Just a heads up. I'm taking a few days off and won't be posting again until early next week. To amuse yourselves, head over here to check out a "mix tape" of sorts my friend compiled called The 80s Underground - Deepest Cuts Vol. 2. A good swath of it contains music I've shared on Wilfully Obscure over the past several years, as well as vintage tunes that have been resuscitated via other corners of the blogosphere. It features scintillating selections from For Against, Flying Colour, Winter Hours, and Fire Town in addition to more than a dozen other indie outliers. Enjoy (you will).
I was clued into The Misstakes by virtue of comparisons made between them and hometown contemporaries Fools Face. Being the F/F aficionado that I am I took the bait on this presumably long defunct Springfield, MO quartet, and ponied up for a relatively expensive copy of National Pastime, which from what I gather still goes for a bit on Ebay. The Misstakes certainly honed their pop chops in the same wheelhouse as Fools Face, but they fall a little short of the caliber of that band's magnum opus, Tell America. They're sprite and enthusiastic in the manner of the Rubinoos (albeit packing a little more bite) with faint shades of Cheap Trick and Shoes occasionally filtering through. In a nutshell, National Pastime is a solid, competent power pop album, just not quite as critical as the efforts of any of the aforementioned.
01. To Pretend (Is the Advantage)
02. Broken Hearts
03. National Pastime
04. She'll Never Hear (the Things I Have to Say)
05. She's Mine
06. He's Not, She's Not
07. I Can Be
08. Someone Else's Mind
I'm not sure if I "get" what The Balancing Act were all about, or even if I was meant to get them. At any rate, I'm sharing their first record which was appended to the CD version of the Three Squares and a Roof album. Three Squares is available on iTunes and all the usual suspects, but somehow this ep failed to carry over. Produced by none other than Peter Case, New Campfire Songs acoustic, earthy tones mesh well with TBA's folk rock tendencies and wry, but unpretentious songwriting. A shoo-in for college radio playlists back in the day I'm sure. Signposts point to the likes of Camper Van Beethoven, Senator Flux and occasionally the Violent Femmes. Here is what Trouser Press had to say about this disk:
This semi-electric LA rock quartet is earnest enough on its Peter
Case-produced debut EP but, with the exception of "Wonderful World Tonight," a
likable and evocative update of the "Goin' Up the Country" ethos, none of these
half dozen New Campfire Songs is likely to show up alongside "Blowin' in
the Wind" at the next weenie roast. Give the Balancing Act credit for a unique
blend of acoustic and electric elements, though. Also, they've got a melodica,
and they know how to use it!
I have two discs of compactness to offer you today, courtesy of In One, whose "Sour Yellow State" 45 I made available just a couple weeks ago. In my writeup, I emphasized this upstate New York combo's qualifications to be judged by their shoegaze-mongering capabilities, but after spending some quality time with Ascension and Fade, I'm afraid I may have typecast them. True, the tunes from that single (both appearing on Ascension btw) were the stuff of tremelo-kissed dreams, In One also fixed their gaze on the more austere side of the Britpop coin, specifically the likes of Adorable and Boo Radleys...though I might be the only one outside the band to hone in on those more obtuse angles. "Used and Abused" is a particularly grand example of In One's acumen removed from the gauzy, dream-pop confines.
Fade, which followed two years after, Ascension boasted far briefer songs, but stylistically more of the same. The arrangements were becoming slightly less congested however, with the trio seizing upon the crisp hue of contemporaries Riverside and The Ocean Blue at moments. The liner notes mention Fade was designed as precursor to a forthcoming full length that I'm assuming never came to fruition.
