Yuck – Yuck

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Ah, the strange and kind of sad story of Yuck. Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom were in Cajun Dance Party, an up-and-coming London band in 2008 that I only just learned about and need to check out. After one album, that band dissolved and the pair formed Yuck, recruiting Japanese bassist Mariko Doi, New Jersey native Johnny Rogoff on drums, and sibling Ilana Blumberg on vocals. They released their self-titled debut in 2011, and then Daniel Blumberg decamped for a solo career involving music and visual art. The next album in 2013 suffered tremendously from his absence, and third album Stranger Things (from 2016) found the band regaining the slimmest of toeholds. Still, they officially called it quits in 2021, perhaps a formality given that they had not released any recordings in the preceding five years.

What I Think of This Album

If I didn’t know better, I would 100% say this is an American band. If you’re intent on influence-spotting, the markers all point to stateside artists. From the Dinosaur Jr. guitar squalls to the Pavement nonchalance to the Mayflies-esque power-pop to the churning beauty of Yo La Tengo, the sounds that Yuck so adeptly folds into their music suggest a distinctly American aesthetic. And the ease and assurance with which Yuck does so calls to mind a much more mature and experienced band.

This is a startling debut, filled with expansive and thrilling songs that seem to have arrived fully, not to say perfectly, formed. There are many rockers, such as “Holing Out,” which sounds like it belongs on one of Dinosaur Jr.’s SST albums with both an overdriven lead part and a phased guitar part. “Operation” is chunkier than a pint of Rocky Road, and it’s easy to get lost in the swirling “The Wall.” Of a piece with this slate of tunes is opener “Get Away,” which serves as an appropriate introduction to this band’s love of noise.

The group can also do power-pop, as the gentle and jangly “Shook Down” proves, to say nothing of the even quieter “Suicide Policeman,” both of which invoke the invisible hand of Mitch Easter. “Sunday” is another such charmer. And they embrace classic indie with the boy/girl twin vocals on bright “Georgia” and the slacker vibes of “Suck” and neighboring song “Stutter.”

The album ends with Yuck’s atmospheric explorations. Instrumental “Rose Gives a Lilly” is angular without being unapproachable, and serves as a segue to the impressive and epic closer “Rubber,” which is the best Yo La Tengo mimicry you will ever experience, except with far more emotive vocals than Ira Kaplan can be roused to.

This is one of the best debut albums I’ve ever heard.

The Best Thing About This Album

The ease with which Yuck changes sounds.

Release Date

February, 2011

The Cover Art

This drawing is by Daniel Blumberg and I find it highly disturbing. No bueno.

Dramarama – Vinyl

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

After several barren years despite significant effort, it was a surprise when 1991’s Vinyl turned out to be Dramrama’s best album. It also was the beneficiary of a major label marketing push, which included music videos. And the critical acclaim the band had generated probably helped lasso guests Benmont Tench, Mick Taylor, and studio pro Jim Keltner.

What I Think of This Album

Vinyl opens with the sound of a jukebox arm loading a record onto the turntable. The song that follows is the best Dramarama album opener ever. “Until the Next Time” blends acoustic and electric guitars, offers up a red hot solo, and John Easdale sounds completely energized, while also older and wiser. The tom-rolling “Haven’t Got A Clue” was a single, and deservedly so, as Easdale turns in a great performance, Chris Carter’s bass pushes and pulls, and Mr. E delivers a catchy wah-wah lead part and solo.

The mocking-but-sort-of-sincere protest song “What Are We Gonna Do?” features Benmont Tench (Tom Petty) and this downcast number was surely chosen as a single simply for the reference to Earth Day, which was a thing people were paying lip service to in 1991. The blistering attack on classic rock radio “Classic Rot” is enlivened by ex-Rolling Stones Mick Taylor’s guitar playing and the violin of Lisa Haley (a descendant of early rock ‘n’ roller Bill Haley), as well as more contributions from Tench. Perhaps appropriately, the band segues into a cover of the Stones’ (sort of – maybe just Mick Jagger’s) “Memo From Turner,” which is pretty good, and on which Mr. E does some impressive slide work.

I have to say that while the first half of lengthy ballad “Train Going Backwards” effectively bores me, I do like the second half quite a bit. Suspicious and sinister “I’ve Got Spies” is a sleeper deep cut, sinewy and dark and fucking fantastic – a masterpiece of arranging. “In Quiet Rooms” is a fantastic rocker, and “Ain’t It the Truth” is a cousin to “Spies,” sounding like a harder and faster version of something Lindsey Buckingham would’ve recorded in a cocaine-fueled frenzy during the Tusk sessions. The phased guitar would’ve made J Mascis smile. This also happens to round out a very impressive nine solid tunes in a row.

