The Verlaines – Juvenelia

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

This is technically part 1 and for now the first Verlaines entry, but its the most recent of my Verlaines acquisitions and this post post-dates the other Verlaines posts, so I’m not going to say much in this section and the usual part 1 narrative will be found in one of those later/earlier posts. I’d been hoping to acquire this for some time and am really happy that I finally did! It’s an excellent album that makes me appreciate the Verlaines even more. I need to get Hallelujah All the Way Home.

What I Think of This Album

Once again, a comp whose composition is frustratingly not well explained in the liner notes. As far as I can tell, it consists of the Ten O’Clock In the Afternoon EP (six songs) plus the “Death and the Maiden” single (b/w “C.D. Jimmy Jazz and Me”), and then three songs that were part of the legendary Dunedin Double EP, recorded by Chris Knox (and which also included the Chills’ first recordings). That adds up to 11 tracks, spanning 1982-84. Which means there are four bonus tracks:  the “Doomsday”/”New Kind of Hero” single from 1985 and live versions of “Instrumental” and “Phil Too?” Of course, these Flying Nun-released songs are all intermingled on Juvenilia and not presented in their original order.

Does this sound like a complaint? I suppose it is, but I can overlook the bewildering decision to not provide an accurate history through the sequencing because the music is so damn great. Even as Graeme Downes humbly details the band’s naivete and inexperience (they did not know what overdubs were or what mixing was at the time of their first recordings), the songs betray his talent as a songwriter and arranger as well as the band’s enthusiasm, charm, and bravery.

The three Dunedin Double tracks from 1982 were the band’s first recordings:  “Angela,” “Crisis After Crisis,” and “You Cheat Yourself of Everything That Moves.” These songs definitely show promise. ”Angela” boasts a warm melody, pleasant jangle, some odd arrangement choices, and an inventive drum pattern. “Crisis After Crisis” is a clear-eyed response to a haughty ex, brimming with great lines. And “You Cheat Yourself” is a slow burner with desperate vocals from Downes.

A few months later saw the release of the inexplicable and stunning “Death and the Maiden” single. Indeed, “Death and the Maiden” somehow avoids several potential pitfalls on the way to becoming a standout early track. Among other things, referencing poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud would be pretentious enough without also naming the song after an artistic motif juxtaposing death with the erotic (there are tons of Death and the Maiden paintings, including by Edvard Munch, Marianne Stokes, Egon Schiele, Evelyn DeMorgan, and Henry Lévy). Also, the song incorporates at least three different time signatures, including a waltzing circus organ bridge that *should* derail everything. But no, this all works and it’s a fantastic fucking song. Downes explains that each chorus features fewer and fewer voices so it sounds prettier and cleaner as the song progresses (and by the end, you can indeed clearly hear bassist Jane Dodd’s previously buried harmonies).

B-side “C.D. Jimmy Jazz and Me” would end up being rerecorded for Bird Dog. Once again, Downes’s smarty pants approach – C.D. being a reference to Claude Debussy and Jimmy Jazz a nickname for James Joyce (and alas, not a Clash reference) – fails to get the better of him. While the album version may document technical improvement, including prominent use of brass, this rougher and more straightforward single thrums with youthful energy, unspooling in a way that seems like the song will never end and leading you to hope that it won’t. 

The six songs on the Ten O’Clock EP – variously reported as being released in 1983 and 1984 – make up the plurality of the comp:  “Baud to Tears,” “Pyromaniac,” “Joed Out,” “Burlesque,” “Wind Song,” and “You Say You.”  All are fantastic.

The lyric “he hasn’t got a shit show” appears in “Baud to Tears” and it makes me wonder if that terminology (one of my favorites) is used differently in New Zealand. More important are lyrics like “you’ll never spend a season in hell / If you lie in bed all day / And you won’t ever see anything beautiful again.” I have to assume the Baud in the title concerns Baudelaire but I am too uncultured to know how (I also have to assume at the same time that this is not a song about modems).

