Saturday, February 12, 2011

Midnight World Pop Scout: La Femme, The Phoenix Foundation, The Starlets, The Joy Formidable

Every weekend the When You Motor Away's Midnight World Pop Scout staff intends to put on their safari jackets and search the sonic corners of the world wide web so, well, so you don't have to. The point of the feature isn't to tell you all we can about some new band, or some type of music. We just want to bring you stuff that seems interesting or promising to us on the chance you might like it. Listen. And if you like it, do some exploring on your own. Here is the best of this week's dispatches.

First up is La Femme. I don't know much about them--There are several guys and one girl, and they are French. The sound is surfy synthy new wave, and I like it. Enjoy the video, and if you want more, check out the additional songs on their Bandcamp page linked below.

LA FEMME - SUR LA PLANCHE (official music video) from George Trimm on Vimeo.

La Femme on Facebook
La Femme on Bandcamp

Your next discovery is from the other hemisphere -- New Zealand band The Phoenix Foundation. Last month they released an album entitled Buffalo. There are elements of psychedelic rock, math rock and folk rock, with a bit of Yeasayer-like prog. Here is a good video of one of the songs from Buffalo:

The Phoenix Foundation Website

The next dispatch is about The Starlets, a Scottish pop band which, at least in this video, has a bit of a cabaret sound. In any case, the video, in which they took over a Glasgow pub, is fun:

The Starlets on Bandcamp

The final dispatch is from our scout in Wales, who has asked us to give a boost to The Joy Formidable. As a Scottish pop fan, do I want to feature a Welsh band? After listening to my scout's dispatch, I can only say that I'm feeling very Welsh this evening. This female-fronted three piece can make some noise.

The Joy Formidable Website

Friday, February 11, 2011

Old Stuff Friday - The Soul Corner - Arthur Alexander

This week's soul classic is "You Better Move On" by the late great Arthur Alexander. Another of those hard luck stories, Alexander didn't have a string of hits and never got his full due, except maybe in Europe where he was more popular than in the US.

Like a lot of kids in the South, Alexander was heavily influenced by the country music of his day, especially as heard every week on the Grand Ole Opry radio program. From the classic country singers of the late 1950's, he learned how to deliver a song.

Alexander's impeccable phrasing had a significant influence over a young fan from London named Mick Jagger who copped a great deal of his singing style from Alexander. Shortly after the Beatles covered Arthur Alexander's "Anna", The Stones covered Alexander's best known song, "You Better Move On".

Here is the original:

Old Stuff Friday: The "Paisley Underground" - Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, Long Ryders...

Steve Wynn has played psychedelic hard guitar rock since 1981, and is in my opinion the avatar of this strain of psychedelic rock which featured Wynn's band The Dream Syndicate and related artists like The Bangles, Green on Red, The Rain Parade and The Long Ryders (to name a few). The Dream Syndicate put out The Days of Wine and Roses in 1984 and, if anything ever combined the spirits of The Stooges, Lou Reed, Crazy Horse, Hendrix and Creedence in a suitably hard-to-categorize package, this thing did it. Here's a contemporary performance of "Tell Me When It's Over".

Another member of the "Paisley Underground" movement, which sometimes shared members with The Dream Syndicate and other local favorites like The Bangles, was The Rain Parade. Much more accessible, this band featured Matt Piucci and David Roback (who later formed Mazzy Star). Piucci has done some excellent work post-Rain Parade, and even joined Crazy Horse. Of course he did! Recommended if you like Neil Young, the Byrds, Velvet Underground... Here's "This Can't Be Today" from 1983's Emergency Third Rail Power Trip... which I can't stop listening to, even 27 years later:

These bands often shared bills with country artists like Dwight Yoakam and roots bands like Los Lobos, which shared a natural affinity for and fan base with artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Gram Parsons and Buffalo Springfield that had preceded them on California stages. Nowhere is this better represented than in the music of the Long Ryders... here's a terrific video of "Looking for Lewis and Clark" from 1985's The State of Our Union:

If you've followed the string this far (and hopefully enjoyed the music), I am going to seize this opportunity to attempt to turn you into Steve Wynn fans, if you aren't already. He towered over this movement and remains a tremendous talent and an inspiration to a lot of independent artists. He and old buddies Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey and wife and bandmate Linda Pitmon have recently recorded a second album of baseball-inspired rock, The Baseball Project: High and Inside. Check out that record and some of his other music:

Website: Steve Wynn

Old Stuff Friday Reggae: Heart of the Congos

For a musical form that produced so much great music, and so many worthy compilations of such music, reggae produced relatively few great albums. The music industry in Jamaica was focused on dancehall music and the production and sale of singles. Of course, singles, other recordings and dub (instrumentals of the singles) were released in album format, but it was less common to conceive of and produce music with the primary intent to create an album, as was becoming more common in the States and the UK in the '70s.

