February 11, 2015 Dropbox Notes


Picking up where we last left off (and you should check the dropbox if you haven’t taken a peek in the past couple of weeks) the start of the New Year usually is pretty slow for new releases, but there are already some worthwhile contenders for your dropbox love. As promised, these notes will cover some of the releases from the second half of last year that appeared and which, if you have not already given these a spin, should spend some time re-discovering. Why? Because they were #%^$ stellar releases that I keep coming back to listen, again and again, without growing tired of the early favorites but discovering along with those early contenders for best song, something I missed in earlier listens. Funny, that is usually the truth about most of the albums that I eventually cherish – I had to let the album penetrate – and then I am hooked. For example, I am currently enamored by the Mixtapes and particularly the vocal interplay between Ryan and Maura, and have watched or listened to “Bad Parts” probably 50 times. Magic. (Terrific video as well!) Now, I can’t get the song out of my head! So, with a number of the albums last year, there was a synergy of band-sound-listener that made several of these records worthy of my time …and hopefully yours.
With a head start on the “cherish” scale, there were a couple of reissues last year that you should have spun to rediscover the magic of those special albums:

Afghan Whigs - Gentleman At 21Afghan WhigsGentleman (at 21) (Reissue) [2014]

Greg Dulli easily had the smoothest voice of alternative rock in the 90s. And on Gentleman, the Whigs 4th album and major label debut, the Whigs managed to smooth the sonic rough edges of the first three records without losing the power of the band’s obvious vocal point – Dulli’s vocals. It also helped that these vocals also disguise some rather disturbing lyrical content that most listeners I assume just happily sang along with missing the pain filled messages that fill the record. Notably, the darkest song on the record is not actually sung by Dulli, but by Scrawl’s Marcy Mays whose own vocals are an equally strong counterpoint to Dulli’s. And perhaps this is why the record works so well – the Whigs were taking a huge chance on a very non-commercial record but one that emotionally connected outside the typical alt-rock fair of the time. The demos included on this record are also revealing and when you compare the versions of “My Curse” (with the demo being sung by Dulli) the risk taking is obvious. A terrific record when released, the demo and bonus material rounds out the record nicely giving perspective on the thought process of crafting a work of art. If you’ve never listened to the Afghan Whigs before, start with the hits “Gentleman” and “Debonair”, then turn up the headphones and listen to the rest. Try to pick out the influences – they are easy to find Motown (Temptations), the Pixies (likely subconsciously) (see below), and Neil Young. Try “Gentleman,” “What Jail is Like” and all 7:00 minutes of “My World Is Empty Without You I Hear A Symphony (KTCL Live Music At The Mercury Cafe, Denver, CO May 10th, 1994)”

Game Theory - Blaze Of GloryGame TheoryBlaze Of Glory (Reissue) [2014]

This is an expanded reissue of Game Theory’s 1982 debut album, remastered for this release which captures Scott Miller‘s home recorded DIY debut in all of its glory but removes some of the “sludge” of the original. Formed after Miller’s first band Alternate Learning ended, Blaze of Glory adds the 4 tracks from the Alternate Learning EP released in 1979 and these tracks forecast the future of where Game Theory would ultimately end up – an “experimental power pop” band. Check out “Beach State Rocking.” Like Greg Dulli above, Miller’s vocals are immediately recognizably and the sound – a mixture of garage, lo-fi, psychedelia (note synth/organ), and pop was the imprimatur for what became college rock of the 90’s. The sound on the original was very thin (and as noted above Blaze of Glory is a home recording) but the reissue makes it a little fuller highlighting the enthusiasm and remarkable simplicity of these uncomplicated positive songs. Later albums incorporate these early sounds that culminate with Game Theory’s masterwork – Lolita Nation, but as a debut, this was a huge step along the path. Try “Date With An Angel,” “Bad Year At UCLA” (Note: Miller attended UC Davis – but UCLA sounded better), and “The Girls Are Ready To Go.”

There were also two huge reissues that collect nuggets, B-Sides, Outtakes, and Live offerings from two of the better bands from the past 30 years – The Pixies and Wilco.

