Monday, April 24, 2017

J. Geils Band - "Love Stinks" (forgotten song)

John Geils, aka J. Geils of the J. Geils Band, died about two weeks ago.  And no, the guy you're thinking of is leading singer Peter Wolf; J. Geils was the guitarist.  Songs like "Centerfold", "Freeze-Frame" or the over-looked "Angel in Blue" would be obvious choices to mark his passing -- anyone who remembers the early days of MTV can attest to how huge all the singles were from their 1981 LP "Freeze Frame" (I recall Bill Glidden had both "Freeze Frame" and "Showtime!" on vinyl).  Or I could go all obscure fan-boy and choose something like "Must of Got Lost" from 1974.  But instead I'll take the middle road and choose 1980's "Love Stinks", the third single from the LP of the same name.  It was a pretty big hit for them (the 84th video MTV played), but it's mostly been bumped from rotation on classic rock stations by "Centerfold".  It's a fun song, with a lovably bad early 80s video, and the final, deciding factor in my choosing this song is the awesome, crunchy guitar riff from J. Geils...

J. Geils Band - "Love Stinks

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Pretenders - "Tattooed Love Boys" (forgotten song)

For my final installment for Women's History Month, I'm focusing on a song whose video got a fair amount of play in the early days of MTV (the 196th video they played), but I don't recall ever hearing it on the radio.  Even though it had its own video, "Tattooed Love Boys" was the B-side to The Pretenders' 1979 single "Kid", from their eponymous LP

"Tattooed Love Boys" is a fast-paced, gritty song with an unconventional structure (i.e., no real chorus).  In 1981 I didn't know what all the lyrics were or exactly what the song was about, but the song (and Chrissie) had my full attention. 

Fast forward some 36 (!) years and I'm reading Chrissie's autobiography "Reckless", only to discover that the lyric "Stop snivellin' / You're gonna make some plastic surgeon a rich man" is derives from "Shut up, or you’re going to make some plastic surgeon rich!", which was said to her while she was being gang-raped by bikers.  Chrissie faced significant backlash for this story and taking responsibility for the situation by acknowledging that she knowingly put herself into dangerous situations.

While I enjoyed reading "Reckless", Chrissie's detatched and obfuscated story-telling style made for a difficult read in which she recounts a lot and reveals little.   More importantly, I was aghast to learn that "Tattooed Love Boys", which had an outsized impact on my pre-teen sexuality, was based on a rape.  If I can't unread the book, can I least unread this chapter?

The Pretenders - "Tattooed Love Boys"

Bonus link:  The Pretenders - "Kid"

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions - "Suzanne" (LP Review)

Time for another (belated) installment for Women's History Month.  I'm a huge fan of Mazzy Star, and while they had never officially broken up, their long hiatus between LPs (1996--2013) rivaled only My Bloody Valentine (1991-2013) in the alt-rock world.  So it only makes sense that in the interim Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star) and Colm Ó Cíosóig (My Bloody Valentine) came together and created Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions.  And while technically it's a band, make no mistake this band is really about Hope Sandoval.  "Suzanne" is a four song EP released in 2002, it's also the third and final single from the 2001 LP "Bavarian Fruit Bread".  Although it came out after the 2001 LP, this EP was my first introduction to Hope's post-Mazzy Star work, so I'm writing about it first here.

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions sound a lot like Mazzy Star: if you like one, given Hope's distinctive voice, you'll like them both.  Even though both bands mine the dream-pop vein, David Roback (the other half of Mazzy Star), drawing from the Paisley Underground sound,  often writes material that borrows heavily from The Doors (e.g., "Mary of Silence", "She Hangs Brightly") or is very bluesy (e.g., "She's My Baby", "I'm Sailin'").  I won't say I dislike those songs... but I appreciate the more straight-forward dream-pop sound of HS&TWI.  I like David, and he's definitely one-half of Mazzy Star and its sound, but I like Hope more and she's 90% of the sound of HS&TWI.  Of course now you don't really need to choose, since Colm is now also the drummer for Mazzy Star, as well as Suki Ewers playing keyboards for both bands as well.