“Pyromaniac” benefits from the same sense of urgency that drives most of these tracks. I tend to doubt Downes’s protestations of amateurism, as the playing is uniformly very good and the songwriting is inventive and sophisticated. “Joed Out” is an uncharacteristically straightforward love song, approximating the kind of work the Go-Betweens regularly produced (is it bad form to compare a Kiwi band to an Aussie one? Am I offending both in the process?); it also provides the title of the EP on which it originally appeared. The acoustic solo at the end is lovely.

The opening line of “Burlesque” tells you all you need to know about this track:  “One day you’ll be dying of triple-throat cancer / Ha ha.” This unusual and unsettling song shudders along thanks to drummer Robbie Yeats’s syncopated pattern, with an ominous and mocking organ serving as your guide.

“Wind Song” is an atmospheric marvel, augmented by a variety of children’s toys (and Downes’s oboe) and elevated by Dodd’s heavenly harmonies. Truly beautiful. For a band that didn’t know about overdubs, this is some amazing work. Downes adds violin to “You Say You,” a song about empathy in a small bedroom that sounds like it is about murder in a gothic mansion.

The “Doomsday” single is energetic and lushly jangly, with a surprising (and lengthy) instrumental outro. B-side “New Kind of Hero” rises above it bitterness thanks mostly to Dodd’s harmonies. “Instrumental” is exactly that, and a lot of fun – who needs lyrics? “Phil Too?” is frantic and that is cool for what it is but this is easily the weakest song on this comp.

Jane Dodd (the second (?) bassist in the Verlaines) had been a founding member of the Chills, along with her sister. She also played in the Able Tasmans and designed the artwork for several Verlaines and AT releases. She is now a celebrated jewelry artist. The Verlaines went through many drummers but their second (also ?) – Alan Haig – was also a founding member of the Chills.

The Best Thing About This Album

Wow. Hard to say. I guess the fact that Downes and company were able to come out of the gate so strongly and overcome logistic obstacles on the way to turning into a phenomenal band.

Release Date

1987

The Cover Art

Ok, so this is the slipcover for the CD release. The actual art on the CD is the same image but the background color is a greenish-yellow and the other colors are also altered. The band name is difficult to make out and the album title is basically indecipherable, and for those reasons I don’t really care for this art.

The Vulgar Boatmen – Please Panic

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

There is a third Vulgar Boatmen studio album (Opposite Sex) that, predictably, was never released in the U.S. In 2003, the Boatmen released a collection of tracks from all three albums, with some other flotsam. The Indianapolis Boatmen normally play a January show in Chicago, which I have seen once and missed once, and which I hope to see again once we actually enter a post-pandemic phase.

What I Think of This Album

First of all, props for the excellent album title. Second, this is at least as good as the debut. Sometimes I get misled because I don’t care for the first song here (not coincidentally, it is the one song not by the Dale Lawrence-Robert Ray team), but that just means I am impatient and stupid.

This is a great album to drink a bottle of wine and develop a rough outline for suicide to. A collection of careful, thoughtful, beguiling, and heartfelt songs, Please Panic is all about unappealing choices, resignation, broken hearts, and the far off horizon. And yet. And yet, songs like “You Don’t Love Me Yet,” “I’m Not Stuck On You,” “You’re the One,” and “Alison Says” (which works up a nice Velvets/Feelies churn) betray that glimmer of hope that we normally don’t dare acknowledge, because that sort of thinking is really fucking risky. Of course, those are the saddest songs of all (even if they don’t know it).

There is a gorgeous viola – played by Helen Kirklin, spouse of Ray – on several tracks (most notably, on the wonderful “There’s a Family”), and the guitar interplay is excellent. I don’t know – this is probably enjoyable even for people who are not profoundly depressed.

The Best Thing About This Album

“You Don’t Love Me Yet”

Release Date

February, 1992

The Cover Art

Hmmm. No. I don’t like anything about this.

