Everclear – Sparkle and Fade

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

I feel like Everclear gets a very bad rap. Of all the bands I like, Everclear is probably the most widely disrespected. Most of the ill will is due to Art Alexakis, who is by many if not all accounts a very difficult human being and whose version of critical events is not always consistent with those of others involved. That may be and it’s shitty, but a significant part of people’s dislike of Alexakis also appears to revolve around some indie-purist distaste for his drive and desire for success. Alexakis survived a difficult early life of poverty, fatherlessness, heroin addiction, the death of a brother due to overdose, and the death of a girlfriend by suicide, only to see his career as a musician stall by the time he moved from California to Portland in the early 1990s. He formed Everclear with bassist Craig Montoya and a drummer, released an EP and then their debut album in 1993. New drummer Craig Eklund came aboard for the recording of Sparkle and Fade, by which time Alexakis’s unparalleled work ethic had landed the band on Capitol.

What I Think of This Album

Dismiss them as grunge carpetbaggers if you want (though you’d be wrong to), but then you also have to agree that there is more to Everclear than your average Sponge or Silverchair. In fact, Art Alexakis is a masterful storyteller who knows exactly how to work pop and Americana into his hard rock framework to come up with some of the most compelling and catchy songs about blue-collar urban despair ever to emanate from a pair of speakers.

I don’t know to what degree these songs are autobiographical or if they’re pure fiction, and I don’t care. It really makes no difference to me. What matters is that Alexakis sells the shit out of the narratives; he fills them with life and makes them true, regardless of whether they are real. Undoubtedly, his own experiences inform his songwriting and his lived pain influences the passion and sincerity of his delivery, but not everyone is mature or talented enough to tap into those feelings with such clarity and purpose. The man may or may not be a dick, but he is definitely an artist.

The heart(spark) of the album is the material that moves away from the noise of the band’s earlier work and figures out how to marry the energy of that time with a more melodic approach. Massive hit “Santa Monica” and other tracks (including personal favorite “Heartspark Dollarsign”) are really modern updates of the sound that X valiantly sought to popularize, and again, Alexakis is no less a raconteur than John Doe and Exene Cervenka. Yes, some of the lyrics may be a bit on the nose and there is little poetry to the lyrics, but this is gritty, realist storytelling of the highest order. Put another way, if Social Distortion is punk and country together, then Everclear is hard rock and country together.

I once read a story that Alexakis was invited to play at his daughter’s preschool or kindergarten and he performed a rewritten version of “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore” that was called “You Make Me Feel Like I’m Four.” That is fantastic.

Everclear thanks like a million people in the liner notes, including Belly, X, Tom Petty, Social Distortion, the Poster Children, Small Factory, and Magnapop.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Heartspark Dollarsign,” motherfucker.

Release Date

May, 1995

The Cover Art

I know that that’s chocolate cake, but my first thought is always always always that it’s poop. And I am not into poop.

Saturnine – Wreck At Pillar Point

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

I don’t recall where or when I got this album, or why. I must have read about the band in a magazine and then stumbled across Wreck at Pillar Point. At some point, I became aware of a connection to the Essex Green and the Ladybug Transistor, but that was years later, I believe. The band was from New York, formed by law students Matt Gallaway (vocals/guitar) and Mike Donofrio (bass) in 1993 (and originally called Saturnine 60). They added drummer Jim Harwood and guitarist Jennifer Baron, and lasted for fifteen years, releasing six albums. All of which you can find on Bandcamp, and I suggest you check out this unappreciated band. I do note that the final album, Remembrance of Things Past, is described as an “indie-rock opera loosely based” on the novel, and by then Baron had left and they had added a keyboardist.

What I Think of This Album

The easiest and possibly best, and almost certainly the shortest, description of Saturnine is “Michael Stipe fronting a slowcore/dreampop band.” The similarities between Stipe and Matt Gallaway’s voices are striking, though on this debut album at least, Gallaway can get a little pitchy and that might be a dealbreaker for some listeners. Others will grow frustrated with the languid tempos and may not appreciate the odd juxtaposition of skronky guitar solos in such a gentle setting.

