Thursday, November 29, 2012

Music Video of the Year

I have seen quite a few interesting music promos this year, and I thought my nod for the best of 2012 would go to Sharon Van Etten's "Magic Chords," but an 11th hour entry has stolen my heart. The School's "Why Do You Have To Break My Heart Again?" is not only an ode to vinyl, but it's a really interesting way to illustrate the albums that have influenced the Cardiff band along the way. You'll find picture sleeves that look an awful lot like 'Pet Sounds,' 'Something Else,' and many other classics. It's quite a feast for the eyes. See how many favorites you can spot.

I really dig the School's style, and I'll get into all of that when the band pops up on my year-end list of top albums. Yes, 'Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything' will be there. Today, however, is all about this brilliant video, and the directing team of Lucy Dawkins and Tom Readdy of Bristol-based Yes Please! Productions should take credit for this and many of the School's best clips. If you like the video below, I recommend searching for "Where Does Your Heart Belong?" and "Hoping and Praying" as well. They really seem to understand Liz Hunt and Co.'s music and the group's overall aesthetic. Well done.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Making a List, Checking It Twice

OK, Santa, I'm gonna make this really easy. This is what I want to find under the tree Christmas morning. Don't worry. I have already spoken to Mrs. LTL!. No carrots this time. Cookies and milk all the way this year.

1. Josef K: 'Sorry For Laughing'
You're going to love this one, Mr. Claus. The album that should have been Postcard 81-1 finally gets released on vinyl. Sure, Alan Horne and the band shelved it for being too polished but, Santa, aren't you the least bit curious about the remastered sound and original artwork by Robert Sharpe? Oh, and the record includes a bonus CD of the TV Art Demos from 1979. So, you would be giving me two gifts with this one. Let me guess. You don't think I deserve this one because I have 'Entomology,' and that CD has half of this album on it. That's naughty... not one bit nice. Give the title track a listen here. Perhaps it will sway you. This version of the song is not on that compilation.

2. Brighter: 'Out to Sea'
One of my favorite finds from 2012 was the long out-of-print collection of singles the trio did for Sarah Records from 1989-1992. Even though those gems are just about impossible to find, Matinee Recordings still has a 20-track CD of rarities among the label's impressive catalog. Gotta have it, Kringle. Here's a song from 'Out to Sea' you can listen to while you're steering the sleigh.
Out to Sea - There Is Nothing We Can Do? (mp3)

3. The Servants: 'Youth Club Disco'
So, Santa, are you into C86? Of course you are. Then you know how hard it is to get a hold of music from these lads. Their first record, and the only one that saw the light of day when they were around, 'Disinterest,' is about as hard to find as a hot day at the North Pole. Cherry Red released a collection of singles and rarities on CD in 2006 called 'Reserved.' Thanks to the folks at Captured Tracks, you can get 'Reserved' on vinyl... only now it's called 'Youth Club Disco.' If you get this for me, I'll tape you a copy. It's bound to add a little jangle to your jingle bells. Oh, and here's a little news about the Servants I posted last month.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Stream New Song From Crayon Fields

It has been three long years since we have heard from this brilliant Melbourne-based quartet, but now comes word via email there will be a new album out early next year. If you haven't heard the Crayon Fields, you should check out both of their earlier full-length records, 'Animal Bells' (2006) and 'All the Pleasures of the World' (2009). The band's sound is often compared to '60s greats like the Beach Boys, the Zombies and, especially, the Association. Their Australian label, Chapter Music, just celebrated its 20th birthday with a double vinyl compilation. You can stream the Crayon Fields' contribution to '20 Big Ones' below. If this new song is any indication, we are in for a real treat from the band in 2013.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Just Roddy

Roddy Frame has always been, above all, a singer-songwriter of the highest order. Due to quite a few years of slick production and adult-contemporary muck, however, you needed quite a keen ear to hear it. My faith in Frame had more or less gone missing by the time 'Dreamland' and 'Frestonia' hit the shelves. He followed that up by shedding the Aztec Camera moniker, and I was a little disappointed by that decision... until he released 'Surf' in 2002.

'Surf' was an album worthy of his name. Even if the few records leading up to it weren't necessarily good, Frame had performed several successful solo tours through the aforementioned lean years. Those stripped-down shows proved his late '80s and '90s material wasn't necessarily as bad as it seemed on wax. Frame brought this less-is-more approach to 'Surf.' It was just a man and his guitar singing in the front room of his home, sans studio touches. His words were sharp, and his voice was in top form.

My faith in Frame was restored.

