Thursday, December 10, 2009

Los Straitjackets • Yuletide Beat

A limited edition 10" vinyl release, Yuletide Beat is Los Straitjackets' second holiday hootenanny, and a worthy companion to 'Tis The Season... Sticking closely to the template The Ventures established many decades ago of doing Christmas instrumentals wrapped in popular rock 'n' roll arrangements, the 'Jackets nail ten (one per inch) instros down perfectly. This is my favorite kinda music for this time of the year: you get the Christmas tunes, alright, but not the boring, stodgy arrangements we used to have to hear every year on records by Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis. Here you get guitars, pounding drums, and even wailin' sax doing it the way it oughta be done.
4/5 (YepRoc/Spinout YEP SPIN 2813; available at YepRoc Records)

Big Star • Keep An Eye On The Sky

It's about time they dedicated a box set to Big Star. Keep An Eye On The Sky is a 4 disc set featuring most of their two classicos supremos, #1 Record and Radio City, plus a good helping of Sister Lovers and a ton of demos, live tracks, and more. In fact, disc 4 is solely dedicated to a show recorded in Memphis in January of '73, and it's both captivating and sad. There's hardly anyone there, from what you can detect, though the band is in great form. Luckily some cat with a tape recorder got it down for us to enjoy thirty something years later!

If you're not already indoctrinated you may want to buy the single CD/double LP reissue of the aforementioned albums, but those of us who already know of the power pop perfection that Alex Chilton & Co. delivered to almost no one at the time. this box—which comes in a deceiving 7" form factor—must be opened and enjoyed. Sound quality is ace and there's enough delectable rarities to make it well worth getting your wife pissed that you "blew 60 bucks on a fricking box set!"
4/5 (Ardent/Rhino R2 519760)

Robyn Hitchcock • I Often Dream Of Trains in New York

Twenty-five years after he released the original solo album, I Often Dream Of Trains, Robyn Hitchcock releases a commemorative live version recorded in New York in 2008. This time he's joined by a few extra musicians and a live studio audience. The dreamy, mostly acoustic tunes come in all flavors, from choppy rock ("Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl") to wispy autumnal chamber pop ("Autumn Is Your Last Chance") and the a capella "Uncorrected Personality Traits," a song I've always loved and in fact took the title for a fanzine my friend Mark Campos and I put out around 1985. I Often Dream Of Trains in New York is a lovely live album, which also comes with a DVD of the complete concert and is really the reason to get this. It's a lot more compelling to see it performed than it is to just hear it.
4/5 (YepRoc YEP 2216)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Various Artists • A Damaged Christmas Gift For You

Phil Spector would be rolling in his grave if he knew what these malcontents have done to his quintessential yuletide rekkid. Featuring artists like Billy Childish, Thee Headcoatees, Cute Lepers, Holly Golightly, and other mostly-Brit indie stars, A Damaged Christmas Gift For You is about as garage as you can get. The 14-track compilation pulls cuts from various Damaged Goods (UK record label) 7" holiday singles from the last decade, plus a couple of new tracks. Holly Golightly is great with "Christmas Tree On Fire" and "Little Stars" (backed by a few of The Raconteurs under the Greenhornes guise), T.V. Smith (of The Adverts) has a ditty called "Xmas Bloody Xmas", and then there's the incredibly naughty "Santa Claus" by Thee Headcoatees—so dirty I'd be surprised these girls got anything aside from a summer sausage as a gift that year. Very Damaged indeed.
(Available as a download only from Damaged Goods)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Devo • Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, Freedom Of Choice

I didn't get to see the Devo concerts here in Seattle last month, 'cause I decided I wanted these reissues and couldn't justify all of it. So though I didn't get to hear the band do their first and third albums in their entirety on consecutive nights, I have been enjoying them on vinyl fairly regularly.

Q: Are We Not Men? is their U.S. debut, from 1978, and I'm sure the first time I heard it I had no idea what to make of these weirdo spudniks from O-Hi-O, which must've been around the time I saw 'em on Saturday Night Live in the video for "Come Back Jonee" as bowling cowboys. It wasn't until a few years later, probably about when Freedom Of Choice came out, that I kinda got it. (In between came Duty Now For The Future, which, it turns out, is my favorite.) 1980's Freedom brought the world "Whip It" and soon many music fans knew about De-evolution. Both of these albums have been lovingly remastered, with the CDs featuring bonus tracks and the LPs reproduced pretty much exactly the way they originally came out (though now they're on yellow and red vinyl). A: We Are Devo! CD adds the complete album recorded live in 2009, and that concert is actually better than you might expect, especially if you haven't seen them live in the last decade or so. The Freedom CD adds on the Dev-O Live EP from later in '80, which is fine but not nearly as important to the Devo fan (who probably already has it). Yet, all of it sounds quite good. In fact, I liked the mastering job on the CDs so much that I just had to go out and buy the vinyl, too. There are lots of things in the mixes that apparently were always there yet never really stood out from the general murk of late '70s, stack-'em-high-and-sell-'em-as-fast-as-you-can pressings on flimsy cheap vinyl that now make themselves noticed. And the overall sound is punchy but not horribly modern like that Led Zeppelin debacle of a few years ago. (I would've reviewed that as "Mothership? Mother-shit!")

If you've never dipped farther than the big hit song in this band's cannon, why not pick one or two of these up and dig in? It may or may not change your mind about the band, but you know, the guys in the band probably don't give a pooty poo-poo about that.
5/5 (Q: Are We Not Men?), 3/5 (Freedom Of Choice) (Warner Bros. Records/Because Sound Matters)