As promised last month, September delivered great new music and October promises more of the same. Hopefully some of the music from this month’s dropbox will inform the soundtrack to your fall. If you take a quick browse through the list you’ll find there is quite a balance of genres this month, so everyone should find something that meets their individual needs. Whereas last month was filled with almost entirely of new releases, this month some of the highlights are a couple of reissues. As always, if you missed something or are looking for something, please feel free to drop me a note, and I’ll try to help you out. So, I am starting with the reissues, because they are rather special, albeit for completely different reasons.
Also as a complete aside: If you are a resident of San Marino or know someone in San Marino who votes, then either vote or have them vote for: SHELLEY RYAN on November 5 for SAN MARINO SCHOOL BOARD
When Nirvana released In Utero in 1993 there was not a more popular band anywhere on the planet. Period. I was teaching at San Gabriel High School and recall vividly the day that In Utero arrived and as I played the album for the first time. CD’s were just starting to make major inroads in replacing records, but I was still caught in between and as I stared at the cover while the album played, I thought that Nirvana had finally made an album that captured the band in its freshest and rawest state – melodic and very aggressive and, without the overly produced sheen of big record company all over the songs. “Rape Me” stood out as the clearest form of rebellion and captured perfectly what was being played out in the press – the battle lines being drawn between massive popularity and the band’s desire to be what they believed they were – a small band playing for friends in small clubs. Recall that it was only three years earlier that they were playing really small clubs, such as The Town Pump in Vancouver BC (March 12, 1990), and at that time the northwest was all about the punk rock. For a band who had arisen from that scene the sellout stink probably was overwhelming. Nevermind was never a Nirvana record. That is, Nirvana had lost control of the production and in the process of being packaged into “radio friendly unit shifters” became disenchanted with that loss of control and the fun of being in a band. These facts are borne out by the release of In Utero – which is as diverse a record as one will find by a band after producing one of the biggest selling records of a decade. Alternating between soft, introspective (“Dumb”) to aggressive (“Very Ape”) and parts in between, In Utero may be the achievement of every band’s ultimate desire – finding the perfect balance between commercial and extreme. For me, In Utero represents the band balancing its self on the razor’s edge, both lyrically and musically, and for that brief moment roughly achieving perfection. Sure, there are a few moments on the record that somehow don’t quite achieve the same level as “Rape Me”, “All Apologies”, “Heart Shaped Box” “Dumb” and “Pennyroyal Tea” but how could they? This Super Deluxe Box Set includes the “Live and Loud” show from Seattle’s Pier 48 as well as a number of B-sides and rarities from the period, including a couple of excellent demos, the most notable being Dave Grohl’s “Marigold.” In this case, Try: them all.
The Mountain Goats 10th anniversary reissue of 2003’s All Hail West Texas is also remarkably excellent but for different reason’s than Nirvana. John Darnielle started Mountain Goats in 1991 and most of you will have never heard of the band. This is a bedroom record, and from the opening track “The Best Death Metal Band in West Texas” you are transported into another world. It is a stark, sparse and very lonely record and these songs are reflective of a specific period in Darnielle’s life. The album was recorded on a boom box and almost all of the songs were recorded within hours of being written and captured in one or two takes. This process was necessary, according to Darnielle, because of his limited attention span lasting exactly one day for each song. Simple melodies make for complex emotion as these songs are raw. Darnielle succeeds in capturing dreams delayed or rejected as well as the excitement inherent in a loving relationship. These themes are all explored though the people introduced to the listener in each song. Although the cover indicates that the album contains “fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys” the looseness of the concept is what actually creates the magic – warmth radiates all over this record. Try “Jenny,” “Balance,” and without a doubt, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.”
Although the Irish rockers The Boomtown Rats were major stars in Canada and the other European colonies, they were relegated to one hit wonders in the United States. For a brief moment in time the Boomtown Rats looked like they would break big in America with “I Don’t Like Mondays” a song about the Cleveland Elementary School shooting which took place on January 29, 1979, in San Diego, California. 16 year old Brenda Ann Spencer who lived in a house across the street from the school, was tried and plead guilty as an adult of killing the principal and a custodian as well as injuring eight children and a police officer. During the shooting, a reporter telephoned homes near the school looking for information and in so doing actually reached Brenda Ann who admitted that she was the one doing the shooting. When asked why she was doing what she was doing, she was reported to have stated: “Because I don’t like Mondays.”