There is a lot to like on this album and I suspect that some simple resequencing would’ve made it better. Mostly, if the band had been more strategic about the placement of the songs on which Galloway’s vocals are the most . . . challenging, the record would present better. A stagnant instrumental early on also doesn’t help.

The guitar noise – somehow both loud and quiet at the same time – on opener “This Time the Best” is impressive, as is the gnarled solo, which is equal parts Lou Reed and Neil Young. The somber “Ground Truth” slides by on a pretty melody, and the ghostly harmonies (presumably by guitarist Jennifer Baron) are excellent. I still think these songs should have been interspersed later in the track list.  

“Your Maps” should have probably been the lead track, with some nice chiming/ jangly guitar, as well as an appealing vibrato part that almost sounds like a violin. On the other hand, this may be the most REM-adjacent song on the album, so perhaps they were a little shy about it. Similarly, we all would have benefitted from the frontloading of “Summer Was a Waste.” The solo wouldn’t sound out of place on a Galaxie 500 album. The harmonies once again are subtly excellent.   

“Broken” is another winning tune buried in the middle of the album, even if the sad-sack vocals can be a bit much. The guitar work, however, is fantastic, with a laser-like solo as the obvious high point, but credit to the band for the overall arrangement and construction of the song. Almost as strong is “Slightly Less Than Even,” with probably the best singing on the disc, more excellent guitar work and what sounds like piano to me.

The bass on “Reeling” is reminiscent of Naomi Yang’s work with Galaxie 500. The band kicks up some dust on “Tell Me Lies Later,” we can enjoy more great bass and guitar work on the deceptively entertaining “Had Enough,” and there is a pillowy beauty to ballad “Maverick’s” (and yes, that apostrophe is supposed to be there).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Broken” consolidates all the band’s strengths.

Release Date

September, 1995

The Cover Art

It’s just really difficult to make out what this even is. To the extent one can, the sepia-toned pastoral image only reinforces the REM comparisons.

Elastica – Elastica

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Yet another album I’ve bought twice. The first time, it left me cold but after additional listens years later, I could appreciate that the detachment was intentional and effective. At the same time, I can’t say I love the band either. They’re fine – the two albums are fine, and I enjoy listening to them, but I have none of the emotional trappings of fandom about them. Vocalist/guitarist Justine Frischmann had been kicked out of Suede in 1991 and decided to form a band with Justin Welch (who had drummed on a couple of early Suede songs). Annie Holland and Donna Matthews soon joined and by 1993 they released their first single. The band found controversy when they were sued by Wire and the Stranglers for copyright infringement.

What I Think of This Album

This is a lean post-punk affair that speeds by, spitting out 16 songs in just over 40 minutes (on the US release, which adds an extra track and rearranges the last few songs as compared to the original UK version). What I focus on is the robotic vocals and the short, spiky, skeletal, spindly songs. 

Elastica (and Elastica) was (in)famous for its sexuality and its plagiarism. Both are a little overblown, I think. Certainly, the fact that the songwriting is shared militates against a theory of unified horny vision. Guitarist Donna Matthews provides three songs; she and Justine Frischmann collaborate on one; and another finds the two of them sharing a credit with (I’m assuming) Suede’s Brett Anderson, on a song I suspect Frischmann brought over with her after her time in that band.

Still, I can’t deny that Matthews’s three songs fit in well with the overall sound, even if they are free of any frank carnal pronouncements. “Annie” is a punkish blast about getting drunk that is very slight. “Blue” shares similar sonics, though with a greater melodic range. And “2:1” offers icy, robotic lyrics, with a fantastic ribbonned guitar line and a creative overlapping call/response section, with lyrics that are again unclear.

Much of Frischmann’s work is far more direct, even while her vocal style often masks her intent. In this vein, “Stutter” is a triumph of style over substance. The song communicates a relatively sympathetic take on a lover’s erectile dysfunction/premature ejaculation (“Well it isn’t a problem / Nothing we can’t solve so just relax”) but the delivery sounds derisive and cutting. The singing suggests Frischmann is a heartless maneater, but the lyrics reveal otherwise. Likewise, Frischmann pleads “Don’t keep your distance” on “Hold Me Now,” admitting her besottedness (“I’d take somebody else if I could”) with little shame. But her bloodless, animatronic sing-speak does not match up with the passion of the words. You could argue irony, but I don’t buy that.