I should review their proper LPs, but until then enjoy this EP as your introduction to HS&TWI.

Standout songs: "Suzanne", "I Thought You'd Fall for Me", "Friends of a Smile"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 8/10

Swearin' - "Surfing Strange" (LP Review)

I've already blogged extensively about Waxahatchee, AKA Katie Crutchfield.  Here I will cover her twin sister, Allison Crutchfield, in another installment for Women's History Month.  As documented extensively elsewhere, Allison and Katie lead the punk band P.S. Eliot from 2007-2011, eventually splitting and forming Swearin' and Waxahatchee, respectively.  Although technically separate bands, soon Allison and other members of Swearin' were backing Katie, both in the studio and on tour.  As of 2015, Swearin' is defunct.

When I first learned of Swearin', I was super excited and ordered their 2013 LP "Surfing Strange".  The video for the single from the LP, "Dust in the Gold Sack", was great and I was hoping for an LP as strong as "American Weekend" or "Cerulean Salt".  Unfortunately, while it's not a bad LP, it's not nearly as great as Katie's first two LPs.  The problem?  Too much Kyle Gilbride & Keith Spencer, and not enough Allison.  I totally respect their DIY "if you write it, you sing it" approach, but Kyle & Keith singing (and writing) aren't why I bought this LP. 

Again, this is not a bad LP, and there aren't really any bad songs.  But ultimately it's just "Dust in the Gold Sack" and a few others, making this is a good, but not necessary, LP.    

Standout songs: "Dust in the Gold Sack" (live 2013), "Mermaid" (live 2013), "Parts of Speech", "Unwanted Place"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 6/10

P.S. (Eliot): Fortunately, Allison has since gone solo

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Angel Olsen - "My Woman" (LP Review)

In my second installment for Women's History Month, I take a look at one of the better results for 2016 -- a year that was pretty bad for music in general.  In the Now Playing Facebook Group, I took note of a parade of posts extolling Angel Olsen's third LP, "My Woman".  Eventually I had to investigate and I was not disappointed: this really is a candidate for LP of the year.

I worked my way backward through her catalog: 2014's "Burn Your Fire for No Witness" and 2012's "Halfway Home", and while those are good LPs they don't foreshadow the level of accomplishment and mastery she displays on "My Woman".  Pitchfork gives an eloquent review, complete with references to Dolly, Loretta, Patti, and Cat Power.  Sure, no pressure there.  They should throw in a good bit of Mazzy Star as well. The New Yorker has a similarly effusive review, evoking Julee Cruise (via David Lynch) and Fleetwood Mac.

But Angel does move confidently and effortlessly from genre to genre, from the abstract synth of "Intern", to the garage-rock of "Shut Up Kiss Me", to the epic, slow burn of "Sister", and many others.  There are no bad songs on this LP, and you owe it to yourself to see what all the buzz is about*.

Standout songs: "Intern", "Never Be Mine", "Shut Up Kiss Me" (live on the Late Show, 2016-08-29; the backup singer takes this to 11),  "Give It Up", "Not Gonna Kill You",  "Sister", "Those Were the Days", "Woman" (live, 2016-10-30?)

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 9/10

Bonus link: "Intern / Woman" (live 2017-02-23)

* For the record: while Danette doesn't dislike the LP, she doesn't "get it".

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mount Moriah - "Mount Moriah" (LP Review)

In recognition of Women's History Month I'll be reviewing as many female artists (or at least bands with prominent female members) as I can get to. 

I've been meaning to review Chapel Hill's Mount Moriah for a while now.  Butch first turned me on to them a couple of years ago and they've been working their way in my play list for some time.  The most concise way to describe them is young Dolly Parton meets Crazy Horse / Stray Gators.  I realize everyone makes that comparison, but listen to "Plane" and "Words (Between the Lines of Age)" and tell me I'm wrong. 

