Everclear – Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How to Smile

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

God help me, I sincerely believed this band had staying power. I thought Art Alexakis was a talented songwriter, hard worker, and savvy marketer, and that the dynamic with Greg Eklund and Craig Montoya would fuel a long career marked by good-to-great releases. I was wrong. Not necessarily about Alexakis, who is talented and driven, but he probably miscalculated in ways that he could not recover from, and the band fell apart once the rhythm section left. Songs From an American Movie  Vol. One: Learning How to Smile sold well – it went platinum – but the companion follow-up was unwisely released very quickly after and pretty much died on arrival. That said, it was a sort of grating hard rock album that probably was too much of a left turn after the progression from Afterglow to Vol. One. After the following album stiffed, Montoya and Eklund departed – the personal fallout from the Afterglow tour likely never having been addressed, much less repaired – and Everclear has limped along with hired guns ever since, mostly haunting the ‘90s revival circuit.

What I Think of This Album

This album really should not work at all. First, it arrived as the core of the trio was beginning to crack, highlighted by a disastrous tour of Australia that saw Art Alexakis physically attack Craig Montoya on stage and resulted in Montoya leaving the band for a spell. Second, there is the ill-advised and even worse sounding cover of “Brown Eyed Girl.” Third, the decision to base “A.M. Radio” on “Mr. Big Stuff,” the 1971 hit for Jean Knight on the Stax label, further betrays a troubling lack of historical perspective. Fourth, and most critically, this concept album – the first salvo of a two album effort – shows that Alexakis decided he wanted to be an artist instead of a rock star, and the problem with that decision is that it meant that he failed to grasp that he was already an artist. There was no need go to full Queensrÿche.  

But here I am, enjoying the shit out of Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How to Smile, like some idiot. For all my criticism and worry, the goddamn thing is a success. Tuneful and warm and the poppiest thing the band had created by miles, it somehow manages to avoid the pitfalls of pretension and the sins of sappiness. 

Filled with samples, loops, keyboards, banjo, ukelele, mandolin, brass, and strings, this album puts it all out there with Alexakis’s trademark confidence. That it is supposed to mostly document the early, sunny days of a new relationship helps, as there is a large vein of positivity running through the record that you can’t help but buy into. And naturally, Alexakis excels on the rare tunes that revolve around negative emotions, even when he steps into the shoes of his own child witnessing parental conflict (“Wonderful”) or half-embracing a mature perspective on “Now That It’s Over.”

Drummer Greg Eklund takes the mike on “The Honeymoon Song.” Petra Haden of that dog. sings on “Annabella’s Song.” The band thanks Cheap Trick, Soul Coughing, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in the liner notes.

The Best Thing About This Album

The audacity that it took to pull this off.

Release Date

July, 2000

The Cover Art

The framing evokes the cinematic title, but the subject matter is silly, at best.

Elastica – The Menace

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

God bless the difficult second album. Drugs and personality disputes led to the departure of guitarist Donna Matthews and bassist Annie Holland (who actually left twice); the timelines are unclear but this all happened between 1996-98. It wasn’t until 1999 that Justine Frischmann gathered a mostly-new set of musicians (Holland returned, as did drummer Justin Welch) to record The Menace. Elastica then broke up for good in 2001. Frischmann moved to the US and became a visual artist. Matthews is a pastor. Welch and Menace-era keyboardist Sharon Mew are married.

What I Think of This Album

This is an album that arguably shouldn’t exist, but I am so glad it does. I find this dark, disorienting, and dissociative work to be exponentially more interesting than the debut. Justine Frischmann was sharing a flat with Kingmaker’s Loz Hardy and supposedly he encouraged her to pursue this path (she was also inspired by all the Brian Eno the pair were spinning in the living room).

The album opens with electronic sounds that mimic robotic dogs and things do not get any less weird after that; indeed, the album ends with one of the oddest yet appropriate covers ever. In between, Frischman and her cobbled-together band (including keyboardists Sharon Mew and Dave Bush of the Fall, who basically dominate the proceedings) spit out a collection of atonal, abrasive, garish Rorschach glyphs that somehow cohere into a unified whole. A bizarre and elastic whole, but a whole nonetheless.