The angular “Line Up,” a nasty takedown of a groupie, if anything comes across as *anti-sex*. I do like the grunts at the beginning of the song, which suggest something more humorous than what we end up with. “Car Song” is pro-sex, at least insofar as the act takes place in or on a car, and Frischmann gives the piece a seductive reading. “All-Nighter” could’ve been a Sleeper song, and is probably the best deep cut here, with sweet backing vocals and Frischman’s appealing yelp goosed along by an enthusiastic beat.

The bouncy, Wire-referencing, handclapped “Connection” is arguably the highlight track (though I am partial to “Hold Me Now”). As with “Car Song,” Frischmann’s delivery is critical to the success of the piece, offering up ennui and resentment. “Waking Up” is undeniably great, and this is where the plagiarism is perhaps the most problematic. While the band certainly knew what they were doing copping the iconic riff from Wire’s “Three Girl Rhumba” for “Connection,” the two songs were markedly different and the theft seemed like, at worst, homage overdone. I feel like this is mostly true for the overlap between “Line Up” and Wire’s “I Am the Fly,” though the similarities are closer. But there is little defense to how “Waking Up” hews so closely to the Stranglers’ “No More Heroes” (while being, undeniably, the better tune), and the similarities cast a pall over the work.

The album is still overlong at 16 tracks. “Indian Song” is offensively titled and similarly conceived – it only barely contains a sound that a white Brit would think of as Indian. “Vaseline” is a silly bit of filler that is also contrary to established medical advice – do not use Vaseline as lube, folks. “Smile” vanishes without a trace pretty quickly. “S.O.F.T.” (supposedly for “same old fucking thing”) sort of plods along with a tired guitar part, but the vocals are a little more interesting than usual (sometimes reminding me of Lush in their high-pitchedness). “See That Animal” should’ve been left with the rest of the Suede baggage that Frischmann walked away from. “Never Here” relies heavily on a Cure-like bass part and post-punk goth sound, but not very successfully. Add in the needless “Annie” and that’s seven tracks that don’t really improve the album.

For some reason, the packaging includes lyrics for only some of the tracks, which is annoying. Production duties were handled in part by Marc Waterman (Ride).

Trivia:  keyboards are credited to Dan Abnormal, which appears to be an anagram of Damon Albarn (Blur). Among the many mixers were John Leckie (producer of the Stone Roses, and Radiohead) and Alan Moulder (engineering, mixing, and production work for the Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver, the Killers, the Cure).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Hold Me Now”

Release Date

March, 1995

The Cover Art

I used to hate this cover, shot by Juergen Teller. The style is stark, intrusive, and tawdry, reminiscent of a 1950’s scandal magazine or the crime scene work of Weegee. I feel less strongly now, and I appreciate the androgyny, but I still don’t like it.

Sam & Dave – The Very Best of Sam & Dave

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

It’s difficult to argue with the plain directness of this act’s name. Sam Moore and Dave Prater sang in church together in their youth and were accidentally reunited some years later in Miami, when Dave took the stage during amateur night at a club where Sam was working as the emcee. After some lean times initially, they were signed to Atlantic in 1964 and sent to record with the Stax house bands (i.e., Booker T & the MGs, as well as the Mar-Keys), Atlantic and Stax having a business relationship at the time. At Stax, they hooked up with the songwriting and production team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter. In their short three years at Stax, they had ten consecutive Top 20 singles and three consecutive Top Ten LPs. Their live show was reported to be explosive, such that Otis Redding refused to be on the same bill after a 1967 European tour when they repeatedly stole the show. The pair had a volatile dynamic, however, and things deteriorated to the point where they did not speak to each other off-stage. They broke up in 1970 but reunited for shows and recordings thereafter. Dave died in a car accident in 1988.

