Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Note on Crenshaw's Subscription Series

You may recall earlier this year Marshall Crenshaw used a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for an EP subscription series, and his fans came through in a big way. Exactly 378 fans raised $33,804 while also receiving some incredible rewards from Crenshaw for their goodwill. The most important reward of all, of course, is this group would have six 10" records mailed to them in a two-year period.

For those of us not able to participate in the fundraiser, Crenshaw has some good news. He's offering the subscription series to more fans. If you're interested, start here... and hurry!

Monday, July 30, 2012

'New' Close Lobsters 7"

Well, that didn't take long. Close Lobsters released a new 7" single on Saturday. I wish I could tell you to hurry over to Rough Trade's Web site to pick up a copy, but it's already sold out. That's what happens when you're a legend and you limit the run to 200 copies. Grr. Well, at least you can download one of the two songs for free. "Steel Love" is a 1990 demo. It has been floating around the Net for quite some time, but, if you're a fan and don't have it, take a second to get your jangle on. Sounds great.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Can You Take Beatle Love Too Far?

I suppose we all have hundreds of songs that would fit on a post such as this, but these are three examples of taking the Beatle influence to almost ridiculous heights. Still, I'm a sucker for the "Mop-Top" sound, and I have fallen for many songs from the following bands.

Puffy AmiYumi (or Puffy, as the band is known in their native Japan) is a female duo known as much for their TV work as their music, but I'm not familiar with any of their shows. I got into them because I'm a big Jellyfish fan, and former band member Andy Sturmer is the musical puppet master behind these gals... as both a writer and a producer. Guilty pleasure, to be sure, but I highly recommend the compilation 'An Illustrated History.'

The Spongetones have somehow managed to produce power pop for the past three decades, but I only know the band's early output. The first album, 'Beat Music,' is a real keeper, but you would think it came out of Liverpool in 1964, not North Carolina circa 1982.

For much of his career, Todd Rundgren has been paying homage to the Fab Four. A couple of his widely known covers have come from the Beatles' later years, such as "Rain" and "Strawberry Fields Forever." In 1980, however, with his band Utopia, he created 'Deface the Music,' an entire album of originals that sounded like 'Please Please Me' outtakes.

Is Beatle love all you need? Can you take it too far? Is it acceptable for bands to wear musical influences so far up their sleeves? Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Are these just imitations? Tributes? What do you think?

Puffy AmiYumi - That's The Way It Is/Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi (mp3)
The Spongetones - She Goes Out With Everybody (mp3)
Utopia - I Just Want to Touch You (mp3)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Songs That Sold Sexsmith

It's usually pretty entertaining to listen to the recordings assembled at the beginning of artists' careers to shop around to labels. In the case of Ron Sexsmith, when I listen to his earliest work, I hear nothing but a polished singer-songwriter ready for all of the accolades about to be bestowed upon him.

It took three years and much help from fellow Canadian and Blue Rodeo member Bob Wiseman, but the 11 songs that would make up 'Grand Opera Lane' finally surfaced as a cassette in 1991. There were rejections, but the folks at Interscope in Los Angeles signed Sexsmith about a year later. As Sexsmith explains, this group of songs was more "rocknroll" than the Interscope albums he would go on to do with producer Mitchell Froom, but you can hear quite a bit of his patented melancholy mood, too. In fact, I have read his early take of "Speaking With the Angel" (which would pop up again on his first album for Interscope) was the song that really sold the bigwigs. Let's listen to that 'Grand Opera Lane' version, along with my favorite upbeat number.

It looks like this album is physically out of print, but you can still purchase it as a digital download in many places, including Amazon. If you're a fan, I think you'll find it's worth the effort.

Ron Sexsmith and the Uncool - Don't Mind Losing (mp3)
Ron Sexsmith and the Uncool - Speaking With the Angel (mp3)

Calling all Nick Hornby fans! I know this is completely unrelated, but, if you get the chance, the writer has as an essay on Britain and the Olympics in today's Wall Street Journal you will want to read.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Forgotten Fave From The Friday Club

Here is the last single recorded for 2 Tone, and it's one of the least ska sounding songs the label ever produced. "Window Shopping" did, however, fit in quite nicely within the sophisti-pop movement of the mid-'80s. I defy you to listen to this one and not think of the Style Council. Frontman Andrew Brooks wrote a touching piece about the band's brief moment on the legendary label here. He really makes you wish you could have been there during that most exciting time in their lives. Let's listen. First rule of Friday Club: It's never too early in the week for a little "Window Shopping."