The whole is the point, actually. No one track really matters any more than any other – it’s how they play off of and flow into each other that compels repeat listens. There is certainly no single or radio hit present, and given what the band had produced before, this can only be intentional. More than just a reluctance about or rejection of fame, and far removed from petulance, Frischman’s effort to unsettle listeners seems almost flippant. Perhaps relatedly, the Wire theft this time around (“Human” borrows from “Lowdown”) comes across as an explicit middle finger to critics, as by now Elastica could no longer plead either innocence or homage.

The album closes with a spiky, steel drum adjacent cover of Trio’s two-time hit “Da Da Da,” which by all accounts functions as Frischmann’s statement on the end of her relationship with Damon Albarn (who gamely or perhaps ignorantly contributed keyboards on it under the anagramed alias Norman Balda). Trio was a delightfully minimalist, almost avant-garde German trio (of course) who first had a hit with “Da Da Da” in 1982, and then thanks to its use in a Volkswagon commercial, again in 1997.

Hardy co-wrote two of the songs, and two Fall members – Mark E. Smith and Julia Nagle (nee Adamson) – also get songwriting credits on two tracks. For what it’s worth, Wire is also credited for “Human.” Alan Moulder (Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride, Swervedriver) did some mixing and production; Phil Vinall (Auteurs, Close Lobsters, Aztec Camera) also mixed. 

Interesting tidbit:  Adamson rescued a bunch of master tapes from a studio that was closing due to bankruptcy (and where she worked as an engineer), including recordings by Factory Records, and she was eventually sued by Warner Brothers and Joy Division, just to show you that no good deed goes unpunished. Adamson also runs the Invisiblegirl label.

The Best Thing About This Album

For all that about the sum being greater than the parts, I have a soft spot for the surprisingly gentle (but still monotone-delivered) “Nothing Stays the Same,” which also sounds a lot like Wire (and reminds me of late period Slumber Party, too).

Release Date

April, 2000

The Cover Art

This photo is by MIA (Maya Arulpragasam); Frischmann repaid the favor by assisting MIA with her single “Galang.” I cannot tell what the tiny text under the album title says. This is an ideal image to accompany this very strange album.

Saturday Looks Good To Me – Saturday Looks Good To Me

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

There is a lot about Saturday Looks Good to Me that is confusing. First, this is not a real band, insofar as it is really Fred Thomas’s recording project, augmented by whatever group of friends and associates he has wrangled together. SLGTM has toured, but I do not believe the live cast of characters is standardized either. Equally disorienting is that, as a consequence of the haphazard lineup, there is no consistent lead singer. Whatever the merits of this approach, one drawback is that it is difficult to get a sense of the “band’s” identity. Also, their release history is a mess. Saturday Looks Good to Me was originally a nine-song, limited edition vinyl release in 2000. That was followed by Cruel August Moon in 2001, again with nine songs, this time on CD-R. Love Will Find You followed in 2002, possibly as a digital download only. They have issued a lot of singles, EPs, and CD-Rs.

What I Think of This Album

Motown for the indie set (albeit, a very white Motown), Saturday Looks Good to Me’s debut album gets by on melodies, production, and scruffy charm. All of those qualities would be amplified on later releases. There is a lot to like here, but you probably have to be predisposed to it. Sometimes the vocals are shaky and the lo-fi takes on Berry Gordy, Phil Spector, and occasionally Lee “Scratch” Perry, could throw some people off. If you keep a slightly open mind, though, you will be rewarded.

“Ambulance” sounds like weepy Motown/indie pop recorded underwater, ending in deconstructed echo. “I Could Cry” is pure girl-group, with a melody and rhythm to spare. “Ladder” is a male/female call-and-response duet with budget Spector sonics; the spoken word bridge against a saxophone backdrop is highly amusing. Heavenly by way of the Magnetic Fields is the touchstone for lullaby “Obstacle.”

