Alvvays – Antisocialites

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

It seemed like every time Alvvays toured near me, it was as part of some festival that I was not interested in. I *finally* got to see them in 2022 as they promoted their third album (and even then, the way the venue carved up the audience space to prevent underage drinking at this all-ages show diminished my experience). It felt like a long overdue event for me, and I was pleased to see such a large and youthful crowd, and I hope Alvvays has a nice, long career.

What I Think of This Album

Antisocialites is a huge step forward for Alvvays, even as it lacks an “Archie, Marry Me” (which, let’s face it, they will probably never equal). The songwriting is more consistent, the playing is more confident (aided by cleaner production), and the arrangements are more robust.

Gauzy and twirling, “In Undertow” finds the sweet spot between dream-pop and jangle-pop, with some subtle guitar feedback woven in as well. Ballad “Dreams Tonight” is a gorgeous new wave standout. The melancholy continues with arpeggiated “Not My Baby” (complete with girl group motorcycle sound effects), which rides an insistent bass part. “Already Gone” is another weepy but thoroughly affecting number. 

The band rocks out more on this album than on the debut, too. “Plimsoll Punks” is appealingly up-tempo and snotty, with some appropriately thick guitar tones, while lovelorn “Your Type” is propelled by some enthusiastic drumming and Molly Rankin’s elastic voice. None other than the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid is namechecked on the driving, pounding “Lollipop (Ode to Jim), a bizarre bit of fanfic that involves taking LSD and on which Rankin does some neat vocal tricks. 

Matrimonial organ introduces the hilariously titled “Saved By a Waif,” which relies on a muscular guitar and bass, as well as some welcome keyboard lines. “Hey” sounds decidedly European, approaching something danceable while also being spiky and unapproachable. Meanwhile, closer “Forget About Life” is as inviting a plea for companionship and connection as you will ever hear. And I love the (fake, probably) tape manipulation at the end as everything goes out of key for a bit (a la Teenage Fanclub’s “Star Sign”).

Drummer Phil MacIsaac had left by the time the album was recorded. Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub sings and plays the glockenspiel (fuck yes!) but it is unclear on which track(s).

The Best Thing About This Album

While “Forget About Life” is stunning, I give the nod to “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)” in part because it rocks and in part because the band was comfortable enough to get a little weird with it.

Release Date

September, 2017

The Cover Art

Welp, another shitty album cover from Alvvays.

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.

Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

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

When we were in college, my friend Justin would lament “you’re too smart to not like Dylan.” While I appreciated the implicit compliment, I’m not sure I agree with the formulation. One can be intelligent and not like Dylan. And one doesn’t have to be smart to appreciate Dylan, either. In other words, Dylan isn’t a litmus test for anything other than taste. After all, Justin and I became friends even though at the time, I was not yet a Dylan fan. It also bears mentioning that in addition to trying to convince me to like Dylan, Justin also sought to persuade me to take up smoking. So . . . who was too smart not to do something, hmmmm?

What I Think of This Album

Dylan’s fifth album is his deliberate move into rock, and in fact is a masterpiece. Bringing It All Back Home is near-flawless from start to finish, way more consistent than The Freewheelin’ and much better than the stark third album and the uneven fourth disc. It should be noted that those albums do contain some amazing songs:  “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” “My Back Pages,” “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met),” and “All I Really Want to Do.” Okay, so you can make an argument that Another Side of Bob Dylan is worth owning. But Bringing It All Back Home is undeniably crucial.

On much of the album, Dylan is backed by session musicians playing electric instruments and rock drums. He also moves away from direct commentary on the social or political, instead indulging himself with a stream-of-consciousness approach that relies on surreal poetry and impressionistic imagery. This was 1965. No one else was writing songs even remotely like this.

Dylan met the Beatles in 1964 and probably came away with a new appreciation for pop (a genre that certain interviews, at least, suggested he viewed with disdain). But he must have always liked some of it, as he acknowledged the influence of Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” on the verbose, rapid-fire “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which is way too short at not even two and a half minutes. Anchored by harmonica and a sick little guitar lick, Dylan playfully unleashes a head-spinning torrent of words that surely must have impressed the Beastie Boys. And there are clear lyrical references to this song in tunes by the Jesus and Mary Chain (“Blues From a Gun”) and Echo and the Bunnymen (“Villiers Terrace”).

