Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cover Your Tracks: The Wedding Present, "Falling"

I never watched Twin Peaks since I've never been a fan of David Lynch. This has more to do with my general indifference toward film and television, though—music comes first for me, and sitting through slow American surrealism is not my cup of sweet tea. I will admit to liking the haunting theme song of the cult TV show, though, and while the vocal version, a 1990 hit for Julee Cruise, is so ethereal that it threatens to evaporate, it's still pretty, a good example of what the Cocteau Twins could sound like if they had wanted to sell out.

This excellent cover is by the wonderful Wedding Present, one of the best British indie bands of the 80s and 90s ever to not-quite make it in America. Their early records featured furiously jangling guitars and a singer, David Gedge, whose strangled vocals sound like an angry, straight Morrissey who has been systematically dumped by every woman in the United Kingdom. Later records got louder (see 1991's gloriously frazzled, Steve Albini-recorded Seamonsters, one the all-time break-up albums), more polished, and catchier, but never made much of a splash in the States. Gedge's voice is certainly an acquired taste, and his theme rarely strays from L-O-V-E in its various stages of breakdown, but the level of quality is very high throughout, and Gedge also has a knack for picking great covers. He covered Pavement's "Box Elder" in 1990, when they were barely known, and was so fond of making excellent B-sides that in 1992, he decided to forgo a normal album release and instead release twelve singles that year, one each month, with an original on side A and a cover on side B. The Wedding Present version of "Falling" is the B-side of "Silver Shorts"; 1992's twelve singles have been compiled as The Hit Parade (get the 2003 edition), which is as good an introduction to the Wedding Present as any.

The Wedding Present cover Julee Cruise's "Falling":

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Swell Maps: The Peel Sessions

For those music fans inclined to the making of lists, naming and ranking favorites is one of the great useless pastimes, half fandom and half polemics masquerading as aesthetics. For those making lists about punk rock, it's polemics squared, if only because among the confrontational genres, punk is contrarian by nature—there cannot logically be a best punk band ever, as that achievement would probably not be considered “punk” by some angered malcontent. So I will not make a list of my favorite punk bands for the moment. Instead, I will discuss my favorite late 70s British cult band: the Swell Maps. They are not the best, certainly, or the most influential, or even the most obscure, or the punk-est, but their dim caterwauling and sloppy racket are, to me, the quintessence of inspired do-it-yourself before that slogan was even a slogan. A loose band of anywhere from three to six members, they wrote songs and made sounds and put them to tape at home, starting in the early 70s, not because they wanted hits or fame, but because they liked messing around and making noise. In fact, terming them ‘punk’ is probably a mistake; they were neither political nor even ideological, unless trying to write Can and Faust and T. Rex songs at home using limited technology and even more limited chops constitutes an ideology.

As a functioning, record-releasing band, they only lasted a few years, 1977-1980 to be more precise, and while they barely played any live shows, they were able to gain some press due to exposure by the British titan of independent music-making, John Peel, who allowed them to record three sessions for his radio show. They released four singles and two full-length LPs, first on their own Rather Records label and later on Rough Trade. After breaking up on an Italian tour in early 1980, principals Nikki Sudden, his brother Epic Soundtracks, and Jowe Head all went on to toil in the furrows of indie rock, usually with modest success at best; sadly, both Sudden and Soundtracks (né Adrian Nicholas Godfrey and Kevin Paul Godfrey) have since passed away.

For a band that released rather little during its floruit, the subsequent treatment of the Swell Maps catalogue shows signs of overcompilationism and botched-reissue-ism. At present their discography is confusing and distressing. I will discuss their official catalogue in a later posting; for now, I would like to right an egregious wrong and submit, for your listening pleasure and education, the three Peel Sessions which the Swell Maps recorded for John Peel. There are many classic Peel Sessions which have been released and admired by collectors of punk and post-punk noisemongery: at the top of the list are the mammoth and wonderful 6-CD sets by the Fall and the Wedding Present, but the briefer collections by the Gang of Four and the Only Ones are actually terrific introductions to those bands, as well as proof that they could play live-in-the-studio with precision and fire; the Only Ones have admitted that their Peel Sessions surpass their official releases.