What I Think of This Album

I don’t know, man. Songs written by Isaac Hayes/David Porter, a backing band from Stax, and the spirited call-and-response vocals of Sam & Dave? How is it possible to not love this collection, which gathers all the hits and adds some deep cuts? 

“Hold On! I’m Coming” is a miles-thick slab of soul. “You Don’t Know Like I Know” has obvious gospel roots. The groove on “I Take What I Want” is unstoppable. The hard soul of “Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody” (those horn accents) points to Hayes’s future work. Conversely, the supple “You Got Me Hummin’” flows like honey.

The duo try out a ballad on “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” (which sounds a bit like “Try a Little Tenderness”), augmented by organ and piano. It’s fine, but I gravitate towards the more upbeat material. The pair cover Sam Cooke with a live rendition of “Soothe Me.”

I prefer “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” as a ballad, though it apparently didn’t chart (this was a Homer Banks/Allen Jones song); Elvis Costello’s faster version doesn’t hold a candle to this. “Soul Man” is obviously a classic (I had the misfortune of sitting through a very white, glee-club like version of this at my children’s high school; I was embarrassed for everyone involved). The musicianship on this track is out of this world.

“I Thank You” may be the best track here, with a strong gospel flavor, excellent backing all around (bass, drums, guitar, organ, horns, handclaps, and the list goes on), and great vocals. Another awesome track is “You Don’t Know What You Mean to Me,” written by Eddie Floyd and MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper.

“Wrap It Up” is nice and gritty. “Can’t You Find Another Way (of Doing It)” is peppy and fun, with an anthemic horn part. “Soul Sister, Brown Sugar” is perhaps a bit retrograde, but it sounds fantastic (“to the bone, to the bone”).

Sam had the higher voice, while Dave handled the baritone parts.

The Best Thing About This Album

The songwriting of Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

Release Date

February, 1995

The Cover Art

Standard record company cover art. I kind of like that you can see the touring band, but its not actually a great pic of Sam or Dave. The deep blue color scheme is cool, though.

Teenage Fanclub – Deep Fried Fanclub

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

So I just got this recently, thinking it was something I should own, as it comes from my favorite TFC period. And as I listened to “God Knows It’s True,” I realized that I owned that song on some other album, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what (nor can I find it in my collection). That’s going to drive me crazy.

What I Think of This Album

This is a collection of singles and B-sides from 1990 and a couple from 1992, predictably only appealling for hardcore Fannies fans.

The best thing is “God Knows It’s True,” which was never included on any studio album. This Norman Blake composition rivals accompanying track “Everything Flows” for guitar mastery and melodic skill, and is reason enough to buy this album. As far as legitimate deep cuts, Gerard Love’s “So Far Gone” could’ve been a key album track if they had worked harder on the vocals (this is pre-Bandwagonesque, before they started singing properly).

The rest of the originals are decidedly inessential. “Speeder” is a slack-string instrumental, powered by Brendan O’Hare’s kick drum, and while it’s not going to set the world on fire, it’s not bad at all. The hilariously titled “Weedbreak,” is another instrumental and it goes on surprisingly long without actually going anywhere. The third instrumental is “Ghetto Blaster,” and it falls between “Speeder” and “Weedbreak” on the quality spectrum, though O’Hare goes impressively apeshit on the drums. 

A demo version of “A Catholic Education” (amusingly titled “Primary Education”) is little more than a historical document, though it does reveal the boys getting silly in the studio. The alternate version of “Critical Mass” is enjoyable but not too different from the album version.

The covers are uniformly fun. The ragged run through of “The Ballad of John and Yoko” has a lot of scruffy charm. The not-at-all surprising cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Cry No Tears” is a chiming success. A sense of defiance and exuberance pervades “I’m Free Again,” originally by Alex Chilton (Big Star); this cover was released in 1992 by K Records. “Bad Seed” is not the Beat Happening cover I would have expected TFC to choose, but they turn in an appropriately sludgy version.

The Best Thing About This Album

You know it’s “God Knows It’s True.”

