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.

 

January 11, 2014 Dropbox Notes

Welcome to another year of Dropbox Notes ! This month’s offerings are the best of last year, i.e. my favorite records from 2013.

In the past, I have posted my best albums of [insert year] list with little regard to the order on that list. That is, I just posted my favorite records of the previous year in an approximation of what I liked the best. This year, I struggled to try to get through at least the first 30 albums in order of how good I thought they were; how much I enjoyed listening to them, and how likely I would go back and play them after not listening to them for a year.

That qualifier – whether you would go back and listen to a record after a year of not playing the album – appears (at least to me) to be the real test of a list like this. In the past, most of the other lists I have reviewed (you can find some at rocklist.net) from some of my favorite magazines have not contemplated the long term impact of the records they claim are the best and greatest of the year. Some magazines do a better job of this (and I am confident it is completely unintentional) than others.

For example, looking back just 5 years to 2008, compare these two top 20 lists from Q Magazine and Spin:

Q Magazine 2008 Top 20

1. Kings of Leon – Only By The Night
2. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
3. Coldplay – Viva la Vida
4. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
5. Glasvegas – Glasvegas
6. Duffy – Rockferry
7. TV On the Radio – Dear, Science
8. Elbow – Seldom Seen Kid
9. Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
10. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
11. Sigur Rós – Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
12. Keane – Perfect Symmetry
13. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
14. Kaiser Chiefs – Off With Their Heads
15. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III
16. Hot Chip – Made In the Dark
17. Adele – 19
18. British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
19. Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree
20. Gaslight Anthem – ‘59 Sound

Spin 2008 Top 20

  1. TV On the Radio – Dear Science
  2. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III
  3. Portishead – Third
  4. Fucked Up – Chemistry of Common Life
  5. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
  6. Santogold – Santogold
  7. Deerhunter – Microcastle
  8. Hot Chip – Made In the Dark
  9. Coldplay – Viva la Vida
  10. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
  11. Elbow – Seldom Seen Kid
  12. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Pt 1: 4th World War
  13. No Age – Nouns
  14. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
  15. Beck – Modern Guilt
  16. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
  17. Roots – Rising Down
  18. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
  19. Okkervil River – Stand Ins
  20. Gnarls Barkley – Odd Couple

There is a little overlap on these two lists but on average from the Q Magazine list, I would listen to 5/20 (25%) and from the Spin list I would listen to 4/20 (20%). Can you guess which records I’d probably revisit?

With this personal observation i.e. that there are very few records that I would continue to play after a gap of a year, this list is prepared with that objective also in mind – looking forward 1 year from now.

And perhaps that is the goal of this “Best of 2013” list – to check back in a year and see how many of the 100 listed here you would go back and listen to in 2015.

With that said, here is my list of the BEST OF 2013 (all capitals because I am shouting):