A more robust Spector presentation is afforded to standout “Everyday,” which incorporates some stunning, mind-bending, dub-like production at the end. Sometimes, a certain section of the melody reminds me of “Do You Wanna Dance?” Thomas sings lead on ballad “I Would Find It So Beautiful,” a tear-soaked piece that really should have been a Jackie Wilson song. This gets a fuzzy instrumental reprise at the end.

Thomas continues warbling on “Bright Green Gloves,” perhaps the first appearance of his beloved “sink like a symphony” lyric, but Thomas’s vocal limitations are dwarfed by the melody and brass arrangement. Shades of the Magnetic Fields again, propelled by the specificity of the titular accessories. I’m not sure who sings on “No Point to Continue” but their everyman effort is similarly overshadowed by the baroque-indie-orchestral pop arrangement that SLGTM either threw together at the last minute or meticulously planned out (I can’t tell). 

The boomy, bassy “Don’t Try” is oddly compelling:  the cello, the spaghetti western whistling, Thomas’s unusually Danzig-esque intonation work together in a fashion that is equally unsettling and irresistible. The noise experiment ending only improves the song.

Even weaker tracks like “Car Crash” and “I Take a Chance Every Time” have something to recommend them.

The only real stumbles are the partially a capella “Last Night I Fell Asleep On Your Floor” (though the production does eventually get interesting), and the melodically stagnant, sing-songy “Think About Tomorrow.”

Among the 17 collaborators listed in the liner notes are Warn (sometimes spelled Warren) Defever of His Name Is Alive and Erika Hoffmann of Godzuki (and also, His Name Is Alive), as well as Elliott Bergman (Wild Belle), Chad Gilchrist (Outrageous Cherry, His Name Is Alive) and Zach Wallace (His Name Is Alive).

My version of this album is the 2002 iteration, which contains all of the original release but randomly peppers in three songs from Cruel August Moon and adds “Ambulance” and “Bright Green Glove,” whose origins are unclear to me.

Weirdness:  The liner notes say “Recorded 1976-2002,” and Thomas was born in 1976, so I am not sure what this means. Perhaps he threw in a recording of his infant speech somewhere in the mix?

The Best Thing About This Album

“Everyday” is amazing.

Release Date

2000 (original, vinyl only); 2002 (reissue)

The Cover Art

The layout decapitation is a little disturbing, but the aesthetic matches up well to the album’s sound. I don’t care for the white frame and the band’s name should be in a contrasting color. I like the blue in general, though.

Teenage Fanclub – Howdy!

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 7)

Gerry Love left Teenage Fanclub in 2018. As far as I am concerned, the band ended at that point (though they have released one album since then). I feel about this the way I feel about a Church without Marty Willson-Piper and New Order minus Peter Hook. These individuals are too important to my personal sense of what each band fundamentally is to be able to accept their absence. Love was Teenage Fanclub’s best and most consistent songwriter.

What I Think of This Album

At this point, you know what you’re getting with Teenage Fanclub and you’ve either come to terms with that or you haven’t. There is no sense wishing they would write another “Everything Flows,” “Radio,” or “Neil Jung” – they’re just not going to. What they are going to do is showcase their craft, and deliver a pretty good set of sparkling but more or less sedate ’60s influenced pop songs.

In truth, this is a borderline TFC album. The songwriting split has been cemented by now as well, so you can also plan on getting an equal number of Gerry Love, Norman Blake, and Raymond McGinley songs. This time, the songs are even sequenced so there is a consistent pattern of songwriting origin.

For the first time, though, I find Blake to be the clear winner of the intra-band rivalry. The best song on the album, and a TFC classic, comes from Blake’s pen in the form of the stunning “Straight & Narrow,” which has strings, harmonies, an insistent drum part, and a gold medal melody. Blake gets playful on “Dumb Dumb Dumb,” mostly via the speaker-jumping guitar that forms the skeleton of this heartfelt and ultra-melodic tune; the outro is very nice, too. “Accidental Life” has a melody that swells and crests, with absolutely gorgeous harmonies, tumbling drums, and a subtle lap steel guitar. Meanwhile, “If I Never See You Again” is a short, simple folky song that almost counts as filler.

