Thursday, March 29, 2007

Swervedriver - Raise (1991)

For those that like a little crunch with their swirl. These four lads from Oxford kept it rockin' through the shoegaze era. Not content to lose themselves in the ethereal netherworld of fuzz, reverb, and dreaminess, they stuck to big guitar hooks force-fed through effects pedals. In a way, they were like Britain's answer to Dinoaur Jr. Twisting electric guitar leads, bashing cymbals, and slacker-voiced vocals. They even wrote songs about the all-American Mustang. Personal favorite, "Deep Seat", builds up from a simple bass riff to a woozy guitar jam. It isn't until a minute-and-a-half in that the vocals finally emerge from the swamp of thick guitars. The lyrics are really an afterthought with this band, and that's not to say that they're bad. It's more like they're irrelevant. Simply one more current in their swirling river of sound. When the singing has run its course, the band finishes off with another minute-and-a-half of searing wah-wah guitar fuckery. While the album can sound a bit same-y, the current interest in all things shoegaze makes these guys worth checking out. Especially if you're feeling nostalgic for the muscular rock of the early 90's.

The Feelies - The Good Earth (1986)

The second Feelies album, coming six long years after their debut, shows the band switching things up and mellowing out a bit. The jerky, post-punk-isms are toned down, replaced by propulsive acoustic guitar strums. Could have been the influence of c0-producer Peter Buck (of REM fame), or perhaps the change in rhythm section. Either way, this album boasts more jangle than their previous effort. The driving beats are still there, and the band can certainly work up a good electric guitar jam, as evidenced on "Slipping (Into Something)". Highlights include the lovely, "When Company Comes", with it's ringing, acoustic intro that builds to a tambourine driven sing-a-long. The barely intelligible layered vocals are reminiscent of contemporary bands like Animal Collective. This is followed by the irresistibly-catchy "Let's Go", featured on Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale soundtrack. Though this back-to-back punch is certainly the heart of the album, there is much here to love. While you could make a case for almost any of the Feelies albums being the band's best, given their overall consistency, this one is my personal favorite, and definitely a great place to start.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Flying Saucer Attack - s/t (1994)

So, you like dreamy, guitar-swirling, noise-laden, drone-y, vocals-buried-in-the-mix rock music? How about folk and psychedelia, perhaps a dash of Krautrock? This album is most definitely for you. The duo of David Pearce and Rachel Brook unleashed this fuzzed-out masterpiece in 1994, dubbing their sound "rural psychedelia". This ain't your garden variety 60's psych, though. This is more along the lines of My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus and Mary Chain. Fans of electronic artists like Fennesz, Tim Hecker, or Axolotl will want to check this out too, if they haven't already absorbed every feedback-drenched inch of it. Check out the Suede cover, "The Drowners". It's almost as though they just took the original and laid a pleasing film of noise over the entire thing. Other songs, such as "Popul Vuh 1", whose title is in fact a direct homage to the German band and frequent Werner herzog collaborators of the same name, shows the group's debt to their Krautrock forefathers. It is a ten minute-plus soundscape with rumbling hand percussion and eerie clarinet lines, that builds to a beat-less, droning, anti-climax. "The Season is Ours", a lovely acoustic guitar based ballad, brings the album to folk-y close. Of course, in fine FSA fashion, they see fit to ride out the song on a wave of electronic feedback. Essential re-listening for our times.

Heron - s/t (1970)

A beautiful, pastoral, breezy affair. This is the first album by these English folkies, whose penchant for recording their albums in country fields lent their songs a gentle earthiness. In the empty space between the time when one track ends and the next begins, you can hear the sound of birds chirping softly in the background. If this sounds too New Age for you, trust me, it isn't. Their music is never cheesy, hokey, or pedantic. Instead, what you get is a warm blend of stringed instruments and vocal harmonies. If you've ever tried to nurse a hangover with a healthy dose of James Taylor (and I have), then you might have an idea of the way this music feels. It wraps itself around you like a blanket of comfortable nostalgia. It doesn't matter if you've never heard the lovely opener, "Yellow Roses". It is the kind of music that sounds instantly familiar, pleasant, and tinged with just the right amount of melancholy. Highly recommended.