The Vulgar Boatmen – You and Your Sister

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

It’s literally impossible to discuss the Vulgar Boatmen without strolling through their bizarre history. Dale Lawrence was a musician and college student in Indianapolis and Bloomington; Robert Ray was a graduate student (several years Lawrence’s senior) at Indiana University. Lawrence enrolled in a class taught by Ray and they hit it off, musically. Ray moved to Gainesville, Florida in 1979 to continue his academic career (he is the chair of the film studies department at the University of Florida, a published author, and also has a law degree), and Lawrence remained in Indiana, playing with his own band. They stayed in touch. Two UF students – Walter Salas-Humara (future Silos leader) and Cary Crane – formed the Vulgar Boatmen. Ray eventually joined, offering up songs that he and Lawrence collaborated on by mail. Regular mail – this is the early ‘80s, remember. Soon, Lawrence’s Indiana crew was playing the same songs that Ray’s Florida band was playing. They decided they were all, or both, the Vulgar Boatmen. The Florida contingent became the studio band, and the Indiana collective was the touring band, with some bleeding over at the boundaries, and Lawrence and Ray remained the joint main creative force.

What I Think of This Album

Yay, more songs that make me sad! Love it. Sincerely, I do love it. The songs here are evocative and misty, suggesting more than declaring, and often revolving around incomprehension, longing, and the desire for closure that we can never achieve. Other times the song titles tell you all you need to know:  “Decision By the Airport” is obviously not about upgrading to business class, and “The Street Where You Live” shocks no one when it ends with “Tell me who do you love? / Who do you love?”

“Mary Jane” chugs along nicely, and there is a chiming jangle that permeates “You and Your Sister,” which gets by on a lyrical economy that is all the more impressive for being more than sufficient to get the point across (“There is a dance this week at quarter to nine / I wouldn’t mind if you go with somebody . . . We can walk down to my house right on the corner / We can talk late in the dark in my front yard”). “Margaret Says” is more oblique but even more wonderful, with a fine vocal performance by . . . someone. The liner notes offer little in the way of useful information. The fact that the fourth song (the slow, fine “Katie”) is the third to feature a woman’s name in the title is telling.

Arpeggiated “Drive Somewhere” is arguably the album highlight, all sunsets and asphalt, tentative and propulsive at the same time. The lack of a way forward in “Change the World All Around” is palpable and moving. There are welcome pedal steel accents to cinematic (like, Jim Jarmusch cinematic) “Decision By the Airport.”

There is a slight soul feel to “Fallen Down,” lacking only horns and a time machine for it to have come out of the Stax studio, while “Hold Me Tight” is a ‘50s-style ballad. “Cry Real Tears” is likewise a throwback to Ray’s childhood in Memphis (his father, a doctor, once treated Elvis). None of these three tracks is anything special – the first half of the album is what you should focus on – but things end on a high note with the languid and dusky “The Street Where You Live.”

The band’s sound has a lot in common with the more pastoral side of the Feelies, lacking any of their nervous energy. Honestly, Tom Petty would have had hits with most of these songs. The presentation is unassuming and direct. I will say, though, that the recording is not great. You definitely need to turn this up to hear, and the vocals could be higher in the mix. The Lawrence-Ray partnership is responsible for most of the dozen songs here, with only one tune lacking involvement by either (which is easily the weakest song on display).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Drive Somewhere” transports me to another place.

Release Date

1989

The Cover Art

So much of this works. The fonts are outstanding, and I like the color palette. If the photo box had just contained the woman and the car, it would’ve been a winner. The addition of the cropped color photo of a guitarist on stage ruins it. It looks messy and lacking in confidence.