Love’s best offering is the sweet, harmony-stuffed “I Need Direction,” a poppy song of yearning with a very ‘60s organ break. “Near You” is improved by some psychedelic production touches and offers more energetic than usual drumming from Paul Quinn. A guitar intro that sounds like a ticking clock introduces the brass-filled “The Town and the City,” while bongos are the first striking feature of “Cul de Sac.” Neither song is anything special, and overall, this is Love’s weakest set of contributions to date.

McGinley remains the junior partner, with the thinnest voice and the less interesting songs. “I Can’t Find My Way Home” has a decent chorus but not much else to commend it, and also goes on way too long. “Happiness” is improved by a morose organ but again, McGinley does little with his opportunity. Perhaps his worst outing is on the very annoying “The Sun Shines From You;” the chorus is the best part. I don’t know who authorized McGinley to take up almost seven minutes of run time with “My Uptight Life,” but that was a very poor decision. McGinley’s tracks really bring this album down.

Honestly, we are talking about one phenomenal Fannies song here, three more really good songs, one decent song and then . . . . nothing.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Straight & Narrow” by a mile.

Release Date

October, 2000

The Cover Art

This is a horrific album cover. I can’t believe people get paid for shit like this.

Marshall Crenshaw – The Best of Marshall Crenshaw: This Is Easy

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

Not an insignificant amount of work goes into each blog post – which, to paraphrase the subheading of the blog, no one gives a shit about – and it strikes me that this is largely symbolic of my existence in general. The salient point, though, is that I have to listen to an album a number of times to figure out what I want to say about it, and (as I have mentioned before), when I hit an artist whose work I own a lot of, it can get oppressive listening to the same music (usually to the exclusion of much else). The Marshall Crenshaw section of my collection required me to listen to four of his albums; I decided to cast aside one of those, so I have only kept and reviewed three. But it turns out that Mr. Crenshaw does not hold up well to repeated repeated listens. I think he is very talented and I respect his work, and he seems like a decent chap, too (though what do I know?), but his music gets more cloying and lightweight with each new playing. Maybe I’m just in a bad mood.

What I Think of This Album

The only Marshall Crenshaw album you need, which is the mark of a good comp (especially when dealing with an inconsistent artist – that over one-third of this compilation comes from the first two albums is something of an indictment). Imbalance aside, this collection pulls together songs from seven albums, plus a couple of critical singles.

The five tracks from the first album have already been discussed. The best songs from divisive second album Field Day are “Whenever You’re On My Mind” and “Monday Morning Rock,” though drum-heavy “Our Town” is perfectly fine and while the drums are even more present on “For Her Love,” that is also a decent song. A little too bluesy is the problem with “Little Wild One (No. 5)” and the somewhat pandering “Blues Is King” is a bit too earnest. Weepy “A Vague Memory” sounds like a lost Smithereens ballad. “Calling Out For Love (At Crying Time)” is a near-classic. “Somebody Crying” is a strong track, and dark and desperate “You Should’ve Been There” is as quality a song as Crenshaw ever wrote. He also romps through the fun, nicely arranged (harmonica, keyboard-as-xylophone, harmonies) “Better Back Off.” Deep cut “What Do You Dream Of?” is enjoyable.

But even more important than most of the album tracks is debut single “Something’s Gonna Happen,” the most joyous, cheerily fatalistic ode to infidelity ever, with a vaguely Latin guitar sound and a pretty cool solo. Also included is B-side (!) “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time,” which finally sees a much deserved wider release with this album. The cover of Ben Vaughn’s clever “I’m Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)” is excellent. Crenshaw’s taste in covers is further burnished with his take on John Hiatt’s “Someplace Where Love Can’t Find Me,” with some fantastic slide work from Sonny Landreth.

