Monday, May 20, 2013

20th Anniversary Edition

Come played the blues. Not like the White Stripes or the Black Keys.  More like Patti Smith and Black Sabbath, with a little bit of Joplin-like anguish thrown in to stir the pot. Two harsh, interlocking guitars, sounding grimy, dirty, dark and angry, yet flowing and highly melodic. It’s like this lyrically too, but for all the loss and dashed dreams sung about, there is also a strong thread of hope and redemption throughout, a break in the clouds on a rainy day. 

Thalia Zedek, who played in Dangerous Birds, Uzi and Live Skull, formed Come with guitarist Chris Brokaw, Sean O’Brien on bass, and drummer Arthur Johnson in 1990, in Boston. Their first release was the single “Car “ on Sub Pop’s singles club, a very good song.  Eleven:Eleven, their full length debut for Matador, won much acclaim in 1993,  and it’s easy to see why. Zedek was, and is, mesmerizing. Her anguished, gritty yet resolute and confident singing rang out furiously.  That she was out when you weren’t supposed to be was very daring, and getting sober after years of hard drug use helped, too.  Her guitar playing dazzles, as does Brokaw. Even though this was characterized as noise rock, I find their music soothing, a way to get out a lot of pain, if you’ve got it.  And the add-on to the album, the 7-inch “Fast Piss Blues” and “I Got The Blues,” fits in seamlessly.

The live disk from 10/10/92, a performance from the Vermonstress Festival included in the reissue, shows how powerful the band could be live. O’Brien and Johnson shine here, providing a moving yet sturdy foundation for the guitar wildness going on onstage.  While Zedek and Brokaw stretch out a bit on here, they don’t jam. For all the wildness, it’s just a twisted framework to work from and rock out in.  Zedek growls her words, and the frenzied way she sings matches the guitars note for note. Pavement, Sugar, Dinosaur Jr., and Nirvana requested them for tours, and they were absolutely right to do so.

The reissue of this wonderful album, that has been out of print until now, is also a reminder that there was more to alternative rock than grunge.  There was an underground, and Come was one of the best bands in it.  Don’t miss this album. Its reissue shines a light on what was going on below the surface of rock at the time, and it’s very welcome. 
Andrea Weiss

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Loose Squares

This is warm, soulful, melodic techno, with a really driving beat, made for laid back nights, as well as getting into it at a club.  That it’s melodic is what makes it stand out for me. Techno is very melodic, but this was particularly good.   And Slick Shoota remixing “Miscommunication” for the last track gives it an edge, and  also makes it flow even better than on the original version,  the EP’s first track.  Recommended as a pick-me-up, or as a way to relax.
Andrea Weiss

Monday, May 13, 2013

Photo by Chris Glass

The Breeders

Last Splash didn’t sound like anything else in 1993, and that still is true 20 years later. This box set marking the 20th anniversary of its release makes that clear, as well that every single song in the set is indispensable, because that’s how much of a classic landmark this album is.

The foundations of Last Splash were laid with Pod, released in 1990, ostensibly a collaboration between Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly, rounded out by bassist Josephine Wiggs from The Perfect Disaster, and Britt Walford of Slint. It’s roughly melodic quirky punk, musically and lyrically, and with Kim and Tanya, showing that they were more than what they’d been in their main bands.  It’s a fine debut, but one that only hints of what was to come.

 The Safari EP followed in 1992, with a slightly different lineup. Kim’s sister Kelley was now in the band, having learned on the fly how to play guitar, and drummer Jim Macpherson.  Tanya left the band to form Belly. The overall sound is more melodic, but still retains the quirks. The Kim/Kelley co-write “Do You Love Me Now” is the standout track here.  sweet, gentle, lovelorn, and starts a theme that would become more pronounced on Last Splash, of unrequited love and lust, or requited love now gone, wishing there was more. There is also a fine cover of The Who’s “So Sad About Us.”

