Friday, June 27, 2014

Rolling Stones Friday: Carol


I've been sifting through a lot of early footage of The Stones this week, looking for something exciting and interesting.

In 1964, The Stones were still mainly a cover band. And among their many heroes, at the top of the long list, was Chuck Berry. Here's The Rolling Stones in one of their first American TV appearances performing "Carol" on the Mike Douglas Show:


There's just a whole lot to like there - Keith singing along, Mick's cool, Charlie's tie, the strange Mike Douglas introduction and reaction of the other guests next to Douglas.  

"Carol" became the backdrop of one of the most riveting scenes in rock documentary history when Keith Richards came face to face with his boyhood hero Chuck Berry in Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, the 1987 film by Taylor Hackford. If you've not seen this, it is essential viewing:     

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Bats' early releases re-issued

This post is about three releases, but the introduction necessarily focuses on two labels a world apart and a band of friends entering their fourth decade of making sublime music together.  Christchurch, New Zealand's Flying Nun is a iconic label.  Founded in the early '80s with a DIY punk attitude and a scrappy roster of artists such as The Bats, The Clean, Toy Love, Dead C, Chris Knox, The Verlaines, The Enemy, and The Chills, the label was instrumental in presenting New Zealand guitar pop to the world, and fans of pop music have benefited ever since.  And the modern iteration of Flying Nun continues to issue work by exciting emerging artists, including Surf Friends, T54, Tiny Ruins, Grayson Gilmour and Ghost Wave.  For its part, Brooklyn label Captured Tracks has earned a fond place in the hearts of indie fans with a tasteful roster of current artists (e.g. Wild Nothing, Perfect Pussy, Beach Fossils, Mac DeMarco, Soft Moon and Widowspeak, Donovan Blanc), and a laudable devotion to reissuing  excellent past works.  Recently, Flying Nun and Captured Tracks agreed to work together to reissue Flying Nun's past catalog.  This series already includes a comprehensive Toy Love collection (review here) and two early treasures from The Verlaines (review here).

The four friends are Robert Scott (guitar/vocals), who also is the bassist for The Clean, former Toy Love bassist Paul Kean (bass/vocals), Kaye Woodward (guitar/vocals/keys), and Malcolm Grant (drums).  In late '82 they ventured to play together and, after a trial name that didn't stick, christened themselves The Bats.  Their music is characterized by memorable melodies, intertwined guitars with plenty of jangle and chime, male/female vocal partnership of Scott and Woodward, the sinewy core provided by the interplay of the bass and lower-register guitars, and a certain shading of darkness or melancholy.  With a few breaks for other projects or to live life outside music, they have stayed together to this day.  And since The Bats is one of my all-time favorite bands, I'm happy that Captured Tracks has made the band's early work the subject of their latest Flying Nun re-issues.

The three records are the first LP by the band, Daddy's Highway, a collection of their early, pre-Daddy's Highway, EPs and demos named Completely Bats (yes, the misspelling is official and an intentional pun), and their second LP, The Law of Things.
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Daddy's Highway -- While we all can enjoy music together, it remains for me a deeply personal experience.  In writing about music I try to determine how other listeners might react to the songs, but my first inquiry is how it makes me feel.  With that in mind, I'll note that my first reaction to Daddy's Highway was "this is just about perfect music".  And many years later, it remains my idea of the gold-standard guitar pop album.  If you also are a fan, you may already have this album.  But if your version is a CD or digital copy, note that this release is vinyl with a digital download code.  For readers whose album collection is missing this gem, try out a few of the tracks below.







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Compiletely Bats -- Assembling the seminal mini-LP By Night, and EPs And Here's "Music for the Fireside and Made Up In Blue, and singles from the first half-decade of the band, and then seasoning with some demos, Compiletely Bats is essential for any fan of the band.  A bit scrappy and lo-fi compared to their later work, it demonstrates the development of The Bats and, it seems to me, underscores their sense of humor.  And check out "Made Up In Blue" and "Mad On You" below, as they are among the best songs in The Bats' catalog.  This album also is in vinyl with a digital download.





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The Law of Things -- After the release of Daddy's Highway The Bats took one of their breaks, and Robert Scott joined up with his mates in The Clean.  However, by 1990 The Bats had recorded their second full length album, The Law of Things.  It must be said that their was nothing particularly different from the first album, but I'd be the last person to fault a band for having the good sense to continue doing something that they do sublimely well.  Moreover, close listening suggests to me that there are some developments.  The vocals seem more assured and higher in the mix, and some ragged ends have been snipped.  While some pacier songs are in the mix, the vibe seems less urgent than Daddy's Highway, making for a distinctly different listening experience than its predecessor, but nevertheless a very rewarding experience.  If you would like a suggested use, I'll mention that this is one of my favorite late night albums.







