Monday, August 31, 2009

First Listen: The Balconies

Canada continues to make amends for Loverboy and Bryan Adams. I was pretty excited about The Rifles last week, but I'm ready to shout from the rafters about The Balconies. The Ottawan power-pop trio is the best band to come from north of the border since The Bicycles. And they have, in fact, played with The Bicycles. That must have been quite a double bill.

Even though the band's debut album won't officially be out for a couple of more weeks, you can instantly tell drummer Liam Jaeger, bassist Steve Neville and guitarist Jacquie Neville (they are siblings) are seasoned pros. That's due, in part, to the fact they are all music-school graduates. Their sound is a mix of just about every genre I enjoy. Shoegaze, garage rock, new wave and power pop are evident. All three share vocal duties, but it's the cool back-and-forth style between Jacquie and her male counterparts that works best. You can't help but think about X on a couple of tracks. For the second time in a week, I'm pulling out the LTL! seal of approval.

The Balconies - Smells Like Secrets (mp3)
The Balconies - 300 Pages (mp3)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Flyin' the Flannel

I'm taking my first trip to Seattle tomorrow. To commemorate the occasion, I honor prolific Seattle label Sub Pop with my fave five songs from its catalog. I omitted Nirvana from the list because it seems lazy and obvious. Also, my copy of 'Bleach' is on vinyl, and I don't have time today to convert it to a digital format. I need to get on that. Well, I'm off to pack my umbrella.

The Shins - Know Your Onion! (mp3)
Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out (mp3)
Velocity Girl - I Can't Stop Smiling (mp3)
Zumpano - The Party Rages On (mp3)
The Vaselines - Son of a Gun (mp3)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fables of the Deconstruction: The dB's Edition

During Fables of the Deconstruction, we take a listen to a demo or early recording and put it up against the final version to gauge the evolution of a great work.

Jangle-pop pioneers The dB's show us that occasionally the finished song isn't always as good as the one initially envisioned. In all candor, I love everything The dB's released, including this song under the microscope, "A Spy in the House of Love".

I think the demo found on the odds 'n sods collection, 'Ride the Wild TomTom', is stronger than the version found on the band's third album, 1984's 'Like This'. The demo's rawer, more jangly feel, coupled with a much shorter running time, is easier to digest. Prior to 'Like This', The dB's sound was always lo-fi. The slick production and dated synthesizers found on the finished song never bothered me... until I heard and fell in love with the demo. "A Spy in the House of Love" was a minor hit for the band and spawned a 12" extended version that proves my point even more that bigger is not always better.

I don't hate any of these versions, but I think the demo is superior. How about you?

The dB's - A Spy in the House of Love (demo) (mp3)
The dB's - A Spy in the House of Love (Like This version) (mp3)
The dB's - A Spy in the House of Love (12" extended version) (mp3)

See Also:
Fables of the Deconstruction: Nick Lowe Edition
Fables of the Deconstruction: Go-Go's Edition

Monday, August 24, 2009

Big Country Chronicles: 'Wonderland'

It was a magical time between the debut of 'The Crossing' and the release of the 'Wonderland' EP. Huge sales, critical acclaim, a worldwide tour and two Grammy nominations led us to a fantastic four-song (in America, anyway) record in early 1984.

I vividly remember buying it on a "special low price" cassette the week it came out. It was late summer of that year before I purchased the 12" single. It took that long because I was 13 years old and lived in a town without a record store. Let's also put into perspective that you couldn't exactly jump on the Internet and order it. Side A of the EP (American) consisted of "Wonderland" and "All Fall Together". If there was a weak song on the EP -- and I contend there wasn't -- "All Fall Together" could have been it. Side B was "Angle Park" and "The Crossing". Both of these songs appeared as other B-sides on singles, and they are, arguably, the best of Big Country's flip sides. If you were able to pick up an import, you got bonuses such as "Heart and Soul", "Chance (Extended)", "In A Big Country (Extended)" and "Lost Patrol (Live)". It all depended on the country of origin. As usual, Japan, Holland and the UK all had vastly superior tracklists.