Last Splash, released in 1993, exploded into an immediate hit, catapulted by “Cannonball.”  That song, the finest of that year for me, takes on so many meanings. Unrequited love and lust, wanting someone badly, not sure if they want you, not sure of anything at all, and hoping that you get clarity at some point. Wishing you’re the “coo-coo“ and “cannonball,” the object of interest of the other person, that you’re not the “last splash.” “Divine Hammer” is a variation on that theme, wanting to find love. “Do You Love me Now,” when you loved someone once, are now apart, and want them back.   Even more melodic, but not pop in the traditional sense, the album put up two more hits, the sweet, lovely  “Divine Hammer” and the revved up  “Saints” about good times at the fair, my second favorite track on the album. All the hits deserved every bit of airplay they got. 

The Deal sisters’ harmonies perfectly complement each other. Kelley is the guitar god to end all guitar gods. Wiggs, with her famous intro to “Cannonball,” and she and MacPherson are fantastic throughout.  Kim sounds on fire when she takes the lead vocal, and sizzles on guitar, and Kelley’s “I just Wanna Get Along” establishes her as a world-class songwriter and singer.  Carrie Bradley’s violin on “Driving On 9” is also a standout moment, a change of pace, on a song that approaches country. Not for nothing did Kurt Cobain praise this band.

The live disk The Stockholm Syndrome, was recorded in Sweden in 1994, the band’s last European tour for that year. The first seven tracks were from a fan club CD, the other nine unreleased tracks from the same show. Sloppy in a good way, frenetic, ferocious, but always friendly and funny, it’s the band at their high energy best.  Kim’s stage banter is cool, and fun, as is Wiggs doing the intro to Saints.  The band attacks their instruments with gusto, and the crowd eats it up.  An excellent recording in every way.

When I saw the band on their tour earlier this year in Philadelphia, they were tighter and more precise, without sacrificing any of their energy.  Kim played acoustic for some of the songs, a good surprise, as it gave the songs new textures. Kelley roared and revved up her guitar like a Harley to complement Kim’s playing. Almost twin lead guitars. Jo Wiggs’ playing was skillful, as was Jim’s drumming. And as on the live disk, the band was friendly and funny, happy to be onstage, and playing for a sold out house. I’d never seen the band back in the day, so this was a treat for me, and one of the best concerts I ever saw.

The first five tracks from the demos/rarities disk are from a BBC radio session on July 24, 1993 and available for the first time. The rest are the demos of Last Splash, recorded in November 1992. The BBC session has the energy toned down a little, but the band is very focused, and the relative quiet of the music shows their chops. They could play rings around most bands, and that’s still true today.

“Grunggee,” which is the demo of "Cannonball," as rough and unfinished as it is, shows how inspired their ideas were musically, and lyrically.  The other demos are much the same way. They’d caught lightning in a bottle, and knew it. These songs have solid foundations, and also show them at their most punk rock.

The next three EPs are some more fun. First is Cannonball, centered around that song, an alternate punky mix of “No Aloha,” a funny, out and proud cover of Aerosmith’s “Lord of the Thighs” sung by Josephine, and “900” which is kind of grungey.  This is the playful side of the band. I smiled all through the EP.

The Divine Hammer EP has the single mix of the song, with the vocals and guitars emphasized, and while this version is interesting to listen to, it flattens out the magic of the original version.  “Hovern’” is more punk rock. “I can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” is just Kim and Kelly playing a country/folk song that is reminiscent of Katryna and Narissa Nields, and “Do You Love Me Now JR?”  where J Mascus duets with Kim.  More smiling from me. How great that even the tracks surrounding the singles are just as good as what made the cut for Last Splash.  If you want to hear more of the Nields, who have very Breeders-like harmonies but in a modern folk context, their current album The Full Catastrophe is the place to start. 

The last EP, Head to Toe, is more punk rock, from covers of GBV’s “Shocker In Gloomtown,” Dinosaur Jr.’s “The Freed Pig” the growling title track, and an alternative version of Saints, rougher and somewhat disjointed compared to the version on Last Splash.  I prefer the Last Splash version, as it has more propulsion.  All three EP are great, and treats for whoever can’t get enough.

The 24-page booklet that accompanies the box set has a lot of cool photos, graphics and comments from the band about the making of Last Splash. The comments from the band, and people like Kim Gordon, and J Mascus are informative and instructive, especially when it comes to the famous video of  “Cannonball.” Even though I’m not one for videos in general, I’ve always loved the clip for “Cannonball” for its terrific imagery.   The great graphics extends to the box set cover and individual sleeve artwork by Vaughan Oliver, whose starting point was the original cover artwork for Last Splash. His upgrade is very pleasing to the eye, and perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the music.

