Friday, April 23, 2010

The Flaming Lips & Stardeath and White Dwarfs • The Dark Side of the Moon

Well, I have heard a number of different versions of Pink Floyd's iconic The Dark Side of the Moon in my day, including a full-on reggae version, mon, and a tribute by local Seattle group The Squirrels, but this one really takes the cake. The Flaming Lips (along with little brother band Stardeath and White Dwarfs) issued their version of it late last year via iTunes, and it has now been issued on a very limited vinyl+CD version (another Record Store Day treat) that is so cool it's almost beyond words. And yet, that's never stopped me before...

Wayne Coyne & Co. sorta did this on a dare, I guess, and it certainly paid off. Sure, super hardcore Floyd fans will be bothered by the weird blips and noises and other fucking-with the Lips did to this album, but really, don't they think that when the original version of the album came out, that that's exactly what 1973 rock fans thought it was? A bunch of weird blips, noises, and other fucking-with that the Floyd did just to mess with people's minds? Like Devo did with the Stones' "Satisfaction," if you're gonna cover something so well-known, why not give it a complete and utter facelift? That's what I like best about this. I mean, I can't say it's better or worse than the original (or the reggae version or Squirrels version) because it's meant to complement or at least be juxtaposed to the original. So I'll say this: It's definitely worth a download if you're a fan of the original, just to hear what can be done with such a great album. If you really like it, you might want to try and hunt down this release, though that may be a difficult task. Getting that last remaining copy could involve taking a trip to, ummm, the dark side of the moon. Or at least eBay...
4/5 (Warner Bros., ltd. ed. 180-gram clear aqua vinyl+DVD)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Velvet Underground • 1969 Live with Lou Reed, Vols. 1 & 2

Another reissue on account of Record Store Day 2010, 1969 Live with Lou Reed comes in two separate volumes, both on vinyl only. These 180-gram pressings are very nice, with deluxe gatefold covers, handy black insert to protect you and the kiddies from the DRAWING of the closeup of a lady's tight behind on the cover, and are sealed for added security.

The Velvet Underground had splintered by 1969 and their initial glory was waning, thanks to all sorts of reasons. In fact, the dubious birth of these two live releases, stemming from shows in Dallas and San Francisco in the fall of '69, is only the start—by the time these actually came out in 1974 the band had already disappeared. The quality of the recordings is pretty good, though, apparently having been done by some hardcore VU fans with decent gear. The playing is a little less exciting. I'm not sure if this is quintessentially what one of the band's shows sounded like or not, having been but a wee boy of six at the time, but I can see how some people wonder what all that hot fuss is about. Now, before you scream "SACRILEGE!" and hold your fingers up in a cross at me, let me just say that I think Lou Reed's songwriting is really something else. I can appreciate the band for many reasons; unfortunately, there are some pretty good reasons why they're not in my Top Ten. For starters: Nico. Good God, Andy Warhol, what in the hell were you thinking? I don't care how good looking she was, that woman couldn't sing her way out of a wet paper bag. Put her in a fucking go-go cage without a mic and she's alright, but please don't let her sing. Second: Lou's singing. This man isn't God's gift to vocals either. And this is coming from a guy who likes Elvis Costello! Third: Guitars are almost always out of tune, even on the studio albums. Having bitched that, I don't dislike the Velvets.

But enough of my Marty DiBergi-esque yakkin'! These two live albums, containing songs from the two aforementioned shows, are a great document of the band at the time. The song selection is quite good, too, even featuring some that Lou would go on to record solo, plus a nice cross section of the band's discography up to that time. Big fans may already have these, true, but the nice pressings are worth the cost, Volume 1 is on white vinyl, and they're supposedly quite limited. So if you see 'em, pick 'em up. Disregard my comments if you have no idea what I could be talking about, and if you, like, totally dig what I'm puttin' down, then leave 'em for those who will appreciate them more.
3/5 (Mercury/ORG)

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Jazz Butcher • Cult of the Basement

Once again, Pat Fish proves he's the penultimate modern pop eclectic. Continuing from where last year's [1989] overlooked by outstanding Big Planet, Scarey Planet left off, Cult of the Basement is the Jazz Butcher's latest go-round and it's one hell of a ride.