Release Date

February, 1995

The Cover Art

Ugly as shit, but I have to admit, it is fully consistent with the carefree attitude of the music.

Teenage Fanclub – Grand Prix

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

In 1993, someone had the idea to pair modern rock/alternative bands with hip-hop artists and ask them to create original songs for the soundtrack to the movie Judgment Night. Among the collaborations were Pearl Jam with Cypress Hill, Ice-T and Slayer, Del the Funky Homosapien with Dinosaur Jr, and Teenage Fanclub with De La Soul. I think if you were going to pair Teenage Fanclub with any hip hop act, it would pretty much HAVE to be De La Soul (or maybe A Tribe Called Quest). The resulting track – “Fallin’” – is much more De La Soul than the Fannies, but the band adds some subtle instrumentation and backing vocals (the chorus is built around a sample of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’”). I also recall the Biohazard and Onyx title track collaboration on this album, which was really good, too. Let the boys be boys, I guess. The other notable such union is Public Enemy and Anthrax on “Bring the Noise,” but that was an organic pairing born of mutual respect, and predated Judgment Night by about two years.

What I Think of This Album

My absolute favorite Teenage Fanclub album, Grand Prix is without doubt the most consistent work of the band’s career, and represents the end of the time when they would still play their guitars loudly.

Notably, guitarist Raymond McGinley for the first time almost matches bassist Gerard Love and guitarist Norman Blake in song quality and quantity. Awarded the lead off track, McGinley does not disappoint with the harmony-dripping “About You,” resplendent in chiming guitars, an engaging, brief solo, and a superb bass line. “Verisimilitude” is all arpeggios in the verses and an irresistible keyboard line in the chorus; McGinley has the least appealing voice of the three but his understated performance here works very well, though the song might be a little too long (it doesn’t help that the lyrics just repeat).

His other two offerings aren’t nearly as enjoyable, but they are – as is the case with almost every TFC song – not unlistenable. “I Gotta Know” is a bit ponderous, but the two short solos are a highlight. “Say No” is also a bit subdued for my tastes – it would have fit in well on forthcoming Songs From Northern Britain – but is admittedly a very well constructed and arranged song, with some compelling harmonies and nice guitar work at the end. Still, this album is McGinley’s notice that he won’t be ignored.

Beyond that, it is the usual Love and Blake show. Blake delivers at least one stunner, the sympathetic “Neil Jung,” and you can guess what McGinley’s extended solo on this one sounds like, but that arrives only on the heels of the excellent melody and harmonies. “I’ll Make It Clear” is another classic Blake love song, with simple and direct lyrics; the bridge is very Beatles-esque, and the solo is smooth and graceful. “Tears” is a ballad, albeit a sort of bouncy one, with strings and horns not from Joe McAlinden this time. “Mellow Doubt” is a dark acoustic number (it reminds me a bit of the Connells at first, which is the greatest compliment the Connells will ever receive), energized by handclaps. Finally, closer “Hardcore/Ballad” is pure filler, but the chords of the “hardcore” part hint at a song that could’ve worked.

Love’s songs on this album are among the best TFC tracks ever. The glorious “Sparky’s Dream” is basically a perfect pop song – nothing could have gone better for the band over these three plus minutes. If you were to boil Teenage Fanclub down to just one song, this would be the one you would pick. The guitars of “Don’t Look Back” herald another great song, and they don’t lie. This is a sweet song, with a buttery chorus (“I’d steal a car to drive you home”), and an outstanding but simple solo at the end; the guitar arrangement at the close is one of my favorite things on this album.

Love’s streak continues with crunchy, rollicking “Discolite,” bathed in harmonies and guitars that ring out for eons. I very much enjoy the double snare hits on this song, as well as the bass drum work. The guitar outro is otherworldly. “Going Places” is buried deep in the track listing, which is simply a testament to how good the surrounding songs are. This is a lazy river of a tune, which nonetheless boasts a fine, understated solo.

Overall, new drummer Paul Quinn (Soup Dragons) honors the songs but not so much the spirit; I wonder what the departed Brendan O’Hare, whose manic energy is missed here, could’ve brought to the proceedings.