Clocking in at 7:11, the 12" single was one of the band's longest and most complex remixes. The vocals and harmonies in particular were the strongest to this point. The flip side was the EP version of the song, as well as the instrumental "Giant". No great shakes on the flip side, but the extended version of "Wonderland" was more than worth the price of admission. And after owning the dinky cassette of the EP, it was great to hold that fantastic piece of art that was the cover. I had a good friend who had a "Wonderland" cover T-shirt. I was never so envious. I look for it on ebay even to this day. Speaking of great art, the next installment of the chronicles takes us to 'Steeltown'.

Big Country - Wonderland 12" (mp3)
Big Country - Wonderland (mp3)
Big Country - Giant (mp3)

See Also:
Big Country Chronicles: 'Chance'
Big Country Chronicles: 'In A Big Country'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Fields of Fire'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Harvest Home'

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Needed Shot in the Arm

Every once in a while a great band comes along that you just plain miss. Later, you have one of those "should have had a V8" moments as you hear their first chords and ask yourself in wonder, "wow, who's this?" This happened to me the other day as I listened to The Rifles. These London chaps have two full-length albums out, including an instant classic from this year, 'The Great Escape'.

The band owes a lot to English punks from yesteryear like The Clash and, especially, The Jam. I couldn't help but wonder if they took their name from The Jam's hit, "The Eton Rifles". I read Paul Weller performed this song on stage with them a few years ago. To bring us up to more contemporary standards, The Rifles remind me of Brit-pop favorites The Cribs. When I heard "Fall to Sorrow", I instantly thought of the first time I heard The Exploding Hearts. I'm giving these blokes the LTL! seal of approval, and I encourage you to load The Rifles.

The Rifles - The Great Escape (mp3)
The Rifles - Fall to Sorrow (mp3)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Das Boot: R.E.M. (1984)

The tracklist for R.E.M.'s two-disc set 'Live at the Olympia' is out. If you have seen any parts of these July 2007 "working rehersals" from Dublin, then you know the band went out of its way in a tongue-in-cheek manner to proclaim these were not concerts with a backdrop that said "THIS IS NOT A SHOW". The 39 songs picked for the discs are a tiny bit heavy on the 'Accelerate' album because that was the band's latest. This would be a turnoff if not for the fact the I.R.S. years are so well represented.

1. Living Well Is the Best Revenge
2. Second Guessing
3. Letter Never Sent
4. Staring Down the Barrel of the Middle Distance
5. Disturbance at the Heron House
6. Mr. Richards
7. Houston
8. New Test Leper
9. Cuyahoga
10. Electrolite
11. Man-Sized Wreath
12. So. Central Rain
13. On the Fly
14. Maps and Legends
15. Sitting Still
16. Driver 8
17. Horse to Water
18. I'm Gonna DJ
19. Circus Envy
20. These Days
21. Drive
22. Feeling Gravity's Pull
23. Until the Day Is Done
24. Accelerate
25. Auctioneer
26. Little America
27. 1,000,000
28. Disguised
29. The Worst Joke Ever
30. Welcome to the Occupation
31. Carnival of Sorts
32. Harborcoat
33. Wolves, Lower
34. I've Been High
35. Kohoutek
36. West of the Fields
37. Pretty Persuasion
38. Romance
39. Gardening at Night

It's time for me to come clean on my feelings for R.E.M. Their first two full-length records, 'Murmur' and 'Reckoning', are among my favorite 100 all-time albums. With each subsequent release, however, I like the music less and less. Even before the jump to Warner Bros., I felt the band had peaked. So, with that in mind, I would like to present a bootleg performance from Florida Atlantic University on Sept. 29, 1984. When 'Live at the Olympia' is released on Oct. 26, compare R.E.M. circa 2007 to 1984. Apart from asking you to discount production, mixing, etc., that's all I'm going to say.