The fact that the Maps’ three Peel Sessions have never been formally reissued is a shame, especially since together they make up forty-four splendid minutes. With buzzing shards of punk, eerie and ominous drones, and a slight obsession with World War II imagery, this is amateur music at its best. Any aficionado of the era probably already knows their albums and singles, but hearing these songs alive in the studio is a delight, especially since punk bands are often less well documented. There are also some surprises, with Lora Logic (of Essential Logic, X-Ray Spex, and the Raincoats) adding wild fun saxophone to Session #2, and two otherwise unreleased tracks (the PiL-ish “Bandits One Five” and the moody “Bleep And Booster Come Round For Tea”). If you’re a fan of Wire, the Fall, the Homosexuals, or the Pop Group, you will find something to enjoy here.

The Swell Maps: The Peel Sessions

Biggles [Richard Earl]: Guitar
Jowe Head [Stephen Bird]: Bass
Epic Soundtracks [Kevin Paul Godfrey]: Drums
Nikki Sudden [Adrian Nicholas Godfrey]: Guitar
Laura Logic: Saxophone on Vertical Slum, Forest Fire & Midget Submarines

Peel Session #1: 16 October 1978
1. Read About Seymour
2. Harmony In Your Bathroom
3. Full Moon In My Pocket/Blam/Full Moon Etc.
4. International Rescue

Peel Session #2: 15 May 1979
5. Vertical Slum
6. Forest Fire
7. Midget Submarines
8. Armadillo
9. Bandits One Five

Peel Session #3: 18 March 1980
10. Helicopter Spies/A Raincoat's Room
11. Let's Buy A Bridge
12. Bleep And Booster Come Round For Tea
13. Secret Island
14. Big Empty Field

NOTE: Tracks 5-9 were released on the 1981 double-LP rarities collection Whatever Happens Next…, which has never been issued on CD. Sound quality on these is far from ideal, but generally quite listenable. If you have better copies of any of these sessions, please let me know.

Download Swell Maps: Complete Peel Sessions

Cover Your Tracks: J Mascis, "Circle"

Recently some friends and I were having cocktails and huddling around an iPod, listening to nostalgic good-bad late 80s music. Edie Brickell came up, naturally, as anyone within earshot of a radio in 1989 would have had a hard time avoiding "What I Am". None of us had Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars on an iPod, but not because we're too cool or anything; I probably still have the cassette in a box somewhere. One tipsy late-night impulse download later (one wonders how much more revenue iTunes generates after sundown on weekends), we were groovin' to the New Bohemians, and the whole album made us feel like we were back in baggy sweaters and turtlenecks. Edie Brickell epitomized the more mainstream end of late 80s college rock: bands who wanted to make newish music but who loved their parents' record collections. So along with 10,000 Maniacs, Tracy Chapman, and the Indigo Girls, they crafted folksy rock for college students in turtlenecks and baggy sweaters. They also had hits on the radio, something similar-minded but more obscurantist, experimental bands like R.E.M. would do after to signing to major labels and ditching the experimental obscurantism.

"Circle" is not my favorite Edie Brickell song; I like "Nothing" and "Little Miss S." better. But whenever I throw on Edie Brickell (which happens approximately once a decade now), I enjoy the whole album, including the succinct "Circle", if only because this bouncy, tuneful little record did sound fresh at the time—if you don't believe me, check out the Top 40 hits from 1989 (Richard Marx, anyone?).

I don't know if Dinosaur Jr frontman J Mascis was listening to Edie Brickell at the time, but he's long had a penchant for unexpected covers (most famously, the Cure's "Just Like Heaven" and Peter Frampton's "Show Me The Way"). Count this cover among those estimable remakes; Mascis wrings remorse and regret out of the lyrics, which seem like they would fit comfortably on more than half of his own catalogue of weepers. This version is from a recent Daytrotter session, recorded while Mascis is on tour in support of his crystalline new folk record, "Several Shades of Why".

J Mascis covers Edie Brickell + New Bohemians' "Circle":

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Clientele: Two Unreleased Tracks

According to their website, the Clientele are taking a break to work on other projects; let's hope they don't spend too much time out in the wistful wilderness. In the meantime, lead singer and guitarist Alasdair MacLean is playing with Lupe Núñez-Fernández of Pipas as Amor de Días.