In a review of their most recent LP, Evan Rytlewski said "Mount Moriah no longer sound like an indie band playing country music".  That's a fair description of their 2011 debut LP, and to be honest that's what I like about it.  Heather McEntire's powerful, haunting voice dominates the band, just edging out Jenks Miller's country/metal guitar sound (see my previous review of Jenks' drone metal band, Horseback).  The LP "Mount Moriah" is definitely alt-country with an emphasis on "alt", and also is evidence for the "everyone-in-the-south-likes-at-least-a-little-country" phenomenon Margo Timmins described in the 80s (see my review of "The Trinity Session" for the full quote).  You also have to acknowledge their debt to the Indigo Girls, in attitude if not entirely in sound (although I've been to at least one Indigo Girls show where their sound had more in common with Horseback than you might expect -- Joy tells me that's Amy's influence).

Pitchfork gave this LP a good review when it came out, although the CoS review is less favorable.  I think Pitchfork got it right: there are no bad songs on this LP and the best songs on the LP are extraordinary.

Standout songs: "Only Way Out" (live version), "Plane" (live version), "Lament" (live version), "Reckoning" (live version)

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 8/10

Saturday, February 18, 2017

James Brown - "Funky Drummer" (LP Review)

After completing my previous blog post about an obscure source of hip hop samples, I just learned of the death of Clyde Stubblefield, the original "funky drummer" and the source of what is probably the most popular -- almost to the point of cliche -- hip hop sample. 

"Funky Drummer" is a non-LP single released in 1970 by James Brown.  At 7+ minutes, the song itself was split over the A- and B-sides but it really should be heard as one song.  Then skip to about 5:34 in the track: it might not be the first breakbeat, but it's probably the most sampled.  Even when the breakbeats are from other songs, they pretty much all owe a debt to the Wilhelm scream of hip hop, "Funky Drummer", and Clyde Stubblefield. 

In the immortal words of James Brown, "give the drummer some!"

James Brown - "Funky Drummer" (break at ~5:34)

Final score: 10/10

DJ Shadow - "Midnight in a Perfect World" (LP Review)

David Axelrod, another artist who nicely illustrates the difference between influential and popular, died earlier this month.  You probably haven't heard of him, but he is a popular source of samples for hip hop heavyweights such as DJ Shadow, Lauryn Hill, and Dr. Dre.  I have David Axelrod's eponymous 2001 LP, but instead of that I'm focusing on my first introduction to his music: DJ Shadow's "Midnight in a Perfect World". 

"Midnight in a Perfect World" is the lead single and arguably the best song on his seminal 1996 LP "Endtroducing...." In fact, "Midnight in a Perfect World" was almost the name of this blog, which should convey the depth of my feelings about this haunting yet substantive song.  DJ Shadow samples many artists in the song, but the prominent piano sample is from "The Human Abstract", of Axelrod's 1969 William Blake-themed LP "Songs of Experience".

As is typical for Mo' Wax releases, there are several versions of this single.  My version is the 1998 US 5 track CD single with:
  1. "Midnight in a Perfect World" (LP Version)
  2. "The Number Song" (LP Version)
  3. "Red Bus Needs to Leave" (non-LP track)
  4. "Midnight in a Perfect World" (Gab Mix)
  5. "The Number Song" (Cut Chemist Party Mix)
They're all great tracks, and it's a shame that the Gab Mix (technically a DJ Shadow remix featuring Gift of Gab) for "Midnight in a Perfect World" is relegated to an obscure B-side.  I won't say it's better than the original, but rather it illustrates the best elements of a remix in that it incorporates an alternate but necessary perspective on the original.  That's probably also true for the Cut Chemist mix of "The Number Song" (which is an even more radical transformation), but that track has appeared on so many releases it hardly still qualifies as a B-side.

I'm breaking from my standard LP review format by linking the DJ Shadow songs above, and the David Axelrod song below.  To fully understand "Midnight in a Perfect World", you really need to listen to "The Human Abstract".

