Everclear – So Much for the Afterglow

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

I saw Everclear play a short set at Tower Records on Clark Street in Chicago in support of this album. Afterwards, they autographed merch, including the slipcover of my CD. They had a touring guitarist with them (Steve Birch) and he signed the album, too, and not to be a dick, but that bothered me. That dude should not have been sitting at the table, signing shit like he was in Everclear. He. Was. Not. In. Everclear. The band also had a fan contest to win a free ticket to their upcoming show at Metro. The contest involved answering a short list of written questions that they distributed at the Tower Records appearance. One of the questions was something like “What Are Your Three Favorite Bands?” I don’t remember my complete answer (I am sure the first band I listed was the Smiths and I suspect the second was the Clash), but I know that as a lark I wrote The Flying Burrito Brothers as the third band. I actually do like their first two albums, but at the time I was not actually a fan; I just thought that anyone reading the submissions would see a bunch of answers like Nirvana and Soundgarden and that they would be amused by the relative incongruity of my response. I ended up winning the tickets, and I firmly believe in my heart that Art Alexakis specifically picked my submission because of my answer to that question. I don’t think I made it to the show, however.

What I Think of This Album

If Sparkle and Fade brought Everclear into the public eye, So Much for the Afterglow made them fucking stars. It spun off five singles and sold over two million copies, and these songs were all over the radio and MTV. It covers a lot of the same thematic ground as the major label debut, but it’s much poppier, while still rocking. Part of this is due to the fact that Greg Eklund is fully in charge of the kit on all the songs this time, and he swings more than his predecessor. But mostly it’s that Art Alexakis, always the tactician, wrote his strongest batch of songs and expertly emphasized the melody while keeping the punk influence modulated to just the right degree to appeal to as wide a population as possible. Sure, it’s calculated but that doesn’t mean it isn’t authentic. 

There is not a bad song on this album. Some are slighter than others, but every single track is eminently listenable. And there are also great songs on here, full of welcome and well-thought out production touches and engaging arrangements. Indeed, the band makes a statement right away with the unexpected Beach Boys-in-the-moshpit sound of the title track, replete with inescapable vocal harmonies and irresistible handclaps, as well as a na-na-na countermelody, nice little guitar solo, and buried vocalizations from Alexakis, to say nothing of a false ending. I fucking love a false ending! This is easily my favorite song on this album.

“White Men in Black Suits” is probably the sleeper track of this disc; it is adeptly paced, and has some simple but critical guitar lines, as well as evocative lyrics. Plus, you know, the harmonies. Alexakis upends conventional notions (if not definitions) on “Normal Like You,” which would likely come off as pretentious if delivered by anyone else, but Alexakis sells it and here I am, slapping my dollars down on the counter. 

There is a delicacy to the arguably autobiographical “I Will Buy You a New Life,” which provides a convincing glimpse of blue-collar romanticism that X would be proud of. Rami Jaffe of the Wallflowers (and eventually, the Foo Fighters) adds a very Wallflowers-like organ part. When I moved to Portland, I rented an apartment with a view of the West Hills; I would sing the corresponding lyric from this track to myself almost every time I stepped out onto my balcony. As enjoyable is “One Hit Wonder,” with a great melody, a horn section, a neat little bass fill from Craig Montoya (who rarely gets to show off on Everclear songs), and more of the harmonies that dominate this album.

“Father of Mine” is devastating and more than just arguably autobiographical, and a very strange choice for a single, but hey, it was 1997. Not one of my favorites, honestly, but it is emotionally powerful in a way I cannot deny. 

Diversity and creative stretching are on ample display throughout. The Pro Tools creation “El Distorto de Melodica” is pretty cool for an instrumental; I can’t tell if the brittle, harsh sound is intentional or not, but it’s the equivalent of smashing your face into a tub full of microscopic glass shards. “Everything for Everyone” offers a heap of programming, plus more harmonies and a funky part from Eklund. There are strings on “Amphetamine,” an affecting story of a haunted but hopeful recovering addict. A banjo shows up on “Why I Don’t Believe in God.” 

Again, it was 1997, so yes, Veruca, there is a hidden track:  “Hating You for Christmas.” It doesn’t suck.

The success of this album, to be sure, is not simply the result of Alexakis’s vision. SMFTA is definitely a major label album with major label resources behind it. The Everclear mastermind may give himself top producer billing but five other guys (including Eklund and Montoya) were also involved in the production. The songs were recorded and mixed at six different studios. The list of engineers is like five fucking feet long. I’m not entirely sure what involvement Alexakis even had in “Distorto,” which is obliquely credited to Lars Fox (of Grotus) who gets a shoutout for “loops and samples.” In addition, apparently Alexakis sang his vocals to sped-up versions of the backing tracks, wanting the songs to come across as faster and more energetic.

This is my favorite Everclear album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“So Much for the Afterglow” – the honeymoon is NOT over.

Release Date

October, 1997

The Cover Art

The image here is for the slipcover. The art in the jewel case is very similar, except Alexakis and Montoya are leaning against their respective walls and everyone’s feet are lined up, so that the trio’s bodies create an inverted triangle, and also it’s sepia toned. All in all, pretty cool. Simple and artsy. Reminds me a little of The Clash cover. Oh, and it was designed by Mr. Touring Guitarist, Steven Birch (who also did the Sparkle and Fade art).

The Young Fresh Fellows – It’s Low Beat Time

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

I strongly suspect I will end up owning a good chunk of the Young Fresh Fellows’ output. It’s only a matter of time. I like bands that are irreverent and carefree but still try enough (at least, enough of the time) to write melodic and clever songs.