The Friday Club - Window Shopping (mp3)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Contemplating The English Beat Box

As you probably know, 10 days ago Shout Factory! released a good-looking five-CD box set on the English Beat called 'The Complete Beat.' All three studio albums are there, but the real finds are on the last two discs. This is especially true if you never owned the extended-versions compilation 'M.B.P.M. (More.Beats.Per.Minute).' The fourth disc of 'The Complete Beat' is chock full of 12" and dub takes, and the fifth disc contains a plethora of Peel Sessions, as well as a handful of live songs recorded in Boston, circa 1982. For those with the 'What Is Beat?' compilation, you already have a couple of those tunes, but I digress.

I had the box set in my hands yesterday, but I got cold feet and passed. It wasn't the price. I think $38.99 is fair... especially if you don't already own a majority of the works. My problem is I do, indeed, have the three studio albums, as well as some of the bonus material. This dilemma arises all of the time with me and reissues: Do I really need it, again? I would (more or less) be buying it for the Peel material. So, it that worth $38.99? Hmm.

To add to the confusion, I got home and visited the Shout Factory! site only to find out if I order directly through the label (and for a few extra bucks) I could get the box with a signed booklet and the never-before-released 'The English Beat: Live At The US Festival, '82 & '83' CD/DVD. I have seen quite a bit of both performances, courtesy of US Festival specials on VH1, and they were amazing. As I write this, I think I have come to a decision. Where's my credit card? Here's a look at the bonus material, along with a couple of other goodies:

Bonus Beat: Disc 1 - 12" & Dub Versions
1. Hands Off . . . She's Mine (Extended Remix)
2. Twist & Crawl (Extended Remix)
3. Stand Down Margaret (Dub)
4. Too Nice To Talk To (Dubweiser)
5. Psychedelic Rockers (Dubweiser)
6. Doors Of Your Heart (Extended)
7. Drowning (Dub)
8. Hit It (12")
9. Which Side Of The Bed? (12")
10. Save It For Later (Extended)
11. What's Your Best Thing (Dub)
12. Cool Entertainer (Extended)
13. Jeanette (Extended)
14. March Of The Swivel Heads (Extended)
15. I Confess (Extended)

Bonus Beat: Disc 2 - Peel Sessions & Live In Boston
1. Tears Of A Clown (Peel Session – Nov. 5, 1979)
2. Ranking Full Stop (Peel Session – Nov. 5, 1979)
3. Click Click (Peel Session – Nov. 5, 1979)
4. Mirror In The Bathroom (Peel Session – Nov. 5, 1979)
5. Big Shot (Peel Session – Nov. 5, 1979)
6. Too Nice To Talk To (Peel Session – Sept. 22, 1980)
7. New Psychedelic Rockers (Peel Session – Sept. 22, 1980)
8. Monkey Murders (Peel Session – Sept. 22, 1980)
9. Walk Away (Peel Session – Sept. 22, 1980)
10. Spar Wid Me (Peel Session – March 29, 1982)
11. End Of The Party (Peel Session – March 29, 1982)
12. She's Going (Peel Session – March 29, 1982)
13. Save It For Later (Peel Session – March 29, 1982)
14. Sole Salvation (Peel Session – March 29, 1982)
15. Pato And Roger A Go Talk (Peel Session – March 29, 1982)
16. Best Friend (Opera House, Boston – Nov. 19, 1982)
17. Tears Of A Clown (Opera House, Boston – Nov. 19, 1982)
18. Twist & Crawl (Opera House, Boston – Nov. 19, 1982)
19. Get-A-Job/Stand Down Margaret (Opera House, Boston – Nov. 19, 1982)

The English Beat - March of the Swivel Heads (Extended) (mp3)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's a Tilbury... and Can I Hear More?

Where's Bjork when you need her? I heard a new song straight outta Iceland I really like, but I can't find much information on the band. Have you heard of Tilbury? They just released their debut album, 'Exorcise,' on Record Records out of Reykjavik, and the label's site isn't in English. You can watch the video for the first single below. It's oddly sunny but in a way only Nordic pop can be. With titles like "Tenderloin" and "Filet Mignon," I'm guessing they are carnivores, but that's not much to go on musically now, is it? I hope you like it. If you have a few spare kronas, you can pick up the album here. The ever-popular Iceland Review gave it four out of five stars. Maybe that's all the info I need.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Best of Stephen Malkmus' B-Sides

If there was one thing the excellent deluxe editions of the Pavement catalog proved, it was that the band's B-sides weren't throwaways. As these two songs illustrate, that work ethic has continued throughout Stephen Malkmus' solo career. In the spring of 2003, for a small window of time, Malkmus & the Jicks released the 'Pig Lib' album with the limited edition "Dark Wave" EP. If you weren't lucky enough to get your hands on one of these rare digipak editions, a few months later you could opt for the EP alone. For those of us in America, however, it was a UK import and a little on the pricey side. It's out of print now, but if you see it used, don't hesitate to pick it up.