Pixies – Doolittle 25 B-Sides, Peel Sessions and Demos [2014]PixiesDoolittle 25 B-Sides, Peel Sessions and Demos [2014]

Doolittle might be, at least for me, one of the top 10 records of all time. I distinctly recall this coming out in 1989 and immediately playing this for my biology classes. As second albums go, this is an anomaly, as there is strong evidence to suggest that many bands leave there best work on the 1st record – after all, they’ve had a lifetime to perfect those first songs. Not so with Doolittle. This is essentially a greatest hits record. There is not one bad track on the record and as I saw them perform live during this period, the ability to translate these songs to the live format was amazing. Sure, there were some college radio hits – “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Gone To Heaven” but wow the album was full of sonic gems with Frank Black (then called Black Francis”) howling like a tortured animal and it all worked. A perfect record. Really. Superlatives aside, Doolittle has aged remarkably well. Still current, topical, exciting Doolittle captures a magic moment of time. Particularly interesting is the tension between Francis and Kim Deal which would eventually explode the band with Kim leaving to form the Breeders as an outlet for her songs, but here, the tension is captured in the furious and tight playing of the Pixies. 50 songs on this collection explores the original record, all of the records demos (gives these a listen – the starting point is sometimes as good as the end) and finally the Peel Sessions which illuminate these terrific songs further. A remarkable achievement. Try “Debaser,” “Wave of Mutilation” and “There Goes My Gun (Peel Session).”

Wilco - Alpha Mike Foxtrot Rare TracksWilcoAlpha Mike Foxtrot Rare Tracks 1994-2014 [2014]

Wilco is an enigma to me. It always takes me a few songs to get into the sonic space that Wilco occupies. A mix of Americana, indie rock, and folk, Wilco is a mood band. That is, I’ve got to be in the mood for Wilco, but when I am, I can stay in that mood for several days. Alpha Mike Foxtrot Rare Tracks is an exhaustive compilation of rare studio tracks, demos, and live recordings from a twenty year span of what is Wilco. And the journey is full of highlights. For me, there is Jeff Tweedy’s tender cover of Alex Chilton’s “Thirteen” is stunning and the song choice is impeccable as “Thirteen” remains among my favorite songs of all time. The tender vocals accentuate the love Tweedy has for the song. At the end of this capsule, I usually tell you to “try” three songs. Well, I’m not really able to do that here. Wilco’s career is highlighted by a staggering number of diverse songs that traverse the rock spectrum. So, over the 77 songs collected on Alpha Mike Foxtrot, there are some straight country covers (“Don’t You Honey Me”), some garage rockers (“Kicking Television”) and some things wildly in the middle (“Jesus Etc. (with Andrew Bird”). My advice is to skip around and find something that captures your attention, and then explore the record song by song. This is an exploration record, not a listen all the way through record. Beautifully crafted songs which represent Wilco in a variety of settings highlight what is the magic of Wilco a band that plays there asses off and all of whom are master musicians – every note perfect with vocals that fill the song creating a mood that captures your heart. For me, Wilco is the perfect antidote for whatever ails.
Also, if you are going to take a spin of this collection, Wilco also released a companion greatest hits collection: What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994 – 2014 that is obviously an easy introduction to the band. I just can’t stop listening to “I Might”. Damn, now it stuck in my head. I’m watching it again.

Big Star - Live In MemphisBig StarLive in Memphis [2014]

Omnivore Records is quickly becoming one of my favorite reissue labels. Not only are they responsible for the Game Theory reissues, but now they have released the only known professional recording of Big Star live. As noted above, Big Star featuring Alex Chilton, is not only responsible for the terrific song “Thirteen” but is the historical antecedent and touchstone for power pop, but is also just as likely to have been the impetus for many bands to start forming bands as Kiss ever was. From the opening track “In The Street” which is better known today as the theme song for That 70’s Show, to the closer “Slut”, this late version of Big Star (The Posies assist original members Chilton and Jody Stephens) on Live In Memphis blast through a mix of honkey-tonk, southern rock, and straight forward rock n roll mixing the best elements of 70’s AM radio with Alex Chilton’s distinctive vocals to produce a memorable rock listening experience. Although the sound is a little uneven, the recording captures the best known of Big Star’s classics including “The Ballad of El Goodo,” “September Gurls,” and “Big Black Car” mixed with several 70’s covers from the Kinks, T-Rex and Todd Rundgren. Try “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” “September Gurls,” and “Jesus Christ.”

