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.

The Tyde – Twice

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I don’t remember if I learned about the Tyde or Beachwood Sparks first. Regardless, I ended up getting rid of that second Beachwood Sparks album (despite an excellent cameo by J Mascis on “Yer Selfish Ways”) and keeping my two Tyde albums. The Tyde originally consisted of three Beachwood Sparks members – bassist Brent Rademaker, guitarist Dave Scher, and Christopher Gunst (who played guitar with Beachwood Sparks but drums in the Tyde) – along with brother Darren Rademaker and his former spouse Ann Do, as well as guitarist Ben Knight. Gunst left after the first album and was replaced by Velvet Crush drummer Ric Menck, while Scher was demoted to guest by the second album. The first three Tyde albums, by the way, are titled Once, Twice, and Three’s Company. I only ever listened to the second and third ones.

What I Think of This Album

I like how California can be the home of hardcore punk like Black Flag and Fear and also the birthplace of laid back, surf-focused bands like the Tyde (to say nothing of other Golden State variants).

“Shortboard City” sounds like something the Flying Burrito Brothers would have come up with if you’d locked them in a room with the entire Jan and Dean discography for a week. Like the best songs on this album, it has the loose, raggedy feel of people who are playing music simply for the fun of it. The rueful, ruminative “A Loner” succeeds in large part due to Ann Do’s keyboards and Darren Rademaker’s laconic vocals.

I have a difficult time not thinking of Herman’s Hermits when I see song title “Henry VIII,” which is otherwise an uptempo, jangly slice of pop with sardonic, almost Lou Reed-ish vocals. “Go Ask Yer Dad” is a lush and snappy country-rock number (despite the new wave keyboards), while “Best Intentions” is a fatalistic but generous ballad about human frailty, combining country-rock with spacey atmospherics (not unlike Beachwood Sparks).

The band mixes a British indie sound with their country inclinations on “Crystal Canyons” (featuring nice organ work from Do). “Takes A Lot of Trying” is a prophetic title, as this annoying blues-rock distraction fails epically. “Memorable Moments” marries Rentals-keyboards to jangly guitars and a pulsing bass, with an appealing melody and Rademaker’s warm vocals.

There is a bitter undercurrent to ambivalent “being in a band” song “Blood Brothers,” which is gently brooding until Rademaker turns up the intensity towards the end with some emphatic emoting. The British influence arises again on shoegaze-inspired “New D,” which ends the album with droney panache.

The three recording engineers share a complicated history:  Anton Newcombe (Brian Jonestown Massacre) and Hunter Crowley both played with the Warlocks, while Rob Camranella/Campanella was also in the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

The Best Thing About This Album

The mix of country, surf, and British indie.

Release Date

2003

The Cover Art

This works for me in a serious way.

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.

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