However, to dismiss the Rats as one hit wonders is to give short shrift to one of the best live acts of the time. The Rats initially played an upbeat proto-type punk best exemplified on Back To Boomtown: Classic Rats by the inclusion of “Mary of the 4th Form” “Like Clockwork” and She’s So Modern.” Over time, the Rats evolved into a reggae influenced rock act typified on this collection by “Banana Republic” and “Diamond Smiles.” Most notably, Sir Robert Geldof (yes, that is the knighted title) singer and one time journalist, is the mastermind (with Ultravox’s Midge Ure) behind Band Aid – the charity effort to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia who, in 1984, released the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas? Back To Boomtown: Classic Rats is a compilation of the 2005 re-mastered tracks, but for those of you whom have not experienced the Rats, this album is a great introduction. Of note, this collection is being released in advance of the Rats announcing that they have reformed to play a series of live shows after a 10 year absence.
A couple of other interesting facts. There is nothing record companies like more than reissuing the same material repeatedly in several different variants. Like Elvis Costello and The Who – two bands who are the acknowledged kings of the repackage and reissue, Back to Boomtown: Classic Rats Hits represents the fifth greatest hits album by this Irish band and perhaps surprisingly, upon release earlier this month charted at number 35 in the Irish charts (Virgin EMI, September 9, 2013) There are also two new tracks (“The Boomtown Rats” and “Back To Boomtown”) recorded for the collection with the remaining 14 tracks being the Boomtown Rats’ best known works. For me, those tracks are “She So Modern,” “Looking After No. 1,” and “Rat Trap.”
Kings of Leon’s latest, Mechanical Bull is, in part, a return to form following the underwhelming performance of their previous outing 2010’s Come Around Sundown. That album likely left many fans of KOL confused as it came after the massive success of 2008’s Only By Night and the two massive radio hits from that record: “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire.” Come Around Sundown was released on the heels of relentless touring and inter-family/band squabbles as well as the well-documented alcohol abuse by Caleb Followill. It seemed at that time, like many a band whose flame had burned far too bright, that the flame was be extinguished. Not so fast. Mechanical Bull (which coincidentally as I write this entry is a UK Number 1 album) is not a reissue of Only By Night and the Lynyrd Skynyrd meets U2 riffs on that album. More aptly, Mechanical Bull is a return to the days of the bands earliest success found on their 2003 debut, Youth & Young Manhood and 2005’s Aha Shake Heartbreak. Look, you were never going to experience on any Kings of Leon record the most awesomely written lyrics nor were you ever going to see a true return to the type of songs found on Youth & Young Manhood, but Mechanical Bull strikes a happy balance between old and new and for that reason, this is a fairly enjoyable record. Sure, there is the record company required hit song “Supersoaker” stuffed at the front, but if you dig a little deeper, the material is a little stronger, particularly, the bonus track “ Work On Me” which is a workmanlike Kings of Leon jam that shows what was missing on Come Around Sundown – restraint. This is refreshing for a band who has become the record company directed pimp for every nuanced attempt to reach mass commercial appeal a la dressing them up like pop stars. I expect that at some point, the Followills will figure out, like Nirvana, their In Utero moment, and in fairness, Mechanical Bull is certainly not that type of moment. However, it is a great start on that journey. For a band surviving superstardom – Kings of Leon deliver a restrained record to begin the healing process. The fans and the press might not like the whole thing, but I bet the band does. Try “Work on Me,” “Wait For Me,” and “Comeback Story.”