“Tiny Candles” is . . . not good, and eminently skippable. Final track “(I’d Like to) Volunteer, Please” is the Jim Keltner track for those of you keeping score, and I can take it or leave it (but mostly leave it, as it is too long). Basically, I think the album ends with “Truth,” though the short hidden track “Steve Is Here” is enjoyably stupid.

By this time, Dramarama had been reduced to Easdale, Mr. E, Pete Wood, and Chris Carter; they borrowed Brian MacLeod from Wire Train on drums and New Jersey friend Tommy T. for various other tasks.

Among the people mentioned in the “Thanks” section of the liner notes are Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople), Tom Petty AND the Heartbreakers, the Posies, the Wonder Stuff, John Wesley Harding, Mitch Easter, and Clem Burke (Blondie). Former drummer Jesse is gently teased for having left the band to teach spiritual therapeutics; he died in 2014.

Production credit goes to Don Smith (Bash & Pop, Cracker, Tom Petty). Also Jeff Lynne (ELO) is credited for having listened to a rough mix.

The Best Thing About This Album

That Dramarama came back from the dead to deliver a phenomenal album.

Release Date

October, 1991

The Cover Art

Excellent! The colors, the quadrants, the shag haircut, the pop art chair, the composition of the band name and title. I think the models legs look like they are turning into butterfly legs or something insectoid.

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.

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.

Dinosaur Jr. – Hand It Over

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Dinosaur Jr. is one of those bands that I feel guilty about not liking more. It’s as if I am worried that someone is going to expose me for insufficient indie credentials. On the other hand, I like what I like and I’m not about to apologize for it. There are a lot of Dino Jr. songs I like, it’s just that they’re spread out over a lot of albums. For the most part, the three “classic line-up” albums are too hard and noisy for me in general, and the slacker, solo-in-all-but-name major label discs I think are very inconsistent (except for this one). And that marked the end of Dinosaur Jr. until the surprise reunion of 2007, which continues fruitfully to this day (I have only listened to a few of those albums, and they are okay). The band formed in 1984 in Amherst, Massachusetts and took the name Dinosaur. The trio released a self-titled debut and then second album You’re Living All Over Me, at which point 60’s supergroup (okaaayyy) The Dinosaurs called their lawyers, and shortly thereafter Dinosaur Jr. was born. One more album was realized before J Mascis’s control freak tendencies led to the firing of bassist Lou Barlow (whose songs I have always hated, I should note). And while the four major label albums that followed didn’t turn Mascis into a star, it should be noted that the shy frontman who hid behind a sheet of hair and a wall of noise almost certainly never wanted fame and fortune anyway.

What I Think of This Album

At its best, this thing fucking rocks. It has one of my favorite Dino Jr. songs in “Nothin’s Goin On,” and that is followed by the unusual but extremely enjoyable baroque rock of “I’m Insane.” Leading up to those tunes to complete a stellar opening quartet are the My Bloody Valentine-influenced “I Don’t Think” and “Never Bought It.” I think the album sags in the middle, though some people love “Alone.” But things rapidly improve with “Mick,” “I Know Yer Insane,” and “Gettin Rough.” My only complaint with the album is really that Mascis – who plays his original instrument, the drums, here – is way too busy behind the kit.

The shoegaze element is most pronounced on opening track “I Don’t Think,” which doesn’t not sound like Dinosaur Jr., to be sure, but it has a more dreamy quality than Mascis attempted before. Of course, that’s not what strikes you as the opening guitars pummel and Mascis unleashes his whine, but as the song makes its way to the chorus (with barely-there backing vocals from Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields), it takes on a smoothness and sonic cohesion that seems novel. The punishing guitar intro of “Never Bought It” is a fake out, as Mellotron flutes take over what becomes a meandering, hazy song, also betraying the influence of co-producer Shields, perhaps. The solo is excellent, a demonstration of fully fledged Neil Young worship.