What I Think of This Album

It’s difficult to fairly assess this from such a distant vantage point. Low Beat Time was released in 1992; I first heard it in 2023. That said, it is basically what you would expect from any Young Fresh Fellows album:  it’s a fucking mess, but eminently enjoyable. Thank you, Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch, for never disappointing.

This one is actually probably more of a clusterfuck than the average YFF disc. It’s got 16 songs, recorded at five studios in three cities, and with six different production credits. Perhaps not surprisingly, this eighth album was the last Young Fresh Fellows record for a good five years (and that 1997 release, A Tribute to Music, was only issued in Spain, supposedly).   

As usual, the best songs are the ones that combine the band’s irreverence with their pop smarts. So, dial up “Right Here,” “Mr. Anthony’s Last,” “Whatever You Are,” “Faultless,” “She Sees Color,” “Monkey Say,” “99 Girls,” “She Won’t Budge,” and “Green Green.”

Notable anomaly is instrumental “A Crafty Clerk,” which sounds like Brian Wilson got lost in the midway of a carnival in Iowa.

Along the way, you can make what you will of “Low Beat Jingle” (a fifteen second number comprised of typewriter, trumpet, and percussion), the schizophrenic but still melodic (sometimes) “Snow White,” the churning and ominous “Two Headed Fight,” the mysterious and hateful “A Minor Bird,” and a reprise of “Low Beat Jingle” plus more in the jaunty “Low Beat.” 

Soul legend Rufus Thomas sings on closing track “Green Green,” which is a cover of a New Christy Minstrels song. Keyboardist Lester Snell (Isaac Hayes) plays on at least three tracks, and William Brown (engineer of “Theme from Shaft”) contributed vocals and technical work on the cover of “Love Is a Beautiful Thing” (the Young Rascals). New York band the A-Bones help out on “Monkey Say”, too.

Butch Vig produced some tracks, as did Willy Mitchell (trumpeter and producer of Al Green and Solomon Burke). Conrad Uno (who worked with Bratmobile, Mudhoney, the Fastbacks, and Sonic Youth) and McCaughey worked on one track, and Sonics engineer Kearney Barton produced the two songs that sound like the Sonics. Doug Easley (Guided by Voices, Modest Mouse, Cat Power, Pavement, the Amps) also contributed to a number of tracks.


Only the Young Fresh Fellows know why the spine of the CD reads Doc Sharpie Is a Bad Man in place of the real title, though Doc Sharpie is credited with the album art. Alex Chilton is thanked in the liner notes.

The Best Thing About This Album

The unexpected soul influence, including an excellent Rufus Thomas vocal on “Green Green.”

Release Date

September, 1992

The Cover Art

I’m agnostic on this; it’s neither good nor bad.

Saturday Looks Good To Me – Sound On Sound

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

I can’t think of a band that needed a mop up collection like this more than Saturday Looks Good to Me. As acknowledged on the back cover, Sound On Sound gathers “limited and unavailable” tracks previously shared with the world only via CD-R and vinyl releases with very limited runs (like, 100 copies) from 2000-2005.

What I Think of This Album

This is a deceptively delightful collection of lost tracks from Fred Thomas’s Michigan-based indie-pop project. Perhaps due to its size or to the lack of a unifying style, the album as whole comes across as disposable, but on a song-by-song basis, it’s really fun and consistently high quality. A true fan-oriented release, part of the appeal is in hearing how different some of these songs are from what normally ends up on SLGTM’s full-length albums.

Highlights include the winsome “Can’t Ever Sleep” and the charming “Your Small Heart.” It is too easy to fall in love with Godzuki singer Erika Hoffman’s vocals on “Summer Doesn’t Count (Unless You’re Here With Me),” and the surprisingly barbed guitar part is a welcome twist on the band’s style. “Diary” would probably fail in anyone else’s hands, but this sincere romanticism is precisely what Thomas excels at and may be the best song on the album. 

The brief and reverb-cloaked (reverb-burdened?) “Liquor Store” is a gleeful experiment in lo-fi damage. “Labcoat” manages to be both mumbly and delicate. “Pet Store” is an instrumental that Spector would’ve lost his (deranged) mind over. And, the garagey version of “The Girl’s Distracted,” with the dirtiest guitar tone I’ve ever heard from this band, is a nice surprise.

“Light Bulb Heart” (what a great concept – illuminating, warm, fragile) is way out of left field, with a hard soul rhythm, tough girl sing-speak vocals, and *another* nasty guitar solo. In fact, soul informs several songs on this comp, as evidenced by the harmonica and handclaps on “When You Go Out Tonight” and the uncharacteristic energy (including a gritty sax part) of “Girl of Mine,” which honestly could’ve been a Wilson Pickett number. “Hiding” is pure Marvelletes, and “Parking Lot Blues” sounds like a Jackson 5 hit that never was. And once you get past the annoying intro, “I Don’t Want to Go” is another girl-group/soul type number.

I appreciate how the programmed beats of “Nervous” perfectly evoke the title. This is not the only track here that, by virtue of the synthesized drums and the naked sentimentality (to say nothing of the songwriter’s preference to have others sing lead), provokes comparisons to the Magnetic Fields. See also “It Sounds Like They’re In Love With You.” 