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So there you are: The early history of The Bats on vinyl with digital download.  If I had decided to invent a better re-issue package to take to a desert island, I couldn't have done a better job.  Check out the commercial details at this link:  Captured Tracks page for releases.

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RIP: Steve Ruppenthal (The Popes, Chapel Hill NC)


The Popes at their 2012 reunion, Steve Ruppenthal on far right 
Chances are you've not heard of Steve Ruppenthal or his tremendous Chapel Hill power pop band from the late '80's-early '90's, The Popes (no relation to and around long before Shane McGowan's band of the same name). Though our regular readers here at WYMA who love Guided by Voices, The Bats, Centro-Matic and the many power pop bands we cover here would certainly appreciate the EP Hi We're The Popes.

Ruppenthal drowned last Friday off the North Carolina coast.  This news has made me very sad, though brought back some fond memories too. 

I moved to Chapel Hill in 1988 just when Hi We're The Popes was released. I was so enthralled with that local Chapel Hill- Raleigh scene, I started writing about music for The Spectator and The Independent weekly. The Popes were one of the first bands I championed, and I went to every show of theirs I possibly could.

Thinking back on it all now,  of all the bands and great talent that was around during my time there (1988-93) - Flat Duo Jets, The Connells, The Woods, The Veldt, Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, Polvo, Snatches of Pink (Michael Rank), Majosha (Ben Folds), Queen Sarah Saturday (Johnny Irion), etc. - the band I was the most staunchly loyal to and captured by was The Popes. They were the underdogs, the most modest, tried so hard, and put on the best live shows.      

Ruppenthal shared writing, singing and guitar duties with John Elderkin, and the two complemented each other extremely effectively, and together churned out intelligent 3 minute melodic gems that merged first generation British Invasion (especially The Kinks) with the Clash, Buzzcocks and XTC. But they made it their own, seen through the eyes of Southern college students, not sounding particularly like R.E.M. or The Connells, but coming from a similar place generally, another winning take on Big Star's basic approach if you will.

What set The Popes apart for me was their unabashed spirit and the sheer joy that came through the music. R.E.M. were once famously described as "The Ramones pistol-whipping the Byrds", so by that frame, The Popes were the early Clash pistol-whipping The Kinks. Ruppenthal was an encyclopedic rock'n'roll fan with great taste and a keen sense of humor. Their shows were a total blast. Ruppenthal and Elderkin were the nicest guys in a town full of them, and always remarkably appreciative of anything I ever wrote about them.

When R.E.M. hit it big and big record companies (still very fat and happy at that time) descended on Southern college towns looking for bands to sign, The Popes were on their radar and soon lost years on near deals, never released recordings, broken promises, and you know the story. And before you know it, the A&R types packed up and headed out to Seattle, and the Popes bouncy post-punk sounded out of step with the grunge of the day. The Popes window closed before it opened.  And they were just a few years before another Chapel Hill power pop-punk band, Superhchunk, figured out you that didn't need or even want a big record company.

Ruppenthal later relocated to the Washington DC area and formed other bands, notably The Public Good.  He never stopped loving music, being a fan, and being a great friend to the many people who have turned out in droves on Facebook and various mediums to praise him this week. And the most knowledgable music writers, club owners, and members of other bands in North Carolina have been speaking with great emotion about how much The Popes meant to them.

You can listen to Hi We're The Popes here and I insist that you do. That's Steve Ruppenthal singing lead on "Charmless". If you'd have come to a party at my house in 1989, you'd have heard "Charmless" before now:


We'll close with this beautiful eulogy from Steve Ruppenthal's dear friend and musical partner John Elderkin:

A note for Steve.
Steve's best songs are his funny and angry responses to the outside world, the world outside our bands, demanding things from him he has no intention of handing over—learning clever pick-up lines, getting a good tan, settling for a quiet life. My best are apologies to the world for never quite having the right stuff, otherwise I’d gladly comply. All the songs on “Hi” work that way, on and on through the final Public Good songs. That back and forth is what made our music go, I think.