The producers whose work is highlighted here include Don Dixon (REM, Smithereens, Connells); Steve Lillywhite (U2, Pogues, Morrissey, Psychedelic Furs); Ed Stasium (Ramones, Soul Asylum, Talking Heads); and Mitch Easter (Velvet Crush, Connells). Musicians featured are Fernando Saunders (Lou Reed); Kenny Aronoff; David Lindley (Leonard Cohen, the Church, Warren Zevon), Peter Case (the Nerves, the Plimsouls), Graham Maby (Joe Jackson), Faye Hunter (Let’s Active), Mitchell Froom, and the Bodeans.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Something’s Gonna Happen” is a tremendous pop single.

Release Date

2000

The Cover Art

Crenshaw really has terrible album covers. The colors are fun – that’s the best I can say about this.

The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving

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

The Weakerthans are apparently quite popular in their native Canada. The neighbor to the north is reasonably well-represented in my collection. Besides this band, there is Neil Young (obviously) and Leonard Cohen and Cub. I have a couple of Sloan albums, as well as one by related band the Flashing Lights. The New Pornographers. Tegan and Sara are Canadian, as is Alvvays. No Rush or Tragically Hip for me, though.

What I Think of This Album

John K. Samson’s fundamentally humane songs are communicated through detailed imagery and from an unflinchingly proletarian perspective, bringing grace and dignity to the dispossessed – whether it be of emotional, existential, or remunerative satisfaction – and the downtrodden. As usual, this works best when the rest of the band – now augmented by multi-instrumentalist Stephen Carroll – provides a robust backing to match the emotional intensity of the lyrics.

So, go forth and celebrate the pumping “Aside,” in which the narrator self-assesses “Rely a bit too heavily on alcohol and irony / Get clobbered on by courtesy / In love with love and lousy poetry.” Similarly, “Watermark” throbs with compassion, as Samson speaks of “the metal of those hearts you always end up pressing your tongue to” and offers to “scrub that brackish line that you got when something rose and then receded.” A relationship is explored in agonizing detail in wiry “This Is a Fire Door Never Leave Open,” whereas homelesness is observed in “Exiles Among You.” Among the slower songs that work is the glowing coal of “Pamphleteer,” with which its kinship to Warren Zevon’s “Mutineer,” evolves to become something about much more than handing out Marxist literature on street corners. “Without Mythologies” is equal parts sparse and majestic, punctuated by massive tom hits, while Samson spits out lyrics that are once impressionistic and grounded in a very physical reality. And the title track aches beautifully without ever being inaccessible. “My Favorite Chords” is mostly acoustic guitar but employs an upbeat melody and typically fascinating lyrical nuggets from Samson. And while I don’t much care for “Elegy for Elsabet,” the solo is pretty cool.

The booklet is once again littered with quotes, the source ranging from Marx & Engels to Canadian literary figures Catherine Hunter and Alden Nowlen to labor activist Ralph Chaplin (who designed the IWW black cat symbol) to poet W.H. Auden. Drummer Jason Tait is credited with playing the switchblade, and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to listen for that. A few songs sag a bit, making this indeed an “imperfect offering,” but I’m not so sure that we deserve better.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Aside,” though I don’t feel strongly that it’s that much better than several others here.

Release Date

July, 2000

The Cover Art

I don’t like it, but it works. It’s got that random, elegiac, mysterious, detailed quality that matches the feel of Samson’s lyrics.

The Waxwings – Low to the Ground

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I believe this was my first Bobsled records purchase, almost certainly picked up after I read about it in Magnet magazine. Label honcho Bob Salerno gets a production credit, though I think that was more of a Warhol-Velvet Underground & Nico type arrangement. It’s worth mentioning that Bobsled was a joint affair by Salerno and Jeff Slay (Bobsled = BobSleigh = Bob + Slay), and Slay appeared to be a very silent partner whereas Salerno was definitely not silent. Just as an example, not only did Salerno get a production credit, he is listed as a co-arranger; gets credit for additional guitar, percussion, and waves; and receives sole credit for mixing. I think this was the best Bobsled signing, and if the relationship hadn’t fallen apart and the band had maintained their quality, I think the label might have stuck around longer.

