Monday, February 7, 2011

New Sounds of Scotland, Part 4: Endor, Bubblegum Lemonade

Let's start with some straight guitar driven indie rock/celtic rock from Endor. Endor is four guys based in Glasgow. They've released two singles on Say Dirty Records (run by the Wake the President lads featured in my first New Sounds of Scotland post), and recently recorded and self financed a full length. According to their website, lead singer David McGinty provided background vocals on Snow Patrol's "Eyes Open" album.

Here is their song Fly Straight and Always Wear Sensible Shoes, and I must confess that I repeated this one about five times the first time I heard it, and it has lost none of its charm since:

This song is Without the Help of Sparks:

Endor Website
Endor at Bandcamp
Endor at Myspace

What happens when a Glasgow guitar player loves The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Monkees? Apparently, we get Bubblegum Lemonade:

Bubblegum Lemonade is the project of Laz McCluskey, who took the name from the title of a Mama Cass album.

The sound is all about powerpop jangle that wouldn't be out of place on a C-86 compilation, and you'll get no complaints from me about that.

Bubblegum Lemonade at Myspace

Crocodiles: "Sleep Forever"

This sounds great to me: psychedelic, hard-rocking... Looks like it was out in the fall, on Fat Possum. Anybody remember the great band Rain Parade? Maybe a retrospective on 80's California psychedelia is in order for the next Old Stuff Friday... meantime, check these guys out. Sorry to just be discovering stuff from last September, but there's a lot of good music out there!

Website: Crocodiles on Fat Possum

Saturday, February 5, 2011

REVIEW: I Was a King - Old Friends

Been on a bit of a power-pop kick, and this definitely scratches the itch...

The four P's of Robert Pollard (pop, punk, prog and psych) are elements I look for in rock records... When I started counting P's on Old Friends, pop and psych were reached in the first few seconds... as for prog, there are several Captain Beefheart-style horn freakouts that add to the tension and offset the sweetness of the vocals and guitar melodies... I don't know about punk, unless a Guided by Voices connection fits the bill. Song two, "Echoes", starts out as an almost note-for-note copy of the opening of "Game of Pricks". Man, if you're going to sound like someone, you can sell me a lot of records sounding like Alien Lanes-era GbV.

I really like the drumming on this record; it anchors the sound nicely, inasmuch as the songs on this record can be considered "anchored"... there are definitely jazz elements here, but not so much that Old Friends loses its focus as a pop record. The vocals are a bit understated (honestly, I don't pay a lot of attention to the lyrics so the fact that they're buried in the mix a bit does not bother me in the least). The guitars play well together, and there's a bit of piano on the beat as well as organ and the aforementioned horn parts to add variety and reset the songs here and there.

Finally, there are songs on here that definitely call to mind Apples in Stereo and there are songs that remind me of one of my favorite psych-pop bands ever: Oranger. Oranger, wherever you are, here's hoping you are planning a comeback, that you get a copy of this record and that it inspires you. I certainly am enjoying it.

Video for opening track "The Wylde Boys":

LINK: I Was a King at Sounds Familyre (3 MP3s available)

LINK: I Was a King Myspace

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Old Stuff: The Wailers

Since Sunday, February 6 would be Bob Marley's 66th birthday, today's Old Stuff post will focus on Marley's early career with the Wailers. Marley not only is a legendary reggae star, but may have been the most charismatic pop performer in history. But while known for the themes of freedom, militant advocacy for the downtrodden and universal love conveyed in the songs that made him world famous, the Wailers started down a different path. And until recently, the early Wailers' material wasn't well known because it wasn't released outside of Jamaica.

Click on this link to listen to one of their earliest recordings while you continue to read:

If you didn't know it was the Wailers, you'd probably guess that it was a Motown act.

The group was formed in '63 by Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston (later known as Bunny Wailer), Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith. Originally they called themselves the Teenagers, then the Wailing Rudeboys, and then the Wailers. Initially, the lead vocals belonged to Braithwaite (who had a smoother voice than Marley). But Braithwaite and Smith left the group in '64 and Marley became the lead. The group recorded for Dodd's Studio One until '66, then disbanded. After a brief stint working in a factory in America, Marley returned to Jamaica and reformed the Wailers with Tosh and Livingston.

Here is an early song with Braithwaite on vocals. An added bonus is the great Ernest Ranklin is playing guitar:

The music of the Wailers in the Studio One period was vastly different from the later music performed by the Wailers or any of Marley, Tosh and Livingston in their solo careers. As noted in last week's reggae post, that time period of Jamaican music was dominated by local acts putting their own spin on American R&B and soul, and the Wailers were no exception. Some of the songs reflected the ska beat and instrumentation, and some reflected the transition to rocksteady. At that point, they would have been happy to be scooped up by a Motown or Stax talent scout. And the band dressed the part, in matching suits and short haircuts.

Here is one of Bob's earlier compositions. It appeared on several later albums, but this version reflects the ska beat of the pre-rocksteady period:

The reformed Wailers became interested in the Rastafari faith. That faith, the political and social climate in Jamaica, shifting personal dynamics and other musical influences influenced the change in their musical approach. But that music, and the story about how Joe Higgs taught the Wailers to be a band, is for another day.