I’ve thought about writing a song about my friendship with Steve, but I can’t see pulling it off without self-indulging in a “Edmund Fitzgerald” or “American Pie” style opus, maybe even a song so long it’d take up an entire album side, like the old Yes songs he despised. Steve wanted 2 minutes 30 seconds tops. Get in, get out, play the next song.

If I went ahead and tried writing a song anyhow, I’d definitely start out in the present. Get the listener right in the moment. I’ve been traveling since I got the news, and since then I’ve lost my wallet, left behind my quarterly supply of insulin, misplaced my blood monitor, and just today forgot my poor dog’s old bed when I left town. That’d be sharp—some solid lines to show where my head is. Then maybe I’d finish with the happy note that I’m obeying speed limits and have had no trouble with the cops while license-free. 

A second verse might give a run-down of our first meeting, when we argued Beatles v. Stones. Me Beatles, him Stones. This would be a good set-up for a possible later verse, placed in the last couple of years, when Steve disowned the Stones at the same time I was championing them. Haw haw.

We’re two verses in so I’d need a chorus here. This has been vexing me. If the rest of the song is bittersweet, the chorus should address our super-tight sense of humor. Some example of the caustic, doofus, private jokes that ran between us for 35 years. Most are inappropriate for radio listeners… I will leave this as a placeholder and mull.

Next verse: a teenage ride through Charlotte, taking all day to check out new arrivals at record stores, then hitting all the guitar shops the next day. 

Verse four: At the beach with our pack (to borrow Bill Trosch's phrase), Steve refusing to leave the beer-pong table to get even five minutes of sun.

Time for the chorus again. I am still mulling.

Next verse. If I can make it fit, I’d like to put in an episode with the Popes’ famous, giant double-headed dong, the size of a man’s arm, about how I discovered it picked up newsprint like Silly Putty, and how Steve sometimes came to the kitchen in the mornings to find me reading the news off the dong at the table, section by section, and how that’d set him off into hysterics.

If that’s too complicated to fit into a verse, then instead a few lines about how, during my months-long obsession with “The Executioner’s Song,” Steve told me seriously he’d move out of the Popes house if I didn’t shut up about it, so I drew pictures instead. He declared that a compromise he could live with but totally ignored my stick-figure art.

What the hell, I’d use both of these sections and knock out two verses that way. Like I said, this is bound to be long.

Back to the chorus, which I’ll definitely work on, later, for sure.

After all that, best to shake up the structure and subject matter with a break or a bridge. Surprise and delight the listener—that’s the goal. In this case, I’d keep it real and sing that we had some ugly battles, some of them downright mean, but hey, on the bright side, we only had one serious fistfight and that ended in a draw. Equals! (That’s pretty good. If I remain stuck, I might make this the chorus.)

Here I’d throw in a sweet major 7th chord, something Steve taught me, something we might’ve used better over time than anyone else, ever.

We’re nearing “Hey Jude” length by now, but if the melody is decent people will stick with it. And a few more verses are in order, starting with a scene from our Lovely Lads recordings. Steve sang all those songs and asked me to take over all the guitar leads, no matter who wrote what. A big change for us, and I still remember watching him sing my songs in the studio, “Daytime All Around” in particular, and feeling thwacked like a frying pan to my face. I’d have cried if I hadn’t been embarrassed. Steve and his force of personality. Incredible.

One last verse, because it’s related—a few lines about struggling with singing in the studio one afternoon with The Public Good, and Chris Garges defusing that by saying nonchalantly that Steve and I sang like brothers, which came because of shared DNA… didn’t we know that’s how great we sounded?

Finally, back to the chorus. That missing chorus. Something funny but family friendly. Or not. I just don’t know. If Steve were around, I’d pitch him the song as is and ask him to help plug the hole.

Speaking of filling holes, with a song this long there’s no reason to forego an outro. People will either be wanting even more at this point, or they’ll have switched over to “Inna Gadda Da Vida” by now. 

Here’s my outro: For the last few days I’ve walked around feeling like a chunk of the sky is missing overhead. Not a hole in my life, but a great big chunk of the sky torn out – the cloudy part with the light rain. The part that would cause Steve to look up and declare, “Ah, yes. It’s gonna be a beautiful day.”

-John E.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

REVIEW: The Zebras - Siesta

Siesta, the third album from The Zebras, is a guitar pop delight from beginning to end.  If you sample it without knowing anything about the band you might nod knowingly and conclude that jangling tunes like this must originate in Scandinavia, the more melodic side of some Glasgow street, or perhaps Brighton.  However, The Zebras list their home as Melbourne, Australia, so score another victory for the land down under.