What I Think of This Album

From the opening drum hits of “Keeping the Sparks,” this sounds like it’s going to be something special. The production by Bryan Hanna is out of this world – the universe of tones comes through with brilliant clarity and vibrancy. This is one of the best sounding albums I have ever heard, ranking with the Breeders’ Pod. Beyond that, the album is a tapestry of Byrdsy/Beach Boys harmonies and Byrdsy jangle, with a heavy dose of . . . well, Byrdsy psychedelia. Some of this reminds me of what the Beachwood Sparks were doing around the same time, especially on the lush “Sleepy Head” and countryish “Firewood.” Vocalist and lead guitarist Dean Fertita wrote most of the lyrics and guitarist/vocalist Dominic Romano wrote the lyrics for two songs; I assume they each sing their own songs, but the voices aren’t very distinguishable.

One of the highlights is the astonishing “Untied,” about which every element is superb:  the harmonies are glorious; the flourishes like the maracas and phased effects are divine; the guitars move from gritty to jangly and back with panache; the tempo shifts are natural and organic; and the melody is first-rate. Official opener (read on) “Keeping the Sparks” is a pop masterpiece – joyous, hopeful, and expertly played. The gentle guitar figure in the bridge, augmented by sweet harmonies, and then broken up by a blast of distortion, is fucking heavenly. To be sure, “Into the Scenery,” with its concrete-breaking drums, spiraling guitar lines, and sighing backing vocals, has a claim to best song on the album, also. The chiming but jagged guitars on “Ten O’Clock Your Time” rapidly give way to a transatlantic-telegraph-cable-thick bassline and a flurry of handclaps, and I swear to god I almost pass out from happiness every time I hear this. “While You Spiral” is a rollercoaster ride, propelled by Kevin Peyok’s bass part and punctuated by James Edmunds’s thunderclap drumming, all held together by the impeccable harmonies. Acoustic “Different Plane” is like the best campfire song you could imagine (assuming someone brought along a lap steel).

At almost nine minutes, “It Comes In Waves” is where the band fully explores its psychedelic side, though without abandoning its fundamental jangle-pop roots and harmony-rich approach. Basically, its a normal pop song, with a country-druggy, chorused guitar-exploring coda that lasts for about 5 minutes tacked on, and it fucking WORKS. The remaining tracks – “Fragile Girl,” “Sleepy Head,” “Firewood,” and Kinks-like “Low Ceiling” – are also winners. The liner notes credit Greg Frey with production on “Next to Nothing,” which is a hidden track BEFORE THE FIRST TRACK. Honestly, this is one of my favorite albums ever.

The Best Thing About This Album

So much here is right, but without the production by Bryan Hanna, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy it as much.

Release Date

May, 2000

The Cover Art

I like this a lot, but maybe that’s just carried over from my abiding love for the music on this album. I like the torn page scheme, the color palette, the washed out image, the massive amount of text, in different fonts, and, of course, the STEREO tag at the top.

Clinic – Internal Wrangler

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Clinic sort of falls into the category of music I respect but don’t always like, similar to Joy Division, Faith-era Cure, and Ministry. I think it’s really good, but I don’t necessarily enjoy listening to it. I am never going to sit down and just take in a Ministry album; if I need a soundtrack to my killing spree, well, then that’s another story. Clinic is undoubtedly cool as fuck, but it can be a difficult listen, and honestly, a little Clinic goes a long way. One or two Clinic albums are probably all you need. At some point, it starts to get a bit much (though it’s worth mentioning that good Clinic and lesser Clinic are miles apart – it’s not easy to do this kind of music well). The foursome came out of Liverpool in 1997, and made noise both with their vintage keyboards and their habit of wearing surgical masks and scrubs when playing live. They had a decent amount of success, touring with Radiohead, the Flaming Lips, and Arcade Fire.