I don't know much at all about Hinoter Magazine, other than that it's based in Taiwan and features music and fashion and, in issue #42 from September 2010, a compilation CD with a couple previously-unissued Clientele tracks. The first is an instrumental demo of Strange Geometry's short-story-with-backing. [If you like this sort of thing, see this post of mine.] The other track, another demo, is called "Still See Your Face", and sounds like Nick Drake except for the unhinged backwards guitar solo; it is not the same song as "I See Your Face" on the Amor de Días record, which I have yet to hear in full. Given the uniformly excellent body of work issued thus far by the Clientele, it will be worth a listen. You can get it from Merge.

The Clientele, "Losing Haringey Instrumental (demo)":

The Clientele, "Still See Your Face (demo)":

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Drone Zone: Congrotronics!

I think it's important to make forays outside of one's standard listening habits by trying new genres and styles of music. But it's one thing to say, "I need to find more good jazz", or "I wonder what the ten best dub albums are"; it's another thing entirely when the genre that interests you is not a genre but an entire continent. Other than the mighty, mighty Fela Kuti, Ali Farka Touré, and a couple of the popular Éthiopiques compilations, I know almost nothing about the countless varieties of African music. So, shame on me, and my apologies to Asia, the other continent I have yet to explore musically (does Antarctica count?).

This brilliant compilation has gotten me all worked up about Congolose street music. I will admit that the participation of Animal Collective was the thing that piqued my attention, but each and every track brings this wild, rolling, rhythmic, distorted, pulsing, joyous style of music to life. Featuring Western indie/electronic covers, remixes, and adaptations of Congrotronics vanguard artists like Konono Nº 1 and the Kasai Allstars, Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers shows just how much the West has already absorbed from this style of music; it seems that the Animal Collective discovered these artists years ago and have been trying to recreate their electric street hootenanny ever since.

This track, a reinterpretation of Konono Nº 1's "Kule Kule" by Bear Bones, Lay Low, spends a few minutes in deep, distorted bass grime before morphing into a shifting, insistent polyrhythmic space drone. It sounds utterly modern and as primal as Pangaea at the same time. Play it loud!

Bear Bones, Lay Low, "Kuletronics":

West Coast Psych: Tame Impala

This album is on super heavy rotation here at Medium Rotation, where anything with anvil-heavy riffs and strong melodies moves to the front of the class. The 70s-style art looks like a Can cover gone pastoral, but inside is a platter which takes the image of clouds vanishing into infinity and translates it into wispy tunes which float over the much, much heavier guitar riffage. Which is a neat trick: it rocks, and sometimes rocks hard, but the vocal lines, in a type of stoner rock counterpoint, float above and give the heavy a creamy frosting.

Tame Impala are from Perth, Australia, which is not quite the West Coast implied in the title of this post. But these guys don't really sound much like 60s/70s California psych-rock too much; there's much less noodling. Instead, they channel the best melodic heavy rock of the last four decades: the Beatles, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Ride, Dinosaur Jr., Black Mountain, Queens of the Stone Age, Dungen. If you like any of theses bands, give Tame Impala a listen, and turn it up.

The whole album is great, though it's pretty hard to find a physical copy at present. Here's one of their lighter tracks.

Tame Impala, "Alter Ego":

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Neon Indian: "Deadbeat Summer"

Things are starting to warm up here in LA, so that means it's time to kick out the summer jams. This track is by Neon Indian, a.k.a. Texan Alan Palomo. Part of the current artistic trend of squeezing 80s radio sounds through a laptop and transforming them into bubbly electropop, Neon Indian could share a bill with Washed Out or Ariel Pink, but secretly I bet he would rather be reincarnated as a lo-fi Prince circa 1981 or 1982. Synth squiggles abound, and if the lyrical content is on the hazy side (sample song titles: "Laughing Gas", "Should Have Taken Acid With You"), the beeps and funky blips keep the music fun, and I especially like the way this guy makes a laptop sound like an old boombox. This track is from the highly enjoyable Psychic Chasms. Look out for Neon Indian's recent collaboration with the Flaming Lips as well.