The Ramones cover (“Listen to My Heart”) doesn’t work – surprising, as both bands share roots in girl-group sonics and songwriting. There are two more covers. One is “Blue Christmas” (popularized by Elvis and also recorded by the Beach Boys). This is outshone by competing holiday song “Christmas Blues,” with a gospel organ and the umpeeth guitar solo that raises my eyebrows on this disc. There is actually a third holiday tune here:  the instrumental part of the chorus of “This Time Every Year” is to die for (which disputes Thomas’s lyric that “nobody wants to die that way”), and the buried guitar solo is awesome. The other cover is “Learn to Live With Your Heartbreak,” the only prior version of which I have been able to identify is from a 1967 Patty Duke album comprised mostly of songs from Valley of the Dolls. Presumably, the cover came from the Patty Duke Fanzine #5 release from 2003, of which 500 copies were pressed.

The distorted guitar of “Disaster” – which is actually dominated by the ominous Zombies-like organ – still manages to surprise even with the song slotted in at track 27. The clarinet and horn parts remind me of Morton Stevens’s “Hawaii 5-0 Theme.” Almost lost among the other songs is the moving “Last Year,” with a critical harmonica (or it might be an organ) part. Sleepy final track “Own” paraphrases liberally from the Smiths’ “I Don’t Owe You Anything.” 

As usual, the guest list is long and includes vocalists Kelly Jean Caldwell, Erika Hoffman(-Dilloway) (as she is billed here, which I have never seen before), Ko Melina (the opposite of Hoffman(-Dilloway) insofar as she is credited only as Ko, which I have also never seen before), Betty Marie Barnes, and the mysterious Dara. Plus instrumentalists Aidan Dysart, Elliot Bergman of Wild Belle, Zach Wallace (His Name Is Alive), Ida Pearle (a name I can only assume was stolen from a silent film star), and others, but this time, surprisingly, not Warn Defever.

The Best Thing About This Album

The guitar tone – I understand why Thomas doesn’t employ it for regular releases, but it really adds a new dimension on these tracks.

Release Date

February, 2006

The Cover Art

The artwork is terrible. The image actually seems appropriate to Fred Thomas’s ethos; I just don’t like how the idea was executed.

El Goodo – El Goodo

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

The things I definitely know about this band are much more important than the things I barely know about this band. Emerging from the small but excellently-named town of Resolven, Wales in the mid-2000s, the quintet did not use last names. They did eventually reveal their surnames, and it turns out that three of them share the admittedly common “James.” And two of those Jameses are brothers, so this is a brothers band! They have released four albums in roughly a dozen years. They are friends with the Super Furry Animals. I don’t have any more information about the group. But I do know that they are fans of ’60s pop, favoring a jangly, hazy, ornate, lite-psychedelic sound, so that the nod to Big Star via their name is a bit misleading. At the same time, they also tip their hat to related bands from the ’80s and after.

What I Think of This Album

Nothing here is particularly original, but that is not the point. Not even close. El Goodo demonstrate a patent and steadfast dedication to ‘60s sounds and songcraft, as well as the ’80s and ’90s bands that updated those sounds, and their resolve in (yes!) doing so is admirable. This band knows what they love, and they are driven to celebrate it. This is an album of sunny harmonies, fulsome orchestration, and simple but engaging melodies. If that’s not for you, okay. At the barest minimum, you can play “spot the influence” and have a good time. 

For example, if the Jesus and Mary Chain had done a better and brighter (or at least, more ironic) job with the country leanings of Stoned and Dethroned, they would have created “If You Come Back.” More fundamentally, to the extent it is true that the Jesus and Mary Chain were, as someone once described, the Beach Boys crossed with the Velvet Underground, then “Honey” is the Jesus and Mary Chain crossed with the Beach Boys. That the title evokes JAMC’s iconic “Just Like Honey” cannot be an accident. Even less possibly happenstance is “Here It Comes,” which should have Lou Reed’s lawyers salivating, as it is pretty much “Heroin” with a different vocal melody and lyrics (the melody being reminiscent of Mercury Rev’s “Car Wash Hair,” instead). 

The Beach Boys passing a joint to the Byrds is what “If I Were a Song” sounds like, though I can also detect shades of Teenage Fanclub, particularly in the so-dumb-they’re-sweet-lyrics that Norman Blake specializes in (“If I was a song, I’d be about you, baby”). “Surreal Morning” apes Beachwood Sparks and maybe a little of the Waxwings with its pillowy, psychedelic country-rock. Bright and bouncy “Chalking the Lines” reminds me of nothing so much as Herman’s Hermits, again with hints of the Waxwings, augmented by brass and an experimental bridge.

The spaghetti western horns and bongos  of “I Saw Nothing” take you back to 1965, clutching the poncho of a laconic, anonymous drifter bent on revenge. The Mamas and the Papas could’ve recorded “What Went Wrong? (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)” but they would have had to have been very sad. Again, the clear reference to 1964 cinema in the title is a clue that the band knows exactly what they are doing.

Opener “Life Station” could be a lost Spacemen 3 track – narcotized, droney, blissful – though with a more delicate touch, as evinced by the (synthesized) woodwinds, at least until the bizarre, fractured ending. Spacemen 3 also influence “Silly Thoughts,” but this would be a Spacemen 3 more enamored with the Byrds than Suicide. 
The short “Esperanto Video” (what?) aspires to be an instrumental Pet Sounds outtake. “Stuck In the 60’s” is a little too candy-colored for me at the start, but this odd song about a time machine owes a lot to the spacier bands of Elephant 6; I love the reverby handclaps. “I Tried But I Failed” is a lullaby that is likewise reminiscent of Elf Power or Olivia Tremor Control.

The Best Thing About This Album

How it displays the band’s unabashed love of other bands.