Vivian Girls – Vivian Girls

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I don’t recall exactly when I first learned about Harvey Darger, but I found his story very disturbing and sad. Relatedly, I once spent a few hours at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, which specializes in outsider art. It was a moving but overwhelming experience. So many of these artists had crippling mental health issues and often no true therapeutic treatment (if they received any “treatment,” it was usually barbaric). I viewed their work not as some necessary byproduct of their mental state – the idea that mental illness produces art is a dangerous one – but as an embodiment of their drive to create or to express themselves, even in the most difficult of circumstances, and certainly without any kind of moral, financial, or other support. There was work from a woman who had been institutionalized (I believe in Louisiana, and I think in the 1920s or 30s (can you imagine?)) and she drew on paper plates and napkins and food wrappers – any scrap she could find to draw on. It undid me, standing there looking at this rescued art made by lost people. Vivian Girls share little with Darger’s Vivian Girls, though the band were outsiders themselves, and if or when their 2000s Brooklyn indie rock popularity made that characterization invalid is not terribly interesting to me. The original trio was made up of Cassie Ramone, “Kickball” Katy Goodman (both from New Jersey), and drummer Frankie Rose. Rose went on to play with Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls before going solo. Ramone and Goodman soldiered on for two more albums; they reunited for a fourth album in 2019. Goodman recorded and released under the name La Sera, which we will hear more about when I get to the L section.

What I Think of This Album

I’m not really sure what the big deal was about this album. I like it – almost every track is excellent – but it’s also nothing very original. Which is fine with me; that’s really not something I am ever going to complain about. I am just at a loss as to why a band that was obviously and heavily indebted to Black Tambourine (if not Dolly Mixture, or at least Talulah Gosh) and was not necessarily any more appealing than any number of similar-sounding British indie-pop bands of the late ‘80s became such a sensation. None of that actually matters, of course. What matters is the ten noisy, reverb-cushioned, crunchy songs powered by the undeniable passion of these three women, who often joined in harmony on the vocals.

There is no more pure distillation possible of the indie/punk worldview than a track like “No,” which offers that single word endlessly repeated as the entire lyric (the final “no” is delivered with a palpable, beautiful sense of despair). The rest of the songs are a bit more revealing, but no less enjoyable. “All the Time” is all rumble-in-Brooklyn drums and descending harmonies. “Such a Joke” has a propulsive, post-punk bass line and a weighted blanket of reverb. “Wild Eyes” is a bit more sweet-sounding, and features a nice needling guitar solo. The band plays to all their strengths on “Going Insane,” which would have been a standout on any C86-88 compilation. The trio get primitive (or is it primal?) on “Tell The World,” which sounds a bit like Tiger Trap covering Beat Happening. They spread their wings on the very effective ballad-like (there are still pounding drums here) “Where Do You Run To,” which strips some of the noise away from their melodic talents. “Damaged” brings to mind a harder sounding (and far less British) Talulah Gosh, featuring another enjoyable guitar solo. “Never See Me Again” could be a Smiths song if Johnny Marr played with only one hand and Morrissey was actually the feminist he always pretended to be. A nice companion piece to the undeniable “No,” is the thick and dark “I Believe In Nothing.” Look, if you had the choice on how to spend just over 20 minutes (yep), you could throw this on and have a great time, or you could spend your third of an hour doing many far less enjoyable things. By the way, Wussy has a song titled “Vivian Girls,” which is about Harvey Darger’s art.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Going Insane,” though the absurdist “No” is highly entertaining, too, and “Never See Me Again” is a fuzzy gem.

Release Date

October, 2008 (reissue – the original issue was in May on vinyl and limited to 500 copies. So. Very. 2000s. Brooklyn. Indie.)

The Cover Art

This is fairly ugly. The colors, the lines, the font. It’s all bad. I guess Darger’s estate doesn’t license his stuff?

Violent Femmes – Why Do Birds Sing?

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Violent Femmes are almost certainly underrated, but not by much. They could have arguably rivaled the Replacements, but the songwriting simply wasn’t consistent enough. I’ve never heard Hallowed Ground, but if nothing else it speaks to Gordon Gano’s lyrical flexibility and the band’s more-expansive-than-you-might-think musical heritage. The Blind Leading the Naked was decent but not a keeper, and 3 was a bit of a dud. Along the way, they created memorable and fun songs. Why Do Birds Sing? is worthy of being in my collection, and I sort of stopped after that. Gano and Brian Ritchie have endured acrimony and lawsuits but still play together.

What I Think of This Album

This is a strong Femmes album, obviously not rising to the heights of the inimitable debut, but still bursting with wit, originality, and energy.

