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Friday, December 21, 2018

The Falling Wallendas-Belittle (1997)

CD Design: Jimmy Olson; Photography: Mary Osmundsen
This interesting bit of alt-rock exuberance came across my desk awhile back (and by "came across my desk" I mean "I ordered it on Amazon"). It's a nice companion to VPN's "Small Wire" (a couple posts back)- a good album for those looking for clarity and punchiness with just a touch of experimentalism in the melody department, and some esoteric lyricism. "Captain Beefheart" is one of a few stunners here- showcasing the tightness of the band's attack (precision bass riffing and driving percussion dissolving into a sunshiney chorus hook). Don't expect many echoes of the actual Beefheart though- this isn't as avant-garde or abrasive (and I like it all the better for that). Still, be prepared for the unexpected; for sharp melodic detours like the chilled-out block party verses of "Porn" splintering into frantic blasts of amp-testing evil.
Available on iTunes

The Merrymakers-Bubblegun (1997)

Design: Nancy Brennan, Kato-Chin Club, Pelle Hokengren. Photos: Megumi Seki, Miharu Saito/ City Publication Inc, Anders Hellgren
As a massive powerpop fan, and a frequenter of powerpop/ 90's rock blogs, I am angered and dismayed that it took so long for this album to appear on my radar. In the end, it was the ever reliable "Dig Me Out" podcast crew who alerted me to the existence of this group. Perhaps they were better known in their native Sweden?
The Merrymakers will, perhaps, never escape comparisons to Jellyfish...and that group's Andy Sturmer gets a couple of writing and production credits...but that comparison never hurts! The Merrymakers' approach is perhaps a bit more straightforward and a bit less theatrical than the aforementioned group--but they always deliver on their implicit (and explicit, for that matter) promise: to "make merry".

Saltwater Drinks:

April's Fool:

Sunday, October 14, 2018

VPN-Small Wire (1998)

Sleeve design by Tonya Hudson & Austin Hughes; Photography by Austin Hughes
Literally ones (perhaps even twos) of people have been asking me what's up with the blog. I've been back in school, so have had very little time for posting. Figured I'd better give the people what they want though.

I have been meaning to alert the masses to this band for a while.
As far as I can tell, VPN (or "Very Pleasant Neighbor") released just two albums-this being the first.
This is one of those groups that seemed to emerge from the ether fully formed: no timidity, no areas requiring growth, no derivitiveness, no's all toned and honed.
The writing reminds me a bit of "She Said She Said" era John Lennon--taking all sorts of melodic risks-veering off at unexpected angles before resolving into something surprisingly lean and accessible (See tracks like "Patty Hearst", "Skywriting", and "Submarine").
Eleanor (Has Four Arms)--which includes lyrics like:
"Eleanor, you've traded your two legs;
Eleanor, your two legs for two arms"
and "She Has A Leak" showcase the band's knack for dark surrealist/ psychedelic scene-setting. There's always something...a looming threat...just below the surface, and it will keep you on the edge of your seat. A big ol' toothy barracuda smile coming up to snip-snip your toe-tips. Well played, VPN- very well played.

Link to the album on Spotify:

Band photo by Elain Ahn


Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Liar's Club-Drop Dead. (1994)

(Photographs by Steve McElrath; Design by Ben Thompson with Jayson Jarmon)
With songs referencing Fred Astaire, Holly Golightly, and Elvis (almost added "Twin Peaks" to the list, but actually that was pretty current at the time...and has indeed become very current again), The Liar's Club always seemed a bit before their time (even the name appears to have come from a 60's/70's game show). That's not necessarily a bad thing for a pop/ rock group of their ilk, but it is always a looming presence. Fortunately The Liar's Club don't spend much time pining over some "golden era gone by"; they spend their reverential energy on crafting pop hooks with the same care and attention to detail as their forefathers (Lennon, McCartney, Emmit Rhodes, Ray and Dave Davies...) and adding that distinctly 90's "tang". Unfortunately, as the Wikipedia article points out, these guys were from the Seattle area (Tacoma to be exact), and everybody knows what the Seattle zeitgeist was in the early 90's (and yes, it was frickin' awesome!)...and it wasn't this (frickin' awesome in a different way). Sometimes this "band against the world" ethos surfaces in subtle ways-perhaps most pointedly on the wonderful "Whatever..." which appears to poke fun at the hip "affected cynicism" of the time ("Whatever I say, whatever I do,  "whatever" is all I ever get from you..."). It skips along on the legs of a melody that would have sounded as good now as in 1967...or, for that matter, probably as good as it would have sounded at the time the first Ichthyostega pulled itself from the primeval seas and drew its first gasping breaths- easing itself forward on it's newly evolved forelimbs under the hot Devonian sun."Fred Astaire", "Triage", and "The Redundant Romantic Fool" are other can't miss moments.
There's also a sort of running joke underpinning the album's marketing-I pulled this from the Discogs page:
"The concept behind Drop Dead was simply: a band so desperate for commercial success - they faked their own deaths hoping to pique consumer interest.