Release Date

2006

The Cover Art

Neither good nor bad. I think the European release has different art.

Dressy Bessy – Kingsized

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

I bought this album at the Dressy Bessy show at Sleeping Village. Colleen Green was the opening act, and she was very good, by the way. I had mixed feelings as the show approached, as I was disappointed by the albums since Dressy Bessy, which I loved, but I figured Tammy Ealom puts on such a good show that I would still enjoy it anyway. I probably listened to Kingsized on Spotify leading up to the concert and was thrilled to hear so many great – I mean, really fucking great – songs on it.

What I Think of This Album

While hardly the big time, this feels like Dressy Bessy’s star-making turn, full of famous guests and with a bright, full sound, and on new label YepRoc. It was not, of course, a star-making turn, but it is a fantastic album that houses some of Dressy Bessy’s best work.

The aforementioned guests include Peter Buck, Rebecca Cole (Wild Flag, the Minders), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, the Minus 5, the Baseball Project), Vanessa Briscoe Hay (Pylon), Jason Garner (Polyphonic Spree, Old 97’s, Deathray Davies), Eric Allen (the Apples in Stereo), Michael Giblin (the Split Squad), and Andy Shernoff (Dictators). While not as consistent as the self-titled third album, it probably has higher peaks, and in any event is way better than interceding albums Electrified and Holler and Stomp. I tend to think of this as a comeback album after the wrong turn of those two discs.

The opening drum roll of “Lady Liberty” demands your attention immediately and an impressively slippery bass line from Garner pulls you into a world of handclaps, 12 string guitar (from Buck), sweetly stacked vocals (Ealom and Cole), and a sassy performance from Ealom:  “Man, that bitch is good.” Equally excellent – if not better – is the electrifying title track, with an otherworldly performance from guitarist John Hill, whose guitar squeals would make Neil Young smile, another strong guest bass, this time from Giblin, and a vocal performance bursting with attitude (even though the lyrics are twee enough to have fit in well on Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons). The final part of the great trinity of this album is “Make Mine Violet” which is darker and more mature than a lot of the band’s typical material. It also boasts an excellent arrangement, at times reminding me of the Beach Boys, with wonderful harmonies, unexpected mini melodies, and stick percussion accents. Hill’s guitar is buried in the mix and almost sounds like a keyboard sometimes, and McCaughey adds some critical piano. Ealom plays this bass this time around, and, of course, delivers a killer vocal. These three tracks are so compelling and infectious that you almost forget to listen to the rest of the album.

But even the second tier songs are very good. I am not sure how I feel about the use of “mamacita” on sunny “Honeybee,” but this song is just a hair less impressive than the three already discussed so I will allow it. Imagine a grittier Blondie and you will end up somewhere very near “57 Disco,” on which McCaughey contributes organ. Departed bassist Rob Greene reappears for a couple of numbers, including spiky “Say Goodbye,” which provides the treat of hearing Ealom playing some surprisingly vinegary keyboard. The band brings lots of energy to “Giddy Up,” transforming what would otherwise be an average song into a very fun tune. The band gets dirty and dangerous on “These Modern Guns.”

“Pop Phenom” and “In Particular” are okay – not offensive but not Dressy Bessy’s best by a long shot (I do like how Ealom pronounces “phenomenon” on “Pop Phenom”). I find “Get Along Diamond Ring” to be fairly annoying, actually, and I feel pretty much the same about “Cup O’ Bang Bang,” but these are minor complaints.

The very long list of thank you includes Trent Bell, who I am going to assume is the same from Chainsaw Kittens; the rest of the list includes the Minus 5, the Baseball Project, Mike Mills, and the Apples In Stereo.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Kingsized” reigns supreme here.  

Release Date

February, 2016

The Cover Art

Minimalist and monochrome, I think this is great.

Tullycraft – Lost In Light Rotation

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

There are good Tullycraft albums and great Tullycraft albums. This – the band’s sixth studio offering – is one of the great ones. What is surprising is that it appears to be their penultimate one, as the band has been silent since 2017’s The Railway Prince Hotel. Surprising because the band seemed to be evolving and growing and on the cusp of something more. Much like fifth album Every Scene Needs a Center saw more creative arrangements, here the band incorporates a trumpet, ukulele, and keyboards on multiple songs to broaden and diversify their sound. Too, the decision to work with Pacific Northwest legend Phil Ek (Built to Spill, Modest Mouse) to mix the album speaks to larger ambitions. Finally, Sean Tollefson abandons bass duties for the first time ever in order to focus on his vocals, particularly the more intricate interplay with co-vocalist Jenny Mears. All of this suggested a rising trajectory, so for it to seemingly come to an end is not what I expected.

What I Think of This Album

Six years separate Lost In Light Rotation from its predecessor, and the quintet sounds completely reenergized and refreshed. Every Scene Needs a Center was certainly a good album (with some great songs) but whereas that work sometimes (and oddly) indulged in B-movie imagery (e.g., vampires, werewolves, UFOs, fanged bats, goths), here Tullycraft focuses on buffing and shining their indie pop songs – with the usual subject matter of love, bands, and obscure references – until they gleam.

Frenetic opener “Agincourt” offers the lie of “I used to be clever / But it didn’t last,” even as Sean Tollefson spins out creative and charming couplets while reveling in thrift shop finds and lost love’s binds. The triumphant trumpet at the end is pure majesty. Tollefson and Jenny Mears collaborate a little more closely on the fizzy “Queenie Co.” The xylophone and various guitar tones that color the rambunctious title track demonstrate that Tullycraft is not messing around; you may dismiss indie pop as light and insubstantial, but this song is one of many that should prove the genre is capable of depth, complexity, and musicianship.

