras. The only other quibble is that the booklet's liner notes were kept to a bare minimum, with the typeset tiny enough to warrant reaching for a magnifying glass. A little more insight into the music at hand would have been appreciated, but of course Mark wasn't around to provide any.

The First of Too Many is available straight from Cherry Red, either in triple CD or double LP formats, and from a variety of other vendors including Amazon

Sunday, November 13, 2022

I guess it takes awhile to disappear.

From 1988. Too bad I slept on these New York noiseniks when they were originally around. I'm discovering a goldmine in their back catalog.  BTW, the last six songs comprised an EP released the same year. 

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


Arti Rhythm - Can't O.D. on R&B ep (1984)

Hope the title of this one doesn't scare anyone off. Arti Rhythm, who evidently called Holland home, were steeped in pub rock more than anything else, and anyone who gets a whiff of this record would swear they were American born and bred. Think maybe that first Huey Lewis and the News album and Rockpile (albeit even more pedestrian). A pretty meat and potatoes affair, though I could do without the long-ish ballad, "Cold Outside," which is about as bluesy as this five piece gets. 

01. Feel Like Lovin'
02. Cold Oustide
03. Take a Ride
04. Walk in a Line
05. The Trick
06. Three Times Enough


Monday, November 7, 2022

No bridge too far...

From 2009. Rich, deftly crafted indie rock with melodic smarts for miles, and a keen singer/songwriter flair.

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


Sunday, November 6, 2022

Steppin' Razor - Studio Junkies (1982, QL)

This was a nice find, even if it isn't particularly rare.  My understanding is that at the time of this recording Steppin' Razor were a Florida duo consisting of Mike Rogers and Kenny Lyon. You'd be forgiven if you mistook their moniker as Studio Junkies given how the album jacket graphics are portrayed, but anyway. You can file this one loosely under 'new wave,' although the lead-off number, "Follow the Leader" is a delectably catchy slice of ska-pop with an indelible staccato syncopation. There's precious little more of where this came from at least as Studio Junkies is concerned, but more regarding that after the jump. The remainder of the album traverses more traditional terrain, with whirring keyboards being a dominant factor yet not overpowering. Some of the comparatively introspective pieces ("Another Way to Live") never quite manage to climax, and further along, "I Really Wanna Dance With You" is just too vacant for my tastes. Steppin' Razor redeem themselves on the livelier "Ready to Break," while "Yellow Lights" dips back into the white-boy Rasta bag 'o tricks, but at five minutes is too lengthy for it's own good.

Shortly after Studio Junkies was issued, the duo of Rogers/Lyon made a break for L.A., teamed up with a rhythm section and rechristened themselves Steppin' Lazer. They took and ran with the ska-bent of the aforementioned "Follow the Leader," and cooked up one hell of an ep, Plain Wrap in '83, which included a rerecording of that song and another Junkies number, "Seeing What I Ain't Got." Per a blurb I read on YouTube, frontman Rogers has sadly passed on.

01. Follow the Leader
02. Seein' What I ain't Got
03. Another Pretty Face
04. You Don't Approve of Me
05. Another Way to Live
06. I Can't Afford it
07. I Really Wanna Dance with You
08. Ready to Break
09. Yellow Lights
10. Für Elise