R.E.M. From Florida Atlantic University, Sept. 29, 1984
R.E.M. - Radio Free Europe (mp3)
R.E.M. - Hyena (mp3)
R.E.M. - Letter Never Sent (mp3)
R.E.M. - Camera (mp3)
R.E.M. - Gardening at Night (mp3)
R.E.M. - 9-9 (mp3)
R.E.M. - Windout (mp3)
R.E.M. - (Don't Go Back to) Rockville (mp3)
R.E.M. - So. Central Rain (mp3)
R.E.M. - Little America (mp3)
R.E.M. - Second Guessing (mp3)
R.E.M. - Talk About the Passion (mp3)
R.E.M. - Wolves, Lower (mp3)
R.E.M. - Moon River (mp3)
R.E.M. - Ghost Riders in the Sky (mp3)
R.E.M. - There She Goes Again (mp3)
R.E.M. - We Walk (mp3)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thin White Regifter

David Bowie never met a reissue he didn't like. Much like Elvis Costello (another one of my favorites), the artist just keeps repackaging and rereleasing all of his best work, and I just keep lining up at the cash register like a lamb. Well, here we go again.

'Space Oddity' celebrates its 40th anniversary with a special edition on Nov. 3. The formats are 180gm heavyweight vinyl, double CD and digital download. Along with the original version, several demos, radio sessions and alternate versions of the nine-song set will be included. Also, expect a new cover without the words "Space Oddity" on it. This is more in line with the original thinking of the label. There will be a newly released demo of the song "Space Oddity." This means it will not be this great demo first found on the 'Sound + Vision' box set. Now, there will be an alternate version of "Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud" that looks to be previously released. Could this be the "rare B-side version" found on 'Sound + Vision'? Here are those box-set tracks.

David Bowie - Space Oddity (demo) (mp3)
David Bowie - Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud (rare B-side version) (mp3)

In other Bowie reissue news, the 1976 classic 'Station to Station' will be reissued in the first half of 2010 as a four-disc set. Yes, the six-song album will be four discs! The best of it are the last two discs. The popular bootleg of the March 23, 1976 Nassau Coliseum show is a boot no longer. Fifteen live songs have been mixed by 'Station to Station' producer Harry Maslin. To whet your appetite, here is my favorite song from 'Station to Station'.

David Bowie - TVC 15 (mp3)

OK, Mr. Bowie, sir. Enough with the reissues and reissues of reissues. Please, give me something new. I adored your last two albums, but it has been years.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Big Country Chronicles: 'Chance'

'Chance', the fourth and final single from 'The Crossing', was released on Aug. 26, 1983. It's difficult for a Yank like me to believe there were four 12" singles out at this point when 'In A Big Country' wasn't even a hit here in America for a couple of more months. 'Chance' turned down the musical pace a bit, but this one turned out to be a huge fan pleaser... especially in the UK. If you ever see or hear a show from the early- to mid-'80s, it's awesome when the crowd chants in unison:

Oh Lord where did the feeling go
Oh Lord I never felt so low

'Chance' never got any airplay in the United States. I was an avid watcher of MTV during these years, and I can tell you I never saw the video for this song. I just watched it on youtube and didn't recognize it at all. The B-sides for this single are really good. 'Tracks of My Tears' is a live recording of the Motown classic recorded at Locarno Tiffany's in Glasgow on July 4, 1983. The band loved that song and performed it often throughout the years. It appears on at least five officially released live recordings that I have seen. The other flip-side song is the 7-plus minute 'The Crossing'. Many Big Country aficionados think this song -- along with the other three songs that would appear on the U.S. version of the 'Wonderland' EP in 1984 -- is the band at its best.

See you next time for a quick look at 'Wonderland' before we move on to the 'Steeltown' era.

Big Country - Chance 12" (mp3)
Big Country - Tracks of My Tears (Live) (mp3)
Big Country - The Crossing (mp3)

See Also:
Big Country Chronicles: 'In A Big Country'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Fields of Fire'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Harvest Home'

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fables of the Deconstruction: Nick Lowe Edition

During Fables of the Deconstruction, we take a listen to a demo or early recording and put it up against the final version to gauge the evolution of a great work.

Nick Lowe has had one Top 40 hit. "Cruel To Be Kind" made it to No. 12 in 1979, and it's an absolute power-pop classic. You might be surprised that he first recorded a pub-rock version of the song during the "Jesus of Cool"/"Pure Pop For Now People" sessions two years earlier. The sound is right out of his Brinsley Schwartz days. Would this original version have been the same hit? As much as I love his early-'70s pub-rock sound, even I realize this is not the home run found later on the flawless 'Labour of Lust'. Still, I think you'll find this organ-heavy version more than just a curiosity.