The Best Thing About This Album

Jesus. Maybe “Sparky’s Dream.”

Release Date

May, 1995

The Cover Art

I don’t love the shiny font but I understand the choice, given the album title. The gleaming black car is a nice touch, and I have to believe served as partial inspiration for Massive Attack’s Mezzanine a few years later.

Cub – Come Out Come Out

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

Cub is one of those bands that brings me as close to pure joy as I can get. Lisa Marr is an underappreciated songwriter, and her ability to craft shiny melodies and write complex lyrics amazes me no matter how many times I listen to her work. She went on to form Buck and then the Lisa Marr Experiment, and eventually moved on to filmmaking.

What I Think of This Album

Cub fully embraces the cuddlecore tag on their studio debut (the term is splashed across the inner sleeve), while simultaneously sounding much more professional and mature. The relative sleekness is simply a reflection of the steep learning curve – guitarist Robynn Iwata in particular shows a lot of growth (she lays down some impressive noise on “Life of Crime”) – and the band’s adoption a more consistently tough, punk-influenced sound (Lisa Marr’s bass presence is significantly greater this time around). But if the genre description and the sound seem at odds, then the problem perhaps is with your understanding of what cuddlecore means.

Smashing misconceptions, Marr writes lyrics infused with darkness – drowning, graves, blood, rot, bullet holes, and, uh, a crocodile attack. It’s all there. Notably, Cub starts to get sexy on this album, too. In addition to noting “you fuck me on the floor” on “Tomorrow Go Away,” the band sings of a girl crush:  “I saw you wiggle like a snake / Hey girl, make no mistake / I like it / Yes, I do” (on pounding first track “Ticket to Spain”). And delightfully fizzy “Your Bed” tosses off the witty, pajama-focused, movie-referencing, gender-swapping, sexually confused lyric “I wanna go / Never stop / I wear the bottoms but you’re the tops / Pillow fights, pillow talk / You be Doris, I’ll be Rock.” As on the Betti-Cola compilation, the songs range from thick, elastic rockers like “Flaming Red Bobsled” to charming dittys to silliness such as Ishtar-referencing “Isabelle.”

The highlights include jangly “Everything’s Geometry” (with a nicely subtle organ part by Lorraine Finch of Hello(Again)), which employs some questionable math, but everything else is perfect about this wondrous song of imperfect love (with a little bass solo!). Is there a better song about being young and in love in New York than “New York City”? No. There absolutely is not. They Might Be Giants covered this with some lyrical modifications. The already-discussed “Your Bed” is undeniably a classic. Also, “So Far Apart” is lovely, with guest guitar from Kevin Rose.

The covers are likewise nicely done. The spiky version of “Vacation” lets the vulnerability of the lyrics come through in a way that the Go-Go’s original chooses not to. And the elevation of Yoko Ono’s supremely tuneful  “I’m Your Angel” seems like a deliberate attempt to rehabilitate the image of a woman unfairly maligned by so many. A hidden track contains a house remix (I guess?) of Betti-Cola track “Go Fish.” This is Cub’s best album. 

The copious thank yous in the liner notes mention Beat Happening, Lois, Scott McCaughey, the Muffs, Ian MacKaye, Rancid, Sloan, the Softies, Yo La Tengo, and Zuzu’s Petals.

The Best Thing About This Album

There is so much good stuff here. “Your Bed” is irresistibly sweet.

Release Date

January, 1995

The Cover Art

I don’t hate this, but I don’t love it. The dominant purple color is cool. The cartoon is by Canadian artist Linda Smyth.

Cornershop – Woman’s Gotta Have It

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I had no idea Cornershop had nine albums! Looks like I’ll be spending some time on Spotify . . . I lost track of Cornershop after two albums, and perhaps the five year gap between the third and fourth albums partially explains it; the seven year gap thereafter until album five seems similarly relevant. But for those two albums, I was strongly sucked in by this lively mix of Indian music, indie-rock, and electronic beats. Cornershop – an ironic name mocking British stereotypes – was led by Tjinder Singh and his brother Avtar, who sometimes sang in Punjabi; they came out of England in 1991. Avtar left by 1996 and Tjinder has been guiding the band ever since. They played some Lollapalooza dates in 1995 and toured with Beck and Oasis (and also recorded with Noel Gallagher).