Here is the album opener. It seems silly to pick out one song to sample. There are no singles here. 'Surf' should be played from beginning to end. If you don't already have the record, you can still get it at Frame's Web site. I suggest you do.

Roddy Frame - Over You (mp3)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cover Me Impressed: 'Let Her Dance'

Marshall Crenshaw is quite the rock historian, and that knowledge has been evident in the great songs he has chosen to cover throughout his storied career. Here is a brief list of my five favorites. I tried to limit my selections to songs recorded in the studio, but that proved impossible because "Walk Away Renee" is just too good. Got a favorite Crenshaw cover? Let me know.

5. "Take Me With U" (Prince cover appears on
'What's in the Bag?')
4. "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" (Buddy Holly cover appears on the 'La Bamba' soundtrack)
3. "Walk Away Renee" (The Left Banke cover appears on
'I've Suffered For My Art... Now It's Your Turn')
2. "Soldier of Love" (Arthur Alexander cover appears on
'Marshall Crenshaw')
1. "Let Her Dance" (The Bobby Fuller Four cover appears on
'Good Evening')

The first time I heard Fuller's mid-'60s hit "Let Her Dance" was many years ago but before I owned 'Good Evening.' I did, however, already have Crenshaw's first two albums. I remember thinking the cat performing the song had a lot of explaining to do... ripping off Crenshaw like that. How embarrassing!

If you aren't familiar with the Bobby Fuller Four but think you have heard this song before, it might be because the tune was used by Wes Anderson to close his film 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.' The reason I thought of the song today was because I just finished watching Anderson's latest, Moonrise Kingdom,' for the second time. I highly recommend it. As a father of two young boys, this was the only "grownup" movie I made it into the theater to see in 2012.

The Bobby Fuller Four - Let Her Dance (mp3)
Marshall Crenshaw - Let Her Dance (mp3)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Big Kiss to Book About K Records

With the holiday shopping season approaching, I wanted to recommend a new book I'm just finishing up. Mark Baumgarten's 'Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music' is a fantastic look at how Calvin Johnson and his band of misfits made the Pacific Northwest's scene matter. If you're of a certain age, you'll appreciate remembering a time when finding great music was a challenge. We're talking pre-Internet. You were really lucky if you had access to a local college radio station. If not, you depended on fanzines or a trustworthy employee at your mom-and-pop record shop. Back then it was all about knocking down doors and getting your cassettes and 7" records heard. Baumgarten takes you back to that time, and he did his homework. The author interviewed all of the major players, and he knows when to get out of the way to let them tell their tales. I'm walking away from this one in awe of the D.I.Y. aesthetic and inspired with the knowledge there are still a few in the music business kicking it old school.

If you're new to K Records and want more info before buying the book, give Heather Rose Dominic's 'The Shield Around the K: The Story of K Records' a look. This documentary from 2000 is far from an award winner, but it's an O-"K" intro.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Song That Changed Mike Peters' Life

I just watched a well-done program that came from an unlikely place. BYUtv has a series called "The Song That Changed My Life," and a recent installment starred Mike Peters of the Alarm and the reformed Big Country. I know there are a few Big Country fans out there that read this blog. You'll enjoy this. Peters' story is an inspiring one, and there is some fantastic footage... both old and new. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

New Music From Chris Stamey and Veronica Falls

I have already gone on the record that I was a bit disappointed with the dB's comeback album from earlier this year, 'Falling From the Sky.' Part of the problem was the very lengthy buildup between the reunion announcement and the actual release. By the time the album came out, in my mind, this was going to be at least as good as 'Stand For Decibels.' So, of course, it didn't meet expectations. Plus, I fell hard for the band's 7" single, "Picture Sleeve," that came out on Record Store Day in 2011. Unfortunately, there weren't any songs on 'Falling From the Sky' that matched that tune.

I was pleasantly surprised to read the other day that Chris Stamey has already announced his next solo album. 'Lovesick Blues' will be out Feb. 5 on Yep Roc, and you can hear a new song from it, "Astronomy," as well as four other Stamey compositions via the Noise Trade widget below. Perhaps I'm bring too harsh on 'Falling From the Sky,' but I'm hopeful Stamey's solo album will exceed the dB's 2012 effort.