The songwriting here is first class, with the sort of breath-catching hooks you expect form the best in this genre.  But nevertheless, the tunesmithing here is forced to share the honors with soaring male/female vocals and a driving rhythm section.  Most of the tracks are fast-paced and bouncy, perfect for a summer session in the sun or a drive to the beach.  But the band gets the emotional weight spot-on for the handful of slower numbers as well.  The only reason to not get this album would be if you aren't in a good place to fall in love with a set of songs, because there really is no other reason.

Siesta is out now on CD and vinyl via Jigsaw Records (Australian fans can buy it at Lost and Lonesome Recording Co.).










The Zebras herd is Jeremy Cole, Edwina Ewins, Lachlan Franklin, Katie Geppert and Dave Rose.

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"Demonstration" by Alan Smithee, free download

We introduced Scottish band Alan Smithee here a few months ago via their "Snooze" single on the Flowers in the Dustbin label (here).  They are back with Demonstration, a two track single consisting of "Alan Smithee" and "Sonic".  The first track is a woozy bit of psychedelia that picks up some garage rock muscle just as you expect the song to be winding down.  "Sonic" seems to me to be a post punk tune deconstructed and artfully and deliberately assembled not quite according to traditional expectations.  It all is interesting stuff with a great promise for the future.  Moreover, it is free at the Bandcamp link.

Alan Smithee is Andrew Burns (vocals/guitar), Ruaridh Macpherson (guitar/vocals), Ryan Macpherson (bass), and Joe White (drums).  Demonstration is out now via Glasgow's Flowers in the Dustbin label.





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Monday, June 23, 2014

"New Name Blues"/"Lonely Life" from Dick Diver

One certain way to brighten my day is to tell me that there is a new release from Melbourne's Dick Diver.  Of course, none of you did that, so no credit goes your way.  But I found out anyway, so I'm a happy guy.  Moreover, I'm a happy guy who is willing to share.  The record is a two-track single "New Name Blues" with B-side "Lonely Life".  These are the first songs since Calendar Days, Dick Diver's 2013 LP on Chapter Music which regular readers might recall headed my list of best albums for the year (review2013 list).  This also is the first official US release for the band, via Fruits and Flowers Records.

The A-side presents as a relaxed pop song, and devolves into a dreamy jam.  Close your eyes, open your ears and you cans see a kaleidoscope of colors.  However, the subject is serious -- the treatment of Australia's Aboriginal people.  In my view, Dick Diver's art is sublime.  But the art goes to the next level with the infusion of a serious and well articulated point of view.  The B-side, "Lonely Life", is a cover of a '80s song by Colourful Stone.  I think the vocals on the first track are by Al Monfort, and on the second by Rupert Edwards with an assist from Steph Hughes, but that's a guess.  The other member of Dick Diver is guitarist Al McKay.  The album art for "New Name Blues"/"Lonely Life" is by Steph Hughes.

Stream the single here --




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"With Roses" by The Walking Who

In recent years we have seen a number of bands from Australia display a great feel for psychedelic rock.  A new name you might want to add to that illustrious roster is The Walking Who.  The Sydney trio of Robin Brown, Paul Mclean and Jay Drury already have one EP to their credit and are working on a second.  In their touring lives they have shared the stage with The Drones, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, The Delta Riggs and Dappled Cities.  You can hear some of their earlier songs at their website and Soundcloud pages.  However, their new single, "With Roses" is our first chance to listen to their new sounds.  To my ears, it is deeply psychedelic and has a harder edge than some of their past songs.  I think it is a very good track, and you can test it for yourself below.



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REVIEW: The Crush - Future Blimps

We always have the interests of you, the reader, foremost in our minds.  Well, after beer.  And food.  Oh, and sex, because the love you get is equal to the love you make, or something like that.  Anyway, we think about all of you.  And we think that you deserve some good new power pop to start the week.  After searching far and wide, the choice is from my own back yard -- Seattle's The Crush.  The trio is Kira Wilson (vocals/bass), Daniel Cutting (drums/guitar) and Jacob Thiede (guitar),  Yes, indeed, a female-fronted power pop band with garage rock influences that appear to extend back to the '60s.  Their new EP was just released, and it is a good one.