A hypnotic bass line anchors “Westchester Turnabouts,” on which the band slows down slightly and gives ample room to Mears. She bursts forth on “From Wichita With Love,” as they create a surprising medley with 1958’s “Do You Want To Dance?” (also covered by the Beach Boys). The hilarious refrain of “Shut up / Shut up/ Shut up” is but one small element of what makes “Elks Lodge Riot” such a fun, memorable song, with drummer Jeff Fell adding rapid fills throughout. The story of a failed band, as told on “All Tic, No Tac” is poignant and inspiring. The band rocks out on the celebratory “Dig Up the Graves,” on which Mears’ double-tracked vocals are a thing of beauty, and the subtle trumpet in the background is perfect.

Handclaps and an organ transform “Wake Up, Wake Up,” which is actually relatively sedate, and a ukelele is the foundation for the tender “We Knew Your Names Until Your Heart Stopped.” Mears’s powerful, clear vocals on “Heart” make it sound like she is auditioning for the next incarnation of the New Pornographers. Closer “Anacortes” (with a throwaway reference to Squeeze) is an ideal bookend to A-lettered, geographically-oriented opener “Agincourt,” giving you everything you could want from a Tullycraft song. 

The Best Thing About This Album

I should appreciate that this is the last great Tullycraft album.

Release Date

April, 2013

The Cover Art

Again the product of band member Corianton Hale, this simple but effective t-shirt would make a great birthday present for me, if anyone is so inclined.

The Tyde – Three’s Company

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

There is a fourth Tyde album, and it is unfortunately titled Darren 4. Unfortunate because that is a terrible title, and also because it deviated from the pattern of the first three albums. I don’t think either the Tyde or Beachwood Sparks are still active. As a bit of trivia, Dave Scher ended up playing keyboards for Interpol on their live dates in the late 2000s.

What I Think of This Album

Keyboardist Ann Do Rademaker once again demonstrates that she is this band’s not-so-secret weapon. Sure, guitarist Darren Rademaker writes songs that combine pop, indie, and country rock and perfectly evoke the sunny California origins of the band, but Do provides the essential new wave flavor. And to be fair, I can’t overlook power pop legend Ric Menck (Velvet Crush) on drums and the guitar work of Ben Knight, who crushes it on “Brock Landers.”

Still, listen to the album a few times and it’s clear that Do Rademaker is essential to the band’s sound, from the gentle, flute-like lines on ballad “Separate Cars” to the squiggly additions to bouncy “Do It Again Again” to her head-to-head battle with Knight on “Brock Landers” to the analog sounds that fill out catchy “Too Many Kims.”

The band stretches out a little on the sunset-and-surf “Glassbottom Lights,” and it adds a blue-eyed soul touch to “Ltd. Appeal.” Album highlight “County Line” sounds like a power pop take on a lost Beach Boys song, and you will be bopping all the way to the coast as you listen to it. There is an appealing crunch to “The Pilot,” which has the unfortunate task of bridging the twin missteps of “Aloha Breeze” and “Don’t Need a Leash.”

There are two remixes included, one of “Glassbottom Lights” by James Figurine, who is better known as Jimmy Tamborello (the Postal Service), and this is actually a pretty good dance version that improves on the original. Meanwhile, the enigmatic Nobody remixed “Don’t Need a Leash” and this song definitely did not merit a repeat appearance (though the noise-ish additions to the slow fade out are pretty cool).

Conor Deasy of the Thrills makes an appearance as does the bassist from Maroon 5 (yep) and Nelson Bragg, who played with Brian Wilson.

The Best Thing About This Album

Ann Do Rademaker’s magical fingers.

Release Date

August, 2006

The Cover Art

This makes me think of a colorized x-ray of a surfboard, which it is definitely not. Too much white space, and the offset art bothers me.

Dinosaur Jr. – Ear Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr.

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

Dinosaur Jr. was part of a lively New England scene in the late 1980s and 1990s. Along with Dino Jr. there were the Pixies, Throwing Muses, Buffalo Tom, Belly, the Lemonheads, Galaxie 500, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Come, Damon & Naomi, and Gigolo Aunts, to say nothing of earlier bands like the Cars and the Modern Lovers. And, a fact often overlooked, the Magnetic Fields also came from the Boston area.

What I Think of This Album

It’s fairly simple and straightforward:  I think this is a good comp because it contains a lot of Dinosaur Jr. songs I like and not too many that I don’t. The focus is on the major label era with a full twelve songs out of nineteen coming from that period, compared to only five songs from the first three albums. The inclusion of a post-Dinosaur Jr. track is inexplicable and renders the title of the compilation a lie.

While there is not much early material, the selections are mostly pretty good. Such generous acknowledment aside, “Repulsion” is a song I don’t enjoy even a little; “Little Fury Things” is considerably more tolerable, with at least an interesting distorted wah-wah intro and some compelling dynamic shifts, though the melody is still underdeveloped. I detect a country element to the beginning of “In A Jar,” which somehow meshes with a Cure-like bass part, and the solo is enjoyably noisy.

“Freak Scene” is mind-blowing and gave ample notice of what Mascis was capable of – an infectious melody, a mix of guitars that range from brutal to clean/reverby strums, a fantastic solo, strategic harnessing of his voice, and hilariously forlorn lyrics (“Sometimes I don’t thrill you / Sometimes I think I’ll kill you / Just don’t let me fuck up will you / ‘Cause when I need a friend it’s still you”), with the concluding acknowledgement “what a mess” delivered in perfect resignation. After that, “Budge” is a letdown, sounding like very basic thrash enlivened with hints of melody.