Neon Indian, "Deadbeat Summer":

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Drone Zone: Roxy Music, "Sultanesque"

This little morsel, a Roxy Music B-side—in fact, the B-side to their signature hit "Love Is The Drug"—has been getting a lot of play around here lately. I sincerely hope that the digitalization of music does not kill off the glory of the weirdo B-side. This Bryan Ferry composition sounds far more like an experiment by Brian Eno (his former bandmate) than the glossy, glam-funk, sweaty come-on that is the single's A-side; it almost sounds like Ferry came up with the title first and tried to imagine a soundtrack for some decadent futuristic sultan's after-hours harem. The throbbing, fuzzy rhythm must have sounded alien in 1975, but today sounds like it could have come from some kid's chillwave laptop.

Roxy Music's albums are all pretty good, but it's a shame that their B-sides and rarities are so hard to find. This track is only currently available on disc 4 of the 1995 box set The Thrill Of It All, along with a whole slew of other excellent rarities.

Roxy Music: "Sultanesque":

What Remix Is This? Sly Stone: "Family Affair [1979 Disco Remix]"

Even if Sly Stone had recorded nothing at all after 1973, his place on the Mt. Rushmore of Soul was already assured; after all, he was arguably single-handedly responsible for the best soul music of the 70s—without Sly, there would have been no P-Funk, no Stevie Wonder, no electric Miles, no Prince, and the list goes on. His post-Fresh albums never live up to his '68-'73 peak, but in his defense, that's a pretty high peak. Personal problems and drugs led to Sly being dropped by his record company, who decided in 1979 to finish his contract with what might be the first disco remix album, the eerily-titled Ten Years Too Soon.

The biggest hits of Sly & The Family Stone reconfigured as disco?!? It may seem apostasy to take these organic-sounding rave-ups—which sound like the work of a brilliant group mind, singing and dancing and freaking out in multicolor unison—and shoehorn the vocal tracks onto a smooth, mechanical disco beat, but that's exactly what Sly's record company did, on an album that stiffed in 1979 and has been very hard-to-find ever since.

Oddly, the disco remixes are not as bad as you might imagine. This probably just goes to show that it is quite difficult to utterly blot out or obscure the songs' original brilliance; it's as if you can hear these amazing songs singing from behind the bars of their disco prison. One track, however, is actually pretty good, probably because it's the least disco of the lot. "Family Affair" was already a preternaturally odd track, bleak and despairing in its depiction of crumbling American family life circa 1970. But it remains oddly funky in it wistfulness, preserving a slight shred of hope in the primitive drum machine backing. Its 1979 disco remix has a bubbly backing track which sounds pretty modern, today in 2011, and again proves that Sly's music transcends time and space.

Sly & The Family Stone, "Family Affair [1979 Disco Remix]":

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Destroyer: "Ideas For Songs" Reissued At Last!

Last night I went to see Destroyer at the Troubadour in LA, and it was great show—plowing through most of the brilliant Kaputt and a select few oldies, Bejar led a seven-piece band, aided by several Heinekens and, occasionally, a lyric sheet (understandable for the finale, a killer rendition of the long and wordy, "Bay Of Pigs"). This was the eighth and best time I've seen Destroyer live. While he's not a natural presence on the stage (as the Dog Whisperer would say, no touch, no talk, no eye contact), he and his snappy band delivered the magic, with the sax and trumpet players a particular treat.

To cap off a great show, the mandatory trip to the merch table led to an amazing discovery: Ideas For Songs, reissued on vinyl!! For the noncultist, the recording in question was released on a very small label, on cassette only, in 1997. Consisting of 16 mostly brief and acoustic songs, this was the "lost" Destroyer album, the missing link between the fractured, Syd Barrett-meets-Sentridoh bedroom recordings that comprised Bejar's first full-length, 1996's We'll Build Them A Golden Bridge, and 1998's much more polished City Of Daughters. If you like either album, and especially if you like the latter, this record is an early Destroyer classic, with the word puzzles, non sequiturs, and instant melodicism of Bejar's best work. In one of my finest eBay scores, I bought an original cassette in 2002 for $3.50, and promptly bootlegged it, giving a copy to every Destroyer freak I could find (which, at the time, meant three people)—I even gave Bejar a copy after a gig. He seemed fairly dismissive when I inquired about the album, although in retrospect he was probable just creeped out that an obsessive fan was bootlegging him.