Cult opens with the spy-themey "The Basement," a recurring theme at that. Then, with a curt "and you can dance" a la Madonna, Butchy delivers "She's On Drugs," which may or mayn't be about America's bullet-braed diva. Lest we believe the Jazz Butcher's always got something wacky up his sleeve, there's "Girl Go," released earlier this year [1990] as a single (in the UK) and a quintessential take on JB's patented guitar-heavy reverb ballads. "Pineapple Tuesday" is in the same mode, but hardly a copy.

As a guitarist he's great, as a singer, supreme. But first and foremost, Fish is a songwriter second to none. And if the world were a fair place, he and his band would be everywhere in 1990, except the basement.

(Originally appeared in The Rocket, Seattle, September 1990)

New Releases Update • April 19, 2010

The man from The Jam, Paul Weller, has Wake Up the Nation coming out today in the UK. And this time, Jam bassist Bruce Foxton joins in on a couple of cuts. Not only that, but The Move/ELO's Bev Bevan stops by and so does Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine. Good Gosh this Weller feller is prolific in his mid- to old-age! (Island Records UK)

Emitt Rhodes scholars will want to pick up The Merry-Go-Round's You're a Very Lovely Woman–Live, another Sundazed gem by the man's original band. It leads off with "Live," perhaps the MGR's best-known song (later covered nicely by the Bangles). Rumor has it that Rhodes is finishing up a solo album; I wouldn't advise holding your breathe, though.

Saint Etienne have entered the Deluxe Edition sweepstakes. Early May sees the reissue of two two-disc sets, Tiger Bay and Finisterre, on Heavenly (UK). Extra tracks include bonus remixes, rare cuts never issued, and "the perky 'Wedding of Stacy Dorning,' which looked forward to the sunshine pop of 1998's Good Humour." (May 3)

Bruce Licher's historically important Independent Project Records label gets a compilation called Auteur Labels: Independent Project on May 4. The 23-track disc, put out by LTM, is loaded with bands that appeared on IP, including Savage Republic, Camper Van Beethoven, Abecedarians, Fourwaycross and more. No telling yet if the package will include any of Licher's brilliant letterpress designs.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Record Store Day 2010 • 45s and Under...

The Rolling Stones | Plundered My Soul b/w All Down the Line (Rolling Stones)
A track from the Exile on Main Street sessions, "Plundered" is a pretty good tune, yet it's clear why it didn't make the grade for inclusion on the Stones' awesome album (being reissued in May 2010). It's not bad, but Jagger's voice sounds very weird, sorta the way Dylan's voice was during that late '60s period (i.e., "Lay, Lady, Lay"). The B-side is the same version of "All Down the Line" that appears on the album, as far as I can tell.

Neil Young | Heart of Gold b/w Sugar Mountain (live) (Reprise)
Sadly, nothing new here. The studio, hit version of "Heart of Gold" backed with a live "Sugar Mountain" from the Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968 archival release. Not sure why it says it was recorded "live" (they put the word in quotes, not me), since it certainly sounds live. Probably some grumpy student graphic artist at work...

Elvis Costello and the Attractions | Live at Hollywood High EP [2010] (Hip-O)
Not the same three tracks that appeared on the original 7" that came with Armed Forces, and also not three tracks that aren't on the CD released earlier this year, these three are a good representation of what's on the full length album. With "Pump It Up," "Lip Service" and "Waiting for the End of the World," you get one song from each of EC's albums up to that point (actually Armed Forces came out a few months later than this show). The cover's almost identical to the original 7" sleeve except the white area on the original is now a nicely garish green!

