“Dead Sound” off The Raveonettes’ recently released Lust Lust Lust is perfect streamlined buzzsaw pop. The whole album, in fact, is a near-perfect fusion of their noise-drenched Jesus and Mary Chain worship with the more spacious and reverb-drenched sound of Pretty in Black. It doesn’t have a thought in its head, but it sure is pretty.
Stuck in my head this morning: Mozart’s “Sonata in C Major” K545, as played by an Apple //c. I even found myself whistling bits of it in the shower. How dorky is that?
It’s a huge improvement over last night, though, when I had Throbbing Gristle’s “Hamburger Lady” looping its way through my noggin. The studio version is basically old Tangerine Dream with Genesis P-Orridge mumbling vaguely over the top; live, it turns into a truly disturbing portrait of trauma and pathology. Latecomers to Throbbing Gristle can be forgiven for thinking they were kind of tame or overrated, because on record they’re basically just a strangely diverse synth-driven noise unit. Live, though, everything take a back seat to Genesis’s insistently chanted / shrieked / growled vocals, and the darkness at the heart of the project becomes manifest. “ASSUME POWER FOCUS” live is a totally different animal. They remain strangely diverse.
Yeah, it’s so played out it’s like the Bible, and yeah, saying it’s probably my favorite record of my youth (maybe of all time, if I had an all-time favorite) marks me as a 30-something sensi white boy as surely as the fact that I know Nation of Ulysses were once the Sassiest Band in America, but I will still admit that My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless makes me very happy after having heard it hundreds – thousands – of times. “Only Shallow” is the best lead song on any album I’ve heard, with its chugging rhythm (Colm may be one of the most comically inept drummers of the early 90s – although on the evidence presented on the album who knows, because Kevin is reputed to have completely resequenced the drums in post-production – but the combination of him and Bilinda got the job done), seasick piles of lurching synths and guitars weaving in and out of sync with each other, and Bilinda’s sweet, waiflike croon mumbling filthy nothings over the top.
Someday they’ll put out a remixed and remastered version of this album; of this I have no doubt (although please, for the love of all that is unholy, no “Deluxe Edition”! Moreso than with most classic albums, tacking bonus tracks and outtakes onto the end would just diminish the perfection of the thing itself). My hope is that they leave Kevin’s unrivaled engineering and mixing alone, boost the dynamic range, and bring out the bass, because I’ve always felt there’s a monster rock album lurking under all the gooey sheets of noise everyone loves so much. This record was like a supernova, burning out what created it and setting everyone else’s expectations for what came after unsatisfiably high, but man, it was so worth it.
Also, I love my sweet baby, yes I do. But she already knew that.
Stuck in my head this morning: Dan Deacon’s “Trippy Green Skull” and “Snake Mistakes”, both from his much-lauded Spiderman of the Rings. Both songs are incredibly poppy, bright and electronic, with childish Dada lyrics, and both have unexpected catchy bits near the end that get lodged in your head and just will not come out. I’m about six months late to be bringing up Mr. Deacon and Spiderman, but the album is just as fresh, charming and mildly brain-damaged now as it was when it was first released. Jess Harvell (whom I was abusing here just last week) wrote a great, perceptive review of Spiderman of the Rings over on Pitchfork that I endorse wholeheartedly.
Deacon’s faux naïf act works, paradoxically, because he’s got a master’s degree in composition and takes a deeply serious approach to his very silly songs. The dude can put together a 3-minute pop song like nobody’s business, but his command over his (sometimes self-made and often very primitive) gear is impressive, and – especially on longer, more elaborate songs like “Wham City” and “Jimmy Jay Roche” – there are obvious influences from the classic minimalists – Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Philip Glass – as well as an odd kinship with new wave schmooptronica acts like M83 and Ulrich Schnauss, even as his lyrics ramble a lot closer to Devendra Banhart’s childlike psychedelia or a particularly gentle version of Ween. I find the combination of minimalist restraint and sugar-addled weirdo pop super charming.
UPDATE: I have got to see this guy live.
Swervedriver were a terrific band. They released four albums that managed to mine just about every great rock and roll tradition of the preceding 30 years without ever sounding like anything other than Swervedriver. They were better on stage than on record, even though classic songs like “Last Train to Satansville” were minor masterpieces of invisible soundtrack work and they were clearly consummate craftsmen. Their songs have a transparent clarity that glows brighter the more attention you give them. They were, in short, a great British rock band, and these days almost entirely unknown.
The biggest reason for their relative obscurity is due to factors beyond their control; their first records were released by Creation at the height of shoegazermania, and while they had some brilliant dreampop moments (“Sunset” off their debut is my favorite along those lines), they were both more muscular and more traditional than most of their peers. I saw them open for Soundgarden in the spring of 1992, and I went from thinking they were also-rans to being a fan in about 10 minutes. They rocked hard, and played far more confidently than you’d expect from an opening act who were almost completely unknown in the US at the time. My favorite album by them, Mezcal Head, is a straight up rock and roll masterpiece – nothing “alternative” about it – and owes much to the Rolling Stones, Lee Hazelwood and The Byrds.
I picked up their third album, Ejector Seat Reservation, shortly after it came out in 1996. It was hard to find (it didn’t get released outside the UK until 2003) and so I was a little disappointed that it seemed so featureless and dry next to the effortless pyrotechnics of Mezcal Head. That feeling persisted until just a couple months ago, when I ripped all my Swervedriver and put it on my iPod. Having the opportunity to hear Ejector Seat Reservation while I was out and about allowed me to get to know it at a more leisurely pace, and I slowly realized that it is at least as classic a set of songs as anything else Swervedriver ever released. I use the word “classic” consciously; Swervedriver’s debts are more obvious than ever, but so is the care and conscientiousness of their songcraft.