The catalogue number (614) was taken from the Dewey Decimal classification for "Forensic medicine; incidence of injuries, wounds, disease; public preventive medicine"

And, as you can see, this joke carries through into the album's packaging and artwork. I particularly like the legal notice on the back of the jewel case: 

"WARNING: A curse be upon ye who would defile our memory or disturb our bones. 
Unauthorized duplication of this recording will be met with swift retribution from beyond the grave"

I should add that the group would not release another album until 2013, so those who had initially laughed at the whole "death joke" were probably getting a bit concerned.

Unfortunately this is the only (out of 4) Liar's Club album NOT on iTunes. I can't find much on Youtube either- but here's what I have unearthed:
"Triage" live on The Spud Goodman Show: 

"Cinnamon Smiles":

I cheated and got my copy online, but if you ever come across it at a used record shop I recommend-no, PLEAD- you pick it up. And of course, check out the albums that ARE available on iTunes (although this is their finest in my opinion).

(Art/Design credits same as above)

(Charlatan Record Cartel-CRC 614)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Alice Donut-Pure Acid Park (1995)

(Label: Alternative Tentacles)

Alice Donut are one of the most unique and prolific bands I have posted about so far. Their 1988 debut "Donut Comes Alive" showcased their penchant for writing vitriolic, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing, sometimes disturbingly funny tales of middle American angst and malaise...and they never looked back. Musically, they are adventurous and near impossible to pin down: elements of New York hardcore and post-hardcore, punk, pop, psychedelia, fringe folk/ country...Jello Biafra once referred to them as "the missing link between R.E.M. and the Butthole Surfers". Maybe that's as apt a description as any...I don't know...
With their "no punches pulled", acerbic, and aggressive approach (not to mention Tomas Antona's unmistakeable "love-it-or-hate-it" vocal howl), the Donut were never going to be chart-hogs...but they were always destined for cult stardom. I watched the Alice Donut documentary "Freaks In Love" a while ago and was happy to see that they have had a profound and lasting (and well-deserved!) impact on American alt-rock. 
Anyways, where does one start with Alice Donut? I started at the beginning with "Donut Comes Alive" (1988), but many fans would direct you to "Mule" (1990) as the correct point of entry. Here's the excellent "Roaches in the Sink" off of "Mule":

I have decided to start here, with "Pure Acid Park", a controversial Donut album if ever there was one. For those who liked Donut at their weirdest, this album was a bit of a step backwards. The production is a bit cleaner, the melodies are a bit more accessible, and the vulgarity is toned down just a tad. I actually think this is an excellent record-one of their BEST, in fact. To me, it represents a natural step in the Donut's evolution: a perfect balance between their pop songcraft and jagged experimentalism; there is a newfound clarity and directness...and if you were to suggest to someone unfamiliar with the group's previous work that this album was in any way "mainstream" you would be no, it's not a sellout! Don't even suggest that! It's still unmistakably Donut, but with a bit of restraint, nuance, subtlety...Just listen!
Here's a great track called "Insane":
And another great one called "Lost In Place":

I particularly like how both tracks "build". That takes maturity and experience to properly engineer/devise (although if you listened to "Roaches in the Sink" you'd know that they always had a bit of a knack for it).