Tales From The Dropbox Best Albums of 2013

  1. Savages – Silence Yourself
  2. FIDLAR – FIDLAR
  3. Pacific Air – Stop Talking
  4. Guards – In Guards We Trust
  5. The Men – New Moon
  6. Arctic Monkeys – A.M.
  7. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
  8. Paper Lions – My Friends
  9. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
  10. Palma Violets – 180
  11. Fuzz – Fuzz
  12. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
  13. Paper Aeroplanes – Little Letters
  14. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
  15. Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
  16. Pure Love – Anthems
  17. California X – California X
  18. Foals – Holy Fire
  19. Future Of The Left – How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident
  20. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
  21. Mikal Cronin – MCII
  22. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of The City
  23. Starflyer 59 – IAMACEO
  24. Miles Kane – Don’t Forget Who You Are
  25. Lydia – Devil
  26. London Grammar – If You Wait
  27. Royal Bangs – Brass
  28. Upset – She’s Gone
  29. Waaves – Afraid of Heights
  30. Deerhunter – Monomania
  31. The Julie Ruin – Run Fast
  32. Jagwar Ma – Howlin’
  33. Haim – Days are Gone
  34. Bad Sports – Bras
  35. Bastille – Bad Blood
  36. My Bloody Valentine – m b v
  37. Deap Valley – Sistrionics
  38. So So Glos – Blowout
  39. Wooden Shjips – Back To Land
  40. Drenge – Drenge
  41. Hookworms – Pearl Mystic
  42. These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds
  43. The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
  44. Julia Holter – Loud City Song
  45. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
  46. Iceage – You’re Nothing
  47. Yo La Tengo – Fade
  48. Superchunk – I Hate Music
  49. Volcano Choir – Repave
  50. Phoenix – Bankrupt!
  51. Purling Hiss – Water on Mars
  52. Roshambo – Lonesome Men From The Woods
  53. Pissed Jeans – Honeys
  54. Queens of The Stoneage – Like Clockwork
  55. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
  56. Local Natives – Hummingbird
  57. Factory Floor – Factory Floor
  58. Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
  59. Riots  – Time For Truth
  60. Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
  61. Fall Out Boy – Save Rock And Roll
  62. Forest Swords – Engravings
  63. James Blake – Overgrown
  64. Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
  65. Mutual Benefit – Loves Crushing Diamond
  66. Strypes – Snapshot
  67. Acres of Lions – Home(s)
  68. Daughter – If You Leave
  69. Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat
  70. Ballet – I Blame Society
  71. Tegan and Sara – Hearthrob
  72. Peace – In Love [Deluxe Edition
  73. Taymir – Phosphene
  74. Chastity Belt – Ne Regerts
  75. Auto Defiance – Running on The Edge
  76. Jimmy Eat World – Damage
  77. Courtney Barnett – The Double EP – A Sea Of Split Peas
  78. Dirtbombs – Consistency Is The Enemy
  79. Fitz & The Tantrums – More Than Just A Dream
  80. Hungary Kids of Hungary – You’re A Shadow
  81. Imperial State Electric – Reptile Brain Music
  82. Iron Chic – The Constant One
  83. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
  84. Matt Pond – The Lives Inside The Lines In Your Hand
  85. Jake Bugg – Shangri La
  86. Murder By Death – As You Wish Kickstarter Covers
  87. Cage the Elephant – Melophobia
  88. Teen Agers – I Hate It
  89. Beware of Darkness – Orthodox
  90. Super Happy Fun Club – All Funned Up
  91. Middle Class Rut – Pick Up Your Head
  92. Banquets – Banquets
  93. Cults – Static
  94. RVIVR – The Beauty Between
  95. Exxonvaldes – Lights
  96. Mama Kin – The Magician’s Daughter
  97. Swearin’ – Surfing Strange
  98. Dead Sons – The Hollers And The Hymns
  99. Growlers – Not. Psych!
  100. Guster – Live With The Redacted Symphony

I’ll add the covers if I get a chance, but otherwise enjoy the list. Part 1 of the list ( 1-50) dropped today. I’ll drop part 2 (51-100) around February 1, so a slightly shorter turnaround this month/

Let me know if you think I’ve missed something, or your thoughts on the list. If you have a list you’d like to share – post a comment or send me the list and I’ll post it.

Until later alligator! I wish you all a terrific and happy 2014. Peace out.

November 10 2013 Dropbox Notes

Bet you thought with the timing of the release of this month’s dropbox (on Halloween) and these notes that there might be a holiday theme to the drop box. No such luck. What there is this month, with this latest version of the drop box, is another month of really good music. Rarely does the wave of good tunes extend past September. Historically, October and November begin the Christmas music season and often signals a time of year that is littered with greatest hits and anthology albums, Christmas albums (I kid you not, Bad Religion has a Christmas Album that is as terrible as it sounds. Filled with traditional songs sung in the style of Bad Religion – brutal) and those artists who are not on major labels. The “major labels” (whatever those are now) have already released their biggest albums of the year, e.g. Lady Gaga, Kanye, etc. to time their sales for Christmas shoppers desperate for a gift for someone whom they think will like the album they purchased for them and invariably, they do not. At least in the pre-digital age, when you ended up with the Bee Gees greatest hits vinyl, you could always return it for the latest KISS album.

Not only is this month’s drop box filled with some really good records, but what is most striking about this month is the diversity of the releases – from the Clash to Cassadee Pope – you should find something appealing as you begin the holiday season. Consistent with the release schedule of the major labels, the large number of reissues and anthologies has produced several worthy of inclusion in the drop box. I have selected a couple of these to introduce the band or the record to those of you whom likely have never heard of these artist, such as the Undertones and Public Image Limited.