Future Blimps starts out with the sneering garage rock of "Never Gonna Stop" -- hooks and attitude in perfect measure.  "Around" brings the power pop jangle to the fore.  The itinerary leads back to the garage with chunky riffs on "Better and Better", then closes with the buoyant power pop of "It's Love" and "Nothing to Lose".  The Crush has a lot of talent and a knack for writing entertaining songs.  And you have to love their pricing strategy:  Five songs for three dollars undercuts the competition (OK, maybe having a dog for a manager isn't the right strategy going forward).  We hope they make it up on volume -- give them a hand!



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REVIEW: The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Revelation


I suppose nearly all of you know the story of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who played their first show in San Francisco in 1988 and have now released Revelation, their 14th LP,  their legacy documented in the widely viewed and critically acclaimed documentary Dig!.

Actually however, Dig! paints a fairly narrow and almost cartoonish picture that hardly does the remarkable output and quality of The Brian Jonestown Massacre justice. Which is not to say that Anton Newcombe didn't at times do his best to play into the image of an erratic, drug-addicted madman. However, Newcombe gets the last laugh here - go back to the Alternative Rock charts of 1996 and BJM's Take It From The Man era when the band caught America's attention and you'll discover that nearly every other band on those charts is no longer around, while BJM continue to not only exist but create work of consequence.
 
Now sober for 4 years, married, with a child, and living peacefully in Berlin where he has his own studio and has started his own record company (A Recordings Ltd.), Newcombe appears to be in a good place and the music on Revelation reflects that.

The 13 songs on Revelation refine though do not reinvent the terrific psychedelia and highly compelling rock'n'roll that BJM has churned out for 20+ years now. Overall, the songs reflect a beauty and peacefulness that one might not associate with The Brian Jonestown Massacre, with a nearly cinematic expanse, compelling trance-like rhythms and, as always, great guitar sounds.  The band's layered guitar approach is greatly aided by the relatively recent return to the fold of both Matt Hollywood and Ricky Maymi, BJM's revolving door membership swinging in the right way these days.    

Let's listen to "What You Isn't":
 
My favorite track here is the opening one, "Vad Hande Med Dem", sung in Swedish by guest Joachim Alhund from Les Big Byrds, a band on Newcombe's new label A Recordings Ltd. The track combines some classic BJM psych rock guitar sounds with driving rhythm tracks, coming off to me like what the Velvet Underground or Luna might sound like if they were a young band just starting out in 2014. Fantastic video too:

Longtime BJM fans will especially enjoy the kick ass rock'n'roll of "Xibaldi", followed by the album's trance rock closer, "Goodbye (Butterfly)":
Long live The Brian Jonestown Massacre. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

REVIEW: Radio Moscow - Magical Dirt


Radio Moscow is an Iowa power trio - Parker Griggs on vocals and guitar, Anthony Meier on bass and Paul Marrone on drums - playing an alternatively pounding and soaring heavy, blues-inspired psychedelic guitar rock. They're young - the blues, Hendrix and Cream records they make me think of probably belonged to their grandparents - but have talent and a command of this material that would be impressive in someone who had been jamming the blues for 30 years. Griggs has a strong voice that dominates the sound once he joins in, but all the tracks have long, drum/bass/guitar heavy intros and plenty of guitar solos. This is not post-punk, it's not post-anything. It's rock for rock's sake, by a band who knows exactly what they want to do and has continued to improve their ability to do it.


We recently posted "These Days", a new track from Magical Dirt (WYMA post here), and now the album is available (out June 17 on Alive/Naturalsound). This is their fourth* album on Alive, and their heaviest, and best, yet. Here's "Death of a Queen" - which sounds to me like the most Hendrix-inspired track on here:



The album is out now and, if you are a fan of hard rock and heavy guitar sounds, don't miss it. In the words of Jack Black, just put it on and let it melt your face. You'll thank me.

*[EDIT: Magical Dirt is their FOURTH studio album for Alive/Naturalsound. There's the self-titled debut - produced by Dan Auerbach, etc, there's Brain Waves, there's The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz- WYMA review here - and then Magical Dirt. If you're missing one, you're in for a treat.]

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NEW SONG: Gemma Ray - "Shake Baby Shake"


Gemma Ray is a British chanteuse, currently living in Berlin. She has released a free download of "Shake Baby Shake" off her upcoming album Milk For Your Motors, which will be out 8/26 via Bronze Rat Records. You can download the track at her website in exchange for your email address - how else are you gonna know when the album comes out? I'm a fan of the sound, and specifically the way this song is put together. Her breathy vocal over that guitar reverb is a nice contrast, and the transitions into the chorus, and later the orchestral parts, are just about perfectly done:



Here's an in-studio performance of the tune:



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