As I am very short of time, there is one recent release I can highlight and that should get your heart racing and your foot tapping:

Chumped - Teenage RetirementChumpedTeenage Retirement [2014]

As I wrote somewhere previously, pop punk still has some legs, at least for me. As debut’s go, this is pretty strong combining a number of easily identifiable influence (Weezer, Superchunk and Jimmy Eat World come to mind) into something unique while still fitting within the confines of the genre. Also, you might have noticed I’ve got a thing lately for girl vocals and Anika Pyle has the tools to produce what is a very charming sound – urgent and distinct. So, if you like albums in this vein, you can’t go wrong with Chumped. Teenage Retirement is an interesting debut full of well-crafted songs that would make for a pretty fun show. Try “Songs About Boats,” “Long Division” and “Old and Tired.”

Before you read January’s Dropbox list below, I also note, that this drop box truly contains  some of the strongest records from an excellent 2014. Not only is the list diverse (Really – did you expect to see the Meghan Trainor, Tove Lo and Matthew Ryan records in the dropbox?) but I genuinely enjoyed each and every one of these records in their entirety, which is a rarity. Most records I like a handful of songs that standout, and then there a couple for which I’d take a pass. For most of these records I enjoyed almost every song. My favorites of the month, you ask? Dwarves, Guster, Nude Beach, Sleater-Kinney, Modern Baseball and the Riptides. However, try them all as I think there will be something you like in this batch!

Here is the List:

  1. Dwarves – The Dwarves Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll [2014]
  2. Guster – Evermotion [2015]
  3. Ty Segall – Mr. Face EP [2015]
  4. Meghan Trainor – Title [2015]
  5. Fall Out Boy – American Beauty American Psycho [2015]
  6. Nude Beach – 77 [2014]
  7. Major League – There’s Nothing Wrong With Me [2014]
  8. Mannequin Pussy – Gypsy Pervert [2014]
  9. Meatbodies – Meatbodies [2014]
  10. Ought – Once More with Feeling EP [2014]
  11. Ryan Adams – 1984 [2014]
  12. September Girls – Cursing The Sea [2014]
  13. Institute – Salt [2014
  14. King Tuff – Black Moon Spell [2014]
  15. September Girls – Veneer [2014]
  16. Cassie Ramone – The Time Has Come [2014]
  17. Black Wine – Yell Boss [2014]
  18. Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance [2015]
  19. Dodos – Individ [2015]
  20. Moon Duo – Shadow Of The Sun [2015]
  21. Melbourne Cans – Moonlight Malaise [2014]
  22. Mighty Lemon Drops – Uptight The Early Recordings 1985-1986 [2014]
  23. Overlake – Sighs [2014]
  24. Velociraptor – Velociraptor [2014]
  25. And We Danced – Back To The Middle [2014]
  26. Blood Red Shoes – Blood Red Shoes [Deluxe Edition] [2014]
  27. Coachwhips – Get Yer Body Next Ta Mine (2003, Remastered) [2014]
  28. Dappled Cities – Many Roads [2014]
  29. Dropkick – Homeward [2014]
  30. Lemuria – Turnstile Comix 3 [2014]
  31. Little Envy – Little Envy [2014]
  32. Matthew Ryan – Boxers [2014]
  33. Pvris – White Noise [2014]
  34. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love [2015]
  35. White Heat – Kill Your Idols [2014]
  36. Little Big League – Tropical Jinx [2014]
  37. Melted Toys – Melted Toys [2014]
  38. Mitski – Bury Me at Makeout Creek [2014]
  39. Modern Baseball – Techniques [2014]
  40. Wand – Ganglion Reef [2014]
  41. Len Price 3 – Nobody Knows [2014]
  42. Tove Lo – Queen Of The Clouds [2014]
  43. Riptides – Tombs of Gold [2014]
  44. Mallory Knox – Asymmetry [2014]
  45. Melody Fall – The Shape Of Pop Punk To Come [2014]
  46. White Fence – For the Recently Found Innocent [2014]
  47. Lunchbox – Lunchbox Loves You [2014]
  48. Midnight Snack – The Times [2014]
  49. Misun – Superstitions [2014]
  50. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper [2015]

So there you have it until next time. I’ll catch up soon. I guarantee it!

So, let’s be safe out there.

 

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