The sheer majesty of “Nothin’s Going On” cannot be overstated. The melody is first rate, and Mascis’s guitars are fantastic, with little squalls and fills here and there, as well as a flanged bit that almost makes the song by itself; the solo is almost too heavy to fit in comfortably but it works, especially at the end with a quick flurry of harmonics (I believe), as it shoves you back to the chorus and the phaser/flanger becomes more pronounced. Out of nowhere, a trumpet appears on “I’m Insane,” heralding a brave new world for Mascis, who delivers a wonderful, weird conglomeration of brass, drums, and guitar that ends up sounding nothing like how it started.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with “Can’t We Move This,” but it doesn’t do much for me, though I appreciate the strings on it. I have zero idea why “Alone” is regarded as the unsung Dinosaur Jr. masterpiece, because I really never need to hear this again – the vocals (and I generally like Mascis’s voice) are awful, and the tempo plods along for eight minutes; some of the guitar work I like, but most is uninspired and tuneless. The two songs that follow also sort of go nowhere.

“Mick,” though, is a more or less clean pop song – you could almost imagine the Lemonheads doing this (except for the solo) – with Mascis’s vocals modulating from laconic to almost manic for a second. Mascis drops another underrated song with “I Know Yer Insane.” A banjo is the stringed instrument of choice on the short and surprising “Gettin Rough.”

An alternate view of this album is that it is the release that best highlights Mascis’s flexibility and creativity as a songwriter.

The Best Thing About This Album

The guitar sound on “Nothin’s Goin On” makes me simultaneously want to play the guitar and also never pick up a guitar.

Release Date

March, 1997

The Cover Art

I mean, I think this is awful. Laughably terrible. I do like the purple. This is by Maura Jasper, who did the art for a number of Dino Jr. releases, including the debut, Bug, and You’re Living All Over Me.

Teenage Fanclub – A Catholic Education

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

My. Fucking. God. I love Teenage Fanclub. I first came across the band in 1991, via the “Star Sign” single, and I could not get enough of it. Fortunately for me, this came at the start of a run of outstanding albums from Teenage Fanclub that lasted for years. One of my greatest memories as a music fan is finally seeing Teenage Fanclub live – they were older and had short hair by then, but the music was as magical as ever. I belong to a Facebook group called, appropriately, Teenage Fanclub fanclub. I have spent quite a bit of time watching old TFC performances on YouTube.

What I Think of This Album

You might think this album starts and ends with the superior “Everything Flows.” You would be wrong, but it would be understandable; certainly nothing approaches the loch-deep grandeur of that song, but there is other worthwhile stuff here.

Easily the shaggiest, noisiest TFC studio album, it suggests a youthful, carefree band just returned from playing a backyard party. This album is definitely less impressive than what was coming, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. And frankly, it’s a shit ton more fun that the last few Fanclub releases.

While the superb vocal harmonies of the next several albums attest to the band’s abilities in that department, here they are content to sing in the vicinity of the relevant key, as demonstrated by the lackadaisical vocals on the frothy, crunchy “Everybody’s Fool,” which benefits from a cool, slowed down coda. There is a shoegaze quality to “Eternal Light,” which, like many of the songs here, finds the band casually churning four chords over and over, adding Neil Young riffs here and there, but the thing is it never gets boring, and it is almost always super melodic. In fact, breaking down the monumental “Everything Flows” reveals that it follows the same basic blueprint – cycling through the chords while Raymond McGinley peels off Neil Young licks from 1975; it just so happens that the repetition makes your brain conform to it and the riffs are first rate.

Just to prove how special it is, compare the song to “Heavy Metal,” an instrumental which is not what it claims to be; while this and “Everything Flows” share a similar framework, the former sort of trudges along listlessly, with a mundane guitar part. The band strikes gold again with “Critical Mass,” showcasing the strong melodic sensibilities that would pay dividends just one year later, and too, “Too Involved” is an obvious precursor to the songs of Bandwagonesque. More attenuated, “Don’t Need a Drum” sounds like a pale version of what Teenage Fanclub would become.

“Every Picture I Paint,” much like “Everything Flows,” reveals that there is not as much daylight between TFC and Dinosaur Jr. as you might initially think. The title track chugs along nicely, with a strong ‘70s classic rock subtext and some energetic drumming (I’m guessing from Brendan O’Hare) as well as lazy “ba ba ba’s.” Also on display is the band’s odd sense of humor, with tracks titled “Heavy Metal II” and “Catholic Education 2;” the latter adds a teasing intro and ridiculous guitar leads to its namesake, while the former adopts the same sludgy approach of its twin. The band would eventually record “Heavy Metal 6” and “Heavy Metal 9.”

