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:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for researching these obscure bands, because so much in popular music history has been suppressed and forgotten.