Monday, November 30, 2015

Close the Fridge!

I wanted to thank those of you who took a moment to remember our family in the comments section of my last post. Mrs. LTL and I were touched. A fine bunch you are.

Our trip to Illinois for my mother-in-law's funeral got off to a rocky start. We had a terrible storm here in the Pacific Northwest the afternoon before our flight, and our power was knocked out. So, our family of four packed for the 10-day excursion, complete with suits and dress shoes, in darkness. Mrs. LTL was scurrying about the house with something like a miner's light attached to the top of her head while the rest of us used flashlights and candles. Meanwhile, the temperatures were plummeting. When we woke at four in the morning for the ride to the airport, the power was still out and the thermostat in the house read 48 degrees Fahrenheit. We later learned from a neighbor via text the electricity had been out for 35 hours. So, upon our return last night, we had the privilege of spending our first hours emptying a smelly refrigerator and two freezers of hundreds of dollars worth of food. Welcome home.

That brings us to "Electricity," the first single from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. There are at least four versions out there, but this is the one produced by Martin Zero, (make that Martin Hannett) in 1979. This may not be the take you are used to hearing, and I don't claim it to be the best of the lot (OMD seems to agree), but I do like how Andy McCluskey's bass has been brought to the fore. You can find this one as a bonus track on the 2003 reissue of the band's self-titled debut. Still sounds great 36 years later.

"Electricity" (Hannett/Cargo Studios Version)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (Last Leftovers)

Just like in beauty pageants, in case there was a song in my top 100 that couldn't live up to the responsibilities of being chosen for this high honor, I did assemble, in order, my first 10 out. You'll quickly see I followed music more closely in my college years than I did later in the decade.

101. Throwing Muses - "Counting Backwards" (1991)
102. Brian - "Understand" (1992)
103. The Elvis Brothers - "Ruthy Anne" (1992)
104. Robert Forster - "The Circle" (1993)
105. Trembling Blue Stars - "Dark Eyes" (1999)
106. Rob Wasserman, Brian Wilson, Carnie Wilson -
"Fantasy Is Reality (Bells of Madness)" (1994)
107. Kitchens of Distinction - "Quick as Rainbows" (1990)
108. My Bloody Valentine - "Sometimes" (1991)
109. Big Audio Dynamite II - "The Globe" (1991)
110. The Webb Brothers - "Cold Fingers" (1996)

...And the Next 10 In No Particular Order...
(I could do 20 more, but I'm ready to put this to bed.)

Sam Phillips - "Standing Still"
The Judybats - "Native Son"
Ride - "Vapour Trail"
Boyracer - "I've Got It and It's Not Worth Having"
Aimee Mann - "Save Me"
Dressy Bessy - "If You Should Try to Kiss Her"
Grandaddy - "A.M. 180"
Aberdeen - "When It Doesn't Matter"
XTC - "Wrapped in Grey"
Pixies - "Alec Eiffel"

Sorry to bring you down, but I have some sad news I think I should share because the blog is going to go dark for a while and some of you are bound to wonder what's happening. You may have noticed my output has slowed in the last few weeks. My mother-in-law has been very sick, and two weeks ago Mrs. LTL got the dreaded phone call that she had better hop a plane back to the cornfields of Illinois. Indeed, after many rough days, her mother has succumbed to her illness. Now it's time for all of us to go home. The blog should be up and running again as the calendar turns to December. Three of our four parents are gone now. Soon our generation will be the patriarchs and matriarchs. Time really is fleeting, isn't it?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (Some Leftovers)

I wanted to take a moment to thank those that took the time to leave a comment during this long countdown. There were times during this thing when I found myself dragging, and it was your feedback that always gave me a much needed second wind. A tip of the cap to FORW, C, Drew, CC, George, Kevinpat, Swiss Adam, Echorich, The Swede, The Robster, Scott, Judge Pop, Ian, McPop, Walter, Brett Alan, Syaver, Dirk, MisterPrime, 1001Songs, postpunkmonk, Seamus and James!

If you're a blogger thinking of tackling a lengthy countdown, my one piece of advice is to make your list and then sit on it for a while. Why? Two reasons: 1) You're bound to have forgotten a song or album that will make you crazy when it's too late to find a spot. 2) You'll be surprised at how stupid you were with the placement of at least one song or album. The mistake will be big, bold and seemingly surrounded by bright blinking lights when you see it. For example, if I had let my picks percolate, Roddy Frame's "Reason for Living" would have fared much better than No. 66. As for the one that got away, about two months ago, I realized I had left off a song that would have easily cracked my top 50. I feel really bad about this one:

"I'm Hardly Ever Wrong"
Artist: The Would Be's
Year: 1990

I have at least 50 candidates that didn't make my countdown. I want to wrap this up tomorrow. So, I'm not going to mention them all, but I thought it might be fun to listen to some of them. I recently learned some of you hate the term guilty pleasure. Instead, I'll just say I love these songs, but I couldn't bring myself to write about them with the passion of a "Blue" or a "Secret Heart." It's time to come clean.

