I had a request for these two records that was simply too good to refuse, even if I don't possess physical copies of either. If you have any awareness whatsoever as to what Alternate Learning (ALRN for short) were about, you likely know they were the predecessor to the late Scott Miller's more renown mid-80s combo, Game Theory. I'm not privy to the impetus of the band's moniker, but it's safe to say that if you wish to have "alternate facts" it's only logical that "alternate learning" has to come first, no? And speaking of all things logical, their 1981 full length Painted Windows was a fittingly stylistic precursor to the first GT wax, Blaze of Glory. Stunning, inspired slices of vaguely skewed collegiate juvenilia entailing the likes of "The New You" and "Beach State Rocking" make Painted... almost as rewarding an any given Theory offering. You'll no doubt suss out a more pronounced emphasis on synthesizers cropping up on ALRN tunes stacked up to GT, but in terms of song arrangements, Miller's formula was baked into the cake when this dandy little LP was gestated way back when.
The four song ALRN ep was dropped two years prior to Painted Windows, wielding a considerably more nascent, not to mention lo-fi approach. An adolescent surge of punky guitars propels "What's the Matter" in a manner that Miller never pursued in Game Theory, but even this early in the game (pun partially intended) "When She's Alone" foreshadows his burgeoning pop acumen, and is in all ways a keeper. Certain copies of this 7" ep were accompanied with a spate of colorful inserts. Special thanks to whomever ripped these scarce slabs of wax and provided the artwork. The 2014 reissue of the aforementioned debut Game Theory LP, Blaze of Glory includes a total of four songs from both ALRN records as bonus material in sterling CD quality. Don't cheat yourself, treat yourself here. ALRN ep 01. Green Card 02. What's the Matter 03. Gumby's in a Coma 04. When She's Alone Painted Windows 01. Another Wasted Afternoon 02. Sex War 03. The New You 04. Dark Days 05. Occupation Unknown 06. Dresden 07. Beach State Rocking 08. Ulysses 09. Painted Windows 10. Let's Not Wait ALRN ep: http://www19.zippyshare.com/v/hSYHT7OV/file.html Painted Windows: http://www19.zippyshare.com/v/pNyHERH6/file.html
Noooo! Skinny ties and facial hair should never mix! Granted, you'll have to download the record to see what I'm referring to on the back cover of Nephews... I'm not sure what their point of origination is/was (Boston?) but the four-man Aunt Helen were about as scattershot as they come. Something of a one-song-wonder, this record starts out with a genuine bang in the guise of "Psychology Today" and deescalates rapidly from there. The keeper in question, "Psychology," boasts the sass and savvy of AH's Midwest contemporaries Fools Face and Secrets, not to mention a dash of The A's. As you might have gleaned from the cover art, this was not a band that took themselves particularly seriously. A sardonic, calypso reading of "Wild Thing" doesn't impress, nor does much of Helen's willfully cheeky approach on the remainder of Nephews. Such goofball tactics are either charming and endearing or a fatal flaw. I'll let you be the judge.
01. Psychology Today
02. Wild Thing
03. It Just Isn't Fair
05. Do the Nip
06. (If I Had An) Electric Guitar
Folks, this proverbial ticket to ride is an utter cold case. Got this through the college station I used to DJ at, and in all likelihood it arrived in the mail with an accompanying bio sheet of some sort, not that I would have saved it even if I originally had access to it. Anyway, three promising songs from an earnest bunch o' San Fran up-and-comers, residing on the crunchier side of period indie rock, a la Small 23, Figgs or perhaps a rawer Material Issue. The only potential link I was able to cross reference on Five Ticket Ride was a handful of YouTube clips that could be a different band of the same moniker, but the sonic similarities give me the impression they're one and the same. Anyone have a clue on these folks, comment away. Am enthused to hear more.