John Lennon | Singles Bag (Capitol)
Three Lennon 45s, a very large poster, three postcards, and a 45 adaptor, NOT IN A BAG but in a cool cardboard satchel thingie. The singles are all reproduced in their original sleeves, so you get "Mother" b/w Yoko's "Why" in a sleeve depicting the two under a tree, "Imagine" b/w "It's So Hard" in the stock Apple Records sleeve (it never came out in a pic sleeve in the US), and "Watching the Wheels" b/w Yoko's "Yes, I'm Your Angel" in its original sleeve*.

I like this package, but I have to admit it gets tiring when people continually get things wrong. I mean, if you're gonna call it Singles Bag, how come these items don't come in a bag? And if you're gonna go with this "bag" theme, then why not do it right and pick singles from the "Bag Era," in which case, "Watching the Wheels," isn't one! (How about "Instant Karma"?) NOW, DON'T GET MAD AT ME, 'CAUSE I DON'T HAVE ANYTHING AGAINST YOKO EXCEPT... She's the one in charge of Lennon's estate, so you know she's the one who made the decisions, so she's the one who should get it right! And that means not including a 24"x36" poster of her and John in bed during the Bed-In in Toronto in '69, and not including two singles that feature Yoko on them. (Note: Either that, or call it "John & Yoko Singles Bag.")

Yoko, please, let me help you next time. I WANT YOU TO GET IT RIGHT. You may say I'm a dreamer, people, but I'm not the only one.

* This one originally appeared on Geffen Records so the logos have been changed to protect the innocent.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Various Artists • I.R.S. Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3

A few weeks ago I reviewed Urgh! A Music War and noted that my favorite compilation of all time is I.R.S. Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3. And so, dear friends, I must at long last give you a short review of said favorite so you can better understand my psychosis.

This 2LP variety pack came out in 1981, the year of my graduation from high school. At that time I still hadn't discovered "new wave" or "punk" or "post punk" or "whatever handy genre name is making the rounds this week." Once I started doing radio at my college station, KCMU, I came across our review item. It had a cool cover—all these broken up records—which appealed to my 18 year old sensibility (I only had one then). First song on the album is "Cold Cold Shoes" by The Fleshtones: a nice little organ-driven raver. Next song, "Ain't That a Shame" by Brian James, whoever he was, and not the one Cheap Trick covered on At Budokan. Another great song, and it turned out this guy had been in The Damned, who open side two with "Wait for the Blackout." Now here was manna from, ummm, well not heaven I guess, but manna nonetheless. I LOVE THIS SONG. Almost thirty years after I first heard this song, I still think of it as Numero Uno among The Damned's many fine records. (And you probably know by now that they are my favorite band of all time, above The Beatles, above The Clash, above The Shaggs.) Where most compilation albums would falter, this one stays the course throughout four sides! "Straighten Out" was my first dose of The Stranglers and it had very interesting subject matter. "Urban Kids" by Chelsea—throbbing punk. "Uranium Rock" by The Cramps—nice lo-fi rockabilly, great song, a cover of the old Warren Smith tune. Humans' "I Live in the City" had a great old saying on it ("If you're gonna act like that/you better get on the stage") and was a tough slice of life for a country girl in the city. Now let's head over to sides three and four...

"Fallout" was the first single by The Police, and at the time, had not been released here in the States. Did you know they were actually PUNK ROCK once? Yup. Tom Robinson's Sector 27 does "Can't Keep Away," Jools Holland (years before his MC stint on the BBC) does an old R&B tune in a rockabilly manner ("Mess Around"), plus The Fall, Oingo Boingo, Buzzcocks, Klark Kent (on leave from The Police) and more*, all submitting great tunes that at that time had only appeared here in the USA as expensive import singles (if that).

I discovered so many future favorite bands on this record! It's too bad they can't put this thing out on CD now (it all fits on one), since the rights to these tunes are probably spread out all over the globe and would prove to be a real pain in the John Keister to track down. If you want a good listen at what all those above-named genres were like in the early 80s before MTV, hunt this down, and kill it.
* Henry Badowski, Alternative TV, Squeeze, Skafish (awesome!), John Cale, Payola$, Patrick D. Martin, Wazmo Nariz, Fashion.
5/5 (IRS Records; out of print) (Top image is the original cover; bottom image the later cover.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Apples in Stereo • Travellers in Space and Time

Ladies & Gentleman, Robert Schneider & Co. are Officially Channeling Todd Rundgren & Utopia for Music Fans of the 21st Century! Or Perhaps Jeff Lynne & ELO. It's a Concept Album, Alright, and You Just Might Like It.