After speaking with Russell last week about the diversity of musical styles, and for those of you who care about these things, there is a pattern that has developed over the past several months.  If you scroll back through the notes, I have tried each month to provide something old, something, new something pink and something blue in each dropbox. This month there are a few extra oldsters that made the box.

So, with that said, lets introduce a few that made it:

Clash - Hits BackThe Clash should need no introduction, right? The Clash, like Elvis Costello and The Who, are reissue kings with numerous repackages of their albums. This latest round of reissues however may be the final statement on their reissues. The Clash Hits Back, and the simultaneous release of Sound System, a massive boom box containing all of the Clash albums that Mick Jones played on (the band essentially disavowing the Cut The Crap album) and containing a treasure trove of unreleased demos and goodies, easily supplants the Clash on Broadway box set as the best of the Clash reissues.

The Clash Hits Back is of interest, not only for the upgraded re-mastering of classic Clash songs making them sound much closer to what the records sounded like on vinyl – raw and vital, but also for the sequencing of this two disc set. The Clash Hits Back is sequenced almost exactly as the set played by the band at the Brixton Fair Deal (now the Academy) on 10 July 1982. The place apparently held a special place for the Clash according to bassist Paul Simenon who was responsible for the Hits Back and Sound System projects. I was able to see the Clash play in Vancouver at the Commodore Ballroom (January 31, 1979) at the peak of their powers. When you scan the set list for this show it is amazing – essentially a greatest hits album from the first song to the last. I have a bootleg of this show, unfortunately an audience recording, but you can hear the energy of the crowd and the band as they ripped through these songs. Strummer was a master at timing the emotions of the crowd in response to the songs. I’m not going to make song picks here. This is perfection.

Undertones - Introducing The UndertonesComing from a completely different musical direction in the same punk genre as the Clash were a little band from Derry Northern Ireland – The Undertones. Like Stiff Little Fingers, the Undertones played a pop version of punk rock with well written short sharp songs propelled by the O’Neil brothers and the unique sounding vocals of Feargal Sharkey. The O’Neil’s later went on to form the amazing That Petrol Emotion when Feargal Sharkey left the band to go solo.

Drawing from not only punk and new wave but also pop and northern soul, the Undertones represented a very distinct branch of the new wave movement from 1979. Hugely popular in England and Ireland and a large following in Canada, they didn’t connect with the U.S. as many a band who tried to break in to the U.S. market largely failed. I note that even the Clash had difficulty early on only finding success when the band was nearing the end of its initial run. People think the Clash’s London Calling was a huge record. Although now it is considered by many as one of the greatest albums of all time, it peaked in the U.S. Billboard charts at number 27 in 1980 (released in the U.S. on January 18, 1980), and did not reach RIAA gold certification until December 4, 1991, almost 11 years later.

So back to the Undertones. What made the Undertones so unique, and unlike Stiff Little Fingers, was despite the time and place of their formation (during the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland) the songs are focused on love, teen angst, and youthful exuberance. It is difficult not to smile when you hear the catchy pop-punk singles of this unique sounding band that incorporated a wide range and diverse number of influences. UK radio DJ John Peel’s favorite song of all time was “Teenage Kicks” which is hard to argue as the best in the Undertones catalog but for me, on Introducing the Undertones, “Hypnotized,” “Here Comes The Summer,” and the Motown influenced “The Love Parade” do nicely.

Public Image Limited - First IssueThe third oldie record in this month’s drop box is Public Image Limited’ s debut release First Issue – a remarkable album that changed the public’s perception of what popular music should sound like upon its release in 1978. Following the death of the Sex Pistols and the resultant trauma from the mess the Sex Pistols left in their wake, Johnny Rotten’s formation of Public Image Limited shortly thereafter was not only a surprise, but the uncompromising quality of the music on First Issue was a shock to the public. At the time, the record was considered too un-commercial to be released in the United States. The influence on post punk following the release of First Issue is undeniable.