There's rockabilly, there's psychobilly...so why not chill-obilly? Truth be told, London's Cowbell ain't peddling no gimmicky shtick, rather that pearl of said nomenclature is frequently applicable on Haunted Heart. This boy (Jack Sandham) and girl (Wednesday Lyle) duo curtail the "dirty" aesthetic considerably stacked up against say, The Kills, but there's some discernible bite to the jacked-up bop of the vivacious title track, as well as the souped-up Americana kick of "Downlow." In the grand scheme of things, Haunted Heart is hardly a record of extremes, rather Cowbell's pedigree heretofore has placed the emphasis on their garage credentials. With an undercurrent of organ and a spicy guitar solo percolating through "Nothing But Trouble," I'm inclined to play along, but the tunes I've name-dropped thus far strike me as the exception, not the rule. "Neon Blue" and "New Kinda Love," play up the duo's more refined angles, meshed with a telltale appreciation of the blues and '60 psych pop, respectively. Elsewhere they cut the tension off at the knees entirely on the decidedly tamer "Something's Gotta Give" and the sax-laden closer, "No Wrong." Make no mistake though, Cowbell aren't the second coming of the Carpenters...nor the White Stripes (albeit they're angling significantly closer to the latter). Boasting nuanced aptitude and consistency, Haunted Hearts just might have you shouting, "more cowb--" Sorry, I couldn't resist!. Pick up the album May 26 from Damaged Goods Records, Amazon and iTunes.
Here's a slice of post-C86 handiwork for you from a UK indie enterprise who happened to make an appearance on one of the Sound of Leamington Spa twee compilations way back when. Summer's Coming appeared to be The Clamheads sole release. "Everybody Loves Me Cept You" brandishes a describable power pop bent,and IMHO is the breadwinner here by a longshot. Some keen Housemartins inclinations frequently color in the remainder of the record with "Summer's Coming Down" striking my fancy in addition to the aforementioned. Cloudberry Cake blog had a few things to say about this one, providing some background details on the Clamheads to boot.
01. Summer's Coming Down
02. Everybody Loves Me Cept You
03. Never Crack On
04. Reprobate's Blessing
Last week when I talked up the new Sneetches anthology, Form of Play, I praised it for presenting a cross section of their entire career. Well, almost anyway. It didn't hit me at the time, but that compilation largely overlooked (if not flat out ignored) the band's first proper album, Lights Out! With... As if it wasn't already obvious, here's that entire platter in question. The only song that crosses over with Form of Play, is the lilting "Only For a Moment," appearing on Lights Out! in a slightly different incarnation. How any Sneetches career spanning disk could omit a sublime ballad like "54 Hours" or the Brit Invasion marinated "I Need Someone" is...a mystery. Any Sneetches record is an embarrassment of riches, and this one's no exception.
01. I Need Someone
02. In My Car
04. 54 HOurs
05. I Don't Expect Her for You (Look at That Girl)
06. Home Again
07. No One Knows
08. Only for a Moment
Arlington, TX's finest son, Lannie Flowers can reliably be counted on for a perennial treat, be it a new full length, a tricked-out reissue of vintage Pengwins material, or in this case a new single. 2017's offering is on the brief side but I'll gladly take out. Greg Kihn famously sang "They don't write 'em like that anymore," but I'll be damned if Lannie isn't a grand exception to said lyric. Case in point, the A-side to this whirl o' pleasure, "Kiss a Memory," which doesn't resemble Kihn so much as late '70s Tom Petty, and Yellow Pills Records power pop mavens like Barely Pink (remember them, anyone?). The flip, "Everything A Man Could Want" is doubly fervent and punchy, a song that was admittedly crafted in the mold of The Faces. Since there's just a couple cuts here I don't want to give any more away than I already have, so head on over to CD Baby or Spyderpop RecordsFacebook page for any and all pertinent details!