Click on the video's play button, and keep reading.

But the old order, in this and other respects, was challenged by Lee "Scratch" Perry. Perry originally worked for Dodd at Studio One, and then for Joe Gibbs. He founded his own Black Ark studio, really a shed, and embarked on a creative frenzy, working with the Wailers and many other top acts. His production hallmarks were an "underwater" ambiance, especially in bass effects, and unusual effects and structures. Amazingly, he created this music on a four track machine, dumping completed tracks onto a single track and then re-recording repeatedly until the sounds in his head were reflected on tape. Sometimes the musicians would sit outside cooking lunch while Scratch smoked herb and plotted the track, then he would call them in and provide instructions. His genius produced great albums such as Party Time for The Heptones and Police and Thieves for Junior Murvin, and the three disc compilation of his recordings, Arkology, is one of the truly great reggae compilations that could serve as a foundation for any collector of reggae.

However, his crowning achievement may be Heart of the Congos for The Congos. The Congos were a duo consisting of Cedric Myton (the falsetto) and Roydel Johnson (tenor). Their songs were supported by Perry's highest level of production and Perry's excellent studio musicians, The Upsetters. However, what puts the album on the top step may be Perry's decision to assemble the greatest collection of backing vocalists on any reggae album before or since. The incomparable Gregory Isaacs, Barry Llewellyn and Barry Morgan of the Heptones, Watty Burnett and the Meditations.

Will you discern all of this quality in these clips? Sadly, that isn't possible. You need better source material than You Tube (and perhaps better speakers). But if like reggae and don't have this album, it is one to take a chance on. Especially worthwhile is the two CD version with additional material for which there wasn't enough room on the original record.

And before you click on the next song, consider that this highly rated and widely loved album was rejected by Island Records, the label that helped launch Bob Marley.

How's about some old Buffalo Tom?

I can't remember how I first heard of Buffalo Tom. Hell, it might have been Matt Pinfield. But I'll never forget first hearing them -- it was the opening chords of the title song from 1990's "Birdbrain". As broke as we were back then (I sold my Fender Mustang and Crate amp around this time -- they weren't doing me any good, and what the heck, 150 bucks is 150 bucks) I headed to Schoolkids Records on Franklin Street as soon as they opened the next day. Nearly everyone who would visit this site has heard it, but if you haven't, check it out and see if you aren't seized by the same impulse:

Two years later they'd release "Let Me Come Over", which I think is a beautiful piece of East Coast non-grunge; really one of the best albums of the decade. Can you think of a more beautiful song than "Larry"? Well, can you think of five of them very quickly? I did not think so.

Here's what became and probably remains my favorite Buffalo Tom song. Sounds like Grant Hart could have written it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

La Sera: "Never Come Around", self-titled album due out next week...

Real nice performance video courtesy of InCase, apparently a manufacturer of iPod accessories and similar products, they sponsor performances to put up online...

I'm looking forward to this record, she's a real good singer and I really like that big wall of sound thing:

Website: La Sera (Free MP3s available for download)

PJ Harvey: New Album Available to Stream

The new album from PJ Harvey, Let England Shake, is available to stream on NPR:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

McGuane on the Stones.

I'm a latecomer to the genius of Thomas McGuane. My buddy Troy from Alaska convinced me to read 92 in the Shade a few years ago, and I was hooked. Because this isn't a literature blog, I won't go into detail, other than to say that I rarely come across a writer of any generation who causes me to pause and reread a sentence just to be able to take in the sheer beauty of the writing with the frequency McGuane does. If you really care about writing, and have hopes that one day you yourself make some contribution to the collective aesthetic, well then don't read Tom McGuane. Whatever self-confidence you may have had will be squelched with a cold and raw abandon.

I'm reading a book of his essays on fishing. One of them is about fishing in Ireland in the early 60s. Writing in the late 90s, McGuane recalls reading a month-old copy of the Dublin Times:

There was an upstart band from London, the Rolling Stones, who would soon play Dublin. A large advertisement suggested this band was going places. I looked at their pictures in astonishment. Only the English cities, I thought, could come up with these drooling imbeciles whose stippled and wolfish jaws and pusspocket eyes indicated a genetic impasse. A decade later, I tried and failed to get tickets to their concert at Altamont, where with their retinue of Hell's Angels, a rock 'n' roll ceremony of murder was performed for our guitar-ridden new world. I didn't even see it coming.

As homage to drooling imbeciles, here's a Stones cover by the Hellacopters, played the only way they know how -- full on and utterly without subtlety or nuance. I'm pretty sure the title to their first stateside release, "Supershitty to the Max!", is Swedish for "skullcrushing freaking awesomeness."

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