Dylan changes pace with the gentle “She Belongs to Me,” a love song to a woman of wide artistic talent. By 1965, the ravages of Huntington’s Disease meant Woody Guthrie probably was unable to communicate any appreciation of “Maggie’s Farm,” but I think he would have heartily approved of this proletarian song of principled refusal. Dylan refines the sentiments of “She Belongs to Me” and combines it with his new lyrical approach on “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” a thrilling, literary song that celebrates the object of his affection with unusual, unpredictable language.

More surreal yet is the bizarre, confusing, and frightful world of “On the Road Again,” which shuffles along with a sense of courageous good cheer. Dylan shifts from the personal to the historical for companion piece “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” in which he unspools a feverish, nightmarish version of American history. I really really enjoy the flubbed intro with Dylan and producer Tom Wilson (Velvet Underground, Simon & Garfunkel) breaking down in laughter.

The exquisite “Mr. Tambourine Man” – helped along by the subtle electric lead guitar – is the most pop of Dylan’s surreal experiments on Bringing It All Back Home, with a warm delivery, a dreamy, hypnotic melody, and lyrics that call to mind the innocence of childhood, the comfort of trust, and the promise of escape and discovery. Obviously, the Byrds version is a landmark, but don’t overlook the original. Dylan reclaims the spitfire delivery of “Subterranean” and mixes it with the foreboding scenes from “115th Dream” on the stark and punishing “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”

Unlike most everything else on this album, “It’s Alright, Ma” is a relentlessly bleak polemic that serves as a grim summary of everything that’s wrong in the world. After that, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” seems like a reprieve, and while it certainly has a pretty melody, the lyrics border on unkind. The only two weak spots are “Outlaw Blues” and “Gates of Eden,” and neither is terrible.

The Best Thing About This Album

I can’t pick any one song. I think Dylan’s simultaneous embrace of rock arrangement and surrealism is the best thing about this album.

Release Date

March, 1965

The Cover Art

Cluttered and pretentious and silly, though I do like the blurry ring.

Bo Diddley – His Best

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

The Jesus and Mary Chain wrote “Bo Diddley Is Jesus” early in their career (and later covered, not terribly convincingly, “Who Do You Love?”). On the one hand, the Scottish brothers were only going back about 30 years, into a musical landscape that was a lot less fractured than it is now. On the other, I worry that future young musicians won’t make such connections (instead, the Jesus and Mary Chain themselves became a touchstone for bands in the 2000s), and that the thread that tied a playful, boasting African-American rock originalist to a pair of scabrous, antisocial misanthropes from northern Britain has been knotted and snipped, and there is nothing to take its place. Basically, I’m not sure today’s kids know their rock history, and while I would listen to an argument that that is not necessarily a negative development, I doubt I would agree.

What I Think of This Album

This phenomenal collection pulls together Diddley’s singles from 1955-59, with a few stray tracks from the ‘60s. Absolutely an essential purchase, this disc shows how influential Diddley was; along with Chuck Berry (who was far less earthy), Diddley was critical to the birth and development of rock ‘n’ roll.

Lead single “Bo Diddley” hypnotizes with a tremeloed guitar part and that trademark rhythm. B-side “I’m a Man” is surprisingly candid (for 1955) about Diddley’s alleged sexual prowess; Billy Boy Arnold’s iconic harmonica part makes the song. Arnold’s phenomenal harmonica also dominates on “You Don’t Love Me (You Don’t Care),” though Otis Spann’s piano solo is pretty cool, too.

The beat comes back on Diddley’s rendition of “Pretty Thing” (by Wilie Dixon, who played bass on many Diddley songs), with a killer guitar part and more unbeatable harmonica. The call and response of “Bring It to Jerome” (credited to maraca player and foil Jerome Green) is a showcase for Diddley’s vocals, as well as some great percussion. “Who Do You Love?” incorporates foreboding southern imagery into Diddley’s bravado (the title was a play on hoodoo, the swampland folk beliefs of Diddley’s birthplace) with astonishing lead guitar work from Jody Williams. 1957’s  “Hey Bo Diddley” is hopelessly retrograde, but the vocals are excellent, with the drums pushed to the front and the guitar deemphasized.