Few bands would put together a folky and upbeat celebration of suicide like “Out the Window,” nor would any other band decide to update both Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and an Elizabethan era poem (“Hey Nonny Nonny”) on the same album (or even, during the same career). Several songs appear to resurrect the ghost of the first album. The silly “Girl Trouble” (“Have mercy on me / I’ve got girl trouble . . . up the ASS”) effectively hearkens back to the debut, as does the conflicted and bitter “He Likes Me.”

The spare “Flamingo Baby” transforms from romantic to horny to bitter to resolute, while “Lack of Knowledge” is a misfire that certainly wouldn’t have made the cut in 1983. Unexpectedly, the thick, almost sludgy, “Life Is a Scream” is as conventionally punk as I’ve ever heard the band (though the wah-wah bass does break the mold). On the other end of the spectrum, hit “American Music” is a shiny and robustly arranged pop song that avoids any charges of selling out, because the sincere lyrics are still from the confused, messed-up, frustrated, self-hating point of view of the same teenage malcontent from eight years earlier.

Gano resurrects his spiritual concerns on the unobtrusive and light-hearted “I’m Free.” There is a touching vulnerability to “Used to Be,” though some may find it maudlin. Whatever. Fuck them. On everything but “American Music,” the band deftly adds subtle enhancements to their mostly acoustic-and-snare setup (I do like that drummer Victor DeLorenzo gets a “cymbal” credit on one song), with bassist Brian Ritchie doing his masterful best on bouzouki, glockenspiel, didgeridoo, ukelele, banjo, and jaw harp.

The Best Thing About This Album

“American Music” was intended to be the hit, and I will comply.

Release Date

April, 1991

The Cover Art

It’s amusing. The intermingling of the title and band name, with the different fonts and colors, is difficult to read.

Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Undeniably the first alternative music I ever heard, the first Violent Femmes album was both inescapable and elusive. I turned eleven years old in 1983, finished fifth grade and started sixth. I can’t say exactly when I first heard this, but it was definitely by seventh grade. I remember hearing the three big songs from this album often in middle school. But as popular as “the Femmes” (as we referred to them, pretending to know more than we did) seemed to be, I never heard these songs on the radio. I only heard their music when some other kid shared it, and I didn’t understand where it came from or how my classmates knew about it but I didn’t. It was truly an underground, cult phenomenon and I was present for it in real time, even if I didn’t realize or understand it. Looking back now, I can only hope that my peers learned of this from older siblings; not all of them could have been plugged in to this obscure Milwaukee band in the sixth grade.

What I Think of This Album

This album is the sound of the amygdala achieving complete and total domination. Possibly the purest musical document in existence of teenage emotion, Violent Femmes is a deserved classic. Gordon Gano relies on a combination of unvarnished but exquisite pathos and unexpected ethos, each one amplifying the other, and he leaves logos completely behind (or perhaps never even considered it).

With each of his sincere, funny, and direct expressions of frustration, lust, anger, displacement, sorrow, fear, and confusion, Gano gains more and more credibility as a chronicler of the urgent and powerful inner life of near-adults (and those of us never-adults). The anguish that accompanies his “How can I explain personal pain? / My voice is in vain” is precisely how he succeeds in explaining his (and therefore, our) turmoil.

Gano wrote most of these songs while still in high school, and he displays a remarkable talent for synthesizing and communicating the teenage experience. “Kiss Off” is the embittered, defensive cry of the outsider; starting quietly, almost dangerously, Gano gets more impassioned as he unleashes his adenoidal whine during the chorus. The tension returns with the infamous count-up (with the hilarious – and utterly genius – “I forget what 8 was for”), which explodes into the frustrated culmination of everything that is wrong . . . which from Gano’s perspective is exactly and precisely “Everything! / Everything! / Everything! / Everything!” But don’t forget the faux-tough sneer in response to what sounds like school discipline – the song pinballs from one emotion to another, trapping the listener in the same whirlwind which surrounds Gano’s narrator.