Deee-Lite - "Groove is in the Heart" (1990)
The Cardigans - "Lovefool" (1996)
Ween - "Push th' Little Daisies" (1992)
Depeche Mode - "Enjoy the Silence" (1990)

I could have bent the rules a teeny bit and included these two without you busting my chops too much, but I left them off because with a little digging I realized they were first released in late 1989. "Roam" was released as a single in January of 1990, but 'Cosmic Thing' had been out for a while.

The B-52's - "Roam" (Extended) (1989)
Michael Penn - "No Myth" (1989)

There were at least four songs on the countdown with strong ties to one of my favorite bands of the decade. All I can say is that I had to draw the line somewhere. These are two more branches from the Jellyfish family tree. Jason Falkner was in the Grays, and Andy Sturmer played drums as well as wrote and produced songs for Swedish band the Merrymakers.

The Grays - "Same Thing" (1994)
The Merrymakers - "April's Fool" (1998)

The most effective way for me to keep the number of candidates to a level I could work with was to stick to the rule that I had to know and like the song when it came out. Since I was out of the country for two years and more or less ignored the music scene for quite a few years after that, many great bands I would love later were disqualified. Some of you already know this, but I barely knew the Wedding Present in the '80s, 90s or even the '00s. I bought my first Gedge album only a few short years ago. Gasp! I immediately took to 'George Best' and quickly bought the band's catalog. Here is the song that would and should be on Top 100 Songs From the 1990s:

The Wedding Present - "Dalliance" (1991)

Stay tuned for my list of songs that just missed the top 100.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 2-No. 1)

100. Die Funf Fruende - JETZT!
99. Save Ferris - Come on Eileen (Night Mix)
98. World Party - Put the Message in the Box
97. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Merched Yn Neud Gwallt Eu Gilydd
96. The Ocean Blue - Sublime
95. Puffy Ami Yumi - Wild Girls on Circuit
94. The Muffs - Oh Nina
93. Smoking Popes - Need You Around
92. The Feelies - Sooner or Later
91. Luscious Jackson - Naked Eye
90. The Lemonheads - Into Your Arms
89. fIREHOSE - Disciples of the 3-Way
88. The Sugargliders - Letter From a Lifeboat
87. Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks - Orange Crate Art
86. Vegas - Walk Into the Wind
85. k.d. lang - Miss Chatelaine
84. Robert Crenshaw - All I Want to Do Is Be With You
83. The Pretenders - I'm Not in Love
82. Jeffrey Foskett - Thru My Window
81. Superchunk - Slack Motherfucker
80. Blondie - Maria
79. Sloan - Everything You've Done Wrong
78. Brighter - Does Love Last Forever?
77. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - History of Lies
76. Squeeze - Some Fantastic Place
75. Paul Weller - Uh Huh, Oh Yeh
74. Maria McKee - I'm Gonna Soothe You
73. Marine Research - Parallel Horizontal
72. Morrissey - Our Frank
71. Annie Lennox - No More 'I Love Yous'
70. Jellyfish - The King Is Half Undressed
69. The La's - Timeless Melody
68. Jonathan Richman - Surrender
67. Kirsty MacColl - Titanic Days
66. Roddy Frame - Reason for Living
65. The Divine Comedy - Becoming More Like Alfie
64. Siouxsie and the Banshees - Kiss Them For Me
63. Electronic - Get the Message
62. Scritti Politti - Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder
61. The Clean - Draw(in)g to a (W)hole
60. The Chamber Strings - Telegram
59. David Bowie - Something in the Air
58. Lambchop - Your Fucking Sunny Day
57. James - Laid
56. Suede - Metal Mickey
55. Blueboy - Popkiss
54. The Sundays - Here's Where the Story Ends
53. Brendan Benson - I'm Blessed
52. The Lucksmiths - Untidy Towns
51. Heavenly - Atta Girl
50. Freedy Johnston - Responsible
49. Neil Finn - She Will Have Her Way
48. Nick Heyward - Kite
47. Bjork - Big Time Sensuality
46. Velocity Girl - I Can't Stop Smiling
45. Buzzcocks - Innocent
44. Aztec Camera - Spanish Horses
43. Sugar - Gee Angel
42. Marshall Crenshaw - What Do You Dream Of?
41. The High Llamas - The Sun Beats Down
40. The Orchids - Peaches
39. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
38. Elastica - Stutter
37. Prefab Sprout - Looking for Atlantis
36. Frank Black - Headache
35. The Pastels - Thru' Your Heart
34. Elvis Costello - Sulky Girl
33. The Hit Parade - The First Time
32. Pulp - Common People
31. Portishead - Sour Times (Nobody Loves Me)
30. Supergrass - Alright
29. Robin Hitchcock - So You Think You're in Love
28. The Beautiful South - Old Red Eyes Is Back
27. The Sugarplastic - Radio JeJune
26. Crowded House - Not the Girl You Think You Are
25. Billy Bragg and Wilco - California Stars
24. Doves - Sea Song
23. The Flaming Lips - Race for the Prize
22. The Popguns - Still a World Away
21. Lloyd Cole - No Blue Skies
20. Ron Sexsmith - Secret Heart
19. Pavement - Trigger Cut
18. The Breeders - Cannonball
17. The Beta Band - Dry the Rain
16. Terry Hall - Sense
15. The Lightning Seeds - Change
14. Komeda - Disko
13. Stereolab - French Disko
12. Edwyn Collins - A Girl Like You
11. Saint Etienne - Nothing Can Stop Us
10. Jason Falkner - Holiday
9. The Jayhawks - Blue
8. Blur - To the End
7. Epic Soundtracks - She Sleeps Alone
6. Belle and Sebastian - The Boy With the Arab Strap
5. Nick Lowe - True Love Travels Down a Gravel Road
4. Wondermints - Proto-Pretty
3. Lush - Sweetness and Light