Parquet Courts are back with a couple of gap records prior to their next full length. As you may recall, I wrote extensively about their last record, the brilliant Light Up Gold from last year. On these two releases, Parquet Courts play their Velvet Underground meets the Replacements sound at full speed, which is not a departure in any manner from the sound of Light Up Gold. Go back and compare “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now” with Light Up Gold’s “Master of My Craft” and you’ll see precisely what I mean. Just so we are clear – from my perspective it is perfectly acceptable not to screw with a sound that works for a band and is consistent with their personality.. Far too many bands alter their sound just to alter the sound – hoping to “grow” as a band or achieve some modicum of success by fitting into a sound/genre that is popular. Recall the mass appeal of autotune? However, some bands you always knew what to expect and that made them perfect – e.g. the Buzzcocks, D.O.A., Dead Kennedys, Husker Du and the Replacements. Parquet Courts can one day be mentioned in the same breath if they continue putting out music like that found on Tally All The Things You Broke EP (which comes out October 8, 2013) and the Borrowed Time 7″ single.
You can imagine this work played live – 4 guys just bashing it out. I would pay $$$ to see that. Try: “Borrowed Time,” “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now,” and the lengthy “The More It Works.”
I have also previously covered Kathleen Hanna’s work with Bikini Kill in earlier editions of Tales From The Dropbox. The Julie Ruin, is Hanna’s latest project and continues, in some measure, where her previous bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, left off.
However, do not be misled. On their debut, Run Fast, the Julie Ruin sound is, like the B-52’s, dance rock with Kenny Melman providing a nice counterpoint for Hanna’s vocal styling’s (which are very raw to say the least). Currently residing and recording in Brooklyn, the band comprised of Carmine Covelli (the Tender Moments), Sara Landeau, Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox (The Feebles, The Frumpies, Star Sign Scorpio, as well as Bikini Kill) , and Kenny Mellman (Kiki and Herb) create angular dance rock that without too much trouble reminds me of early B-52’s but that label should not narrow your view of the record which is remarkable exciting and catchy. It is a very safe bet to say that Run Fast will very likely end up near the top of many year end best of 2013 lists this year – and for very good reason. Try “Kids in NY,” “Ha Ha Ha,” and “Girls Like Us.”
Brooklyn’s American Authors, all dropouts from the Berklee School of Music, have kick-started their career with their self-titled debut. Nothing challenging on this EP but the songs all hit the sweet spot for alternative music as evidenced by “Best Day of My Life’s” inclusion in a Lowe’s Home Improvement store commercial. As major labels, in this case Island Records, fight to have any relevance in the marketplace, the new outlet for music is not radio anymore but instant commercialization through advertising. Although the American Authors EP is gaining some regional airplay in the New York, Boston and Chicago markets, Islands marinating efforts are directed primarily to exposing American Authors via television advertising, much like X Factor and American Idol which are just 2 hour length commercials. That is, the few major labels which are willing to even venture into the rock/alternative genre are doing so in a very limited and targeted manner, and releasing EPs and singles only if they can ensure an immediate revenue stream. While this new model will in all likelihood have only limited success, the touring that American Authors has already done, most recently on the Lollapalooza tour, should help their survival to a full length. Oh, what about the music? Take this as completely positive, as after all it is in the dropbox. You will like American Authors if you like sugary commercial alternative music that is very well written. Hopefully future releases will demonstrate some willingness by American Authors to try to expand the formula a bit. Still, it is difficult to not like the band or their music as each song on American Authors is built for maximum alt rock catchiness. Try “Best Day of My Life,” “Believer,” and “Home.”
A lengthy aside follows. So if you don’t want to read a minor, as compared with major, rant skip the next couple of paragraphs.
Aside Number 1. That’s two releases in a row by bands or their labels that are too freaking lazy to title their record with something other than with the band name. There is a reason why bands should actually title their records. It makes it easier to collect everything by the band and keep songs organized. Imagine the iTunes confusion with a band who repeats the self titled album concept for several albums. A prime example, is Peter Gabriel whose first 4 records were all called Peter Gabriel . Creating some desperation with the crappy album titles, some Gabriel fans left trying try to describe what album a particular track was found have retitled the albums based upon the cover art, now naming them in order of release as: Car, Scratch, Melt, and Security. The U.S. release of the 4th album actually entitled Security but not for the rest of the world. Rather than force a band to actually try coming up with a name, these bands should default to the acceptable lazy default naming convention: naming the record after the title of the song found on side one track one. By way of example, the four Peter Gabriel records would now be called (in order): Moribund the Burgermeister, On the Air, Intruder, and The Rhythm of the Heat.