The major label material is where this comp shines. “The Wagon” takes all the elements of “Freak Scene” and succeeds almost as well; the solo is phenomenal and the drums during the bridge will shake your neighbor’s tooth fillings loose. Don Fleming (producer of Teenage Fanclub and very short-term member of Dino Jr.) plays guitar on this and “Thumb.” That latter song, sporting mellotron by co-producer Sean Slade, is a sort of plodding, half-hearted piece. “Whatever’s Cool With Me” may boast the best title of any Dinosaur Jr. song (an apparent embrace of the not-always-accurate slacker tag attached to Mascis); as a song, it is pretty good (almost great), though I can’t say it’s a favorite and the solo leaves me cold.

Much more impressive is “Not You Again,” with Mascis making magic on the guitar and stumbling over his laconic vocals against a winning melody. Where You Been is the first album (the band’s fifth) from which more than two tracks are derived, which seems a little strange. “Out There” is sort of somber and grey, and the guitars are a bit much, honestly. “Start Choppin” is an absolutely ridiculous song – there’s no way that falsetto isn’t a middle finger to the critics of his singing – but it’s also a classic Dino Jr. song for a reason. The skittery riff is pure early ‘90s alterna-gold, the solos kick ass, the drums are monstrous, and the delivery (falsetto and all) is perfect. “Get Me” is a thick milkshake of ‘90s alterna-rock, and that’s not really a criticism.

The comp wisely selects the two best tracks from Without A Sound:  the slightly repetitive “Feel the Pain” and the countryish “I Don’t Think So” (with vocals from My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher). The two tracks from Hand It Over – “Nuthin’s Goin On” and “I’m Insane” are the right selections; nuthin to complain about there.

The disc also contains two non-Dinosaur Jr. tracks, one being a more justifiable inclusion than the other, both artistically and logically. “Take A Run At the Sun” was a song J Mascis wrote for the soundtrack to Grace of My Heart, and this delectable slice of sunny Beach Boys pop (though with a foreboding theremin part) is as impressive as it is surprising, and also happens to have been written and released while Dinosaur Jr. was still a going concern (in between Without A Sound and Hand It Over). In contrast, “Where’d You Go” is from the post-breakup J Mascis + The Fog project; this song is sort of paint-by-numbers, but if I’m being fair, it’s not a bad song. The truncated cover of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” was supposedly sincere; the guitar tones Mascis chooses are great.

The producers whose work is found here include Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie. The liner notes from indie rock scribe Byron Coley provide an effective biography of the band. In a roundabout way, J Mascis + The Fog led to the Stooges reunion in 2003 – look it up.

The Best Thing About This Album

“It’s so fucked I can’t believe it” – “Freak Scene” is a masterpiece.

Release Date

October, 2001

The Cover Art

This is one of my favorite covers of all time. The drawings by professional skateboarder Neil Blender (who also did the art for Without A Sound) perfectly evoke the reckless abandon, awe inspiring beauty, and jaw-dropping skill of the best Dinosaur Jr. songs.

The dB’s – Stands for Decibels / Repercussion

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

This was another band that I worked backwards towards. Not surprising, as their first two albums were not released in the US and those came out in 1981-82, when I had but nine years of age. But enough references read in magazines led me to find this compilation. The four dB’s were all from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and had known each other as children (as well as Mitch Easter); Chris Stamey, drummer Will Rigby and Easter were in the short-lived Sneakers together (whose work was produced by Don Dixon). Nonetheless, the dB’s officially formed in New York. Stamey had moved there to play bass for Alex Chilton, and started recording and releasing his own music (including a song recorded with Richard Lloyd) on his own record label – Car Records – which furthered  the Big Star connection by releasing Chris Bell’s “I Am the Cosmos / You and Your Sister” single in 1978. Rhythm section Rigby and Gene Holder backed him, and eventually Peter Holsapple appeared in Manhattan and joined the band as well. They signed to small British label Albion, which was not able to secure distribution for their work in the US; thus Stands for Decibels and Repercussion were imports only. Stamey left after that and the band released two more albums before breaking up. Stamey released his own music and also became a producer (Pylon, Whiskeytown, Le Tigre, the Mayflies). Holsapple became a sideman for the likes of REM. Rigby drummed for Steve Earle and Matthew Sweet. Rigby was also the spouse of Amy Rigby, whose Diary of a Mod Housewife is a pretty good album; she is now married to Wreckless Eric, and I saw (via a livestream) both of them play with Yo La Tengo in 2020. Holder has done production and engineering work for Luna, Yo La Tengo, and Marshall Crenshaw. I don’t agree with the apostrophe in the band’s name.

What I Think of This Album

Stands for Decibels

“Quirky” is the wrong word. It is suggestive of artifice and preciousness. The plainer “strange” or the kinder “off-kilter” are better. You can call the dB’s power-pop but this is the oddest power-pop I have ever heard. Even considering that Peter Holsapple generally provides the more straightforward songs, those are still full of unusual lyrical matter and unexpected musical choices.

There are eleven songs on the album; the band gets a full credit for one of those, and Holsapple and Stamey each provided five of their own. As sometimes happens with these things, they also take lead vocals on their own songs.

