Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Short Revisit: Frank Black & Teenage Fanclub

We're in the middle of moving (thus the brevity of this installment), but I came across this John Peel sessions EP from 1995, featuring Frank Black backed by Teenage Fanclub.

My memory might be a bit spotty, but by the time this EP came out, Frank Black was embarking on a new solo career that wasn't going quite as well as Kim Deal's was with the Breeders. It might seem odd now, but Frank Black was indeed being played on mainstream radio (though the Pixies never were), as I clearly remember hearing "Headache" on Calgary's AM radio, but that didn't even come close to how often I heard "Cannonball" at the mall. It was probably a good business move on Frank Black's part, then, to get this EP out, seeing as how Teenage Fanclub was still riding on the Bandwagonesque high (13 was rushed out shortly before this EP came out). At the time, Teenage Fanclub had an Album Of the Year under their belt and were definitely in the college rock 'A Circuit,' despite the fact that they don't get an iota of attention now.

The EP's not terribly momentous: Frank Black backed by anybody will inevitably sound like you'd think. Anybody familiar with the mid-90s Teenage Fanclub will recognize their guitar sound here and there, but it's pretty minimal. If anything, the EP is a good indication as to how much more poppy Frank Black's first two solo albums were in comparison to the Pixies.

More than anything else, the EP's just a funny reminder as to how transient and fickle taste can be. It's odd to see two bands go from ubiquity to nostalgia acts (well, more Frank Black/Pixies than Teenage Fanclub) in what is a relatively short period of time, and little oddities like this end up piling dust through the years. At the time, finding this was a little treasure; now, it's merely going in our storage bin.

(Note: the EP has since been re-issued following John Peel's passing last year.)

Here's Frank Black and Teenage Fanclub's cover of Del Shannon's "Sister Isobel":

Monday, April 23, 2007

I Don't Generally Take Requests...

...but what the hell, just this once. Here you go, Mihai:

10cc "Dreadlock Holiday"

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Canned Air

We went to see Air last night, who somehow managed to cram at least 10 keyboards, a guitar rack, drums, at least 2 soundboards, computers, and band members on the tiny Richards on Richards stage. They played all the major hits from all of the albums, including the instrumental version of "Playground Love," but bejeezus, could they have played a longer set? The main set was over in a bit less than an hour, and the encore was over in 20 minutes. All in all, they started at around 10:30 and we were out of there by midnight. I can appreciate efficiency, but let's kick out the jams already, Air.

Here's the Hope Sandoval version of "Cherry Blossom Girl," which is way better than the album version.

I like how Godin looks like Barry Gibb in this picture; Dunckel generally looks like an elf.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bigmouth Strikes Again

No disrespect, but I actually quite liked Mark Ronson's cover of the Smiths' "Stop Me," despite O-Dub's opinion to the contrary. See what you think:

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Revisited: The Grand Muthaf#%ker of Them All

I was all set on continuing the 90s college rock posts (replace "all set" with "somewhat intending to" and replace "intending to" with "procrastinating from"), until I noticed the latest issue of Magnet, whose "75 Lost Classics" feature reads like a copy of CMJ from '95. The feature runs through a laundry list of perennial college radio favorites and B-list acts, bands consistently name-checked in articles from the time but still languishing in bargain bins across the country (the feature lists predominantly rock acts, with nary a mention of hip-hop, electronic music, etc).

The feature plays out largely like a high school reunion newsletter, interesting mainly for the "where are they now" bits on each of the bands. Not surprisingly, most of the bands have since splintered off into either different acts or day jobs, with only the more well-known of them having continued on towards some modicum of success (eg. Calvin Johnson, Cornelius, etc). Here's a cross-selection of what I remembered of them:

Though often critically lauded, I don't recall either of Richard Davies' former bands having quite as much airplay as his solo albums, and even the latter were over-shadowed with Eric Matthew's solo output. This was probably due to a couple of things: (i) Flydaddy Records (which released both Cardinal and the Davies albums) were at an obvious disadvantage compared to the indie monolith Sub Pop (which released Matthews' solo albums, at the time), and (ii) Matthews had the better voice. I picked this track, "You've Lost Me There," because it features both quite prominently, and because the vocal arrangements around 2 and half minutes in are k-i-l-l-e-r.