Most of this was recorded with original drummer Frances MacDonald; some tracks (it is never specified) were rerecorded with O’Hare.

The band thanks Stephen Pastel (the Pastels) in the liner notes; Norman Blake and bassist Gerry Love had both been in the Pastels. This was released on Paperhouse in Europe and on Matador in the U.S., with different sequencing.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Everything Flows” has been deservedly covered by Velvet Crush and Dinosaur Jr.

Release Date

June, 1990 (U.K.); August, 1990 (U.S.)

The Cover Art

I have not the first clue what this is supposed to be, or why anyone thought this would be a good album cover.

The Clean – Anthology

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

The Clean are the diffident Zeus in the pantheon of New Zealand bands. Without the Clean, we would not have the Bats, Bailter Space, or influential label Flying Nun, which means we don’t have basically any New Zealand indie rock at all. And other non-Kiwi bands like Pavement and Yo La Tengo would sound very different without the Clean, I believe. Formed in 1978 by Hamish Kilgour and brother David, it eventually included bassist Robert Scott. A fractured history ensued, and they did not release their first album until 1990. Scott also fronts the Bats, whom I love, and Hamish Kilgour formed Bailter Space and the Mad Scene (which at one point included former Go-Betweens bassist Robert Vickers).

What I Think of This Album

I believe this is what people refer to as “an embarrassment of riches.” At 46 tracks, this massive two-disc compilation is arguably all the Clean you need, and most certainly all the Clean you want. I often struggle with albums of this size – it’s daunting to take in all at once. I usually like to break things down into 12 song chunks or so when listening.

The first disc is from the band’s early period, when they neither released full albums nor anything not on vinyl. Starting with the impossibly catchy and cheerful debut single “Tally Ho,” I believe disc one gathers together everything from the early ‘80s (up until the band broke up, leading Scott to form the Bats, and Hamish Kilgour to eventually convene Bailter Space). The story is that the recording budget for “Tally Ho” was $60 (New Zealand dollars). Whatever the cost, it was money well spent, as the cheery, chintzy organ sound (which calls to mind garage standards like “California Sun,” “Little Bit O’ Soul,” and “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love)”) is easy to fall for and propelled this simple, wonderful track to the Top 20 in New Zealand and thrust Flying Nun (this was the second single the label issued) into the limelight.

I am not going to go into each of the other 21 songs on this first album, but in general . . . it’s pretty cool. There is sometimes a Velvet Underground churn to the tracks, like on “Billy Two,” “Point That Thing Somewhere Else,” “Fish,” and “At The Bottom,” and sometimes more of a jangly sound, as exemplified by “Thumbs Off,” “Anything Could Happen,” and “Flowers.” There are slightly experimental numbers like “Side On” and “Sad Eyed Lady” (with Chris Knox on vocals; Knox also recorded several of these early tracks), or “Slug Song.” The organ reappears on “Beatnik.” Hamish Kilgour reliably plays a sort of motorik beat. And there is consistently a joyful exuberance to the performances.

Martin Phillips of the Chills sings backup on “Getting Older,” which features an unexpected trumpet from Scott (as well as viola). The wonderful quasi-anthem “Whatever I Do Is Right” is hilarious. And best song title goes to the surging “Odditty” – as in, odd ditty.

The second disc pulls from the post-reunion albums Vehicle, Modern Rock, and Unknown Country. This is generally more straightforward sounding, with much cleaner production. There is no reason songs like “I Wait Around” (which admittedly sounds like a looser version of the Bats) and the warm “Big Soft Punch” shouldn’t have been more popular. “Big Cat” is adorably unusual, while “Outside the Cage” is unusually lush.

There is a lot about the Modern Rock and some of the Unknown Country tracks that reminds me of Yo La Tengo. The revelatory “Do Your Thing” sounds like the band recruited J. Mascis on guitar and Warren Zevon on the piano. Outtake “Late Last Night” is better than most bands’ A-sides. “Wipe Me, I’m Lucky” (WHAT?) is an incandescently morose near-instrumental. “Clutch” is what Lou Reed and Brian Wilson collaborating would sound like.

Alan Moulder (Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride, Swervedriver, Interpol, U2, Nine Inch Nails, the Killers) produced the Vehicle tracks. Hamish Kilgour’s drawings throughout the booklet are delightful.

The Best Thing About This Album

The bright enthusiasm of the performances is disarming and lovable.