I was just checking out where "Picture Sleeve" landed on my favorite songs of 2011, and I noticed this next band had the single right in front of the dB's on my list. Just a week after Stamey's new album comes out, Veronica Falls will release its second album, via Slumberland. The first song from 'Waiting For Something To Happen' can be streamed below. "Teenage" sounds brighter and bouncier than just about anything on the band's debut album. I love that record, and it's not just because I bought it in Glasgow from the legendary Stephen Pastel himself at his shop. Of course, it doesn't hurt, either.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cover Me Impressed: 'Jackie Wilson Said'

My affinity for both the TKO Horns and the production team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley are already well documented. You can argue about what their best moment was as a collective, and they worked together a few times, but my vote would be for the album 'Too-Rye-Ay' by Dexys Midnight Runners. Of course, the brass section wouldn't be named TKO Horns until Elvis Costello got a hold of them and chose the name himself a year after they left Kevin Rowland's band, but you get my point.

"Jackie Wilson Said" was the third single from 'Too-Rye-Ay' and the followup to the international smash "Come on Eileen." It didn't chart here in America, but it was another huge hit in the UK. The flip side was "Let's Make This Precious." This might be my favorite song on the album. So, if I had a list of all-time singles, this would have to be on there somewhere. "Jackie Wilson Said" has been covered by quite a few acts -- and I have seen Costello perform it live on a couple of occasions -- but the version by Dexys tops them all. The song sounds so full here, like its about to burst, and the enthusiasm is palpable.

Researching for this post, I was absolutely shocked to discover the original 1972 single by Van Morrison never charted. If you don't have any of his work, this compilation is a pretty good start. Then move on to 'Astral Weeks.'

I'm including Dexys Midnight Runners' performance of the song on 'Top of the Pops.' You will notice a rather large photo of darts player Jocky Wilson as the band's backdrop. Back in '82, this created some confusion and controversy. I'm not sure anyone has ever confessed being behind that one.

Dexys Midnight Runners - Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile) (mp3)
Van Morrison - Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile) (mp3)

Monday, November 5, 2012

When Was Your Last Mixtape?

I think this esurance commercial might have accomplished exactly the opposite of its intended purpose. Do I want everything to be so easy? Well, insurance, maybe, but this 30-second ad got me to do something I had not done in many years. I made a mixtape. I dug out a Maxell XL-II 90 high bias cassette and went to work.

I positioned the same milking stool in front of the same stereo I have had since the '80s. As the music played, I poured over liner notes on albums and tapes just like the old days. I considered the theories of Rob Gordon from Nick Hornby's novel 'High Fidelity:'

"To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with "Got to Get You Off My Mind", but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs and...oh, there are loads of rules."

I remembered the hard way on Howard Jones' 'The 12" Album' that the songs run together so you have to manually fade out the recording level at just the right time. I could have used the "x2 editing speed" function on my dual cassette deck when I popped in the Icicle Works' first album, but I chose to listen instead. This exercise was all about taking things slow. By the looks of the tape window, I had enough room for one more song on side A... if it was about two minutes. I went with Ian Dury's "Blackmail Man." I laughed as I remembered Mrs. LTL! once asking me what Dury had against black mailmen. Oh, no! It's not going to fit. I manually faded out the last five seconds of the song. That's OK. It's just screeching feedback anyway.

It was getting late. Where did the evening go? Side B would have to wait. Yes, in this iTunes/iPod world, I could have made a dozen mixes on this night, but would I have enjoyed it this much? Hmmm... when will I get to listen to this tape, anyway? Am I going to pull out my old banana-yellow Sony Walkman? OK, I must admit I'm finding this whole mixtape thing a mixed experience, but it was really nice to have the television off. It's therapeutic and nostalgic, and I recommend slowing down and giving up an evening to try it. Here was my Side A, track one, and you can get the original version of the song on both 'Loaded' and the
'High Fidelity' soundtrack.

The Velvet Underground - Who Loves the Sun (Alternate Mix) (mp3)

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Very Little Bit Country

While reading the Wall Street Journal last week, I came across a story about how the country charts are saturated with music that has more in common with classic rock than old-time twang. I don't consider myself a big fan of the genre, but I found the premise most unappetizing. I thought about my late father. He was raised on Hank Williams, George Jones and the like. He would not be pleased with these developments. This 60-second response to
'Jed Zeppelin': They're Country, But Raised on Rock 'n' Roll is
for him:

It's too bad a genre so rich in history and tradition is becoming nothing more than rock 'n' roll's Pacific Coast League. Sure, a few of these "Jed Zeppelin's" may crossover and make it to "The Show," but mimicking rock and calling it country to get there isn't really crossing over.

When Johnny Cash covered rock's elite in the 'American Recordings' series, he was praised by both rock and country audiences. Why? When he sang a U2 song, he sounded like Cash, not Bono.

When the music is good, labels like "rock" and "country" don't matter. Unfortunately, none of the minor-league prospects in this article deserve the coveted call-up.

Johnny Cash - One (mp3)