Papas Fritas

I never listened past Papas Fritas' first album, having never been a huge twee pop afficiando, only because little of the genre grabbed much of my increasing diminishing attention span. Of the pack, Papas Fritas were definitely enjoyable, having a bit more polish than the glut of lo-fi 4-track tapes that flooded the market (anybody remember Shrimper Records?), but most of their debut didn't particularly stand out more than any of the other solid albums that were out at the time. Until, of course, you hit the last 40 seconds of "Passion Play," which has some of the best string arrangements that indie rock has ever mustered, catapulting the Papas Fritas ahead of the rest, if only for that one song:

the Spinanes/Rebecca Gates

Me and Chad booked Rebecca Gates into Calgary based solely on the Spinanes' swan-song, Arches and Aisles. I had/have never heard Strand, my interest in Gates having piqued mainly because of article she had written in Raygun about Dusty in Memphis, and I don't think I had heard the solo EP until after we had booked the show (it was supposed to be packaged with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, which didn't happen for whatever reason, though I do remember wondering who Ted Leo was, at the time). I left town for whatever reason before the show (I went to Texas, I think), and didn't meet Rebecca until we brought her in for a solo acoustic show a second time around. Regardless, I was already on the bandwagon with Arches, which was largely a Chicago album with all the usual Tortoise suspects (it featured Sam Prekop on backup on one song), and completely enthralled with Ruby Series, which had a bit more space for the songs to breathe (even John McEntire's drum programming was reigned in to something more uncharacteristically subtle). This track, "the Seldom Scene," is still a huge favorite of mine, a late night torcher with light jazz fringes:

(this file is also avail from Badman Recordings, with another track to download)


Again, I was late to the whole Teenbeat Records thing (see comments above re: twee pop). It was a matter of too-much-to-listen-to-not-enough-time, and thus I didn't catch much of it save for whatever came out on those annual samplers. Both my friends Rob and Chris drove Unrest into me, however, though it was probably more through Mark Robinson's latter outfit Air Miami (goddamn that "World Cup Fever") first. I kept up with it best as I could for a couple of years, but Robinson was still churning out more of the same (save for the Grenadine album), and from what Magnet tells me, that's still the case. I picked this track, then, because it's one of few Unrest/M Robinson songs that goes further than the formula and into truly classic territory (just listen to the friggin' drums, okay?):

Magnet picked Fantasma, Cornelius' first album available stateside, which Matador had picked up following its huge success with the other famed Shibuya group, Pizzicato 5. At the time, Jay and I had just started DJing at Pongo, and the management wanted as much J-Pop as possible (to match the Asian fusion menu, and a recipe for a Giant Robot overdose). There wasn't too much to come by in the record stores (this being pre-Napster and all), but I was traveling to Japan pretty regularly. If Pizzicato 5 (and, by extension, Fantastic Plastic Machine) was excessively kitsch, then Cornelius was excessively spastic, a sampling nightmare that you might see as a predecessor of Girl Talk, at least in terms of song structure. There's always one or two gems hidden on each P5 or Cornelius album - and the packaging in itself is always a thrill - but an impossibility to get through in its entirety, like a 45 minute sugar rush you just have to get through at least once. This song is from the 96/69 remix counterpart to 69/96 (both are also physically impossible for even a CD player to get through - they have 69/96 tracks, which older CD players find problematic), one of said gems:

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Revisited: Guided By Voices

The early/mid 90s rock canon is a moldy old chestnut to tackle, considering it accounts for a huge percentage of what I had listened to in my formative years and thus a little bit hard to separate from pure nostalgia. This nostalgia, though, is of the few examples of "good" nostalgia, so here we are.

We recently watched the Pixies documentary, after which I realized something odd: the Pixies have somehow found themselves in the classic rock canon. People talk about the band with the same fondness that others mention the Police or 80s REM/U2, bands that are a still a little too odd to find themselves in the same light as Led Zeppelin but not odd enough to find themselves as renegade as the Stooges might still be considered to be. I mean, who can't name the next line to "Hey! Been tryin' to meet you"?