Diddley’s guitar and voice combine to make “Mona (a/k/a I Need You Baby)” a winner; this is the first appearance by guitarist Peggy Jones on this collection, and it’s hard to know who plays which guitar part. “Before You Accuse Me” is a classic blues number, with guitar fills by Jody Williams. Honestly, I can do without “Say Man,” probably Diddley’s biggest hit. Diddley expands his style on the hybridized Latin/doo-wop number “Crackin’ Up.” But he still knew enough to keep reminding his audience of his own healthy self-esteem, notably communicated on “The Story of Bo Diddley,” with the excellent throwaway “I’m a killer diller”; Lafayette Leake plays a fine piano on this one.

“Road Runner” is fantastic, with a couple of pick slides to die for. The New York Dolls wisely covered the inimitable, Latin-tinged “Pills.” The relative obscurity of “I Can Tell” is entirely undeserved, featuring another great vocal from Diddley. Willie Dixon also wrote “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover,” which contains more typical boasting from Diddley and essential maraca shaking from Green.

This album was rereleased in 2007 with the title The Definitive Collection.

The Best Thing About This Album

I can’t choose and thus will cheat:  the way the guitar, vocals, piano, maracas, and harmonica all come together.

Release Date

April, 1997

The Cover Art

The composition and palette are fine. The picture is okay, but they could have found something better (like the photo on the back).

Tender Trap – Dansette Dansette

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Talulah Gosh transformed into Heavenly upon the disintegration of that band. The core members – Amelia Fletcher, drummer Matthew Fletcher, guitarist Peter Momtchiloff, and original bassist Rob Pursey – regrouped for several excellent albums, and when Matthew Fletcher took his own life, Heavenly was no more. With Heavenly vocalist/keyboardist Cathy Rogers, the group then became Marine Research, now with drummer DJ Downfall. After one album, both Momtchiloff and Rogers left. Amelia Fletcher led the remaining members into another change – this time, Tender Trap (which eventually added drummer/vocalist Katrina Dixon (Downfall having moved to bass, with Pursey now on guitar), and vocalist/guitarist Elizabeth Morris (of Allo Darlin’), and then Emily Bennet (Betty and the Werewolves) replacing Morris. I own a comprehensive Talulah Gosh comp (they only released singles); all four Heavenly albums; and the lone Marine Research offering, but only one of the four Tender Trap albums. I at one point owned debut Film Molecules, but I did not care for the programmed beats. Dansette Dansette is much more organic, and as for the other two discs – I think they’re just okay. Fletcher, Pursey, and Hue Williams of the Pooh Sticks (who Amelia sang with) now make up the core of the band Swansea Sound.

What I Think of This Album

As much as I love Amelia Fletcher’s genius, including her voice, the fact is her songs sound best when she has another female vocalist to harmonize with. Drummer Katrina Dixon and guitarist Elizabeth Morris not only fill out the instrumental arrangements (thank god for live drums), they also do wonders for the vocals (any fan of Morris’s band Allo Darlin’ can attest to her wonderful voice).

The title (Dansette was the leading British brand of portable turntables in the ‘60s) is a good indication of what you’re going to get:  ‘60s inspired pop, with plenty of girl group harmonies. Shit, the lead song and title track references Sandie Shaw (who recorded with the Smiths in an unexpected career resurgence twenty years after her heyday) and Lesley Gore. Too, the dangerous and cheeky “Girls With Guns” relies on spy movie guitar.

As in Talulah Gosh and Heavenly, there is a good deal of humor baked into these songs, making them even more joyous. Notable is the complex “Do You Want a Boyfriend?” which veers from forlorn to hopeful to assertive, as Fletcher in frank fashion advises young women about what to look for in a partner while harmonies cascade around her:  “Does he have to please you psychologically? / Does he have to tease you gynecologically?”  and – finally getting to the heart of the matter – “Does he have to like the Jesus and Mary Chain? / Yes, that would be heaven.”

“Girls With Guns” is a stunning message of menace, warning men about the retribution they will face for mistreatment of women. There is a muscularity to the music on “Fireworks,” which still makes room for the delicate harmonies and sweet melody. A pleasant crunch on the delightful “Suddenly” is worth noting, and “Danger Overboard” builds nicely from a subdued opening.

The band chugs along with brio on “2 to the N,” the lushness of “Capital L” (the other capitals sung about are, of course, O-V-E) only deepens is melancholy, and there is a great deal of sophistication behind the cinematic sweep of “Grand National.” There is not a bad song on this album.