Anyway, now the good people at Triple Crown Audio Recordings are reissuing the record on vinyl (which comes with a download code) on April 5th. I can attest that the sound quality is much improved over the cassette version, although it still sounds like a four-track home recording. The artwork is also slightly different from the cassette, but fortunately they were able to keep the cover painting, a sort of graphic odalisque which bears an uncanny resemblance to Bejar.

Update: Ideas For Songs is now available digitally on iTunes, eMusic, and Amazon.com.

Here's the remastered version of "No One Needs To Know":

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Drone Zone: The Clean, "Point That Thing Somewhere Else"

Fans of obscuro 80s indie rock speak of New Zealand's The Clean in hushed, reverent tones, and rightly so: they were basically the Southern Hemisphere's Velvet Underground, the godfathers of the immortal Flying Nun label, and purveyors of purified guitar strum. They formed in the late 70s and originally made only a couple singles and a couple EPs before disbanding, and their records were perennially in the "OOP" category. The Clean reformed in the late 80s and continue to make records every few years, rarely aiming their plow too far from their groovy furrow, which consists of tremendously catchy and occasionally ominous noisy guitar riffage.

The goods folks at Merge Records made life much easier when they released the 2-disc collection Anthology in 2002, which gathered up all their seminal early studio material on disc one and scattered later highlights on disc two. Unfortunately, though, a Complete Clean has yet to be compiled, and fanatics will have to search pretty hard for casual lo-fi gems like their live Live Dead Clean EP, the scrappy, sloppy fun demos on Odditties, and the even harder-to-find, cassette-only Odditties 2. How about a box set, Merge?

Given the title of the aforementioned live EP, the Clean seem to have an ironic relationship with classic rock, and I have a strong suspicion that the title of their finest song, "Point That Thing Somewhere Else", is in fact obscure record trivia. On the back cover of Jefferson Airplane's 1969 hippy manifesto Volunteers, the newspaper-style liner notes feature the band members' snide responses to the question, "What is your favorite stripe on the flag?" Grace's response, "Point that thing somewhere else", fits well on an album which satirizes conservative America with its anthemic countercultural songs and not-too-patriotic album cover. The title is about the only thing the Clean nicked from Grace Slick, as the song's menacing riff and eerie, hypnotic groove bears little in common with the Jefferson Airplane, instead sounding more like a surf rock band covering Joy Division.

This song, originally on 1981's Boodle Boodle Boodle EP, has almost gotten me speeding tickets on three separate occasions. I recommend that you play it very loud, and preferably in a car. If you want more, there are several live versions (on their many live albums) which show the band taking their best song and giving it hell onstage.

The Clean, "Point That Thing Somewhere Else":

And as a special treat, here's a spooky dub version from Odditties.

The Clean, "Point That Thing Dub":

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Jens Lekman: "Black Cab"

Certain songs enter your brain and never leave. I was first introduced to Jens Lekman's "Black Cab" by my brother during a lost weekend in Portland several years back, and I forgot about the song until my girlfriend played it for me, and, happily remembering its excellence, I quickly made it my most-played song of 2009. Jens Lekman is a Swedish popsmith in a nation which takes its pop seriously; he's sort of a Scandinavian Stephin Merritt. "Black Cab" is unusual for indie pop, though, being based on samples. It is, however, constructed over exactly the sorts of samples you would expect of a Swedish indie-pop singer-songwriter, namely 90s wimp royalty Belle & Sebastian and baroque 60s weepers the Left Banke. Taking the simple guitar pattern of a Left Banke album track and adding elements of Belle & Sebastian's "Mary Jo", Lekman creates an entirely new song about a spoiled party and an uncomfortable cab ride home. Lyrically, it sounds like a Lou Reed yarn, wry and funny and touching and sad all at once. I think I'll play it four or five more times.