David Axelrod - "The Human Abstract" ("Songs of Experience" Full LP)

Final score: 10/10

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Allman Brothers Band - "Dreams" (the song remains the same)

The Allman Brothers Band are the link between the southern rock sound and Grateful Dead style jam bands, and one of the similarities between TABB and the Grateful Dead is they both had two drummers.  For TABB the drummers were Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks, who I was disappointed to learn died recently.

Songs like "Whipping Post" or "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" would be a more obvious tribute, but I'm choosing the slightly less popular "Dreams" from their eponymous 1969 debut LP.  I've already established the cultural importance of Molly Hatchet for Danette and me, so it won't come as a surprise that I first learned of this song via Molly Hatchet's cover, which they retitled "Dreams I'll Never See", from their 1978 debut LP.   They do a good cover, and though I first heard their cleaner and streamlined version, over time I've come to appreciate the fuzzy/groovy original more. 

The Allman Brothers Band - "Dreams"
Molly Hatchet - "Dreams I'll Never See"

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Woody Guthrie - "This Land Is Your Land" (spotlight)

Super Bowl LI (notice how we're back to Roman numerals?) looked like it would be a blow out, but then featured 25 unanswered points for an OT win, the first in Super Bowl history.  Lady Gaga did a great halftime show, and I'm not even a big fan of hers.  The right was busy congratulating themselves for Lady Gaga "not being political".  Perhaps the right-wing snowflakes were too hurt by, you know, beer commercials and such to notice, but Lady Gaga's performance was filled with left-wing dog whistles.

First, she's Lady Gaga, and she's singing LGBT anthems like "Born This Way", in front of Mike Pence et al.  That's only apolitical if you don't understand the words.  Second, in the opening patriotic, pre-recorded piece it was not an accident that she ended with "...with liberty and justice for all".  Third, she started with a snippet from "God Bless America", but then followed it with Woody Guthrie's response song, "This Land is Your Land".  That also wasn't an accident, and it invokes the history of the song, recorded in various versions, most often with the overtly political verses removed.  Here are the full lyrics of the song as written in 1940:
This land is your land this land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
So yes, while Lady Gaga's show wasn't anti-anything, it was an appeal to our better angels.

"This Land is Your Land": Woody Guthrie (1944?), Bruce Springsteen (1985), Bruce Springsteen & Peter Seeger (2009)

Bonus link: full halftime show.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Asia - "Heat of the Moment" (forgotten song)

John Wetton recently died.  Once again, you're probably thinking "who?"  The answer to that question is dependent on your musical orientation.  He was in various incarnations of, among others, Roxy Music, King Crimson, and Uriah Heep but is arguably best known as the bassist/vocalist of Asia, the 1980s "super group".  Their eponymous first LP was hugely successful, expertly finding the middle ground between prog rock and pop, but the following LPs failed to reproduce that success.  "Heat of the Moment" was Asia's first single and the video, with the first use that I can recall of monitor arrays, was in high rotation on MTV.  I remember Bill Glidden had the LP, but either he or I must have also had the 7" because I remember the non-LP B-side "Ride Easy" as well.  I'm not sure I would count myself as a huge Asia fan, but I still turn up "Heat of the Moment" whenever it comes on...

Asia: "Heat of the Moment"

B-side bonus link: "Ride Easy"

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Black Sabbath - "Heaven and Hell" (LP Review)

Geoff Nicholls died this week.  You're probably thinking "who?" and that's ok, he was a journeyman in the NWOBHM movement, best known as the keyboardist for Black Sabbath from 1980--2004.  Most of the time he was credited as an "additional performer" but he was occasionally credited as a full-member of the band (e.g., on "Seventh Star"), his vacillating membership status serving as a metaphor for the awkward role of keyboards and heavy metal in general.  His wikipedia page states he typically played back- or side-stage during concerts -- nothing says "I'm not a full member of the band" like playing backstage (or in the bar's kitchen, but that's a story for another time). 