From the band name, Public Image Limited, to the songs on this record, First Issue is a deliberate attempt to exorcise the taste of the Sex Pistols from Lydon’s psyche. The album is a direct slap at Malcolm McLaren and the lyrics, in part, are directed to the bitterness Lydon felt towards the manipulation by McLaren in creating the infighting and tension that lead to the demise of the band. This back story to the record puts songs like “Public Image” and its wry observations such as “[y]ou never listened to a word that I said/ you only see me for the clothes that I wear” in context. There is nothing like psychological pain to inspire brilliance.

Listening to this album more than 35 years after its original release, the songs now sound akin to present day rock, but at the time, this sound was revolutionary. Jah Wobble’s thumping baseline expanded the sonic template for guitarist Keith Levine’s grind and the union of these divergent sounds exposed the underbelly of rock – in a very exciting way. This reissue of First Issue also includes a Lydon interview and the b-side “The Cowboy Song” which is really a true b-side, as this song leans more towards noise punk. First Issue is at it’s heart anti-rock created by a guy who hated conventional rock and roll. First Issue was a dangerous record in 1978, and frankly, it still is. Try “Public Image”, “Low Life,” and “Annalisa.”

Tears For Fears - The HurtingFast forward a couple of years later into the 1980’s, English new wavers Tears For Fears, comprised of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, represented the prototypical sound of new wave in the mid 1980’s and by the end of that decade were ubiquitous on radio – both AM and FM. In the same manner as like-minded synth pop bands, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and the Human League, Tears For Fears initial impact is lost in the syrupy overproduced major label influenced pop that followed each band’s debut record. But as a debut, The Hurting, still resonates. The Hurting was a UK Number 1 album, but the U.S. missed the initial wave of popularity, with the follow up album, Songs From The Big Chair, reaching stratospheric popularity levels upon its release in the U.S – peaking as a Billboard No. 1.

So, why was The Hurting so special? The vocal qualities of Roland and Curt over top of the sly synth-pop disguised the serious nature of the lyrical content on the album. It is difficult to reconcile the subject matter on songs like “Mad World,” “Pale Shelter” and “Suffer The Children” with the dance music underlying these lyrics. e.g. from “Pale Shelter”: “[y]ou don’t give me love/ you give me pale shelter/ you don’t give me love/ you give me cold hands…” Remarkably, this album found a niche with the Cure loving Goth kids who adopted the band as an alternative to the dower Cure who had left the comparatively upbeat song craft found on their debut Three Imaginary Boys for the post punk of Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography – three of the darkest records in the Cure discography. Tears For Fears looked like Goth’s, and the dark lyrical content fit within the Goth world, but The Hurting is filled with remarkable pop songs and TFF were definitely not a Goth band, so this anomaly possibly lead to increasing importance and popularity which TFF later capitalized upon commercially. Try “Change,” “Suffer The Children (7’’ version),” and “Pale Shelter.”

PrintLast, but certainly not least in this month’s plethora of reissues, is Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism Demos, which is the bonus record attached to the 10th anniversary reissue of Transatlanticism which was Death Cab’s fourth album and commercial breakthrough record.

Death Cab For Cutie - TransatlanticismWhile I rarely, if ever, am excited by the demos of a band, these demos caught my attention because the textures present here give further meaning and context to songs that I loved from this record. Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla’s approach on Transatlanticism was never to be a rock band putting out a rock record. Rather, these demos demonstrate the care the pair took in developing a sonic approach to indie rock that creates a tension that touches your heart. The simple approach to these demo songs bring the released versions into perspective. “Lightness” in particular stands out as the simple melody that penetrates your soul. Give this a whirl at least once. You won’t be disappointed. Try” Lightness,” “Death of An Interior Decorator,” and “Tiny Vessels.”

October also had some new releases worthy of a few lines:

Arcade Fire - ReflektorIt is hard to argue with the commercial popularity of Arcade Fire’s new release, Reflektor. For those expecting The Suburbs mach II, Reflektor is really a left turn. Debuting at No. 1 in the Billboard charts shows that the record company knows how to release a record and the No. 1 debut is more the result of great publicity, a last album by the band that was spectacular, and timing of the publicity in advance of the release date, than the quality of record itself. That is, few people who purchased the record had actually heard the record before purchase. So what makes Reflektor, which is a staggering 85 minutes long, a great record? In short, the songs on Reflektor comprise a certain phase shift in the Arcade Fire’s sound and the result is an unconventional album uniquely positioned for mass appeal.