The Best Thing About This Album

The three part harmonies are wonderful.

Release Date

June, 2010

The Cover Art

I very much approve of the art style, and the sticker-like element with the band name and album title (love the quotes) is perfect. This is one of British artist Chris Summerlin’s pieces.

Talulah Gosh – Backwash

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Amelia Fletcher is a giant in the indie world, and so is her first band, Talulah Gosh. I got into Talulah Gosh backwards, having started with Heavenly, which I adore and after noticing Fletcher’s unmistakeable vocals on work by other bands I love, like the Wedding Present, Hefner, and the Pooh Sticks. If Talulah Gosh didn’t start the twee pop genre, they were certainly one of the early, major players. Talulah Gosh formed in Oxford, England in 1986. Economics student Amelia Fletcher met artist Elizabeth Price via matching Pastels pins (or badges, as they are known in the UK), and formed the band with Amelia’s fifteen year old brother Matthew on drums, Rob Pursey on bass, and Peter Momtchiloff on lead guitar. Pursey left quickly and was replaced by Chris Scott. Price departed before the third single was released, and her substitute was Eithne Farry. The band broke up in 1988, but the Fletchers, Momtchiloff, and Pursey reformed in the heavenly Heavenly (and then reformed to varying degrees after the demise of Heavenly in various other iterations, which you will read about later). Amelia Fletcher is an esteemed economist and university professor (East Anglia), and Momtchiloff is the/a (?) philosophy editor at Oxford University Press. Price won the Turner Prize for her art – in the medium of video – in 2012. Farry went into the magazine publishing world, while Pursey became a television producer. Amelia and Pursey are life partners. Matthew Fletcher took his own life in 1996.

What I Think of This Album

Released on K Records, as pretty much ordained by the indie music gods, these 25 tracks are almost everything Talulah Gosh recorded in their short, shambolic two year existence (a different comp will give you an additional four demo versions of songs, apparently pegging the band’s total output at 29 recordings).

From the get-go of galloping “Beatnik Boy,” Talulah Gosh establish themselves as unique, by fusing indie-pop sounds to girl-group vocals and a winsome stance. Steering away from anything sexy – note hilarious song title “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (Thank God)” – the band focused on the more romantic aspects of interpersonal relationships. But neither the lyrical content nor the musical style was simplistic or silly, even if the presentation was primitive.

From the punky “Break Your Face” to the desperate and frustrated “My Best Friend” (“So why should we both be so sad? / I’ll give you my heart / . . . / If you’ll give me yours / . . . / But I know that you won’t / Because you’re selfish that way”), Amelia Fletcher and company paint honest, devastating, and humorous portraits of young love. The vocals on the gossamer “Just A Dream” – with, I guess, an attempt at “Be My Baby”-style drums – are lovely. “Talulah Gosh” breaks the subject matter mold, exploring fame as relevant to Altered Images’ Clare Grogan (who was also an actor), and features some subtle whammy bar twangs, a wonderful shift in tempo from verse/bridge to chorus and back, and gloriously stacked-to-the-rafters vocals.

The band rides a Jesus and Mary Chain chord progression on “Steaming Train,” and jangle their way to greatness on the bleak “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (Thank God)” (“Did you know I’m a pessimist / Have you ever wanted to die? / Have you no decency? / It’s a hard world, that’s no lie”). Meanwhile, waves of distortion inform “My World’s Ending” and all hell breaks loose on feedback-laced, scream-filled “Testcard Girl.”

While the lyrics can be difficult to discern, the vocals are an absolute joy (the vocal arrangements are stupendous) and the music is energetic and fresh. Almost every track is a tiny gem – intricate “My Boy Says;” giddy “In Love For the Very First Time;” Katherine Hepburn tribute “Bringing Up Baby;” and the spy-guitar framed “Girl With the Strawberry Hair,” just to identify a few – and well worth tracking this album down for. This stuff was, appropriately, the inspiration for legions of indie pop bands, including spiritual cousins Cub; one listen to “Sunny Inside” or “Testcard Girl” tells you exactly from whence sprang Vivian Girls.

Among the producers involved here are John Rivers (Close Lobsters, Yatsura); Dale Griffin (drummer for Mott the Hoople); Martin Hayward of the Pastels; and Barry Andrews of XTC and Shriekback.