Stream "Yellow Roses"

Monday, March 26, 2007

David Ruffin - David (2004)

Most people know David Ruffin as the gravelly-voiced singer in the Temptations, whose career was plagued by drug addiction and personal friction with Motown label-head Berry Gordy. However, the Motown vaults contained another side of the story. The recordings for what should have been David Ruffin's 1971 solo album have remained almost entirely unreleased until Hip-O Select resurrected them in 2004. This reissue finally makes this lost gem available, and now we know what we've been missing. Evidently, it was quite a lot. While not as monumental an achievement as say Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On, or Stevie Wonder's album-length statements from the early 70's, this record contains some near-classic slices of upbeat, post-Motown, sweet 70's soul. Check out David's take on the Jackson 5 staple, "I Want You Back". The song makes a lot more sense when sung by a full-grown man, and Ruffin's forceful grunts and soul shouts give the lyrics a real sense of urgency. Opener, "Each Day is a Lifetime", is another standout cut. The track begins with strings as Ruffin pours his heart out, detailing his methods for coping with a breakup. When the chorus hits, the Motown rhythm section kicks in and a backing chorus swells behind him. The song continues in this pattern of ebb and flow, oscillating between string-backed laments and driving gut-bucket soul. In a way, the entire album could be summed up in similar terms. There is a prevailing upbeat tone throughout, making this long-overdue collection a treat not to be missed.


Stream "Each Day is a Lifetime"

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Arthur Russell was a multi-talented musician/composer/producer/genius, whose work was mostly unappreciated during his lifetime. He was a gifted cellist, as well as disco producer, and began releasing music in the late 1970's under the guise of a group named Dinosaur L. His first tracks were a uniquely loose, funky take on dance music, but his work would go on to include solo cello and vocal singer/songwriter material and even minimalist orchestral pieces. Russell died tragically in 1992 from AIDS in New York City.

The 2006 album Springfield collects previously unreleased work, as well as early versions of songs already available on other Russell releases. This album highlights Russell's electro-dub dance music persona, and finds the title track in three versions, one of which is an awesomely appropriate remix by the DFA (James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem). Musically, there is a discernible 80's synth-drum sound to much of the percussion, as well as synth-horns, ominous cello basslines, and Russell's fragile vocals. It is an oftentimes beautiful mix, with Russell's muffled voice floating over the churning, electronic rhythms. This music is timeless and highly enjoyable, and definitely some of the most interesting stuff released this past year. Hopefully this will inspire you to pick up some other Russell releases. Good places to start: Calling Out Of Context, World of Echo.


Stream "Springfield (Detail)"

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Arthur Russell Links:

The New Yorker

Monday, March 12, 2007

T. Rex - A Beard of Stars

The Marc Bolan resurgence is upon us. The influence of his singular, elf-like, whimsical psych/folk can be felt in the work of contemporary artists like Animal Collective, Devandra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, etc. Others, such as British sensation Pop Levi, or Chicagoan and Multi-Instrumentalist David Vandervelde, have taken Bolan's glam rock stylings as a jumping off point. So what's so great about this man? I have to admit that I myself was not so much a hater as an ignoramus. In my mind the equation was like this: T. Rex = "Bang the Gong"; "Bang the Gong" = Classic rock radio staple; Classic rock radio = cliched-suckage. Not the case at all with this album from 1970. A Beard of Stars was a bit of a departure from the earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex sound. Bolan started to incorporate more electric guitar and rockish elements, along with somewhat more accessible songwriting. Songs such as the wonderful,"Pavilions of Sun", still have the trademark quivering vocals and hand percussion rhythms, but notice the electric guitar lead that starts to creep in halfway through. This is a clear indicator of the new direction Bolan's music was taking. This album is a precursor to the glam rock defining statements of Electric Warrior and The Slider, and Bolan noticeably still has one foot in the world of fairies and oddball-folk whimsy. The album is all the better for it. While there are other places to start a T. Rex re-discovery, A Beard of Stars is as good as any, as it showcases a bit of both sides of this exceptional talent.