Comparatively, “Blister In the Sun” seems overly simplistic – which is the point, as Gano gives over, and gives voice, to his id. Openly discussing being high, staining his sheets, and checking you out, Gano yearns for release and freedom. The other big cult hit was the randy “Add It Up,” a stunning declaration of sexual frustration, going so far as to suggest that the consequence of unsatisfied horniness might be murderous violence or, chillingly, suicide.

The rest of the album contains additional riches and surprises. “Gone Daddy Gone” features bassist Brian Ritchie playing an incongruous but impressive xylophone while Gano updates Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” not the first indication on the album that there was more to this band than met the eye. The bluesy “Confessions” likewise indicated that the band’s Americana roots extended beyond folk, and draws a line from the traditionally plaintive lyrics of blues performers to Gano’s modern problems.

“Prove My Love” takes the rhythm of “Add It Up” and supercharges it to provide the backdrop to Gano’s bewildered frustration, which is delivered in a sort of rockabilly/doo-wop fashion. Perhaps in a nod to the Ramones (who in turn were bowing to Herman’s Hermits), Gano deadpans “Third verse / Same as the first.”

The intro of “Promise” sounds a lot like the Cure’s “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” but this exposed nerve of a song is otherwise its own disturbing creation. Some people may be turned off by the exaggerated whininess of “Please Do Not Go” – which is probably as close to an example of a song Buddy Holly would have released in 1983 as you’re going to get – but the uncontained sadness, shock, and confusion behind Gano’s lyrics is endearing and universal.

With all this buildup, it is a genuine surprise when Gano turns in a subdued and vulnerable performance on “Good Feeling,” which acts as a gentle and wholly unexpected closer to the original album. My CD adds the irresistibly poppy and mean-spirited “Ugly” and the hilariously desperate and carnal “Gimme the Car.”

Throughout, the music is playful and skilled. Make no mistake:  Ritchie was a virtuoso bassist, even at this young age, with impressive runs and busy lines on his acoustic, and Gano played an effective guitar, as well as violin on “Gone Daddy Gone” and “Good Feelings.” The ramshackle acoustic-punk sounded shabbier than it was, even as it served as a distinctive calling card.

As a testament to its slow word-of-mouth popularity, it took four years for the album to go gold and another four to hit platinum.

The Best Thing About This Album

Gano’s lyrics and vocal delivery.

Release Date

April, 1983

The Cover Art

I always thought this was some urchin in like, 1960s Ireland, but it turns out it was from 1980s Laurel Canyon. The image nicely speaks to the idea that the music inside is something to be discovered, away from the eyes of parents.

Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I’ve been listening to Veronica Falls almost non-stop for several weeks now. This sort of compulsion is nothing new. Typically, compulsive behaviors are employed to drive out intrusive thoughts or to minimize the anxiety those thoughts produce. I’m not sure that’s how it works for me. I suspect the music actually makes me dwell on my feelings more. It might be soothing at first to listen to the music, but when the music stops I need to hear it again, because the feelings are still there and I feel exposed. So I play it again but the music itself has become associated with the feelings, so hearing it only reinforces them. Eventually, I break free, but it can take some time. I spent 30 days in El Paso for work earlier this year, and every day for about two weeks, I listened to the same three Tullycraft covers during my commute, over and over again (and truth be told, I really just focused on one song – “Our Days In Kansas” – and the other two were mostly just to pretend I wasn’t completely insane, as if a diet of three songs is appreciably more normal).

What I Think of This Album

I’m very into this Veronica Falls album. The cymbals sound strange, and it lacks the icy mystery of the debut, but it also strikes me as a much more romantic set of songs. And by romantic, I of course mean that tragic sadness of forgotten hopes, abandoned dreams, and discarded desires. Those songs serve to remind you of the very things you forgot, abandoned, and discarded – not that you need or want the reminder – while at the same time producing a sense of gratitude for the existence of a collection of four random strangers who can articulate such feelings, and marry them to delightful melodies, too. Over and over. And that is something that you need and want, even if it is a poor substitute for the things you truly need and want, and even if in the end it leaves you more hollowed out than you already were.