Holsapple kicks things off with the jangle that would reverberate across the world (or at least, Athens, Georgia) on “Black and White.” It’s not difficult to hear REM in this 1981 tune, though Holsapple’s shout of “You don’t like it at all!” is a little disconcerting. He continues with the theme of domestic strife on the Greek drama of “The Fight,” which again finds him shouting the chorus (“It was a fight! / We were involved in a fight”) with some unnerving string bends in the background. This song is hardly what I would call conventional, with a stuttering rhythm and an unusual delivery from Holsapple.

“Bad Reputation” is about a girl tainted by hypocritical rumors, with Holsapple adopting a sinister talk-croon; the latter half of the song incorporates a bass solo and a discordant piano part, just because. The closest to a traditional song arrives with “Big Brown Eyes,” which is Beatles-esque to the extreme, though the guitar solo is pure ‘70s power-pop. The acoustic-tinged “Moving In Your Sleep” is a stark, mumbly ballad, with unexpected surges and artsy arrangement that somehow veers into doo-wop.

Stamey’s first contribution is the psychedelic pop of “She’s Not Worried,” with some cool backwards guitar, organ, and clever production touches; this sounds like something Brian Wilson would approve of. “Espionage” is not showing up on the soundtrack to a James Bond movie any time soon; full of jarring piano and keyboard, with a creeping, jittery sound that is the furthest thing from suave and smooth, and it all devolves into a nightmarish short bridge before the psychotic piano reestablishes itself.

Fuzzy analog synths introduce “Tearjerkin’,” though Holder’s bass takes over quickly and Rigby’s nimble drumming is key to this unpredictable song. That said, what appears to be a chorus is pretty damn tuneful. Even stranger is “Cycles Per Second,” with stray piano notes, bizarre keyboard sounds, and other inexplicable sound effects, again all held together by Holder’s jazz-funk bass and Rigby’s expert drumming. “I’m In Love” isn’t too far out in left field by comparison – this is basically a Robyn Hitchcock song before there was such a thing, with Stamey doing his nervous, confused best and offering a great vocal.

The collaboration “Dynamite” is pretty good, with a bright organ part, pleasantly stretched out and whiny vocals, and more excellent work by Rigby and Holder. Tacked on as an extra track is the fine single “Judy,” which is a very straightforward song from Holsapple, with some slippery bass work from Holder and nice harmonies.

Overall, I don’t think any of this would’ve been a hit even if the band had obtained American distribution. It would have influenced – as it did, anyway – the college-rock kids and appealed to the artsy crowd, but there is no way this was sneaking into most ears even if broadly marketed as “new wave.”

The original cover art is very early ‘80’s (reminds me a little of the Marshall Crenshaw debut), but I like it.

Repercussion

Not exactly more of the same, but not not exactly more of the same. Six songs from Stamey, and six from Holsapple. Stamey is the more adventurous songwriter, but it’s not as if Holsapple is churning out Top 40 pap. Producer Scott Litt (REM) smooths things out a little but this is still a band that is as unpredictable as it is talented.

The Rumour Brass (Graham Parker) add a professional touch to “Living a Lie,” which accordingly sounds much fuller and glossier than anything that had come before, approaching a mod-like reverence for R&B. Much more typical of the debut’s sound is the spare, spiky “We Were Happy There,” with prominent roles played by Holder’s thick bass and Rigby’s drumming.

Perhaps proving that he could get weird too – not that that was a concern anyone had – Holsapple provides the innocuously titled “Amplifier.” This song about a musician’s suicide, prompted by his partner’s theft (or destruction) of all his worldly possessions save for the titular item. Frankly, I would have a hard time arguing this isn’t a novelty song. The short bridge is really the best part; I find Holder’s bass oppressive and the piano and guitar racket at the end annoys me.

Much more enjoyable is the Latin-inflected “Storm Warning,” which nonetheless offers some biting lyrics (“You’ve been a loser all your life”) and an ocarina (?) solo. The rare ballad appears in the form of “Nothing Is Wrong,” which is fine as those things go. Perhaps Holsapple’s strongest offering – and one of the best dB’s’ songs overall – is “Neverland,” which is ultra-melodic jangle with great dynamics and fun backing vocals.

Stamey’s bitter, sneering “Happenstance” (“So run back to your mother / She always said you would”) is magnificently dark. His balladic contribution is the swirling, fragile “From a Window to a Screen.” Meanwhile, his near-joke song is “Ask for Jill” which documents trying to ask out the receptionist at the mastering company; the song is all elbows and knees, with some unusual drumming from Rigby and a pretty good vocal from Stamey.

The gently psychedelic “I Feel Good” (backwards guitar!) is an interesting exercise, even if you can’t hum it. Much more lively is “Ups and Downs,” with the band’s trademark drawn-out whiny vocals present, and a nice piano part. A needly guitar introduces the busy, claustrophobic “In Spain,” which Talking Heads would’ve shoplifted in the pockets of an extra-large suit if they could have; Holder outdoes himself on this recording, and the guitar solo is nerdily awesome. Stamey gets the bonus track this time with the shuddering, angular, brittle “Soul Kiss;” again, not even close to a traditional pop song.

I like this original cover art.

The Best Thing About This Album

Stamey wins with “I’m In Love” and “Happenstance” (though “Neverland” is a great song).

Release Date

January, 1981 (Stands for Decibels); 1982 (Repercussion); 2001 (reissue)

The Cover Art

Obviously, terrible in every way (impressively, the record company unearthed a photo where everyone but Stamey looks like a lunatic), but also not surprising.

Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque

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

I recall fondly the way MTV VJ Dave Kendall would pronounce Bandwagonesque, which he did often when I was in college. It felt like the video for “The Concept” was always on 120 Minutes, and honestly, it’s not even in my top 7 songs from this album. Maybe not even top 8. I would have much rather had “Star Sign” – the song that first attracted me to Teenage Fanclub – get all that attention. 