What I Think of This Album

This is some of the greatest music I have ever heard.

The hypnotic, trancey “6am Jullandar Shere” is glorious. Jullandar appears to be an alternate spelling of Jalandhar, a city in Punjab, India. Shere is a bit more difficult. It is a village in Surrey, England, which is probably a false lead. Sher is a Punjabi word (though its origins are complex, and include Arabic) which means either tiger or lion. And Sher-e-Punjab is a professional field hockey team from . . . Jalandhar.

Anyway, the band repeats this soldering trick in interesting ways in the gentle, jangly “Roof Rack,” which still manages to include stinging lead guitar and synth squiggles. Equally worthy is handclap-supported “Wog,” with a hip-hop feel to Singh’s vocals. The guitars kick ass on “Jansimran King,” a psychedelic track which should be the anthem of India’s space program. The brothers Singh – along with bandmates Wallis Healy (guitar), Ben Ayres (guitar), Saffs (keys and sitar), drummer Nick Simms and percussionist Pete Hall – craft a majestic indie-rock song that shoves Pavement into a terror twilight (that bass! the guitar noise!) with “Looking for a Way In.”

The album closes with “7:20am Jullandar Shere,” which trades the first 20 seconds or so of the opening track for an additional three odd minutes, which is as good a deal as you are going to find. Fucking amazing. Of course, this being the ‘90s, that is not actually the last song, for the droney hidden track “Never Leave Yrself Open” eventually reveals itself.

Guest vocalists Parsley and Sasha Andres take over on “My Dancing Days Are Done,” which references Petula Clark. Sometimes the band plays with harder edge, like on blistering “Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu“ and lo-fi “Call All Destroyer,” but I find these tracks less compelling.

The Best Thing About This Album

The reclamation and subversion of raga rock.

Release Date

October, 1995

The Cover Art

This reminds me a lot of my parents’ Latin records that I listened to as young child, though often those album covers were more risqué than this. I like how it has an early ‘70s look to it. I should note that this is the cover of the U.S. release; the U.K. release is different and worse. This was designed by Deborah Norcross, who also did work for Jane’s Addiction, Filter, and Oingo Boingo.

Buffalo Tom – Sleepy Eyed

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

One of the things about Buffalo Tom is that they seem like ordinary, nice guys. They don’t say outlandish things, or throw tantrums on airplanes, or berate audiences, or give difficult interviews. They’re just three humble dudes who like to play guitars, sometimes real loud. In other words, they are music fans who took it to the next level. I don’t really want to meet my heroes (and heroes is a strong word here anyway) but Buffalo Tom are probably pretty cool.

What I Think of This Album

This is easily the most fun, carefree album of Buffalo Tom’s career. Apparently tired of both the gloom of Let Me Come Over and the gleam of Big Red Letter Day, they cut loose a bit here and recorded a more direct, upbeat set. The sound is lively and the material tends to be heavy on rockers; basically, marry the energy and volume of Come Over with the melodies, skill, and lightness of Big Red, and you end up with the best of both worlds on Sleepy Eyed.

“Tangerine” charges out of the gate as one of their best poppy songs, and gritty, oddly ominous and hypnotic “Summer” nonetheless sounds like a sunnier track off of Come Over. Relatedly, there is a hard lilt to the tuneful “Kitchen Door” (plus a key change! And a harmonica! And backing “oooo-oooo”s!) that would make it one of the more aggressive songs on Big Red. I love the line “I’m the baseball team from Baltimore.” I don’t know why. Chris Colbourn sang and harmonica’d on the track, so I am going to assume he wrote it.

A completely unexpected and unholy scream is the intro to “Rules,” which is honestly the best thing about it (though I like the drumming by Tom Maginnis, who is also credited with “hollers,” so he basically makes this track). The emotive vocals of “It’s You” match the powerful playing – more thunderous drumming – to create a solid deep cut. Similarly, “When You Discover” is a strong pop song.