The specific moments that tear me apart and put me back together again just to reduce me to ashes once more include the title track’s cascading harmonies, the string-bending coda of “Teenage,” the empathic lyrics of “Broken Toy,” the warmth of “Everybody’s Changing,” the sorrowful mien of “Buried Alive,” and “Falling Out”’s rising/falling melody.

The band broke up after this album. Drummer Patrick Doyle died in 2018; he is pictured on the back cover of Belle and Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Everybody’s crazy / What’s your excuse, baby?”

Release Date

February, 2013

The Cover Art

Not as good as the debut, but still pretty fucking good. There is a sort of Vampire Weekend feel to this. I wish the model wasn’t wearing a watch.

Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Veronica Falls, a band that released its final album in 2013, is probably among the most contemporary music I listen to. There are a lot of reasons for this, but chief among them is the paradox that as music has become more available, it has become increasingly difficult to find music I like. Certainly, part of it is simply that I lack the energy and time these days to explore; I don’t have the freedom I did in my college years to sit around and do nothing but listen to an album. Something about streaming music also plays a role – the stuff I hear online without having a physical copy rarely registers with me, even when I like it. Even when I shift strategies and try to rely on record labels (that Veronica Falls was on Slumberland certainly helped convince me to give them a listen), I fail to follow through. How many Slumberland emails have I read and then ignored?

What I Think of This Album

Veronica Falls is proudly retro, which I suppose helps explain my love for them. There is a very late ‘80s/early ‘90s sound at work here. The band takes the basic formula of Black Tambourine and adds some of the darkness of the Chills’ “Pink Frost,” and a hint of shoegaze texture, too. The doomed outlook is, of course, timeless already. That said, I don’t find this to be derivative or artificial. It’s very much of a piece with the approach of the first Pains of Being Pure at Heart album (another Slumberland band) in that it gives a loving and respectful nod to the past but undeniably exists in the present.

The clean lead vocals of guitarist Roxanne Clifford are a consistent highlight, as are the backing harmonies (by Clifford, guitarist James Hoare, and drummer Patrick Doyle); the sometimes jangly and sometimes spindly guitar work of Clifford and Hoare should win you over; and the melodies are absolutely wonderful. Beyond that, there is a dark mystique that blankets the entire album (much like the reverb that does the same), from the suicidal “Beachy Head” to the inappropriately sunny “Misery” to the frenetic “Found Love In a Graveyard.”

The pure pop of “Misery” is matched only by the Tommy James-referencing “Come On Over” (which starts out like a Velvet Underground song). The spooky title track will stick in your brain until you are mercifully released from this existence. Throughout, there is a perverse delight in how Clifford prettily – and often cheerily – delivers lines like “Misery / Taking over me ” or “I’ve got a bad feeling / A bad bad feeling / And it’s not going away” (“Bad Feeling”) or “I’m broken-hearted / Dearly departed” (“Found Love In a Graveyard”). The bass line of invitation-to-adultery “Stephen” sounds like it came from the Pixies’ “Debaser” (and later homage “A Good Idea” by Sugar).

It’s unclear to me where this band originated – perhaps Scotland but also perhaps London, or some mix of the two. I am compelled to note that this is the second example in my collection of a title track also being the band name (the other is ”Book of Love” on Book of Love by Book of Love).

The Best Thing About This Album

Everything on here is great, so it feels diminishing to say that the way Clifford and the others stack the melody and harmonies on “I’ve got a bad feeling / A bad bad feeling / And it’s not going away” is my favorite thing.

Release Date

September, 2011

The Cover Art

A+. The font, the spacing, the sepia-ish tone, the branches, the old structure.

The Verlaines – Way Out Where

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 5)

The Verlaines took a long break after this, and possibly lost U.S. distribution. They certainly fell off my radar and I was surprised to learn that there are four more albums that post-date this one, through 2012. I suppose it’s time to hit up Spotify (and maybe Discogs).

What I Think of This Album

I could say something like “The Professor finally discovers rock” but that would be obnoxious. Though this is the most muscular album of the Verlaines’ output (at least as far as I know), it’s not like academic Graeme Downes hadn’t relied on rock instrumentation before. But this time the band has added a second guitarist and toned down the orchestral elements. That frankly makes the album considerably less interesting than Bird Dog or Ready to Fly (the two you should definitely own), but it is by no means bad.