What I Think of This Album

Internal Wrangler begins with some tribal drumming on the possibly insensitively-titled instrumental “Voodoo Wop,” which sounds like the Ventures spent the night in a haunted house listening to lounge music. Thereafter, things quickly (d)evolve into an ominous, claustrophobic clatter; this band clearly spent a lot of time listening to Suicide.

Early highlight “The Return of Evil Bill” is thrilling and dangerous, with analog synth sounds dominating and punishing guitar drones throughout, as well as a relentless garbage can drum part. Much of the atmosphere on this album is due to Ade Blackburn’s distinctive dark vocals. The foreboding title track motors along with intensity, with tendrils of synths threatening to drag you into the undergrowth.

Syncopation is the name of the game on the pulsing, anarchic “The Second Line,” on which Blackburn sounds possibly deranged. “C.Q” is fast and thrashy, and less interesting for it. “T.K.” has a melody based on June Carter’s “Ring of Fire.” There are ocean sounds on the calm “Earth Angel,” which offers a respite from the mostly intense experience on the rest of the album. To that end, “Distortions” is a highly disturbing song, reminiscent of, at the back end, the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” constructed from a simple but affecting organ part and a reappearing trumpet-like keyboard, and bathed with a truly lovely backing vocal part.

“Hippy Death Suite” (amazing title) succeeds where “C.Q.” didn’t, offering up an engaging and visceral blast of noise that erases the bleakness of “Distortions.” The melody of “2nd Foot Stomp” is perhaps the best on the album, even as it is augmented by atonal synthesizer sounds. “2/4” is a delirious, bass-heavy funhouse ramble.

Closer “Goodnight Georgie” is a surprisingly quiet ballad, actually very pretty. The short interlude “DJ Shangri-La” is based on a Beethoven Sonata. There is no thirteenth track – it’s surprising that the creators of such unsettling music could themselves be afraid of something. This is a stunning debut album.

Producer Gareth Jones also did work with Interpol, Nick Cave, Erasure, Depeche Mode, and Wire.

The Best Thing About This Album

Another tough choice, considering the quality of the songs and the importance of Blackburn’s voice; I am going to go with the synths, which is admittedly a bit of a cop out. Whatever. Write your own blog.

Release Date

May, 2000

The Cover Art

On the one hand, this is a blatant rip-off of Ornette Coleman’s Ornette! On the other, it looks amazing.

Cinerama – This Is Cinerama

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

Well, I said elsewhere that I wasn’t going to keep both this album and Va Va Voom, but fuck it. Call it indulgence. It is typically perverse that roughly two years after the release of debut Va Va Voom, but just weeks after second album Disco Volante, Cinerama released this collection of early singles. The title is a clever joke, btw. Cinerama was a pre-IMAX immersive process (three projectors used simultaneously on one giant screen); This Is Cinerama was a documentary from 1952 intended to promote the new system.

What I Think of This Album

Even discounting the overlap with Va Va Voom, this is a very strong collection. The songs “Kerry Kerry,” “Au Pair,” “Love” and “Dance, Girl, Dance” are all repeats. There is also a remixed version of “Ears,” cheekily jejune and retro.

The vaguely flamenco guitar strum of “7x” is what you first notice, but then Gedge’s lyrics take center stage:  “And I don’t want to seem unreasonable / But I’d just like to know when / You are going to speak to me again” and “Because now / I’m feeling totally perplexed / What did I do wrong? / Well, how do I work out what comes next? / Do I play along?” “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” has a sort of spy guitar sound, which plays nicely with the orchestration. Meanwhile, “Model Spy” relies on a wah wah effect, with spy keyboards instead.

“Crusoe” is goddamn gorgeous, with timpani and strings, and full of devastating lines like “You can’t get a phone call like that and not tell me / You can’t lie with him in our bed and not smell me.” There is a sad ruefulness to weepy “King’s Cross”:  “I thought that you and me / Were never meant to be /  Now why would I think that?” with some great harmonies from Sally Murrell at the end. The cover of the Smiths’ “London” I can take or leave.