For comparison, here's the Left Banke's "I've Got Something On My Mind":

And here's "Black Cab":

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Bees: Every Step's A Yes

The Bees are one of those good bands who ought to be bigger in the States than they are. Like other miners of gold nuggets from the 60s and 70s (such as the Coral, the Thrills, and the Zutons in the UK and Ireland and the Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, and Iron & Wine in the US), the Bees rummage through their classic rock, pop, and soul records and do their part for the environment by recycling the best of the past. They come from the Isle of Wight, an exotic (or least exotic-sounding, to me) location which makes this rock nerd think of Hendrix and Dylan and groovy 60s/70s festivals. But the Bees are not really rock stars in the festival sense. They remind me of Traffic, woodshedding in the countryside, or, more obscurely but accurately, the wonderful Brinsley Schwarz, a band which tried to be the British version of the Band, CSN, and the Dead combined. But they do not limit themselves to countrified Americana, and occasionally take on Stax grooves ("Chicken Payback") and reggae ("Winter Rose"), just like the long-lost Brinsley Schwarz, who recorded some pretty good reggae themselves).

Their 2004 record Free The Bees was a great combination of lovingly homemade retro soul, funky r'n'b, and and harmony-rich ballads. Sadly, legal issues meant that they had to use the unseemly moniker A Band Of Bees in North America, and the followup, Octopus, seems to have gotten lost in the market, despite its groovy charm. Now it looks like their new one, Every Step's A Yes, is not getting an American release, which is a real shame. This is great mellow Saturday afternoon music, and while the songwriting isn't going to show you any new colors of the rainbow, each and every track sounds like it was built by hand in a barn for the sheer joy of making music. So track this one down; it will make the wait for the new Fleet Foxes much easier.

Here's the lead-off track, "I Really Need Love":

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cover Your Tracks: Electrelane, "I'm On Fire"

Bruce Springsteen occupies a thick stratum of the American musical bedrock, somewhere where folk and rock and soul are forged into a heavier, elemental crust; his music is righteous and undeniable, and immune to fashion or whatever musical trends the kids are futzing around with. So when his songs are covered by punk poet Patti Smith ("Because The Night") or the groovy r'n'b Pointer Sisters ("Fire"), no one blinks. When I heard Sleater-Kinney cover "Promised Land" in concert many years back, it made sense, too—they found the frustration in the song's core and translated it into their punk idiom.

In the 2000s, Electrelane made four good albums of keyboard-driven, droning rave-up, sort of like Stereolab's punkier younger sister on a VU kick. They too, found a Bruce track whose dour folk melody conveys dark frustration, regardless of the musical backing. So their organ-drenched, accelerated reading of "I'm On Fire" (originally a b-side) likewise turns the quiet, desperate original into a punk rave-up. The only problem is that it's not long enough.

Electrelane cover Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire":

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Preview: The Radio Dept., "Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002 - 2010"

News that the Radio Dept. would be releasing a singles collection was met with much rejoicing among a small group of obsessive music fans in sweaters, the sort who used to buy import 2-part singles in the 90s, just for the b-sides, and who spend hours trolling through the internet's darker corners looking for rare tracks by beloved superheroes. The Radio Dept. have maintained an extremely high level of quality throughout their career, with three excellent albums of fuzzy, sad indie pop, the perfect soundtrack for drinking tea while fretting about things. If you only have their three albums, though, then you are missing out on the bounty of b-sides and one-off singles. It is with some disappointment that I must report that the singles collection track listing does not quite meet collector-geek criteria. In fact, there are so many b-sides missing that the wistful sadness of it all makes me want to drink tea and listen to the Radio Dept. This collection was perhaps designed as an introduction to the band for the neophyte, and if so, it certainly hits all of their best songs, and would make an excellent gift for a younger sibling who like to read. But fans and collector types should note that the following songs, some of which are quite good, are not on this collection (I haven't included live tracks, radio sessions, or unreleased material):

  1. Tell You About My Job Where Damage Isn't Already Done EP 2002
  2. Bad Reputation Annie Laurie EP 2002
  3. Falafel Annie Laurie EP 2002
  4. We Climb The Wired Fences Pulling Our Weight EP 2003
  5. Someone Else Pulling Our Weight EP 2003
  6. The City Limit Pulling Our Weight EP 2003
  7. I Don't Need Love, I've Got My Band Why Won't You Talk About It? EP 2004
  8. The Things That Went Wrong Ewan EP 2004
  9. Deliverance This Past Week EP 2005
  10. I Don't Like This This Past Week EP 2005
  11. Let Me Have This This Past Week EP 2005
  12. Värnhem This Past Week EP 2005
  13. Flow Flux Clan Remix The Worst Taste In Music EP 2006
  14. Industry Standard Remix By Differnet The Worst Taste In Music EP 2006
  15. The Room, Tarzana Freddie And The Trojan Horse EP 2008
  16. Closing Scene Pt. 2 Freddie And The Trojan Horse EP 2008
  17. David (Rice Twins Remix) David EP 2009
  18. In America Heaven's On Fire EP 2010
  19. Stay Off Route Never Follow Suit EP 2010
  20. Never Swallow Fruit Dub By Pistol Disco Never Follow Suit EP 2010