If you haven't noticed it already, Guided By Voices has slipped into a close second. While they still might have more of a cult following than the Pixies does, there's an awful lot of people that know "My Valuable Hunting Knife." Guided By Voices has that good ol' college rock gumption that people identify with en masse, and if you still don't believe me, go to a Ween show and see how many frat guys show up, and extrapolate that accessibility by a multiple.

The most identifying GBV album, in my mind, remains one of their earliest: Bee Thousand. The album doesn't truly start until its second song, "Buzzards and Dreadful Crows," much like Big Star's #1 Record doesn't really get going until "Ballad of El Goodo." From there, it's hard for any of the songs to skip a beat, considering most are two and half minutes in duration.

It's "Hot Freaks" that really gets me going. A combination of tape hiss, erotic imagery comprised mainly of culinary references: it's got e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. I'm generally bad for remembering lyrics, but it doesn't take long for me to remember when exactly to yell out "Hot Freaks!" (and it still makes me giggle when he sings about a "wet spot bigger than the Great Lakes").

Of course, as with the Pixies, fuck if I know what the hell Pollard's on about. Understanding isn't the point. There's a whole dissertation on what Pollard (and to a lesser extent, Tobin Sprout) might have meant when he sang about robot boys - read it, and more power to you - but when it boils down to it, Bee Thousand's mass appeal is about soundbites. It really doesn't matter whether you know what "Kicker of Elves" might refer to, but it sure is fun to sing along to, and catchy enough to nestle itself in mass memory.

This is why I figure Pollard has remained more memorable than Lou Barlow. Both were widely associated with the whole lo-fi thing in the mid-90s (Bee Thousand being the most exemplary example), but Sebadoh's certainly not the crowd fave of the two. I loved both at the time, but GBV's a lot more fun to listen to now, with Barlow's sadsack whining being the last thing I need to listen to now, having (hopefully) grown out of any adolescent angst (btw, the Dinosaur Jr albums aren't a great trip down memory lane, either).

That's not to say Pollard's not just as big of an asshole as Barlow - he is, but just a whole lot funnier. When I was 19 or 20, I ended up backstage at a GBV show here in Vancouver, and watched Pollard smoke up in the green room with one of the Zumpano guys while making fun of Eric Matthews (who they had apparently both met at a Sub Pop party). At one point they wanted to release a split 7" called "Fuck Eric Matthews" (the Zumpano guy since carried on with the New Pornographers).

This was they hey-day of whino-GBV, in the incarnation with Mitch Mitchell, Tobin Sprout, and Kevin Fennell. Pollard had pawned off his press obligations to Fennell, who I interviewed for hours before the show, watching him get progressively more and more drunk inside the Commodore, switching from thought-out soundbites ("I fucking love Canada!") to off-the-cuff rants ("I fucking hate Canada!"). This culminated in Fennell running out on a dinner tab and me leaving it to the V3 groupies to pay out.

It wasn't exactly glamorous, in the strictest sense, but it sure was exciting to watch. I re-read whatever GBV press was out, starting with what got me into the band in the first place, a sidebar piece Jim Greer had written in Spin (at the time I was convinced Greer/Blackwell/et al were the second coming of the 70s Rolling Stone). Greer subsequently wrote piece after piece on the band, and, more than that, joined the band (and married Kim Deal, who by that point was pretty much done with the Breeders, started the Amps, and released a number of singles with Pollard). Much like the rest of the GBV lineup from that period, Greer parted ways with Pollard (though he did write a whole book on the subject), which coincided nicely with when I parted ways with GBV too.

Since then, it's probably been around seven or eight years since I listened to Guided By Voices. Despite this fact, I did buy a few of the albums on CD to replace the cassettes I had, out of no better reason than wanting to own them, regardless of never wanting to actually listen to them. And the thing is, after so many years, I still know exactly when to shout out "Hot Freaks."