To our credit, we got to this one before The dB's Repercussions blog did! Yes, I'll be patting myself on this one for some time to come, but per usual, I digress. I had no idea this was out there until I stumbled upon this copy a few years ago. Right out of the starting gate, "Excitement" announces itself as one of the finest things DecibelChris Stamey has offered outside of his renown band (dBs, duh) rocking out in a forward thinking, Let's Active and Game Theory vein, furthermore sounding every bit like the Don Dixon production that it is. Easily the highlight on Instant Excitement, you'll still want to stay seated for the remainder, including a straight up but effective reading of "Instant Karma," and the lengthy but alluring acousti-ballad, "Something Came Over Me." The meandering instrumental "Ghost Story" strikes me as album filler, but evidently not to Stamey, who went to the trouble of subtitling it nearly ten times (way too much for me to type out - go here to view). The end of side two yields an unlisted track, a country tune, "The Wild Side of Life," that was apparently written/recorded by Willie Nelson (per a lyric search). Moreover, the tune is definitely not sung by Stamey nor credited to anyone. Anybody have a clue?
02. Instant Karma
03. When We're Alone
04. Ghost Story
05. Something Came Over Me
06. The Wild Side of Life
Here's a buncha haircut dudes from Australia with a thing for heartland, Americana-ish rock, sporting their fair share of Rickenbacker guitars to boot. I suppose The Pony aren't far off from say, their Oz brethren Died Pretty, but this quartet gratifies considerably faster. I dig the janglier tunes the most - "Broken Kites," "Ambition's Day Off," and "A Calling," all of which are satisfying enough to offset some of their tranquilizing ballad forays. The overall effect is reminiscent of Athens, GA's Dreams So Real, not that the Pony were likely to catch wind of them at the time. Before diving into this, be prepared for some surface noise. Also, there is a slight skip around the six second mark of the opener "I Lied" that I was unable to rectify. Perhaps more from these guys to come.
01. I Lied
02. Ambition's Day Off
03. A Calling
05. The Answer
06. In the Background
07. Still Blue
08. Broken Kites
09. The Young Boys
11. Hey Daddy
12. Reminds Me of Me
Where do you start with a band that had one foot in the '80s, and the other in the succeeding decade that gracefully managed to deflect the superficial trappings of either period? Well, as bassist Alec Palao eloquently describes in From of Play's liner notes, you start by not selling truckloads of records, and ditto for packing droves into nightclubs to see your act. Meet The Sneetches, a bygone San Francisco treat that never indulged in the flavor-of-the-moment whims of their mid-80s to nineties tenure, be it new wave, neo-psychodelic, grunge or otherwise. In fact, no amount of peer pressure (if any existed at all) swayed the Sneetches to be anything other than ...themselves.
Settling on a four-person roster by 1988 (one that was coincidentally half Yank/half Brit) the band's modus operandi was never quite spelled out, rather revealed slowly and intermitently over the course of four full lengths and easily thrice as many short form singles and EPs. Highly prolific, the Sneetches discography is somewhat intimidating, and although an attempt at distilling the highlights of their career was attempted via 1991's 1985-1991 compilation on Alias Records, Omnivore's summation of their trajectory encompasses the tail end of their run as well on Form of Play, albeit not chronologically. Still, a "trail mix" cross-section of their work isn't a bad way to present the Sneetches, as they fell shy of releasing a universally hailed album, or for that matter much in the way of signature songs. And what of those songs you might ask?
Over the course of their decade lifespan, the Sneetches frequently inhabited a power pop place, with their intuition being equally persuaded by both sides of the pond. Frontman Mike Levy and six string-wielder Matt Carges piloted their airship through primo, hooky terrain on "...And I'm Thinking," the Merseybeat inflected "Julianna Why," and a devastatingly bittersweet single from 1987, "Only For a Moment." A more streamlined muse is at play on "Empty Sea" and "What's In Your Mind," loosely slotting into a mode at home with latter era Let's Active, and even Game Theory. Some appealing anomalies materialize as well, namely the punky Buzzcocks-cum-Replacements thrust of "Looking for Something," and the strummy, pastoral folk of "Let Us Go."
Form of Play may not be my dream roster of Sneetches songs, but first-person perspective aside it's a representative assemblage of what made these Bay-era popmeisters tick. The few previously unreleased sections are predominantly culled from live performances, but a concluding acoustic demo of "How Does It Feel" channeling Big Star says volumes about where the Sneetches were emanating from.