So what’s the legacy of Last Splash? That there aren’t more bands around to day that have that spirit of wild abandon, the off-the-cuff feel of music at its most organic. So many bands, while great at what they do, aren’t really adventurous, in finding something new to work with, in the mad rush to reclaim the past, instead of pushing things forward.  Make no mistake, I’m not suggesting Breeders clone bands, but what I’m saying is that the whole attitude of “everything’s been done, so there’s no way we can do anything original,” is cynical and defeatist, and is helping kill the music.  The Breeders never had that attitude. While they knew what they were doing, they also knew they were making a statement about how rock could be played. But these days, I don’t really hear these kind of statements, or at least not often enough.

I’m not whining. I love today’s indie rock.  But there’s got to be more to good music than good songs. More magic, more creativity.   Naturally, you can’t predict the future, but the fact that Last Splash sounds like nothing else today gives me hope that in the future, people will shake off that attitude and make music that takes things in new directions.  That there were so many young fans at the show I saw is one indication of that. Let them start bands, using the spirit of the album as their guide, and let’s make everything new again. Really new, not just an update.

The Breeders are touring all of this year. Take the hint and see them. Kim, who is cool. Kelley, who is as much a knitting goddess as well as a guitar god, Josephine, lord of the bass, and Jim, who keeps the beat, and you won’t be sorry you did so.  You will have a blast and some fantastic memories. 
 Andrea Weiss

Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City
XL Recordings.

Paul Simon as an indie rocker? What if Paul Simon had adopted indie rock, or even college rock, instead of making Graceland? Those are the questions raised by the new Vampire Weekend. 

Ezra Korning, like Simon, sounds like the English major he was in college.  Like Simon, he’s added the nuances, musically and lyrically, sly, knowing, ironic, and wise that Paul Simon is famous for, and all of this comes as the band, has matured. This is a logical, yet somewhat unexpected progression from Contra, but an absolutely brilliant one.

Every track has something to like about it, and also to think about. All of that makes the album’s single “Diane Young” about a woman of the same name, which also could be a pun on Dying Young, and both are suggested by the lyrics.  The vocals here are processed, maybe even with auto-tune. The track is a spiky rocker, and the only track where Ezra’s guitar is really heard.  Please Ezra, more guitar. You play so well! I started out hating this song. It rapidly grew on me, and it sounds like nothing else on the album. That made me curious about the album, and made me love the song.

Hopefully, old fans won’t be scared off or let down by this change of direction, as this is VW’s most indie rock album yet.  There is a lot to love here, on one of the best albums I’ve heard all year, and gives weight to my opinion that Vampire Weekend are one of the finest bands in the US. If people would stop loathing them for being preppy Ivy Leaguers, for the band has moved far beyond,  “Diane Young” would be their first top 40 hit, and their album hailed as a masterpiece. 

Andrea Weiss

Secondhand Rapture

As good as their EP Candy Bar Creepshow, MS MR’s full length debut, Secondhand Rapture is even better.  While this does sound like Adele, it is also a lot rougher than what Adele gets up to. It’s stronger, darker, more propulsive, and in the end, more organic.  It’s more straightforward early 90s sounding too, rather than the smooth jazz that Adele goes for.

 I like Adele, but I like MS MR much more, as the duo never goes for more than thoughtful fun, and light entertainment, with lots of drama, but no melodrama, and without all the moaning and wailing that Adele sometimes tilts toward a little too much.  All told, a very good debut, and anyone who likes Adele should love this, or like me, wishes Adele was better than she is. MS MR does that for me in spades.
Andrea Weiss

Thursday, May 9, 2013

And video, Director Luke Gilford

I like the video.  It's arresting, with striking images, but rather confusing to follow.  It seems to be about a man who wants a woman, but is beaten  up by  two other guys.  Were some of these images, especially the ones showing intimacy, friendly or sexual, meant to be homoerotic or not?  

This is why the remix works better.  It's a bubbly, zooming, swooshing take on Hurricane by CHVRCHES.  It’s fun, and brings out a playfulness that's not in the version used as the soundtrack for the video.  That’s not to say the soundtrack version is a bad song.  It’s just that the remix is infectious. 

Andrea Weiss


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