Nick Lowe - Cruel To Be Kind (Original Version) (mp3)
Nick Lowe - Cruel to Be Kind (From Labour of Lust) (mp3)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

First Listen: Vivian Girls and More

On Sept. 8, Brooklyn female trio Vivian Girls returns with the sophomore effort 'Everything Goes Wrong', and here are a couple of sneak listens. The blogosphere and even the gals themselves are calling the album moodier, but this seems to be the same wonderful fuzzy '60s sounds we got on the self-titled album and the great singles that followed. I can't wait to hear the whole thing.

Vivian Girls - When I'm Gone (mp3)
Vivian Girls - Before I Start to Cry (mp3)

On July 27, I wrote the following:
Neil Finn's son Liam has an EP followup to his debut album 'I'll Be Lightning' coming out on Sept. 1. The five-song 'Champagne in Seashells' was done with bandmate Eliza Jane-Barnes, and her name will appear on the name of the record alongside his, in part, because of her increased role and lead vocals on one of the tunes. The first 250 preorders will receive an autographed copy from Yep Roc. I'll pass along songs from... Finn as soon as I can get my mitts on them.
Well, I got my mitts on some new Finn. You will not be disappointed.

Liam Finn + Eliza Jane - Plane Crash (mp3)

I just wrote about Brendan Benson's new record this week. Here is the album opener. I put the energy of this one up there with his 'Lapalco' opener "Tiny Spark". Don't say I never give you anything.

Brendan Benson - A Whole Lot Better (mp3)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fables of the Deconstruction: Go-Go's Edition

During Fables of the Deconstruction, we take a listen to a demo or early recording and put it up against the final version to gauge the evolution of a great work. This installment is a fine example of how a song can change from a minor hit to a major one.

By 1980, the Go-Go's were making a bit of a name for themselves on both sides of the pond, especially in the UK and in their hometown of Los Angeles. Stiff Records took notice and, with a little prodding, published the 7" of a catchy post-punk song called "We Got the Beat". As we can see from the art on the 7" sleeve above, Belinda, Jane and the rest of the gals were far from the polished group we would come to love just a bit more than a year later when the song was rerecorded on I.R.S. Records for the band's debut album, 'Beauty and the Beat'.

Did the transformation from punks to happy-go-lucky gals next door work? The power-pop version of "We Got the Beat" went to No. 2 on the Billboard charts, and 'Beauty and the Beat' became I.R.S. Records' first No. 1 album. As we can see from the art to the left, the aesthetic changes made to the 7" single sleeve are eye popping. Mom wouldn't protest you listening to these sweet girls. Here are both versions of an absolute classic. As a bonus, I'm including a live version of the song taken from the concert movie 'Urgh! A Music War'. It was filmed in 1980 and released in 1981. If you haven't seen it, find it!!

The Go-Go's - We Got the Beat (Original Version) (mp3)
The Go-Go's - We Got the Beat (Final Version) (mp3)
The Go-Go's - We Got the Beat (From Urgh!) (mp3)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

LPs for a Lincoln and Spoon News

What would you rather have, a really bland foot-long sandwich from a national chain or an entire album from the likes of Nick Lowe, Liam Finn or Apples in Stereo? Yep Roc has an amazing sale going on through Aug. 28. The label is selling 100 full-length digital albums from their back catalog for $5 each. There are several great deals, but here are my Top 6 I think everyone should own:

Go-Betweens - Oceans Apart
Paul Weller - 22 Dreams
Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning
Apples in Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder
Nick Lowe - At My Age
Robert Forster - The Evangelist

Here are a couple of songs to sway you.
Go-Betweens - Here Comes a City (mp3)
Paul Weller - 22 Dreams (mp3)

In other news, about six weeks ago I reviewed the latest from Spoon and mentioned the Austin band would be playing three shows at Stubb's in mid-July. I haven't had the privilege of hearing anything from those concerts, but now we all can. Britt Daniels and the boys are selling the shows as digital downloads in either DRM-free MP3 256kbps or FLAC formats for $15 and $20 respectivly. Check out the tracklists and other info at the Spoon store.