03. Flooding Water
04. Swallowed Whole
05. Sour Yellow State
06. Used and Abused
07. Stuck (Here in the Present)
03. The Ceiling Reappears
05. Gasping for Air
06. Mercury (acoustic)
07. Fade (part 1)
When the nine songs comprising this reissue were being tracked in the early '90s, I prided myself with being aware of virtually every dream-gaze aggregation stalking the planet, or at the very least those occupying both sides of the Atlantic. To this day I'm excavating groups from that era that somehow evaded my tonebending radar like Dreamscape. Predictably, this flock resided in England, but unlike Ride, the Valentines and Swervedriver they weren't bankrolled with major label dollars, nor were they on a sizable indie. And if that didn't make Dreamscape clandestine enough, a solid chunk of what they committed to tape never even made it through the pressing plant doors. Kranky Records posthumous anthology, La-Di-Da Recordings goes a long way in amending that, compiling a scarcely released ep (Cradle), alongside one that was ultimately shelved (Greater Than God).
A trio spearheaded by Rebecca Rawlings, Dreamscape's somewhat ill-fated tenure on La-Di-Da Records spanned 1991 to '93, which is precisely what I and many others would deem to be the "golden era" of dream-pop. In essence, their timing was impeccably perfect as was their slim body of work, which skewed heavily in the vicinity of Lush, and to a lesser extent Slowdive. That being said, Dreamscape's prevailing modus operandi was melodicism and subtly, not the heaving, distortion-smothering landslide that My Bloody Valentine and Medicine opted to gratuitously revel in. A lucid, but assertively ethereal bent colored virtually every canvas this threesome pitched their collective paintball at, with penetrating harmonies that were Lush-iously decadent enough to warrant more than a few comparisons to Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson. Dreamscape's methodology may ring a tad derivative to more cynical eardrums, however you'll find nary a lackluster step among this batch of nine beautifully executed numbers. "Nine Times to Die" and "Soft Fists" are particularly devastating, but since I'm not quite at liberty to share them at large, please check out Kranky's Soundcloud page to stream "Separate Sense" instead. La-Di-Da Recordings is available physically from Kranky, and digitally through Amazon and iTunes.
A couple quick sidenotes. Dreamscape issued this single prior to the two eps compiled on the album, but is not included here. Rebecca's bandmates Scott Purnell and Jamie Gingell also performed in the equally great Secret Shine.
In past years I've extolled on all things Graig Markel - a Seattle singer/songwriter, distortion pedal configurationist, and the former ringleader of sorely missed aggro punk-popsters New Sweet Breath. Heck, even as recently as a month ago I offered up his unheralded November/December ep, and earlier in '12 I spilled a few words about his most recent solo album.
In between those entries I premiered the video for "One Down, One to Go," performed by yet another project of his I neglected to dedicate any coverage to thus far,The Animals at Night. I could (and perhaps to a certain extent will) take the lazy route, and slap the handy catch-all tag "electronica" on this magnificent nocturnal beast, but as would be their good fortune, the magic lies in the message, not so much the medium. Then again, that "medium" per se, is often intoxicating amidst these four grooves.
In any given AaN piece Markel doesn't bludgeon us with the hyper-wonky keyboard blitzkriegs that so many of his contemporaries like to throw down in this day and age, but instead he maneuvers the dimmer switch between medium and soft, rationing out a comfortable allotment of beats and ambiance. The opener, "Bare Feet and Summer Teeth" is a case-in-point compromise of bump-n-grind playfulness and Markel's soulful persuasion, fleshed out with fiery guitar fills. "New Juice" opts for a lighter tact, approximating NPR radio's bumper music that some of us secretly relish. As for the aforementioned "One Down, One to Go," the trio employ a chill keyboard effect that pans in and out like digital sunshowers on a steamy afternoon. I'm linking the video for you below in case you missed it the first time around. The Animals at Night ep is available physically via the store on Graig's website and digitally from iTunes, Emusic and Amazon.