There is nothing on this record that would signal conventional hit record. The songs are lengthy, and like the National song structures, build to crescendo and upon the reaching that sonic peak, explode into smaller yet no less interesting waves. The songs don’t attack you, but rather flow like water, not a gentle stream, but like the ocean… and that is the magic in this record. The songs are constructed in such a way to give you the feeling that you are floating within each song. You float and consequently the need for instant gratification typical of most pop songs i.e. the chorus, is no longer a necessity. This record would make for a long sweaty night in a nightclub and I can envision the endless remix possibilities. Finally, there is a rhythmic awareness on this record unlike any other Arcade Fire record. It is impossible not to listen to this record with a foot tap. Songs like “We Exist” and Here Comes The Nigh Time” are prime examples of this new approach with interesting rhythms propelling the songs and the Win Butler’s vocals weirdly hovering in these rhythms. Try “We Exist, “Normal Person,” and “Afterlife.”

AFI - BurialsAFI makes a return after a lengthy hiatus. After 4 years, Davey Havoc and company make a very lush sounding imaginative record that is undoubtedly the darkest record the band has made. This is Havoc’s personal pain examined in depth. Knowledge is power, so be forewarned, this is not a dance pop record and nor is it in any manner similar to the straight forward rock that was present on Crash Love. This is still progress for AFI and not a return to the commercial popular version, except that the Goth rock leanings are reinvigorated on Burials. Other than the radio friendly “17 Crimes,” there are no other songs on this record that should make any commercial playlist. I guess that is perhaps the point AFI is trying to make on this album. Burials is clearly not an attempt to produce a radio friendly unit shifter (Nirvana). Look, any band who can sing “I Hope You Suffer” with such ferocity, is no longer grasping for the brass ring. If you are already a fan, then you will get this record and what AFI is trying to accomplish. I also hope that anyone who listens to this record doesn’t have a personal connection to these songs, because if you do, my heartfelt deepest regrets. This record makes the dropbox, because of its honesty and commitment to the craft of making music that is personal. Very few artists are willing to commit to their art, but AFI have done that in spades here. Honest and intense, this is a great record. Try” I Hope You Suffer,” “Heart Stops,” and “Greater Than 84.”

Chris Stamey - Lovesick BluesRadically switching things up (because after listening to Burials, you are reminded that perhaps a break from despair is required, at least sometimes), legendary (at least to me) musician and producer Chris Stamey (formerly of the Sneakers, and dBs) releases Lovesick Blues, his first record since 2005’s collaboration with Yo La Tengo, A Question of Temperature. This is a beautiful record in the true meaning of that word – pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically. The addition of strings to these delicate compositions add sonic highlights to the simple and straightforward approach of Stamey on these intimate tales. For those of you whom have grown up with pop music on radio, then Lovesick Blues will be an acquired taste. I find Stamey’s approach to these songs remarkable. After repeated listens to this album I find nuances to each song that I didn’t discover on earlier listens. It is the work of true genius to make complex songs sound so simple. Try “Skin,” “You n Me n XTC,” and “Lovesick Blues.”

Dandy Warhols - This MachineNever thought I’d see the Dandy Warhols pop out a new record as good as this at this point in their career. This Machine is the 8th album from the Portland mainstays who continue to tour and play but not with the same fervor as earlier in the band’s development. Prior to listening to This Machine, I had read some mostly negative reviews and as a reader of Pitchfork’s blog, I was dismayed by Pitchfork’s reviewer’s 5.1 overall rating for the album. The reviewer found the Dandy Warhols stripped down approach to psych rock unappealing and the album overall uninteresting. With that as foreshadow for my own listening experience, I was hesitant to even give the record a spin. I’m glad I did. Pitchfork’s review is wide of the mark and they are just plain wrong in their assessment of This Machine. Perhaps there is something else going on with the politics of rock criticism as Pitchfork becomes less relevant in the big picture. I know, some of you are thinking why I would make such a bold statement.