Stream "Woodland Bop"

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Pastels - Truckload of Trouble

The review below pretty much says it all: these guys were incredibly influential. They inspired a host of indie rock luminaries from the late 80's early 90's. When was the last time you read a review that put My Bloody Valentine in the student seat, and not the the other way around? Influences and high-profile followers aside, the fact is that the music really stands up. I heard this for the first time this year, and I felt like I was hearing something fresh and new. Personal favorite, "Nothing to be Done", has the kind of tasty, Velvet Undergound-inspired, deadpan male/female vocals that Yo La Tengo would go on to perfect. The Yo La Tengo comparison is certainly fair, as the band covered the Pastels' "Speeding Motorcycle", one of the tracks presented here, on their Fakebook album. Reviewby Tim DiGravina

Collecting most of the singles the Pastels released on Fire, A Truckload of Trouble: 1986-1993 is a fine introduction to any newcomer and a vital piece of any fan's collection. These songs see the Pastels at their shambolic best, whining guitars blazing and ringing, alternating slurred and dreamy vocals punctuating the finest ever C-86 tunes, and blending pop and punk in the most aesthetically sublime way. Throughout the album's running time, one can't help but marvel about the sheer number of bands these songs inspired, and repeat listens make it obvious that the Pastels were a stepping stone between so many great bands and styles. In bottling up and mixing potent influences like the Fall, the Ramones, the Smiths, and the Velvet Underground, they opened the door for further experimentation by offspring such as Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine, Magnetic Fields, Built to Spill, Beat Happening, and Belle & Sebastian. As steeped in the classics and as inspirational as these songs are, their most glaring attribute is just how catchy, raw, and invigorating they are. Though it covers periods of major lineup changes and rampant stylistic shifts, Truckload of Trouble is a cohesive listen from start to finish and a vital portrait of a band marching to the beat of different drum.


Stream "Nothing To Be Done"

Monday, March 5, 2007

Chris Bell - I am the Cosmos

This is an essential album for any fan of Big Star (Chris' former band), or of melancholy pop music in general. Highlights include the title track, the gorgeous harmonies of "Look Up", and the forlorn, acoustic guitar sway of "Speed of Sound". This is a real gem of '70s folk-tinged rock, that never got the recognition it deserved before its creator's death.
 Reviewby Jason Ankeny

Unreleased for over 15 years, I Am the Cosmos is nevertheless an enduring testament to the brilliance of Chris Bell; lyrically poignant and melodically stunning, this lone solo album is proof positive of his underappreciated pop mastery. While cuts like "Get Away," "I Got Kinda Lost," and "Fight at the Table" recall the glowing, energetic power pop of Bell's earlier work, the majority of the songs on I Am the Cosmos are more reflective and deeply personal; the title track is a harrowingly schizophrenic tale of romantic despair, while other cuts like the lurching "Better Save Yourself" and the lovely "Look Up" are infused with a spiritual power largely missing from his Big Star material. The album's highlight, "You and Your Sister" -- which features backing vocals from none other than Bell's Big Star mate Alex Chilton -- is simply one of the great unknown love songs in the pop canon, a luminous and fragile ballad almost otherworldly in its beauty.


Stream "I Am The Cosmos"

Flamin' Groovies - Shake Some Action

This 1976 album is a cornerstone of Beatles-esque power-pop. Highly melodic, clean-guitar driven, at turns upbeat and moody, this is THE album that secured the Flamin' Groovies a place at the top of the list of best British Invasion albums ever (even though they're American and 10 years late). The title track is reason enough to get this album. Also, the wonderful "You Tore Me Down", which Yo La Tengo later covered on their Fakebook album. Reviewby Mark Deming

A lot had happened with the Flamin' Groovies in the nearly five years that separated the epochal Teenage Head album and their return to American record racks with Shake Some Action. The Groovies lost their record deal with Buddah, lead singer Roy Loney had quit the band leaving Cyril Jordan as uncontested leader, and they had spent a lot of time in Europe, building a significant following in the United Kingdom. As a result, the Flamin' Groovies on Shake Some Action almost sound like a different band, albeit one driven by a similar obsession with the utter coolness of pre-hippie rock & roll. (The fact that Jordan and bassist George Alexander were the only holdovers from the Teenage Head lineup probably had a lot to do with the different approach as well.) The rawer blues and rockabilly accents were gone from the Groovies' sound, with the guitar-fueled cool of the British Invasion era taking their place. While this version of the Flamin' Groovies didn't rock out with the same manic fervor as they did on Flamingo or Teenage Head, they could indeed rock when they felt so inclined, as demonstrated by the glorious "Please Please Girl," "I Can't Hide," and "Let the Boy Rock and Roll," while the Brit-flavored take on "St. Louis Blues" showed that some shades of the old band were still visible. And the title cut was a stunner -- a brilliant evocation of the adventurous side of British rock circa 1966, "Shake Some Action" was tough, moody, wounded, and gloriously melodic all at once, and by its lonesome served as a superb justification for the Groovies' new creative direction. If Shake Some Action was the first salvo from the new and improved Flamin' Groovies, it also demonstrated that this edition of the band had as much promise as the Loney-fronted group.