Aside to Aside Number 1: Don’t even get me started on the artists who are too lazy to even come up with titles for the songs on their records. Darn you Buckethead!!!
Aside Number 1, continued: Why are bands who are making fairly creative music unable to actually think of a #$^%# interesting title for their record? This has to be some major label marketing ploy. It must. See a recent prime example of this marketing phenomenon where MGMT’s whose new record, their 3rd, is awesomely titled, you guessed it MGMT. Or how about Blitzen Trapper whose 7th record, and latest, is entitled VII? Does repetition really work to get potential purchasers to actually to buy the record? I have no idea, but it is really frustrating and tiring. So those of you who produce the music or work at labels that are reading this blog – stop that crap now. Perhaps we can start a revolution.
Whew…..anyway, Hey! Hello was formed by New York based singer Victoria Liedtke and British singer-songwriter, Ginger Wildheart. Their debut is a stunning and powerful rock record full of riff heavy, hook laden, and thunderous rock music that magnificently updates the sound of the 70’s act, The Sweet, best known for the two classic hits “Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox on the Run.” “Swimwear” actually sounds exactly like The Sweet’s “Little Willy.” I loved this record. Try “Black Valentine, ”“How I Survived The Punk Wars,” and “Burn The Rule Book (Fuck It).”
So, perhaps I should deal with the MGMT record, since I slagged the title previously in this post. Despite what you have possibly read in far more popular publications than Tales From The Dropbox, on MGMT, MGMT continues the sonic explorations of a band whom have consciously tried not to make the record that made their bones, which unfortunately for MGMT was their debut. History has shown where a debut record is so accepted by the masses (e.g. Green Day’s “Dookie”) that it cripples the artist as their record label is unwilling to commit to anything but to a retread of the sound that made that debut record a hit. This may seem contrary to my thoughts expressed earlier about artists who change their sound for the sake of change, but MGMT has stayed true to its own thought process and artistic belief about the direction of their music releases, and have done so within the context and constraints imposed by being an artist on a major label record. So, to give credit where. as here, it is fully due, the record company, in this case, Columbia, has permitted the duo to (a) release a record that is not highly commercial, and which will not sell millions of records, and (b) extends the vision expressed on their last noncommercial record, 2010’s psych rock leaning Congratulations. Although the ideas on Congratulations were not fully formed the purpose of that record was clear: it was designed to distance MGMT the artists from a debut album that changed modern alternative rock. 2007’s Oracular Spectacular, with its three ubiquitous singles “Time to Pretend”, “Kids” and “Electric Feel” was incapable of repetition. So, MGMT didn’t attempt the retread.
Where do we stand now? MGMT on MGMT is essentially asking the listener to evaluate the release as a debut. The duo, consisting of Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden ( with some help) find themselves delving full throttle into the third variant of the new psychedelic revival (along with other similar travelers such as Tame Impala and Pond), with trance-like elements creating sonic tapestries reminiscent somewhat of the 90’s shoegaze scene. Released on September 17, the album will take some time for the listener to get into, but I found the journey generally quite pleasing. However, if you are looking for the MGMT singles, stop looking. There are none. This is an album as entirely conceived by a band committed to change and the resulting sonic explorations are worth the effort to look past, MGMT‘s past. Try” Introspection,” “Cool Song No. 2,” and “I Love You Too, Death.”
Earlier this year, I told you about the reissue of Blitzen Trapper’s amazing first record which after 10 years, was and is still an exciting listening experience. Seven albums later, Blitzen Trapper is still figuring itself out. And that is acceptable to me having followed their progression, because VII expands their indie-folk with country tinges into new areas with some terrific up results. VII is a sonically pleasing record with a dynamic range that makes the space between the instruments a powerful force into itself. It is difficult to describe the feeling you experience when you are listening to a record that just sounds good and you feel the recording. The gospel revival experience of “Shine On” bumps up against the beautiful country ballad “Ever Loved Once” which is one of the strongest songs on VII and perhaps in Blitzen Trapper‘s entire catalog. The harmonies and banjo (yes, banjo) play off and highlight each other, and the result is an instant classic. Eric Earley’s crisp vocals driving the record and the space created is very effective in creating warmth to a somewhat staccato delivery.. Try” Ever Loved Once,” the country influenced “Don’t Be A Stranger,” and “Shine On.”