The six-song "Dark Wave" EP included the single and three non-album songs from the studio. The last two songs, "The Poet & the Witch" and "Shake It Around," were recorded live in 2001. In my humble opinion, the following are Malkmus' best B-sides. Enjoy.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Dynamic Calories (mp3)
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Fractions & Feelings (mp3)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Sound of Young Aztec Camera

I have gone on the record many times that my favorite album out of Scotland is 'High Land, Hard Rain,' but Aztec Camera certainly had some nice moments before that smash. Let's take a listen to the 7" singles Roddy Frame and the lads did for Postcard Recordings Of Scotland back in 1981, as well as the band's inclusion on NME's legendary 'C81' compilation. There is a charming lo-fi roughness to these recordings that all but disappeared by the time of the band's full-length debut. As we all know, by 'Knife' words like "polished" or the not-so-nice adjective "slick" would be used to describe Aztec Camera's sound. It's an old story, really, and I don't mean to make it sound like the aforementioned albums aren't anything but fabulous. I enjoy listening to the evolution. I hope you do, too.

Aztec Camera - We Could Send Letters (mp3) ('NME C81')
Aztec Camera - Just Like Gold (mp3) (Postcard)
Aztec Camera - We Could Send Letters (mp3) (Postcard)
Aztec Camera - Mattress of Wire (mp3) (Postcard)
Aztec Camera - Lost Outside the Tunnel (mp3) (Postcard)

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Vinyl Villain Spins Again

It's not just another Monday. After a few weeks on hiatus,
The Vinyl Villain is due back today, and I think this feeling that something is amiss is about to dissipate. You see, for me, visiting JC's blog is as normal a daily activity as shaving or changing my socks. Wouldn't you feel odd if you were wearing yesterday's underwear? Never mind. I don't want to know.

For the past week, I have been thinking about a tune I could dedicate to the Vinyl Villain. Through the years he has helped me discover and rediscover so many great songs. The first band that came to mind was, for at least three reasons, Orange Juice. First, I found the blog because of this incredible moment I happened upon while searching for Orange Juice info back in 2008. Second, when it comes to overall presentation, the best box set I have ever owned is Orange Juice's 'Coals to Newcastle,' and the Vinyl Villain's name actually appears on it. I know this is something he's pretty proud of (as he should be!), and it always gives me a smile when I see it. Third, on Wednesday, I was listening to KEXP in Seattle when they played "Three Cheers for Our Side." I have never heard Orange Juice on a radio station before... ever! I took it as a sign.

Welcome back, pal, and thanks for the passion you put into the Vinyl Villain. Just know you have quite a few die-hard fans out here. Three cheers for you!

Orange Juice - Three Cheers for Our Side (mp3)
(from BBC Radio, John Peel, Aug. 1981)

To Jim, From Your Friends Around the Blogosphere
17 Seconds
Acid Ted
I Sing in the Kitchen
Bagging Area
Cathedrals of Sound
Football and Music
Pretending Life Is Like a Song
This Is Indie

Friday, July 13, 2012

Wake Up, People! It's the Wake

If blogs could be infested, my recent post on the Wake would have been filled with the sound of chirping crickets. I haven't had fewer visitors since I admitted to liking the 'Xanadu' soundtrack. Uh, let's not start that again. Seriously, I thought more of you would enjoy the synth-driven songs of a Factory legend. So, I'm going to give it another go, and you had better like it this time, dammit!

This take of the single "Talk About the Past" was recorded for BBC Radio on Feb. 16, 1984. It was first transmitted on Kid Jensen's show one week later. "Something Outside" was the Wake's first successful single. The following is a live version recorded at Scotland's Ayr Pavilion on April 15, 1983. Both of these songs can be found on the 2001 LTM compilation 'Assembly.'

The Wake - Talk About the Past (mp3)
The Wake - Something Outside (mp3)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tootin' the TKO Horns' Horn

My recent obsession with all things Dexys has brought me to this post on the TKO Horns. As you may know, the brass section got its start as part of Dexys Midnight Runners, but they left the band in 1982 and made quite a name for themselves backing Elvis Costello & the Attractions during the 'Punch the Clock' period. In fact, after briefly calling them the Royal Guard Horns and the Imperial Horns, Costello gave the group the moniker TKO Horns... named for the 'Punch the Clock' song "TKO (Boxing Day)." For a quick and concise read on the period, I recommend tenor saxophonist
Paul Speare's take on the festivities.

Costello wasn't the only one to use the TKO Horns' talents during the mid-'80s. Quite a few of his friends enlisted their help as well. (OK, I have no idea if Costello was pals with Howard Jones.) Let's take a listen. What a tight unit!

Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Party Party (mp3) (Buy)
Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Walking on Thin Ice (mp3) (Buy)
Elvis Costello & the Attractions - TKO (Boxing Day) (Live) (mp3)
Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit - L.A.F.S. (mp3) (Buy)
Difford & Tilbrook - Action Speaks Faster (mp3) (Buy)
Howard Jones - Things Can Only Get Better (mp3) (Buy)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Odds and Sods From Epic Soundtracks

I have never compiled a list of the my favorite albums of the '90s. If I ever did, I'm quite sure Epic Soundtracks' 1992 record 'Rise Above' would make my Top 10. His admiration for Brian Wilson was strong on this one, and there are moments when the predecessor's term "pocket symphony" is an apt description for this brilliant piece of work.

In 1999, two years after his death at the not-so-ripe age of 38, his brother, Nikki Sudden, compiled a single-disc collection of outtakes, home recordings and live performances that included a few nuggets from the 'Rise Above' era. This was a daunting task for Sudden, writing that "what [Soundtracks] has left behind are countless cassettes" with many versions of the same songs. Sudden had no idea which compositions were meant for public consumption. He just hoped he "managed to put together something that [Soundtracks] would have been proud of." The final product would be called 'Everything Is Temporary.' If you're a fan, it's well worth your time. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, but you can judge from the selections below.

When listening to Soundtracks' work, you can't help but feel a little sad at what could have been, but I'm grateful his older sibling took the time to get this work out there. Sudden, incidentally, also passed away prematurely, in 2006, at the age of 49. He, too, is missed, but we'll listen to his work another day.

Epic Soundtracks - Fallen Down (mp3) ('Rise Above' outtake)
Epic Soundtracks - She Sleeps Alone (mp3) (Live - Kino, Ebensee, Oct. 14, 1995)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Rants and Raves From the First Half of 2012

For me, the first half of 2012 has been a stellar year for music. Unfortunately, most of my discoveries have not been in the category of new music, but a few such have grabbed me. There have been a some disappointments, too. I won't dwell on those, but there will be no Paul Weller or Brendan Benson recommendations. These favorites missed the mark this time around.

Surprisingly, I'm on the fence with the new dB's album. The classic lineup made me think I would get a return to the classic jangle of 'Stands for Decibels.' That didn't happen. There are a couple of bright spots, but when my favorite song on 'Falling Off the Sky' didn't turn out to be from either Chris Stamey or Peter Holsapple, I knew I was in trouble.

Enough with the negativity. Here are selections from seven albums I have really enjoyed. I also give high marks to the new one from the Beach Boys. I'm not kidding. It is not without a dud or two, but I would recommend 'That's Why God Made the Radio' based on the final three songs alone. The production is nearly flawless as well. Seriously, this is one of the best sounding albums I have ever heard. I would love to share a song from it with you, but I fear the band's label too much. Finally, I give an honorable mention to 'Echoes and Rhymes,' the covers album from the reunited Primitives.

Lambchop - If Not I'll Just Die (mp3) (from 'Mr. M')

Frankie Rose - Know Me (mp3) (from 'Interstellar')

Dexys - You (mp3) (from 'One Day I'm Going to Soar')

Cats on Fire - A Few Empty Waves (mp3) (from 'All Blackshirts to Me')

The Shins - Simple Song (mp3) (from 'Port of Morrow')

Allo Darlin' - Northern Lights (mp3) (from 'Europe')

Sea Lions - Grown Up (mp3) (from 'Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sea Lions But Were Afraid to Ask')

Off to the Redwoods for a few days of hiking with the family. Check back early next week. In the meantime, feel free to give me your favorites from the year so far.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New Blur Beckons

This has been a real roller coaster of a day. I was seriously bummed about the announcement Christopher Owens was leaving Girls, but then I just heard two brand-new songs from Blur. The clouds have lifted. "Under the Westway" is an absolute stunner, and "The Puritan" is, at the bare minimum, above-average B-side material (although this is considered a double A-side). If you can wait, the 7" will be available in a month. If not, you can download now from iTunes for $2.49. Give the new material a listen below.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Look Out! 20/20 Albums Back in Print

Fans of American power pop have reason to rejoice. For the first time in 17 years, the first two albums from 20/20 are reissued this month as a twofer on a single CD. Admittedly, 'Look Out!' is no great shakes, but the band's full-length debut is legendary and a must-have record, in my humble opinion. I consider my vinyl copy an absolute treasure and a steal at $22. I'm not sure Mrs. Linear Tracking Lives! would agree. Since it has appeared on a cornucopia of power-pop compilations, I'll assume you have heard "Yellow Pills," arguably the band's signature song. So, to whet your appetite for the reissue, here is the second single from the self-titled debut.

20/20 - Cheri (mp3)