Release Date

2002

The Cover Art

I like it. Hamish Kilgour’s whimsical doodles are the ideal complement to his band’s music.

Built To Spill – You In Reverse

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (Part 6)

Built To Spill managed to find a place in their career where they were, it seems, free to do what they wanted. Amazingly still on a major label, they have slowed their output quite a bit and have settled into a comfortable groove where every few years, Martsch and his confederates postmark an album from Boise and it will be about 10 songs long, and it will have one longish song, and it will be a mix of fast songs and ballads, and pretty much every song will have guitar lines that look like the High Five interchange in Dallas xeroxed on top of itself twenty times.

What I Think of This Album

You In Reverse arrived five years after Ancient Melodies of the Future and Martsch wastes no time delivering a statement of purpose, as “Going Against Your Mind” unleashes almost nine minutes of relentless drums and pulsar-bright guitars. “Conventional Wisdom” also suggests the band felt they had something to prove, as this brilliantly constructed number starts out as speedy noise-pop a la Dinosaur Jr., then shifts into a pretty bridge, then goes completely off the rails.

“Liar” hearkens back (intentionally or otherwise) to “You Were Wrong” in its lyrics, but has a delicate, down-home setting, with some fine drumming (there are some well-placed cymbal splashes, and I don’t even like cymbals). Album ender “The Wait” finds Martsch once again adopting a waltz time signature and running his vocals through a delay to create a somber, brooding masterpiece, full of unusual guitar effects.

Elsewhere, “Traces” is a moody piece with lively guitar work, as if Martsch was fronting the Smiths in some alternate universe. The band embarks on a slow but short and sympathetic march on “Saturday”: “And I’m glad you’re not like us / And by us I mean everyone in the world who isn’t you.” Heavy “Mess With Time” sounds like a bullfight with guitars and minus the animal-abuse-dressed-up-as-heritage, that suddenly gets several shades lighter for the second half.

Lushness abounds on the swirling “Just A Habit,” (which nonetheless adds a stinging solo), and Neil Young gets an even more obvious homage than usual on “Wherever You Go,” which could have come from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

There were a lot of changes this time around, as the band added fourth member Jim Roth on guitar (though Brett Netson continued to guest, as well as keyboard master Sam Coomes) and dispensed with the seemingly, but not actually, indispensable Phil Ek as producer (apparently, no one produced this album).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Going Against Your Mind” will make you spill your cereal.

Release Date

April, 2006

The Cover Art

This drawing is by Portland artist Mike Scheer, who has done other work for Built To Spill and Martsch’s previous band, Treepeople, among others. I am not fond of it. Other than the hairy flying saucer/ladybug on the right (which I would lay down my life for), the whole thing seems a bit like a teenager just discovered Dalí.

Built To Spill – There’s Nothing Wrong With Love

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Over the last 6 months, I’ve realized that my pace with this project is best when I can go from one band’s album to another, and shit gets bogged down when I hit a patch of five albums by the same band. Well, welcome to Built To Spill, the pride of Boise. The irony of course is that this means the more I like a band, the more difficult it is to write about how much I like that band. Figures.

What I Think of This Album

This is not the Built To Spill album you are looking for. Probably. It is nonetheless a Built To Spill album you should own. It doesn’t always sound like their classic work; there are basically no extended guitar workouts, and most songs are under four minutes long. Also, Doug Martsch’s lyrics seem hyperpersonal here on the sophomore outing, and more direct than in future songs. The highlights are easy to pick out, though much of the rest is excellent. Even amongst geniuses, there is a valedictorian and salutatorian.

Time-travelling, autobiographical “Twin Falls” is the perfect vehicle for Martsch’s fragile vocals and nostalgic but clear-eyed reminiscing, with an excellent solo to boot. “Big Dipper” opens with the acapella word “Once,” and then lurches into the night, finding its groove on the chorus with the wonderful line “you should have been here last night / And heard what the Big Dipper said to me;” little brambles of guitar spiral off every so often, like a time-lapse film of vegetable shoots, and then a wonderful fuzzy solo blooms. And a false ending!

The vivid and way-too short “Car” (which somehow packs an album’s worth of style and instrumentation in just under three minutes) is the cinematic and emotional center of the album, offering something new and wonderful (those cellos will make you cry) every fifteen seconds and gifting you with the hypnotizing plea “I wanna see / Movies of my dreams.” Then there is “Distopian Dream Girl” (not a typo) – with its impassioned defense of Bowie – and 30,000 different guitar sounds that anticipate what was to come on Perfect from Now On and Keep It Like a Secret.