I really can't claim to harbor a dedicated interest to any of the participants on this concise 7" compilation, but being the obscuro that it is I couldn't resist sharing it. First up, B'ehl kick things off with the finest this disk has to offer in the form of "Mies Pleez" a driving slice of twee acousti-pop. Kitty Craft's trip-hop infiltrated "Lo-Fi" is true to it's name, while Tummybug's dry-witted ode to Bill Nye is downright painful. The only group on this roster I have any relative familiarity with are St. Louis' indie underdogs Bunnygrunt who tease us with a mere thirty-seven seconds of fuzz rock action they like to call "I Mock You With My Monkey Pants."
01. B'ehl - Mies Pleez
02. Kitty Craft - Lo-fi
03. Naysay - Same Old Song
04. Tummybug - Science Fiction
05. Bunnygrunt - I Mock You With My Monkey Pants
Theme split single, the rather obvious motif being a five letter moniker starting with "E," and ending in "y." I'm a sucker for Pink Floyd covers, and next to "Arnold Layne," "See Emily Play" is my favorite morsel from the Syd Barrett era. The Lies twist on it isn't particularly revelatory, but faithful almost to a fault, sans the Brit accents, not to mention half as thrilling as the original. The flip side's unknown quantity Knit Separates interpret a song by the Television Personalities that I'm entirely foreign to, a strummy melancholic ballad titled "When Emily Cries," which goes down easy by way of it's vicarious 1960's vibe.
A. The Lies - See Emily Play
B. Knit Separates - When Emily Cries
By the middle and end of the '80s there were oodles of "modern rock" bands who were commercially viable enough to warrant a modicum of airplay on mainstream FM outlets. Most of them were one or no-hit wonders, exemplified by the likes of Red Rockers, Frozen Ghost, Rhythm Corps and An Emotional Fish - and that's merely scratching the surface. Minneapolis' Outside World loosely slotted into this tricky mold, but for better or worse they didn't make it onto the rosters of Atlantic, Polygram or for that matter any corporate music entity. Instead, Outside World had the luxury of retaining what credibility they had, which was considerable on chiming guitar blasts like "Suicidal Weekend," "Drawing Lines" and "Miss Desire." The only pertinent outside link I was able to conjure up on this quartet was the video for "Suicidal Weekend" which I've made available below.
01. Suicidal Weekend
02. Green to Blues
05. It's Back to Me
07. Drawing Lines
09. Sarcasm and Metaphor
10. Just Like a Movie
12. Miss Desire
I think I'll tide you over with this juicy nugget until I have the opportunity to digitize more vinyl and such. This is a live-to-air broadcast of a 1994 Velocity Girl gig in Atlanta, where for the half-hour these songs occupied the airwaves it was an all-Simpatico affair. I'm not sure if this was the entirety of the concert, but if indeed it was, and ifSimpatico is your VG album of choice you've hit the jackpot. Barring some minor equipment foibles, this is a primo performance.
Velocity Girl, X-Radio, Atlanta 7-29-94
1. Drug Girls
2. There's Only One Thing Left To Say
3. What You Left Behind
4. Tripping Wires
5. The All-Consumer
6. Sorry Again
7. I Can't Stop Smiling
8. Medio Core
The Fugue presumably resided in the Ann Arbor, MI area, though "presumably" is the key word given the utter dearth of details on this long departed quartet. Their spin on collegiate pop 'n' roll was fairly streamlined with Waiting For Something exuding few obvious 'RIYL' signifiers. The Pedaljets and Libertines (US) perhaps, but otherwise I'm drawing a blank, despite genuinely inspired moments like "Happiness Cage," "Ghosts" and the melodramatic "I Was Living in Your Eye." I'd be happy to learn more about the Fugue, so if any of you have the dirt, comment away.
Hailing from upstate New York's fabled Western tier, you might say In One were dream-pop proteges who were just along for the Ride (get it?). Anglo-worshiping to the hilt, this trio made up in competence one they lacked in originality, and for all you shoegazer fetishists in the audience, I doubt this single will disappoint. "Sour Yellow State" is a bit sad and slight at first, but tinges of neo-psychedelia a la Rain Parade manage to wedge in a few rays of sunlight. "Flooding Water" benefits from a relentlessly fuzzy guitar line, not to mention well placed outbursts of phaser. If you enjoy this I have a pair of In One CDs I can post...