2. "Divine Intervention"
Artist: Matthew Sweet
Year: 1991

1. "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again)"
Artist: Wilco
Year: 1999

Matthew Sweet's 'Girlfriend' and Wilco's 'Summerteeth' are my top two albums from the '90s. So, I guess it's fair to say these are my two favorite songs from my two favorite albums, and they bookend my decade quite nicely. When 'Girlfriend' came out, I was a wide-eyed college student with no real plans beyond how to collect enough cash to get to the next show. As Sweet said on 'Divine Intervention' to open the album, "I don't know where I'm gonna live." What's more, I didn't really care either. I had the world on a string. Every time I hear this song I'm instantly transported to those carefree days, and nearly a quarter century later I still consider this album the quintessential power-pop long player.

By 1999, the world had given me a swift kick in the pants. It felt like my job was rapidly taking years off of my life. Even when I wasn't at work, which didn't seem to be too often, I was always thinking about it. Mrs. LTL was also unhappy with her job, but her problem was not being challenged enough. We had lived in D.C. for almost five years, and it never felt like home. We were going to need to make a change, fears be damned. As Jeff Tweedy sang on today's pick, "we'll find a way." It took until 2000 to get it all sorted out, but the dark clouds seemed to blow away as soon as we made the decision to move back to Chicago... seven long years after leaving the Windy City the first time. We would spend the next 10 years there.

During this countdown I have mentioned several times how much I hated the '90s songbook. That's really only part of the story. I just didn't enjoy the '90s, period. Unfortunately, my broken spirit bled into the greatest joy of my life... listening, reading, writing and flat out experiencing music. Obviously, no matter the period, there are always great songs, and I see now the '90s were no different. Sure enough, as soon as Mrs. LTL and I began planning our move, my mojo for music returned, and 'Summerteeth' was the album that grabbed me, heart and soul, and brought me back from my funk. Fifteen years later, I'm happy to report my passion has never waned. So, that's why I'm ending this thing with the optimistic "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again)." Otherwise, we would probably be listening to "Via Chicago." The title certainly fits, but it's a murder ballad.

I'll have a couple more posts this weekend on some of the songs that missed the list but deserve mention. I would love to hear about some of your favorites too. Help me fill in those huge gaps I have from this untapped (from my perspective) decade.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Matinée's Marquee Lists a Double Feature

There has been quite a drought in the Santa Barbara area, going on at least three years by my count, but it's sure raining now. Oh, sorry, you probably thought I meant California's meteorological malady. How callous of me. No, I was just thinking the last time you may have read about the following veterans from Santa Barbara-based label Matinée Recordings' talented stable of stars was way back on Christmas in 2012 when I unveiled my 25 favorite songs from that year and included jangly juggernauts from both the Hermit Crabs and Strawberry Whiplash. In an interesting turn, both Scottish bands are finally following up on the same day in 2015. I just had my first go around with both albums, officially out Nov. 20 but available now if you buy directly from Matinée, and all I can say is these two are well worth the price of admission, whether you get them for the "matinee" price or not.