The songs are pretty strong and Downes’s voice still conveys buckets of emotion. It’s just that the tunes lose something by relying solely on traditional instrumentation, even as Downes still explores the usual different styles.

For example, on an earlier release, “This Valentine” would have incorporated strings and brass, and the choice to instead feature a distorted guitar seems like the wrong one; “Cathedrals Under the Sea” would absolutely have been wrapped in dramatic and empathic orchestration. I can almost hear the alternate arrangements in my head when I listen to these songs.

Even “Blanket Over the Sky” and the title track, both of which actually benefit from the sturm-und-drang of the guitars, still probably would have sounded even better with more intricate arrangements. A oboe and then an organ are heard on “Lucky In My Dreams,” and it is like a gift from above.

To be clear, there are string and woodwind credits, as well as keyboard credits, but it appears that they are limited to closing song “Dirge.” And there is additional variety found in the pastoral “Black Wings,” with some nice percussion.

Just so there is no confusion, this is another Flying Nun release.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Lucky In my Dreams” for its more expansive sound, but “Stay Gone” is an outstanding song.

Release Date

1993

The Cover Art

I’m pretty sure they borrowed this font from the Cramps? Or maybe the Misfits? Whatever its origin, it does not work here at all. And the Courier-like font for the title is also bad. The vulture is pretty ugly, too, actually, but I’m also not sure there is such a thing as a not-ugly vulture.

The Verlaines – Ready to Fly

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

This was the Verlaines’ major label debut, which was on Slash, which was also the label that picked up fellow Kiwis The Chills the year before. Clearly, someone at Slash was paying attention; they should have just signed the entire Flying Nun roster. Though I doubt either band sold well enough in the States to make those signings pay off. The Slash logo is cool. The Verlaines toured behind this album but I was not yet into them in 1991, sadly.

What I Think of This Album

Look, if one of the lyrics of your song is “Why don’t you love me?,” then I am probably going to like that song. Does this make me a pathetic fuck? No. It doesn’t make me one  . . . it just underscores the degree to which I am one.

Anyway, that line is but one of the many charms of wonderfully titled opening track “Gloom Junky,” which also offers this classic:  “I don’t mean to say you’re infantile / But do you ever listen to yourself?” The song – like the entire album – finds Graeme Downes striking the perfect balance between his pop and orchestral sensibilities.

Still formally a three piece, the Verlaines get help from no fewer than twelve additional musicians, mostly on horns, strings, and reeds. That said, “Overdrawn” is possibly the fastest, most drum-heavy song they had recorded to date, while “Such As I” sounds like it was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, but in neither case does it sound like the Verlaines are going too far in one extreme or the other.

And indeed, most of the songs follow the pattern of the glorious love song “Tremble” – effectively bringing together the rock instruments and the orchestral ones, with Downes’s emotive vocals tying everything together. “Hurricane” is another pop song that borrows from Broadway, but it works perfectly. “War In My Head” is appropriately frenetic, with Downes doing his best to explain his competing, extreme emotions.

“Inside Out” is another song that marries horns and strings to a roller coaster drum part, and which relies on Downes’s way with a melody, while “See You Tomorrow” is basically a country-blues number from an alternate universe version of Oklahoma! where Laurey and Ado Annie wear Chess Records t-shirts.

Oddly, “Hole In the Ground” starts out like a Wire song, but quickly develops into a warm message of support to a heartbroken friend (“Dance as if you were on his grave”). The title track is a full-throated declaration of freedom (“You’re wearing me down / I’m ready to fly”). “Moonlight On Snow” is less immediate than the other tracks, but is a very pretty orchestral piece. The Verlaines end things with the quick sine wave of “Hold On.”

The Best Thing About This Album

Everything here is fantastic, but I will go with “Tremble.”

Release Date

1991

The Cover Art

They broke out the fisheye lens, but didn’t really need to go through all that trouble, as there is barely any fisheyeing going on here.

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