What I Think of This Album

This is technically the third Teenage Fanclub album, but I think of it as the second one because the true second album – The King – was essentially a joke recording, supposedly made in one night (after the sessions for Bandwagonesque were completed). The fact that Bandwagonesque was released roughly three months after The King tells us which one is the real album.

Anyway, this is the album, produced by Don Fleming (who also worked with Hole and Sonic Youth), that made Teenage Fanclub famous. Bandwagonesque was the band’s defining moment in more ways than one. Apart from being the album that broke them in the US, it also set the framework for future TFC albums, with split songwriting, a greater emphasis on harmonies and melody, and the songwriter taking lead vocals on his songs. The third (second) album also moved permanently away from the sludgier A Catholic Education in that it evinced a predilection for love songs, and this time the guitars chime and jangle as much as they churn and distort.

Norman Blake provided four tracks, bassist Gerry Love five, guitarist Raymond McGinley got his feet wet with just one, and then Love and drummer Brendan O’Hare collaborated on one, with the entire band getting credit for the throwaway “Satan.” The quality here is so high it is difficult to decide whether Love or Blake comes out ahead. I might have to give the nod to Gerry Love, but I can see the argument the other way.

First, “Star Sign” is impeccable, a Byrdsy treat about superstition that comes to life after a lengthy, almost infuriating intro. The rising bass part and the “oh well” nature of the lyrics play off O’Hare’s near-manic drumming and the tape flutter effect near the end, where everything goes out of tune for a hot second is fucking awesome (this was mysteriously eliminated from later versions of the song – I have listened to them all, and even communicated with Brendan O’Hare’s spouse on Facebook about it). Love also contributes the beautiful and enigmatic  “December” (what the fuck does “I wanted to assassinate December” mean?), with perfect strings from BMX Bandit Joe McAlinden (a band Blake was also in). This track admittedly does bring to mind Big Star’s “September Gurls.”

Love gets religious on “Guiding Star,” also again benefitting from McAlinden’s arrangement, which flows like honey out of the speakers on the harmonised vocals of the band members, and a nice little guitar riff at the end. Casting that aside, Love turns in the psychedelic, swirling instrumental “Is This Music?,” on which O’Hare wears out the bass drum while McGinley and Blake’s guitars weave around each other and climb towards the heavens. I don’t much care for “Pet Rock,” but the horn part is cool (McAlinden once more), even if the guitar solo is a bit too conventional for me.

Blake, though, gives us the so-stupid-its-perfect “What You Do To Me,” possibly the most reductive love song in the world; the guitars, vocals, and melody suggest the Beatles, Beach Boys, and the Byrds all locked in the same room. Blake’s other stunning contribution is the fantastic (and fantastically titled) “Alcoholiday.” This is a guitar showcase, yes, but the sighing harmonies and the lyrics of ambivalent love (including the dismissive “Baby, I’ve been fucked already”) are stellar; meanwhile, the solo at the end should have led to an invite from Neil Young to join Crazy Horse.

I will give Blake most credit for “Sidewinder,” another simple but perfect love song with silly lyrics (“When you’re ticking / I’m your tock), this time aimed at a drummer (“You look so cute behind your kit / . . . / Hit the snare you know it makes me smile”), and another casually enamel-stripping solo from McGinley. “Metal Baby” is probably Blake’s weakest offering, reinforcing the notion from A Catholic Education’s “Heavy Metal” and “Heavy Metal II” that this band does not know the first thing about metal. Blake also wrote “The Concept,” which I never cared for that much. The feedback opening is cool, and I dig the chord progression. McGinley plays one excellent solo (the first one) and one good solo (duh). And I like the shift to the dreamy, weightless, wordless harmonies. And I really like it when the strings take center stage for a few seconds, right before the second solo. But while there are a lot of things about this song I like a lot, it doesn’t come together for me. Part of it, I think, is that it’s just too goddamn long.

McGinley’s “I Don’t Know” is not surprisingly, a riffy little affair with some great vocal harmonies, and a fine melody.

I dispute the inescapable comparisons to Big Star. I dispute and reject them. First, these Scots have much better voices than Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. If there is any complaint about the Fannies’ vocals, it’s that they can seem a bit lackadaisical. Big Star, on the other hand, often relied on bluesy throat-straining – the opposite of lackadaisical – which you will never hear on a TFC album. Second, there is not that much Big Star that actually sounds like this. More to the point, there is a lot of Big Star that doesn’t – “She’s a Mover,” “Mod Lang,” “O My Soul,” “Don’t Lie to Me.” Teenage Fanclub has a fairly consistent sound, whereas Big Star tended to wander from style to style. Yes, this music owes a debt to “September Gurls” and the last half of “Daisy Girl,” but to claim this is the equivalent of the fourth Big Star album is insane.

The cover art was intended to be a snide comment on the music industry, cheaply put together using clipart by Sharon Fitzgerald (McGinley’s girlfriend at the time). Little did TFC realize that Gene Simmons of KISS had apparently trademarked bags of money with dollar signs on them (?????) and decided to sue.

The yellow spine of my CD has faded to white, but I will never replace it (because I need that moment in “Star Sign” that has been erased from history).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Star Sign,” now and forever.

Release Date

November, 1991

The Cover Art

It has grown on me. The color is garish and the image is silly, and at one point I really didn’t like it. I still don’t love it, but it doesn’t bother me anymore.

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