The Hermit Crabs have been a revolving door of personnel around mainstay Melanie Whittle. This time around she shares the spotlight with Jeremy Jensen and Jake Hite of the Very Most, and these three have created a folksy collection that would make for the perfect soundtrack while sitting on a porch swing those summer evenings when light rain is falling and thunder is echoing in the distance. I don't know if 'In My Flat' being made in Boise, Idaho, has anything to do with that atmosphere, but it's a wonderfully understated set of songs that remind me of Exene Cervenka's more recent work. The catchy album opener "Bravado and Rhetoric" (listen below) reeled me in, but the sad lament "I'm a Fool" and the country-fried crooner "Should I Drop You Off" are the ones that have decided to get comfortable in the ol' cranium. Brave and beautiful.

Any band that would take its name from Scottish legends Strawberry Switchblade and Meat Whiplash would get my attention, and the 7" "Stop, Look and Listen" got me to do just that a few years ago. It really is the perfect moniker as Sandra's vocals are sweet and Laz's guitars are fuzzy, but I always identify the duo's sound with early Primitives more than anything else... and that's fine by me. We are told the 12 songs on 'Stuck In The Never Ending Now' are about the "inexorable passage of time," but this set sounds like the clock stopped for about three years. This followup may as well have been recorded the day after the brilliant 'Hits in the Car,' and it feels wonderful to be bouncing to their brand of indie pop again. Give "Time Takes You Away" a play below. What a perfect way to wake up to the week!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 3)

3. "Sweetness and Light"
Artist: Lush
Year: 1990

I have had one very minor brush with Lush that doesn't paint me in the best light, but what the hell? On the morning of Aug. 30, 1996, I walked into work like any other. A co-worker pal of mine with a little fanzine on the side greeted me in a frenzy. "I got you on the list for Lush's show tonight, but you gotta interview the lead singer in like five minutes." I laughed loudly and inappropriately for about one second until that angelic face popped into my head and I realized he was serious. "Wait, you mean Miki Berenyi?" My stomach flipped then flopped.

I had done a couple of reviews for this fella with hopes I would find the fire for music again after those years out of the country, but it wasn't really working. A conversation with Miki could certainly go a long way, but with zero prep time and few listens to Lush since the 'Spooky' era, I knew I would bomb. I had a cubicle. My friend had an office. So, I asked if I could use it while I made the call. Thank Christ I didn't have to face her, and I didn't want anyone eavesdropping on this disaster either. I could hear my voice quaking as I dialed and summoned her.

After stalling with small talk about what she planned to see during her day in D.C., I opened with a little self-deprecation. "Who in the world put you up to talking to this little fanzine, anyway?" She gave an unexpected and sincere answer about her own fanzine with bandmate Emma Anderson when they were kids. Score. All uphill from here, right? Unfortunately, no. There was a long pause as I tried to conjure up stock interview questions that would be boring but not embarrassing. Nothing.

I'm beginning to panic now. I was really into Elvis Costello at the time and remembered Lush's cover of "All This Useless Beauty" that appeared as a B-side on his "You Bowed Down" single. I asked a question about that which led to about five follow ups on Costello and the obscure take she performed for someone else's record two years ago. She had to be asking herself, "I got out of bed for this?" I started down the same road with Lush's cover of Wire's "Outdoor Miner" but stopped myself by saying something like "Really liked your cover of 'Outdoor Miner,' too." Yep, not even a question. Now I'm entering Chris Farley territory as I start spewing song titles from the band's earliest days, hoping for a reaction. I'm sure "Sweetness and Light" was one of them. It's always been my favorite. Too bad it was written by Emma. Ugh.

You get the point. The worst interview I have ever conducted, and it was probably the worst one Miki ever had to sit through. I didn't mention the new album 'Lovelife' even once. Miki should have told me to go soak my head, but she didn't. She was nothing but a pro, and all I can say nearly 20 years later is "thank you." My crush is still intact. I think the worst part was just the right questions popping into my head in the ensuing days. There would be no chance to redeem myself. It all came to a stunning end for Lush weeks later when drummer Chris Acland died. I'm very excited at news of the band's impending reunion, but I won't be putting in a request for a Q&A.