Yes, well, bold statements aside... The Apples in Stereo are definitely going for a pure pop sound on Travellers in Time and Space, their seventh studio album, and it recalls so many '70s AM pop vibes I can't even name 'em all. And you wouldn't want me to. I really like this one, I must say, because it's very inventive and feels like one of those guilty pleasure records we all have but few of us will own up to. Schneider calls it "retro-futuristic super-pop" and that is definitely where this baby beds. With the use of all kinds of instruments beyond two guitars-bass-drums, the band crafts a real pleasurable album that reveals more each time it plays. While at times it sounds a little dated (the vocoder sounds both futuristic and horribly cliché at the same time), you can't deny the fact that you're bound to find something to like across the album's 16 songs. "No One in the World" has a decidedly Apples In Stereolab vibe, while "Next Year at About the Same Time" equals Bowie's "Blue Jean" as sung by Chris Difford of Squeeze. (See, the problem with being a big music fan[boy] is that you have to constantly fight the urge to namedrop. It is a battle I've been fighting for decades.) Did I mention "Dignified Dignitary" starts off with a guitar riff a la ELO's "Do Ya"?

"I wanted to make a futuristic pop record," says Schnieder, "to reach out to the kids of the future." He says he imagines their more highly-evolved pop might sound like "shiny soul music with robots and humans singing together," and that he hopes these people will really be into this album. Well, I don't know what kinda drugs he's taking, but if it helps him to write such interesting albums, I say, keep him stocked.
4/5 (YepRoc)

Friday, April 9, 2010

New Releases Update • April 9, 2010

Wide Open Road: The Best of is The Triffids' latest, out now in the UK on Domino. An 18-track compilation, it is surely smaller and less costly than the 10-disc Come Ride With Me… Wide Open Road, which features said ten CDs spanning the band's entire career. Now if you don't know what a Triffid is, I can't help ya. (Out now.)

I'm starting to wonder how Black Francis comes up with so much music. He's got yet another new one out, Nonstoperotik. I'd guess the Pixies aren't playing any of these cuts on their current tour (down under in Australia right now), but I'll bet the quality level here has got to be better than a lot of stuff coming out these days. And yet, I'm not that bastard next door that doesn't listen to anything released after 1972. (Out now.)

Sundazed has a 2LP/CD live Moby Grape compilation coming out. Inventively titled Moby Grape Live, the release has cuts from '66 through '69 and is a great way to find out if all the kudos the Grapes earned for their live shows is deserved or not. Of course, if you're one of the old curs who actually gets to say you saw them back in the day, then I'd like to squash you like a, errrrrr…. grape. BTW, there's a limited batch of the vinyl on purple wax (only 200), but you'll have to pay $20 more for it.

A Moby Grape 7" single is also available, featuring one track not on the LP/CD release ("Sitting by the Window"); it is being released in conjunction with Record Store Day (4/17) and appears to be on colored vinyl, too.

A 2LP mono set called Singles Collection '61-65 by Dick Dale & His Del-Tones is also out on Sundazed (now). The set features tunes from both the Deltone and Capitol labels, including "Let's Go Trippin'," "Miserlou," and some rare 45-only cuts. There's also a vinyl-only reissue of Rock Out with Dick Dale and His Del-Tones, which was recorded live at Ciro's in Hollywood back in '65.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hacienda • Big Red & Barbacoa

San Antonio's Hacienda are a combo that mixes many different pop and rock styles to come up with a sound that's soaked in their Texas heritage without sounding stereotypically Texan. Big Red & Barbacoa is their second outing, and lead-off single "I Keep Waiting" reminds me of a cross between The Beach Boys and Scruffy The Cat. Yes, Scruffy The Cat. It's like mid-'60s Beach Boys, but without the kowtowing, "we are not worthy"-ness you usually hear with bands that get compared to SoCal's Niños del Playa. Producer Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) brings out the band's rough edges as well as their softer side (not in the pussy way), and what you hear is "South Texas Soul." (Okay, that term comes from the press release, but it's fitting.)