The Soul Corner: Johnny Taylor - Who's Making Love

This week's soul offering is the Stax classic "Who's Making Love" by Johnny Taylor.

And if you are thinking damn, that backing band sounds good, you would be correct. It's Booker T and the MGs, with Isaac Hayes playing additional keyboards. Check out the late great Al Jackson Jr on the drums.

Love the all out soul scream at about 2:38 just before the end. And this green suit is awesome; I want one and know that you do too.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Let's Shake Hands With The White Stripes

As the Detroit native here, it pains me to report that The White Stripes issued this statement today:


So that's that. But we still have this:

The White Stripes leave behind a great legacy. They had some very successful records, many good songs, and were a terrific live band, kicking up quite a bit of racket for a duo. I've admired them in no small part because they carry on the Detroit traditions - blues and soul based rock'n'roll, edgy, intense, but also unabashedly entertaining with a flair for visuals and performance.

Jack White will probably stay stay busier than ever with a variety of projects. I even suspect his most distinguished work is ahead of him. He's a great talent. And Meg White could surprise everyone and have some terrific hit song on her own down the road, like Kim Deal did with the Breeders after the Pixies broke up.

And say what you will about Meg as a drummer, but this band had some real magic. I saw them many years ago in a club, and I still remember the entire show, including the surprising closing song, a blisteringly intense cover of Bob Dylan's "Lovesick", which most of the crowd being half my age did not recognize.

And few radio hit songs of the last 10 years rocked like this one did:

So, to the White Stripes, I say thank you. Good luck to both of you in your future endeavors.

Noise, Glorious Noise: The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Manhattan Love Suicides, and Crystal Stilts

One rock sound that rarely fails to elicit a positive reaction from me is a buzzy, distorted, jangly-clangy wall of guitar sound wrapped around a pop song. It is simultaneously musical and decadent and, ultimately, immediate and alive. And for me, the best execution of that style is by The Jesus and Mary Chain. Formed in Glasgow in 1984 by brothers William and Jim Reid, TJAMC sought to fuse the brooding muscle and debauched swagger of The Velvet Underground and The Stooges with the pop sensibilities of Phil Spector.

The pop core of the songs is evident when we are treated to an acoustic version. Here is a stripped down demo for Taste of Cindy:

If you like what you hear of TJAMC from their most famous albums, Psychocandy and Darklands, I highly recommend their collection of b-sides and demos, The Power of Positive Thinking.

The style of TJAMC has been resurrected by recent bands. The Manhattan Love Suicides had an all too brief recording career. Formed in 2006 in Leeds, UK, The Manhattan Love Suicides didn't last until the end of the decade. Their farewell present is the compilation album Burnt Out Landscapes, which contains 27 songs.

And my favorite TMLS song in honor of the founder of this blog:

Fortunately, there are other bands still recording the glorious noise, including Danish expats The Raveonettes, New Zealand's Surf City, and Texas band Ringo Deathstarr (all of whom will be covered in future posts). However, one that you may not have heard of and deserves a listen is New York Band Crystal Stilts. Admittedly, Crystal Stilts probably edges more to the shoegaze segment of the spectrum, but enough of their songs ring the glorious noise bell for my tastes.

REVIEW: Apex Manor – The Year of Magical Drinking

I’m not inclined to doubt the sentiment expressed by the album title, given that one song mentions being “four fingers deep in the mason jar”, which covers the drinking part. As for the magical part, this record works great as a whole when you have time to listen all the way through, and as a collection of terrific individual power-pop songs, when maybe you don’t. That’s a deadly combination, and it may be the result of magical drinking, who am I to say?

Apex Manor is a guy named Ross Flournoy, and this album is his follow-up to the two albums he did with his previous band The Broken West. As big a fan as I was of The Broken West, this album is actually better than either of those records. I suppose it’s more “mature”, with a bit more variety in song structure… but my favorite songs are still the ones like “Teenage Blood”, which starts out with a whopping drumbeat and throws in a ripping guitar solo, “Party Line” with wonderful jangling guitars, and “Southern Decline”, with more propulsive drumming and a great guitar lead.

I think it’s valid to compare this Apex Manor record to Wilco discs like Summerteeth, and even Being There… several of the uptempo songs really remind me of “I Got You (at the End of the Century)” and “Outtasite”, where the more contemplative songs with relationship-inspired lyrics really are reminiscent of Summerteeth. Think I’m imagining it? There’s a song in which Flournoy says: “I’m not an easy jar to open”! I’m also reminded of Lloyd Cole’s work on albums like Rattlesnakes, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Throughout, it builds toward the last track, "Coming To", the title of which may represent a bit of self-revelation. Apparently the year post-band-breakup was a tough one for Flournoy. But by the time we get to "Coming To", it's rolling along with great guitars, some "inside joke" lyrics, and even cowbell! At 35 minutes, with plenty of hooks, Flournoy has made a real good record, a great start to 2011.

Here's the video for "My My Mind":

Apex Manor - My My Mind from Merge Records on Vimeo.

For a limited time, you can stream the whole album here.