Given the timing of these singles, it is not surprising that the list of supporting players overlaps considerably with that of the debut:  Marty Willson-Piper (the Church); Dare Mason (producer of the Church and Animals That Swim); Derek Crabtree and Anthony Coote (Animals That Swim), as well as Julia Palmer (Billy Bragg) and Rachel Davies (Animals That Swim). Emma Pollock (Delgados) guests on “Love” and “Ears.”

This time, former Weddoes guitarist Simon Cleave is also around, and he co-wrote a couple of the songs. Gedge co-wrote two of the other songs with different people, neither of whom is properly identified in the credits.

The Best Thing About This Album

“The silence when you hold me is deafening.”

Release Date

October, 2000

The Cover Art

Another winner from Cinerama – bold color and font/graphics, with a whiff of romance to the blurry photos.

Chainsaw Kittens – The All American

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

I saw Chainsaw Kittens in concert once, in the summer of 1994. At that show I met the woman who would end up being the mother of my children (and for a time, my wife); it bears emphasizing that she was *not* there to see Chainsaw Kittens, she was there to see the Counting Crows. So on top of all the musical joy and satisfaction the Kittens have provided over the years, they also were instrumental in giving me the greatest gifts of my life.

What I Think of This Album

This final Kittens album is a fine but bittersweet way for the band to bow out. Tyson Meade and Trent Bell sound fully in command of what they are doing, and they are doing whatever they damn well please. The title is a bit of a giveaway. The band, of course, is from Oklahoma, but much of this country would find them to be anything but “All American.” Of course, those people don’t get to fucking decide, and Meade and cohorts are out to claim everything that they are entitled to.

As on the self-titled fourth album, they cast about and try different things, but this effort is a little more focused. And like the previous platter, this one lacks the loud guitars the band was known for early on. In fact, this is a very piano-heavy album (courtesy mostly of Derek Brown, and on two songs, Andy Nunez). Piano glam? Sure, why not. “All American Wiggle Wiggle” is as absurd as its title suggests (representative lyrics:  “You don’t have to hold your tummy in” and “Sitting on the sidewalk cookin’ up some eggs / Baby, let me cook them on your chest”), and you can tell Meade is having a blast indulging his weirdness on a song that, it should be mentioned, is an excellent piece of music and display of musicianship.

Attempting to outdo himself with the song titles, Meade also offers up “Gleaming Soft White Teens,” which charms with lyrics like “And who says their souls haven’t resurfaced / And why shouldn’t they be killed?” and “Listen to Barry White on acid,” more glorious proof that Meade doesn’t give a crap what you think of him. Oh, and the melody is first-rate, with a hyper-elastic bass part, and guitars that hit just right.

Bell drives the catchy “International Me,” which is on the radio in an alternate America. The unsettling epic “Calling From Space” has martial drums, twinkling piano, distorted guitar slashes, synth swoops, and a fantastic vocal from Meade. “Wedding” is a sweet song about a wedding (“You can dance with my dad / He’s not a good dancer”), and all the more touching for its realist depiction of the big event.

“How Many Lightbulbs” is fairly lightweight and intriguingly self-deprecating (“How many guitars does it take to come up with a song / Oh, you’ve known all along”), but that guitar crunch is hard to deny, as are the synth flourishes, and as usual, Meade just flat out sells it. In case you haven’t caught on to how idiosyncratic things are, this is an album whose first lyrics are “abortion clinic bomb.”

The album’s highlight, though, is “John Wayne,” with its shocking, repeated line “John Wayne hates gays;” a reaction to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, it is equally haunting and thrilling, and a master class in construction, arrangement, and emotion. The album closes with a medley of the Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat” and Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” (co-written with Bowie).

Meade went on to spend several years teaching English in China, and he released a couple of solo albums, neither of which I have ever listened to.

The Best Thing About This Album

“John Wayne” is a song you never forget.

Release Date

September, 2000

The Cover Art

Arguably the best album cover of the Kittens’ career. It is clean and simple, and also goofy and weird. I like the way the words are lined up and the contrasting colors, and the way it seems like it’s one sentence, which must have been an intentional joke.

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