As promised last month, the dropbox finds the U.K. equivalent of the XX in the form of electronic art rockers, London Grammar, with their debut album entitled If You Wait. This album and band is already massively popular record in Europe having spawned three hit singles (all included on If You Wait) prior to the album’s release. London Grammar‘s form of chamber pop is carried by the beautiful and powerful vocals of Hannah Reid. The three piece, comprised of Hannah Reid, Dot Major and Dan Rothman have already played several festivals, and this record transports the listener to a sonic soundscape from the opening notes of “Hey Now” through If You Wait‘s last track. Hannah sings with strong emotion over the mostly electro-pop tracks. The single, “Wasting My Young Years” will find its way on to may best of 2013 pop collections, and, similar to the Savages debut from earlier this year, If You Wait is amongst the best records of 2013. No surprise that London Grammar has not found its way to the U.S., but hopefully some station will pick it up, as the record was only released two weeks ago. I’ve found that KROQ takes about a year to discover new music, so there is a chance that KROQ or 987 FM will add the song and then overplay it. Try” Wasting My Young Years,” Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me,” and “Metal and Dust.”
As I’ve got regular work to attend to at this time, I’ll update this post as I get a chance, because there is gold in them there hills!
- American Authors – American Authors 
- Balance And Composure – The Things We Think We’re Missing 
- Bastille – Bad Blood 
- Two Cow Garage – The Death of the Self Preservation Society 
- Underground Youth – The Perfect Enemy For God 
- Volcano Choir – Repave 
- Factory Floor – Factory Floor (Deluxe Edition) [2CD] 
- Grouplove – Spreading Rumors 
- Jungle Giants – Learn To Exist 
- Kissaway Trail – Breach 
- London Grammar – If You Wait (Deluxe Edition) [‘2013]
- MGMT – MGMT 
- Naked and Famous – In Rolling Waves 
- Pedal Jets –What’s In Between 
- Stellar Kart – All In 
- Summer Camp – Summer Camp 
- Julie Ruin – Run Fast 
- Veronica Falls – Six Covers Vol. 2 
- Bad Sports – Bras 
- Cosmonauts – Persona Non Grata 
- Crocodiles – Crimes of Passion 
- Crash Karma – Rock Musique Deluxe 
- Delorean – Apar 
- Destruction Unit – Deep Trip 
- Au Revoir Simone – Move In Spectrums 
- Barrence Whitfield and The Savages – Dig Thy Savage Soul 
- Haim – Days Are Gone (Deluxe Edition) [2CD] 
- CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe [European Limited Edition] 
- Blood Arm – Infinite Nights 
- Crystal Stilts – Nature Noir 
- Kings of Leon – Mechanical Bull [Deluxe Edition] 
- Dinosaur Bones – Shaky Dream 
- Ducktails – Wish Hotel 
- Parquet Courts – Borrowed Time (7” EP) 
- Parquet Courts – Tally All the Things That You Broke EP 
- Nirvana – In Utero (20th Anniversary Edition Super Deluxe) [3CD] 
- Hateful – Soundtrack For A Sinner 
- Hey! Hello! – Hey! Hello! 
- Little Hurricane – Stay Classy [A Collection of Cover Songs] 
- Little Scout – Are You Life 
- Blitzen Trapper – VII 
- Boomtown Rats – Back To Boomtown 
- Love Is Sodium – Cycles 
- Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas [Remastered] 
- Paper Lions – My Friends 
- Parlotones – Shake It Up 
- Redlight King – Irons In The Fire 
- Regurgitator – Dirty Pop Fantasy 
- Sadies – Internal Sounds 
- Wheatus – The Valentine