Black Sabbath had used keyboards on previous LPs, but fortunately they had never really been central to their sound.  1980's "Heaven and Hell" was the first LP in which Nicholls appears, but of course this LP is better known for being the LP with Ronnie James Dio replacing longtime lead singer Ozzy.  At the time there was a lot of concern about Ozzy-less Sabbath, but I think most people eventually realized that Dio had re-energized Black Sabbath -- honestly, the last two Sabbath LPs with Ozzy weren't very good.  In high school I was a huge Dio fan, so I had no qualms about him leading Sabbath, and I just considered early 80s Sabbath and early 70s Sabbath as basically two different bands.

Although I rarely listen to it now, this LP still occupies a special place for me and it is hard to overstate how important this LP was to me back in the day.  It still sounds good, but I also realize that I can not even begin to separate it from the nostalgia of the mid-80s.  I'll also admit as much as I generally dislike keyboards in metal, Nicholls does a fine job on songs like "Die Young" and "Lonely is the Word", where the keyboards are present but not central... like they're being played from back stage.

Standout songs: "Neon Knights", "Children of the Sea", "Heaven and Hell", "Wishing Well", "Die Young", "Lonely Is the Word"

Skip 'em songs: "Lady Evil"

Final score: 9/10

Sunday, January 15, 2017

House of Freaks - "Cactusland" (forgotten song)

Today's Virginian Pilot has a retrospective article on the murders of the Harvey family in 2006 in Richmond because their killer is scheduled for execution this week.  I recall when this happened, although I don't remember this being part of a larger crime spree, including other murders. 

Bryan Harvey (guitar, vocals) was one of the two members (Johnny
Hott was the percussionist) of Richmond's House of Freaks, who were notable for being the first (one of the first?) bands that achieved a really "full" sound with only two musicians and no overdubs.  We now have The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Matt and Kim, Wye Oak, and surely others with similar approaches, but I'm pretty sure House of Freaks lead the way.

I believe it was late 1991 when I first learned of this band.  I had graduated but Terry was in his final year at JMU and living in the attic of the house on Old South High, which he had arranged in his own indomitable style -- there was surely not a finer attic bachelor pad in all of Harrisonburg.  On one of my visits we were either about to go out or had just gotten back (the details are hazy at this point), and Terry put on a tape and said something like "check this out -- it's just two guys."  I remember being blown away by the sound of their 1987 LP "Monkey on a Chain Gang", especially the song "Cactusland".  For whatever reason, that song crystallized that moment in time.

House of Freaks would break up in the early 90s (not long after that visit to JMU), coming close to "making it" but just missing.  Both Harvey and Hott would continue recording and collaborating in various other local bands and projects.  In fact it was Hott who first discovered the crime scene when he arrived with his daughter for a New Year's Day family party at Harvey's house.

Whatever happens this week, there will surely be more discussion of graphic details of that day in 2006.  I'll try to tune it out and remember the first time I heard "Cactusland" at Terry's place.

House of Freaks - "Cactusland"

But there ain't no gold in cactusland....

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Smiths - "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" (the song remains the same)

Several years ago Julianne, Danette's sister, asked me what I thought was "the best cover song ever?"  I had lots of answers (including "Run On", "Stop Your Sobbing", "Blue Flower", and some others I will eventually cover here), but I'd like to retroactively put at the top of the list "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths.  Originally appearing on their 1986 LP "The Queen is Dead", it was released as a single in 1992 after The Smiths had broken up.  Like pretty much everything by The Smiths, the song is a poignant recount of teenage confusion/pathos/spirituality/sexuality.

My first experience with the song was its appearance as the closing song on the 2003 mix LP "Back to Mine" by The Orb.  This version was retitled "The Light 3000" and is by Schneider TM vs. KPT.Mich.Gan (originally on their joint 2000 EP "Binokular").  The transformation of the song is striking, from the 80s college radio sound of the original to what it would sound like if your computer had teenage angst.  But somehow -- and this is the part that makes it a truly brilliant and inspired cover -- the sterile robotic/synth treatment actually accentuates the universality and the humanity of the original version. 

The Smiths - "There is a Light That Never Goes Out"
Schneider TM vs. KPT.Mich.Gan - "The Light 3000"
And in the darkened underpass
I thought "oh God, my chance has come at last"
But then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn't ask