An Aside: Pitchfork has like many a blog, evolved over the years. As it attempts to monetize its blog, after all who writes this stuff for free, there has been subtle, but noticeable change in the review content. Sure, there is still an attempt to review nearly everything released, but in the last year, there is major label creep. I note the positive reviews of Katy Perry (I agree with the review), Kanye West (9.5 for largely an average and uninspired record. Note: Hype does not make a record good. The test, as always is time, and I can think of no time where I would play this more than the few times I tried to listen to this record), Drake (8.6), Janelle Monae (8.3) etc. The point here is that Pitchfork is shifting its focus to try to be popular, i.e. increase readership, which by no means is a bad thing, but at what expense? Since, the focus of the dropbox is always only on things I personally like, I do not offer or pretend to offer criticism, only information. Hopefully it’s relevant and interesting. If not, let me know. I’ll do better. So, back to the point of this aside – Pitchfork is becoming less relevant as a place to read valid criticism because it has lost its focus – it is not Spin or Rolling Stone and it shouldn’t try to be. Rather, Pitchfork’s best asset was always information – exposure to unique sounds and artists. This I feel is what it has lost.

Now, back to the program:

Dandy Warhols’ leader and rock savant Courtney Taylor-Taylor, has produced an interesting and yes, different, Dandy Warhols record. The secret on This Machine is the Dandy’s capacity to move the listener by changing the sonic direction of each song. The strength of the Dandy Warhols has always been the capacity to sonically fuse pychedelia to indie rock, and that is accomplished here is spades. Perhaps, Pitchfork doesn’t like the ethereal vocals, noticeable present on “The Autumn Carnival,” or the straightforward Cramps sound of “Enjoy Yourself” but in the main, I was pleasantly surprised by both the depth and variety of the songs. Sure, there is not the vigor of youth present in Taylor’s vocals, but maturity should not be taken for merely going through the motions. Also, nothing on This Machine approaches the level of craftsmanship found on the first three DW records, but, for most bands, it is difficult to get one great record let alone three, and on album eight it is refreshing to see a band not traipsing around the same sound with little thought to creating something new. This record works because it demonstrates range, uncompromising quality, and the songs still fit the band. Sure there are a few missteps, such as the cover of Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons,” but overall a very good record. Try “I Am Free,” “Rest Your Head,” and “Sad Vacation.”

Fall Out Boy - Pax-Am DaysNeed a change of pace and direction? Not you as a listener, but as a band, then look no further than Fall Out Boy’s latest release. I thought their last album Fall Out Boy Save Rock and Roll was a very strong record, but this follow up EP, Pax-Am Days, is a palate cleaner for the band. This is eight songs of short sharp punk rock touched by the pop sprinkles of Patrick Stump, and the results, unlike similar attempts by bands looking to take a harder left turn in their careers, are uniformly excellent. Perhaps, FOB’s members actually like punk rock – because they play it like they mean it.  While this type of punk rock is likely a genre where the band will likely end up on their next full length, Fall Out Boy successfully plays these eight tracks like the band is still part of the scene, not merely aping the sound. A great effort. Try ”American Made,” “Caffeine Cold,” and “Love Sex Death.”

If you’ve been following the dropbox for the past couple of years, then you are likely aware that when I like a record I become a fan of the band and so, when something new appears, I am eager to give it a listen. Such is the case this month with some great new tunes from some past offenders:

Kurt Vile And The Violators - It's A Big World Out ThereKurt Vile and The Violator’s latest, It’s A Big World Out There (And I’m Scared), is scheduled for release next week (November 13) and continues Vile’s distinctive indie rock sound explored earlier this year on Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze and will comprise the bonus disc for the deluxe version of that album as all of the tracks were recorded during those sessions. All of these are previously unreleased, and as a standalone, this EP works great as a companion to that record. I am looking forward already to the next installment. Try “Feel My Pain,”, “Never Run Away (string synth),” and “Snowflakes Extended.”