This album really deserves to be in the same category as the best records by Blur, Ride or Pulp, and easily outclasses anything made by the odious Oasis (the Gallagher brothers are jerks, their records sound like overcompressed crap, and they had one great song they kept permuting over and over). It’s hard to say what Swervedriver could have done to get more noticed, but it’s a shame they weren’t.
Stuck in my head this morning: a medley! Of All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors songs. Mostly it’s just “I Am Where You Were” (one of the band’s most full-throated, krautrockinest (and derivative) shoegazer epics), but in my dreams it turned into half a dozen other songs from ANLLF’s self-titled debut and Flat Blue Line.
I just noticed that the xylophone part in “I Am Where You Were” is highly reminiscent of the intro to Yes’s “Changes” (from 90125), a comparison I highly doubt ever occurred to anyone in All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors, or indeed anyone else. Great. Now I have that stuck in my head instead.
Stuck in my head this morning: “The Number Knows Its Name” by All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors and “The Eerie Bliss and Torture (Of Solitude)” by Xasthur (from the flawless Xasthur / Leviathan split – Xasthur’s Keeper of Sharpened Blades (and Ominous Fates) does nauseating things with sound and still leaves me slightly in awe), which is what I get for writing about both of them so much over the last few days. Eccentric electronic pop + relentless anti-life black metal = a mashup way more avant garde than Xenakis or Penderecki.
I made an offhanded comparison yesterday between A Sunny Day in Glasgow and All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors, as if it were a ready point of reference that would have you, my reader, going, “Oh, of course! Them!”
I do this. I no longer feel comfortable making assumptions about what random people on the internet will or won’t know about the musicians I mention, offhandedly or otherwise. Sometimes this will lose people, but allmusic.com is only a click away, after all. Or the Google, which will send you to ANLLF’s Epitonic page, which is, in fact, how I originally discovered All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors back around 2000.
But as a result of that mention, I had to ask myself if there was a basis to that comparison, or whether I was going on some tentative, decayed memories, so I tossed the three full-lengths released by All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors (All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors, Turning Into Small and Flat Blue Line) onto my iPod for review.
If anything, I’d forgotten how immediate they are. Or how much they do owe to 1993 (Stereolab, the Lilys, all the other bands that tried to sound like My Bloody Valentine but failed). Or just how precociously creative a record Turning Into Small is, and what a departure it is from their debut. Turning Into Small and about half of Straight Blue Line (which is a compilation of singles and compilation tracks) exhibit a prickly, restless intelligence that manifests itself in funny and surprising ways (G-funk synth lines! Dynamics that fake out the listener!), and was what I was thinking of when discussing A Sunny Day in Glasgow, who do the same thing more nimbly.
There’s also a density to the sound that prefigures ANLLF’s connection to heavy-as-frozen-tar hip-hop auteurs Dälek. Oktopus, Dälek’s beatmaker, composer and producer, was also the engineer for All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavor’s albums, and it’s clear that there’s a continuity of sound between both groups, which is interesting because superficially they sound nothing alike. It’s the density of sound and intelligent restlessness in both groups’ work that they share in common.
Not too many people seem to know about A Sunny Day in Glasgow (who have an extremely whimsical attitude towards naming – they’re not from Scotland, where it is often the furthest thing from sunny, and keep an eye out for their bizarre song titles), and that’s too bad. They have a blown-out, echo-drenched sound that combines the the clattering percussion and up-front mixing of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound with the electronic sparkliness of the Magnetic Fields (really early Magnetic Fields, back when Stephin Merritt had the knife-making Arizona woman with the pretty voice singing for him). There’s some of the experimentation of early His Name Is Alive in evidence, too, but HNIA were never quite so resolutely poppy, nor as clearly indebted to Phil Spector’s phalanx of 60s girl groups. On “A Mundane Phonecall to Jack Parsons” and “One Change Into Rain is No Change at All (Talkin’ ‘Bout Us)”, in particular, all the pieces snap into focus, and the results are lethally catchy experimental pop.
On the first few listens, they might seem like some kind of nu-shoegazer unit, but really they’re not. If they’re like any other band, it’s long-gone and lamented weirdoes All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors, who had a similar no-holds-barred approach to making noisy post-everything music.
Pale Saints' In Ribbons is an album I've always loved. It takes a clean, no-nonsense approach to capturing a classic set of early 90s UK pop songs, with all of the little bits of the Byrds, Jesus & Mary Chain and the rest that you would expect. It's of a piece with the records that came out by Lush, My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive around the same time. The alternating male and female vocals (by Ian Masters and Meriel Barham, respectively) and the clean, simple harmonies are a nice complement to the guitars, which nicely balance bombast and restraint. Its only musical weakness is a tendency to play things a little safe, and maybe being a song or two too long (in the way that a lot of 90s albums were, before producers figured out that not every CD has to be full).
However, the album does have one fatal flaw:
Vaughan Oliver, the usually brilliant designer behind longtime 4AD associates 23 Envelope, had a brief-lived obsession with guts and eyeballs around 1991. This cover, and the cover to the Pixies' Trompe le Monde, are among the unfortunate fruits of that preoccupation (the Tromp le Monde cover also features a violently busy design and some more or less pointless cartoons, and is probably my least favorite 23 Envelope design). I get that it matches the title of the album, the type treatment is beautiful, and there's a certain formal beauty to the bleached entrails and the pale blue background, but Vaughan, that shit is nast. For reals. It's this ghastly shadow that's always hovered over my fondness for the music within.