I believe the year was 1991 (or was it 1990?) when My Bloody Valentine, Lush, and Slowdive aligned themselves into the three-pronged gateway drug that ushered my psyche and senses into what would later be regarded as "the scene that celebrates itself." Yep, I had caught the shoegazer bug in colossal fashion, but little did I know at the time that said trifecta were about as godhead as that mind-bending niche would get. Sure, there were others to heap praise upon: Swervedriver, the Lilys, Fudge, and Bleach to name a few, but none of them (and the scores of identikit dream-popsters to follow) quite ascended to the bar par-excellence raised by Kevin Shields and Miki Berenyi. All these decades later, Nottingham, England's Spotlight Kid have floored me to such an extent with their latest, Disaster Tourist, that had this record arrived in the early '90s it could have competed with the coveted vanguard I mention at the beginning of this piece - and as far as the current crop of dream-pop revivalists go, they beat their contemporaries handily.
A teaming co-ed six-piece, Spotlight Kid's synthesis of shoegazer pioneers of yore frequently borders on the derivative, but what makes Disaster Tourist so unceasingly compelling is the sheer aptitude of it's creators, who are not only adept at wielding potent, tremolo-smacked maneuvers, but armed with a devastatingly melodic fortitude to match. Engulfing surges like "All is Real" and "Forget Yourself in Me" climb to billowy sonic heights, while conversely, "Lifetime" and some of the more lucid latter album tracks glide back to Terra firma in a smooth-as-silk comedown. There's some sheer magnificence wafting its way through this platter, and if the proper eleven song album weren't enough, the version coming out on Saint Marie Records this very week tacks on five bonus cuts. The crazy irony about Disaster... is that word went out last week that the long awaited follow-up to MBV's tour de force Loveless is finally slated for release before years' end. Normally one would assume the Valentines have no competition in this arena...but perhaps Kevin and Belinda are about to be beaten at their own game, dare I say.
I was forced to nix the link to two songs I was sharing, so you'll have to rely on thirty second samples from these retailers: Saint Marie, Amazon, or iTunes.
This dandy ep was the product of a Long Beach, CA duo consisting of Bob Waller and Rafe Atkinson. Desperate Hours exuded a colorful and vibrantly melodic strain of indie-guitar rock with a surplus of punky momentum. "Who Sets the Changes" and "Day Street" are chockablock with the kind of verve and vitality that few of their contemporaries could muster...save for Husker Du (hint hint). Atkinson's head-spinning guitar salvos occasionally foreshadow the sonic aplomb of early '90s cult faves Head Candy and Polyphemus (if you're acquainted with either of those bands I think you'll know where I'm coming from). There's not a stitch of info to be gleaned online regarding Desperate Hours, which is a shame given the caliber of this record. A big round of applause goes to Thad for setting me up with this disk.
01. Who Sets the Changes
02. Under Strain
03. Day Street
04. On This River
05. Crashing Sea
Aside from a pair of split singles and some compilation tracks, this ep, so far as I can tell is the only other document of this stellar Redondo Beach, CA punk-pop franchise. Buford hurled a saccharine knock out not unlike Superchunk, but occasional inflections of All and the Descendents permeated their mid-fi mix to boot. A killer cannonball, one that the likes of the Get Up Kids would be bowling down our alley in a few short years. Unfortunately, what’s also killer is the amount of painful vinyl static, particularly on the crucial leadoff track, “Pedal On.” These songs deserve to be immortalized on CD, but short of that the best I can offer are modestly cleaned up MP3s. As a side note, "Slimy Record Label Guys" has a locked groove at the end, which I opted to fade out. Oh, in regards to the gentleman depicted on the left of the sleeve, I'm not aware of what his particular malady is, but it looks pretty damn excruciating.