Stream "Shake Some Action"

Stream "You Tore me Down"

Spectrum - Soul Kiss (Glide Divine)

This is the first post-Spacemen 3 album by Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember. While Jason Pierce went on to form the more well-known group, Spiritualized, Kember continued to pursue his blissed-out, droning, trance-pop with this new group. You can certainly hear the elements carried over from his work with Spacemen 3: hypnotic drones, pulsing beat-less song structures, incanted vocals, and religious themes. Standout tracks include the opener, "How You Satify Me", which could have been a Spacemen song, as well as the euphoric, "Waves Wash Over Me". Kemper is an artist worth rediscovering, and at least on this album, every bit as important as his more well-recognized, former musical partner.


Stream "Waves Wash Over Me"

Archers of Loaf - White Trash Heroes

I only discovered how great these guys really were this year. Though I was aware of happenings in the music world in 1998, I completely missed their final album, the criminally underrated White Trash Heroes. There is something about the songs on this album that sound remarkable modern, at least to these ears. The opener, "Fashion Bleeds", sports the kind of twitchy guitar riff and propulsive drumming that is the foundation for many current, capital "I" Indie rock bands. Of course, Eric Bachman's gruff vocal delivery, full of honest-to-goodness emotion, does sound a bit dated. I hear a resemblance in timbre to Soul Coughing frontman, Mike Doughty. Particularly on album closer/stunner, "White Trash Heroes". The bouncy, echoing bassline, slow-building guitar tones, keyboard washes, and slow-mo sing-a-long chorus carry this song, and this band, into the annals of Indie Rock stardom. Reviewby Peter J. D'Angelo

The final studio record from the Archers of Loaf is a far cry from their early days of fast, dirty, and unrelenting indie rock anthems, but it is also a phenomenally progressive album for the band as well as a fitting swansong. The opening, "Fashion Bleeds," is the closest the band comes to its days of yore, with a chugging drumbeat and vocalist Eric Bachman's strained vocals leading the way. The presence of a keyboard that soon starts to drift in sets the tone for the rest of the record, a dark and moody venture with some unexpected styles emanating from the group. They still get raucous and loud on occasion, but sometimes they mask it under a wave of distorted sounds or in the guise of a slowed-down dirge. The closing title track is also of note, in that its sinister keyboard and drum machine sounds, along with Bachmann's oddly throaty and melodic vocals, are exactly what the singer went on to do with his next group, Crooked Fingers. In fact, White Trash Heroes sounds more like a mix of the two groups than an actual Archers record, a fact that anyone familiar with the latter group will certainly realize to be a good thing. This is certainly not the simple and sloppy indie rock outfit that churned out short poppy hits in the mid-'90s, but the band clearly developed into something equally astounding and, with a few listens, the emotion and craftsmanship of these songs prove to be a truly impressive feat.


Stream "White Trash heroes"

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Index - s/t

Bring on the REVERB! This is a great, rare album I discovered recently. Check out the cover of the Supremes "Keep Me Hanging On", here known only as "Keep Me".


A haunting psychedelic oddity that's sort of a timewarp meeting place between the Byrds, Dick Dale, Hendrix, and the Velvet Underground. With their raw garage attack and over-the-top enthusiasm for feedback and wah-wah, the Index were very much of their time; with their brooding minimalism and savage, almost experimental electric guitar electronics, they sound oddly contemporary. Highlighted by the greatest cover of "Eight Miles High" ever attempted, and the closing instrumental bash of "Feedback," which is fierce psychedelic guitar distortion pushed to its white-noise limit. Look for the 1984 Voxx reissue, which, although itself hard to find these days, is still much easier to locate than the rarer-than-rare original (only two copies of which are known to exist).


Stream "You Keep Me"