“Sunday Night” and “Clobbered” are downcast but polished. The energy returns on emphatic “Your Stripes,” where Bill Janovitz employs an appealing rasp and Colbourn provides some nice harmonies. “Sundress” is full of nostalgia – another upbeat song – and the same applies to riffy “Souvenir.”

The graceful, sincere “Twenty Points” is hands-down the best ballad on the album, showing real growth from Colbourn. “Crueler” nicely alternates tempos.

The Best Thing About This Album

The songs are mostly of the same quality. I’m going to go with “Kitchen Door.”

Release Date

July, 1995

The Cover Art

Fair to middlin’. The color pallete is terrible; the image is weird but neither funny nor scary nor even silly. It’s just there. The fonts are not good.

Wilco – A.M.

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

This is another band that I just don’t love in the same way that a lot of people do. The debut is really good and Summerteeth is wonderful, but I thought they started to get a little pretentious after that and then lost the thread completely on A Ghost Is Born; I never went back. I’m willing to try again, but not terribly motivated to do so either.

What I Think of This Album

Jeff Tweedy managed to take all of Uncle Tupelo with him after that band’s nasty split (with the notable exception of Jay Farrar – obviously – otherwise there wouldn’t have been a split). What he also took with him was the sound and style, again, minus Farrar’s contributions. A.M. was released less than a year after that band’s demise, and it sort of feels like a rush job. If Tweedy lacked the confidence or motivation or ability (or maybe just time) to broaden his horizons – all of which he showed ample evidence of later in Wilco’s career – that’s fine by me. This is a thoroughly enjoyable country-rock album, even if not all of it is up to par with Tweedy’s best work in Tupelo.

The opening drum hits of “I Must Be High” remind me of “Like a Rolling Stone,” which may be sacrilegious, but so be it. Supposedly Tweedy was smoking a LOT of weed during this time; regardless it’s an appealingly shaggy song with a nice stinging lead by Bottle Rocket Brian Henneman. My only real problem with “Casino Queen” is that some of the rhymes are silly and I don’t buy Tweedy as a gambler, but it’s fun, with a cool violin part by multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston and some nice wood block work. “Box Full of Letters” is an excellent break-up song – the first thing on this album that approaches artistry. Similarly, “Shouldn’t Be Ashamed” is first-rate, bursting at the seams with frustration (“You should live how you want / Stay with me / We should stay apart / Just shouldn’t / Ever have to be this hard”), and offering a great lead from Henneman. The chorus of “Pick Up the Change” is a winner, but the verses suffer in comparison; more fine Henneman guitar work here.

Callowness permeates “I Thought I Held You” and the banjo sounds forced. There is a pronounced bluegrass element to “That’s Not the Issue,” but it sounds way less contrived. Bassist John Stirratt contributed ballad “It’s Just That Simple,” and it’s just okay; Stirratt has a particularly thin voice. “Should’ve Been In Love” gets things back on track – this is a strong tune –  with some phased guitar (?) at the end. I love the laconic “Passenger Side” – it’s breezy and light, and the quick drum fill right before “Can you take me to the store / And then the bank?” is one of my favorite things on this album – but it is admittedly insubstantial. Still, Tupelo was so dour and uncompromising that it’s nice to hear Tweedy having fun.

“Dash 7” is a bit too somber for me, but it’s not a bad song. It’s probably for the best that “Blue Eyed Soul” isn’t, but it’s also not much of anything else either, and sequenced after similarly plodding “Dash 7,” it’s not an easy listen, though if you stick with it, you’ll hear some great work from Henneman. The band ends the album on a high note with chunky country rocker “Too Far Apart,” on which – surprise, surprise – Henneman excels again.

Tangent: Johnston is the younger brother of Michelle Shocked, and guest pedal steel player Lloyd Maines is the father of Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.

The Best Thing About This Album

Um, obviously Brian Henneman’s guitar playing.

Release Date

March, 1995

The Cover Art

This works for me. It’s plain and direct but still a little artsy, and it obviously relates (if loosely) to the music.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