Brothers Abraham, Jamie and Rene Villanueva give Hacienda that Everly Brothers via Los Lobos vocal vibe, though guitarist Dante Schweibel appears to be no slouch, either, just not an hermano of the Villanuevas—at least not by birth. Would it be a cliché to say I hear some Sir Douglas Quintet in here? Yeah, it would. But too bad, because I do. Maybe Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers are these guys' two dads... Well, whatever latino rock cliché you pick, Hacienda has a great sound, equal parts almost everything that made '60s rock good, plus some mojo from their familial culture with probably some good ol' independent college rock thrown in. I mean, I did mention Scruffy The Cat earlier, and besides, if I'm gonna trot out the clichés, I might as well clear the stable.
4/5 (Alive Natural Sound)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

New Releases Update • April 3, 2010

On May 10, Grönland Records releases a very bitchin' looking Neu! box set. Vinyl Box is a collector's item that features the three original Neu! albums, plus the never released Neu! '86 LP, and a live maxi-single entitled Neu! 72. A 36-page book is also included, along with codes for downloading all of the tracks. To top it off, you get a Neu! t-shirt and a logo stencil to create your own custom shirts. Check out recordstore.co.uk for more information, or www.neu2010.com. (Vinyl reissues of the three original Neu! albums are out now.)

The Fall release their 28th studio album, Your Future, Our Clutter, on April 26th on Domino in the UK. Out on CD and double LP, the album is Mark E. Smith's band "at their most rampant, most forward moving, bone shaking best."

J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and some other celebrated indie rockers put together the group Sweet Apple, whose Love & Desperation hits shelves on April 19. Granted, some guys are gonna buy it because of the scantily clad babes on the front (a la Roxy Music thirty years ago), but some might actually purchase it for the hard rocking quickies and wounding ballads. (Tee Pee Records)

Friday, April 2, 2010

The T.A.M.I. Show (movie)

If you've ever wondered what one of those '60s package shows was like, have I got a DVD for you. The T.A.M.I. Show was shot in 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to a packed crowd of crazy teenagers, intent on seeing some of pop's hottest stars. The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Supremes and many more appeared, and director Steve Binder shot the show in black and white for release to theatres.

The T.A.M.I. Show—it stands for Teenage Awards Music International (boy, they really wanted to use the acronym TAMI, didn't they?!)—also featured a weird opening, a back 'n' forth between Chuck Berry (who was really an oldie at that point, but had a hit with "Nadine" at the time) and Liverpool's Gerry & The Pacemakers. Marvin Gaye and Lesley Gore follow (not together), Billy J. Kramer and then The Barbarians (sorry, fans, only one song and no "Moulty," though they do an extended zoom in on the drummer's one-armed pounding), and prior to the Stones, the standout performance of James Brown & His Famous Flames. Good God! does this man put on a performance. The crowd goes wild, too, despite the fact that there are few kids of kolor in sight. I would guess that a lot of these girls never saw a Negro get down like that before! I'm telling you, Brown's performance is so good, I understand why Mick, Keith & Ko. didn't want to have to follow him (though they did a pretty good job anyhow).

Shout! Factory has issued this DVD after decades of unavailability; ever since the movie played in late '64, the only things that have been available have been very bad quality bootleg VHS tapes and copies of copies of copies. Though the movie was shot in B&W in some newfangled Electronovision or whatever, it looks all right despite its age. And the mono sound is pretty good, too, though the edits between acts and songs are pretty raw to 21st century eyes. But it's totally worth the price. To see James Brown down on his knees multiple times, then draped with his cape by his handler (who looks very worried), during "Please, Please, Please" is one of the best treats I've ever enjoyed in my rock 'n' roll life.
5/5 (Shout! Factory DVD)