My buddy over at Punk Archives blog notified me last week that he had finally come into possession of one of his holy grails, the Pink Lincolns ultra-scarce, 1989 sophomore effort Headache. Released only in Europe in a limited run of a mere 500 copies, Headache was the follow up to the comparatively more findable Back From the Pink Room (recently reissued I should add). This often snotty, tongue-in-cheek punk aggregation was based in Florida, and on this record the Lincolns suggest what a merger of what the Queers and early Mr. T Experience could have spawned. Maybe. Possibly. Well, not exactly, but close enough. From what I recall these guys had a good following, and might still be in existence in one configuration or another. Pink Lincolns. Pretty in punk. A link to the full dozen-song album is below, and you can read the original entry at Punk Archives here. http://www.mediafire.com/?9fhfu0b2q7kh8g7
Sometimes twangy, sometimes sneering with punky
bravado, The Contras never take themselves too seriously, yet throughout Ciphers
in the Snow they play barnstorming rock and roll as if their very lives
depended on it. A representative case in point is the searing, rapid-fire "Man Killer," which happens to segue smoothly into "Hava Nagila," a traditional Jewish party song...and it's not nearly as awkward as it sounds. Hopped-up, garagey fireballs "Carpet Man" and "Adam and Evil" are nearly as spirited, while "Cat's Tale" dips ever so slightly into the Paisley nickel bag. We're even treated to an ABBA cover. Here's what Lucid Culture had to extoll on the Contras:
Snarling Americana-inflected punk from Minneapolis, 1987, one of the most
obscure tracks you’ll ever find. Kid’s on his way to school, worried about some
physics test. And then a grisly sight suddenly puts everything in perspective.
Followed by an offhandedly savage guitar solo by lead player Mike Crabtree. If
you ever run across a copy of their lone release, the self-pressed Ciphers in
the Snow album, grab it. The one song on it that’s made it to digital (sort of)
is their tongue-in-cheek cover of ABBA's "S.O.S."
My apologies for the abundant vinyl noise. Enjoy (or not).
When Bob Mould disbanded Husker Du in 1988, he both branched out and mellowed out. About ten years later, another power-trio that was far less renown, namely Seattle's pop-addled noise punks New Sweet Breath packed it in, and their frontman Graig Markel followed that act up with a solo career of his own. We all know that Mould's initial solo endeavors excavated some serious acoustic terrain - with astonishing effectiveness I might.
Under his own name, Markel would mine a similar vein (and hit pay dirt) but before delving into that arena he would shift gears significantly from NSB's tasty power chord melees to something decidedly more... soulful. Not full blown urban-contemporary mind you, but unmistakably cosmopolitan soundscapes wherein he flirted with higher vocal registers and learned his way around a groove. His second solo platter, 2000's Hard Grammar was really where he came into his own in this particular realm, however there was a little known preview to that album, this 1999 ep released exclusively via the original MP3.com website. Filtered through a lo-fi delivery system, the five tracks populating November/December offered a transition of sorts to the more technically proficient full lengths that were just in the offing. Hear for yourself and indulge in the warm bachelor-pad glow of this swank, yet refreshingly modest set. Feeling out of the groove? Graig Markel knows how to massage you right back into it.
While we're on the subject, check out my review of Graig's most recent album here.
03. Waiting for June
05. Stolen and Blue
A few weeks ago, a little birdy was kind enough to tip me off on Petey, an upstart Raleigh, NC trio whose clangy chords and feeble yet encouraging vocal presence ooze a purist indie-rock aesthetic resulting in substantive tunes like "Our Own Names" and "Louder Hawks." Petey's tinny sonic template is refreshingly minimalist and organic, making it a solid antidote to the current hipster morass that I find so unstimulating. You can stream and/or buy (digitally) the band's c-side ep on their Bandcamp site. I should also note that a single is to follow...