Here are a couple lost tracks. First up, "We Climb The Wire Fences":

And here's their song with the best title, "I Don't Need Love, I've Got My Band":

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sandy Bull: Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo

The life of the obsessive music geek is little better than the lot of the most desperate recidivist heroin junkie; what's worse, the addict has no methadone, no way to escape the disease discophilia: there's no cure. What normal people see as record stores, bins of LPs, or iTunes, are, to the addict, the source of untold riches and secret delights--dealers, basically--and no amount of willpower can pry the addict away from new doses, no single recording can slake the thirst for long. I went down this forking path long go, when, as a depressive and misanthropic teen, I discovered that the best way to illuminate the dismal vale of tears that is adolescence is to find records that shake off the grouchy. Many, many hundreds of small, glittering musical epiphanies later, I am no further along in the Sisyphean task which I set for myself at the age of seventeen: to find, and acquire, and enjoy every single Good Record and Good Song by Every Artist, Ever. But the good news is that I can sit down and play only excellent songs for days, if not weeks, on end, in the process turning bad days into better days and good days into great ones. The bad news is that discophilia has left me weary and broken; for every glorious fix, there is a botched reissue, an unfindable lost treasure, a pernicious record company, a brilliant band that breaks up, an geometrically-expanding list of new music to check out, and, perhaps most importantly, a bank account that says, simply, no more! In the context of such difficulties, I am happy to report that some discoveries make all the trouble and toil worthwhile, if only for those fleeting moments when to be a human being, alive and alert, is a pretty damn good thing.

Exhibit A: Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo by Sandy Bull.

Recorded in 1963, this sparkling gem of a record is the sort of album whose exquisite beauty and invention is so remarkable that you wonder how Sandy Bull is not a household name or the honoree of at least, I dunno, a commemorative postage stamp. I've been spending a lot of time lately trying to calm mental static with acoustic instrumental folk music. More placid and contemplative and airy than jazz, this sort of music--mostly from the 60s and 70s--is in my opinion one of the better ways to wrangle with your thoughts and rearrange your disputations. The most famous artisan in this genre is its ostensible inventor, the sainted John Fahey, whom I will discuss in another post. Fahey led me to Robbie Basho, and to Peter Walker, and Peter Walker led me to Sandy Bull, and now I am leading you to Sandy Bull. Using acoustic guitar, banjo, and electric guitar, often unaccompanied but sometimes with percussion (by Ornette Coleman’s drummer, Billy Higgins), Bull combines folk tunes, jazz, classical, Arabic, and Indian classical music, blurring styles and song structures; this is music beyond genre. The first side of the record is an astonishing 22-minute excursion which is more or less a raga, but with American jazz colors, and appropriately entitled "Blend"; I cannot think of other folk artists recording side-long instrumentals in 1963. Bull's prescience and creativity are even wilder, if possible, on side two, where he translates the usually-shlocky (to me, anyway) Carmina Burana into a eerie backwoods banjo hoedown. Other tracks are folk adaptations of classical and gospel music. Bull recorded a few more albums in the 60s and 70s (the second of which, 1964's Inventions for Guitar and Banjo, is a worthy successor to this one) before succumbing to drug problems. But Sandy Bull's music, a brilliant exercise in the combination of guitar and imagination, is an example of why I continue to devote my time to the search.

Here's "Carmina Burana Fantasy":

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Drums

Four bars into my first listen of The Drums' eponymous 2010 album, my first reaction was that Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner and their copyright lawyers should be contacted, for was I was hearing was a particularly shameless New Order ripoff. But after three more songs, they won me over. Yes, their sound—bouncy electropop bass, reverbed trebly guitar patterns, sing-songy Anglophilia—is derivative, but the trick with any act of stylistic necromancy is that good songs always trump accusations of larceny. I don't care if the Drums want to be the Brooklyn New Order, as long as they can write songs like these. The first half of the album is basically perfect, and only the slow one in the middle and maybe one other belonged on the cutting room floor. Lyrically, the songs deal with the usual Sad Love themes, but they also sing about dead best friends and surfing; in other words, confection pop neither too sour nor too sweet.