“Some” is a goddamn masterpiece, alternating between quiet parts and then parts when Martsch just turns up the volume and kicks ass; this is not far off from a more thoughtful Dinosaur Jr doing a Neil Young impression. On either side of these are quality tunes like the trebly “In The Moment,” with its abrupt shift to discordant strings and even more shocking conclusion (the liner notes explain that this back half was stolen from sometime guest guitarist Brett Netson’s Caustic Resin; Brett Netson, of course, should not be confused with Built To Spill bassist Brett Nelson). “Reasons” comes across like a yearning, haunted ballad, but with a more barbed guitar sound. “How the hell do you do this?” is exactly right, Doug.

“Israel’s Song” probably gave Modest Mouse some ideas; this is nice off-kilter rocker. The second-longest song, “Stab” goes through a number of shifts, most of them intriguing and all of them sort of intimidating, at times sounding a bit metal and at times very proggy. Cello and acoustic guitar coexist on the gentle and unexpected (but sort of icky) “Fling.”

Meanwhile, “Cleo” is the oddest song, wriggling around and changing clothes and spouting very stoner observations in the dark; this song is arguably about his child? Coming up second in the competition for strangest track is schizophrenic “The Source,” which nonetheless has some very cool guitar sounds going on in search of a song.

Among the many people and bands thanked in the liner notes are future collaborator in the wonderful Halo Benders (and founder of K records, and singer/guitarist for Beat Happening) Calvin Johnson; Seattle band Flop; and, not very surprisingly, Crazy Horse. Phil Ek (Modest Mouse, Tullycraft) produced.

The Best Thing About This Album

In lieu of choosing between a million guitar sounds, I will go with “that brontosaurus must have stood a thousand miles high” from “Big Dipper.”

Release Date

September, 1994

The Cover Art

I like the idea, but they faltered on the execution. It’s just too difficult to make out the cloud against the background – it’s possible that was intentional – but the imagery itself, conceptually, is excellent.

Buffalo Tom – Let Me Come Over

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Buffalo Tom was another New England band done good – joining the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., the Throwing Muses, the Lemonheads, the Blake Babies – this time out of U Mass-Amherst. It took them a little to find their footing (their first two albums are utterly forgettable) and they never really became the stars they could have, but they made some damn fine music (and continue to play). The songwriting was split between Bill Janovitz and Chris Colbourn but I can never tell who wrote what. This is another example of “the little band that could.”

What I Think of This Album

Once derided as “Dinosaur Jr Jr,” Buffalo Tom broke through with this third album, showcasing some strong songwriting and considerable musical growth. For such a solid effort, though, this is a really dour album. Buffalo Tom does not sound like they’re having any fun. They approach earnestness here, and that’s a dangerous thing, because “earnest” normally translates to “boring and self-important.” The saving grace is that they mix melody and power so well on their best songs here that it doesn’t matter that they might be scowling their way through it.

Standout “Taillights Fade” is all anguish and angst, with some expertly nuanced playing conveying the intensity of the lyrics. A well-placed mandolin (?) mellotron (?) and piano buoy the lively “Mountains of Your Head” (“I’m catatonic but ready to roll”). “Mineral” starts out being one thing and develops magically into a sparkling number with some excellent guitar interplay. The boys spread out a bit on the acoustic, folk-soul “Larry,” though they still manage to whip up a storm. “Porchlight” is a fantastic song, mixing acoustic guitars and bits of feedback with the best vocal on the album.

Similarly, the acoustic “Frozen Lake” is a stunner, with some nice tambourine hits (“I / I’m borderline / Most every time”). “Saving Grace” is a nice little rocker. And “Crutch” expertly modulates over the course of its four minutes. There is a Soul Asylum element to both the pounding “Darl” and the plodding “I’m Not There.” I can do without “Velvet Roof.” But even a downer like “Staples” benefits from some terrific drumming and aggressive riffing, and the same is true of repetitive, pained “Stymied.”

This was produced by Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie (Uncle Tupelo, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Hole, Radiohead).

The Best Thing About This Album

While “Taillights” is appropriately a classic, I would gladly trade my car and home to have written “Porchlight.”

Release Date

March, 1992

The Cover Art

Um, this is from an issue of National Geographic (which is neither here nor there, ultimately) and it seems very exploitative and tone deaf. Not a fan.

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