First Listen: Brendan Benson

Back in mid-June I wrote Brendan Benson had a new record coming out in late summer. Well, the record will be out next week, and you can stream the entire 12-song 'My Old, Familiar Friend' at NPR. If you love it as much as I do, you will want to preorder it at iTunes today. The tracklist changed just a little bit since I wrote about it... there's one more song! Here's a new tune to keep you company until next Tuesday. It's a power-pop gem.

Brendan Benson - Feel Like Taking You Home (mp3)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Big Country Chronicles: 'In A Big Country'

For Americans, this is Big Country as "one-hit wonder". The single for "In A Big Country" was released on May 20, 1983. By the fall of that year (Nov. 12, to be exact), the song cracked the Billboard Top 40 where it spent nine weeks and peaked at No. 17. Memories? This video went up against Def Leppard's "Photograph" on NBC's Friday Night Video Fights. My parents let me vote. My band, I believe, got 17 percent of the vote in one of the most lopsided wins in video history.

The differences between the 12", 7" and album versions of this song are vast. This is especially true of the percussion. The B-sides by this point are as good as anything found on 'The Crossing'. "All of Us" was the perfect complement to "In A Big Country", in part, because the guitar hook sounded like it was taken from the hit song. The 7" was also on the flip side, but I will include the album version here becasue I feel like the 7" is just too short. As a bonus, I'm including "Heart and Soul". This song was part of a specially released "red cover" version of the 12" single. "Heart and Soul" also later appeared on the Japanese cassette version of the 'Wonderland' EP. Join me next time for the last 12" single from 'The Crossing' era.

Big Country - In A Big Country (Pure Mix) (mp3)
Big Country - In A Big Country (Album Version) (mp3)
Big Country - All of Us (mp3)
Big Country - Heart and Soul (mp3)

See Also:
Big Country Chronicles: 'Fields of Fire'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Harvest Home'

Saturday, August 8, 2009

First Listen: Julian Casablancas

We have known for a while the frontman of The Strokes has been working on a solo album. Now there are finally some details. The eight-song record 'Phrazes For the Young' will be out this fall on Casablancas' own Cult Records and distributed through RCA. Here are a couple of titillating nuggets. Casablancas has given his first on-air interview in three years, and you can also hear a little bit of the album. It sounds pretty darn good. And here is another heads up. will have an interview with him on Aug. 12.

Julian Casablancas - Phrazes For the Young (preview) (mp3)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Songs in Cinema: 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off'

The flags must be flying at half staff in the fictional town of Shermer, Illinois. After a week's vacation with very little television and no Internet, I just returned home to find out filmmaker John Hughes died today. It's funny because I thought about Hughes twice while I was away. The one time I watched the tube was when 'Ferris' was on AMC. I loved it... commercials and all. I thought of Hughes a day later when I got stuck behind a Florida blue hair driving 10 mph in a 40 zone, weaving and turning on my exact route. I commented to Mrs. Linear Tracking Lives! that I felt like Bueller's father on his way home from work. Then I started humming The English Beat.

Truth is, I probably refer to a Hughes' flick just about every week. Like most teens from the "me decade", his films meant a lot to me. My favorites were 'Weird Science', 'Sixteen Candles' and, of course, 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off'. Most of his movies will get the Songs in Cinema treatment in due time, but I felt it was important to do this one on this sad day. Rest in peace, Mr. Hughes.

Note: This film never had an officially released soundtrack. The story I always heard was Hughes didn't think the songs worked well together in a soundtrack form. Great songs, but he may have had a point.

Yello - Oh Yeah (mp3)
The Dream Academy - Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want (Instrumental) (mp3)
General Public - Taking the Day Off (mp3)
The English Beat - March of the Swivelheads (mp3)
Wayne Newton - Danke Schoen (mp3)
Big Audio Dynamite - Bad 12" (mp3)
The Beatles - Twist and Shout (mp3)
The Flowerpot Men - Beat City (mp3)
Sigue, Sigue Sputnik - Love Missile F1-11 (mp3)