Here's "Skippin' Town":

And here's the heartwrenching "Book Of Stories", my vote for best breakup song of 2010:

Monday, January 3, 2011

Destroyer: "Kaputt"

The last full-length by Dan Bejar’s Destroyer, 2008’s pretty-good Trouble In Dreams, was the first Destroyer record which wasn’t a departure from the one that preceded it; it felt like an album of outtakes from 2006’s masterful Rubies. Bejar’s stylistic zigzagging has gone from bedroom 4-trackism to literary glam to mini-MIDI symphonies to sprawling indie rock, and so it may not be a surprise to learn that the new Destroyer is basically, well, disco. As an artist who likes to leave a breadcrumb trail through his oeuvre, Bejar dropped a few hints that this new record wouldn’t be Rubies, Pt. III. Those who bought Rubies on vinyl were treated, on side 4, to a 24-minute ambient deconstruction/remix of Rubies themes entitled “Loscil’s Rubies”, perpetrated by Bejar’s friend Scott Morgan, who records as Loscil. Then in 2009, Destroyer released the vinyl-only Bay of Pigs EP, which featured the utterly bizarre and wonderful 14-minute title track, which is more or less ambient techno over spoken word poetry (note: "Bays of Pigs" is included, in slightly edited form, on Kaputt); on the B-side was “Ravers”, a slow ambient version of “Rivers” from Trouble In Dreams. Fans used to Bejar’s militant stylistic iconoclasm didn’t bat an eye at such an experiment, but worries about when and if a new Destroyer LP would ever surface were not quite allayed by 2010’s Archer On The Beach EP, another vinyl-only slab with two very dark and bleak tracks that seemed to be a kiss-off to music and art altogether. So when a new full-length was announced, shortly after Archer On The Beach, fans were relieved, even though the press release contained more ominous notices (“The hopelessness of the future of music… The pointlessness of writing songs for today…” See here).

New Destroyer music is always cause for rejoicing here at Medium Rotation; that Bejar has not only made a new record, but an excellent one, is proof that his experimentalism continues to pay off. I described this record earlier as disco. And yes, there are basslines, and the LinnDrum, and backup singers, and (sometimes) choruses. More importantly, though, this record is warm and inviting, melodic and up, each track hummable if not danceable. In the press release, Bejar cites Bryan Ferry’s 1985 Boys and Girls and Roxy Music’s 1982 Avalon as inspiration, and fans of those great albums will see the musical similarities. He also cites 80s Miles Davis, and while that was not the trumpeter’s best decade, the trumpet on Kaputt is uniformly creative, gilding the album with jazzy filigrees. Kaputt is almost certainly Destroyer’s most accessible album, even though the lyrics are as inscrutable and abstract as ever. Lyrical nonsequiturs and dark poetic musings over a disco beat are not entirely unprecedented—check out Bejar favorite Nite Flights, the influential 1978 LP by The Walker Brothers, or Scott Walker’s 1984 Climate of Hunter, both of which sound like sonic precursors to Kaputt; likewise, Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man (1988) and The Future (1992) sound a bit dated today but have similar musical and lyrical themes, such as fighting the darkness with light. Bejar will likely continue his artistic struggle. In interviews (like this one at Paste Magazine), he is honest about the difficulties of his art. But Kaputt is a beautiful and uplifting record, and despite its difficult genesis, despite its ominous title (“kaputt” is German for “ruined, broken, finished”, and, hint-hint, “destroyed”), despite the lyrical puzzles which Destroyer fans will be vainly attempting to unravel and decipher over the next few months, it shows that Bejar knows that creation sometimes involves destruction.

Kaputt is out on January 25th on Merge Records on CD, LP and digital download.

Here's the title track:

Update: The vinyl version comes with an extra track, a 20-minute ambient excursion called "The Laziest River" which takes Eno and "The Boys Of Summer" gently downstream. If you liked the last two EPs, this will definitely float your boat.

Destroyer, "The Laziest River":