Fuzz - FuzzSo, you’ve probably already guessed I have a toner (a musical boner, see the Pitch Perfect movie), for the very prolific Ty Segal who seems to release something every month. This month it is in the form of Fuzz, consisting of life long pals Charles Mootheart & Ty Segall and rounded out live by ex-Moonheart Roland Cosio on bass who have released a gem of a record in the form of the self-titled debut Fuzz and a 7’’ “Sunderberry Dream” b/w “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Like Segall’s other projects, the touchstone is always some point in rock history as filtered through Segall’s brilliant reinterpretations of the genre. Here, Fuzz takes on the heavy rock of the early to mid-70’s with Black Sabbath, Hendrix, and similar post 60’s psychedelic Blues based fuzz rock. The record makes you sweaty just listening. I want desperately to get my Bic lighter out, particularly after the opener “Earthen Gate” where at the end you could almost imagine the stadium cheer. Less a throwback than a homage, Fuzz won’t sell a ton of records – but they should. Try “Sleigh Ride,” “Loose Sutures,” and “One.” Get a Live peak here: Fuzz (Ty Segall) – This Time I’ve Got a Reason (KDVS: Live In Studio A.

Static Jacks - In BlueWestfield New Jersey’s Static Jacks are back with their follow up to one of my favorite records of 2011, the magnificent If Your Young, with the also stellar In Blue. This is, if you recall, sing-a-long pop punk that is so catchy I dare you not to be captured by the melody present here in abundance on the songs comprising In Blue. I loved the entire record which is currently playing on repeat. “Wallflowers” has hit song written all over it, so start there and bounce around because there is not a dud on the album. Apparently the band has been listening to the trend to explore “fuzz”, so this record has more of that presence than on the past albums all to great effect. Try ”Wallflowers,” “Katie Said,” and “Ninety Salt.”

So, until I can get to an update, here is the list:

  1. Dirtbombs – Consistency Is the Enemy [2013]
  2. Fuzz – Sunderberry Dream EP [2013]
  3. Fuzz – Fuzz [2013]
  4. Static Jacks – In Blue [2013]
  5. Cage the Elephant – Melophobia [2013]
  6. Public Image Ltd. – First Issue (Reissue) [2CD] [2013]
  7. Cassadee Pope – Frame By Frame [2013]
  8. Electric Six – Mustang [2013]
  9. Undertones – An Introduction to the Undertones [2013]
  10. Panic! at the Disco – Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! [2013]
  11. Andrew Belle – Black Bear [2013]
  12. Chris Stamey – Lovesick Blues [2013]
  13. Fratellis – We Need Medicine [2013]
  14. Teen Agers – I Hate It [2013]
  15. Tears for Fears – The Hurting [30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] [2013]
  16. William Beckett – Genuine and Counterfeit [2013]
  17. AFI – Burials [2013]
  18. Arcade Fire – Reflektor [2CD] [2013]
  19. Best Coast – Fade Away EP [2013]
  20. Dandy Warhols – This Machine [2013]
  21. Dirty Projectors – Offspring Are Blank EP [2013]
  22. Fall Out Boy – Pax-Am Days EP [2013]
  23. Future of the Left – How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident [2013]
  24. Gaslight Anthem – 45 RPM Club (7”) [2013]
  25. Clash – Hits Back [2CD] [2013]
  26. Cass McCombs – Big Wheel and Others [2013]
  27. Control – Ballad of The Working Man [2013]
  28. Cult Of Luna – Vertikal II (MCD) [2013]
  29. Cults – Static [2013]
  30. Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism Demos [2013]
  31. Echosmith – Talking Dreams (Deluxe Special Edition) [2013]
  32. Kurt Vile and The Violators – It’s A Big World Out There (And I Am Scared) EP [2013]
  33. Los Campesinos! – No Blues [2013]
  34. Ocean Party – Split [2013]
  35. Papa – Tender Madness [2013]
  36. Polica – Shulamith [2013]
  37. Rude Tins – State Of Flux [2013]
  38. Crystal Antlers – Nothing Is Real [2013]
  39. Drag the River – Drag the River [2013]
  40. Kickdrums – Thinking Out Loud [2013]
  41. Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond [2013]
  42. Parlotones – Stand Like Giants [2013]
  43. Velojet – Panorama [2013]
  44. Unwound – Kid Is Gone [2013]
  45. Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals [2013]
  46. Polly Scattergood – Arrows [2013]
  47. Royal Bangs – Brass [2013]
  48. Phosphorescent – Muchacho de Lujo [2013]
  49. Wolf & Cub – Heavy Weight [2013]
  50. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2 [2013]