The Best Thing About This Album

The vocals are majestic.

Release Date

May, 1996

The Cover Art

This is an unmitigated disaster, but I love the music so much, I just overlook the cover.

Uncle Tupelo – Anodyne

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

There are four Uncle Tupelo studio albums. The third, produced by Peter Buck, is March 16-20, 1992, which is half covers of folk songs and all acoustic. People go crazy over it – it sold more than No Depression and Still Feel Gone combined – but I couldn’t stand it. Factoring my dislike of the debut, this means that I don’t care for the extremes – punky or folky – of Uncle Tupelo. Give me the second and fourth albums, or give me death.

What I Think of This Album

As with all last-albums-before-the-breakup, the temptation is to view the work through the lens of the dissolution. Here, that urge is augmented by the fact that the newly-expanded backing band – drummer Ken Coomer, bassist John Stirrat, and multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston – all stuck with Tweedy and became Wilco.

The songwriting split does appear to be more stark than ever, with Tweedy’s five songs featuring livelier tempos and more pop melodies, and Farrar leveraging his voice and poetry on his more somber six tracks. Overall, though, this is the album that most closely ties the band to their country-rock predecessors of the ‘60s. The somewhat surprising meld of punk and country (not that Jason and the Scorchers and Green on Red hadn’t already done that) turned out to be not so odd after all, as it evolved into a more modern version of what the Byrds had done.

Each songwriter hits some highs on this fine album. “Chickamauga” is a rousing rocker from Farrar, with a Neil Young guitar part, and lyrics about a breakup (hmmmm). Tweedy counters with the excellent journey-as-metaphor “The Long Cut;” the rustic, enigmatic, seismically-themed “New Madrid”  (with a superior banjo played by Johnston); and the impassioned duality of “We’ve Been Had,” in which he beats the Jesus and Mary Chain to the “I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll” / “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” punch. No such ambivalence taints the celebratory “Acuff-Rose,” which, despite being a fun little number, is also sort of lightweight.

Meanwhile, Farrar’s “Slate” will have people wondering again if Tweedy and Tupelo are the objects, and the weariness and defeat of “Fifteen Keys” will also raise some eyebrows. The future Wilco sound is fully present on “No Sense In Lovin’.” The cover of Doug Sahm’s “Give Back the Key to My Heart” is sung by Sahm himself, in a pleasantly amber voice, and this excellent song also serves to further tie Uncle Tupelo to its musical heritage.

Max Johnston is the younger sibling of Michelle Shocked. Uncle Tupelo opened for Michelle Shocked, whom Johnston was supporting. The tour ended badly but Johnston forged a relationship with Tupelo and ended up in the band. Dixie Chicks patriarch Lloyd Maines plays pedal steel on the album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“The Long Cut,” for its sweetness and hope.

Release Date

October, 1993

The Cover Art

Love the color, and the ribbon extending from the left. The photo itself is a bit messy. Fewer guitars would have worked better.

Black Tambourine – Black Tambourine

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Excavating the past can be a little embarrassing. Discovering some great band from my youth that was unknown to me at the time sometimes makes me think “why wasn’t I listening to this and what the hell was I listening to instead?” While I am not prone to cutting myself slack, I think I can be forgiving of my absolute ignorance of Black Tambourine, who were a blip on the scene and whose importance was only made apparent later. Formed in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1989, Black Tambourine ended up having an outsized influence on American indie. Guitarist Archie Moore was in Velocity Girl at the same time, and Brian Nelson eventually joined Velocity Girl as well. Band member (drummer?) Mike Schulman founded the influential Slumberland label, and vocalist Pam Berry, who had co-founded the Chickfactor zine, went on to sing for bands like Veronica Lake, Glo-Worm and the Castaway Stones.

What I Think of This Album

Listening to this, you hear the first stirrings of American shoegaze, and the inspiration for scores of domestic indie bands. It’s not hard to draw the line from Black Tambourine to Vivian Girls (“For Ex-Lovers Only”), The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (“We Can’t Be Friends”), or Veronica Falls (“Black Car”). It’s all the more impressive because the band lasted approximately two years and released just nine original songs, one an instrumental (their tenth released song was a Love cover). This album adds two demos and four songs recorded by a reconstituted Black Tambourine in 2009 – those songs date back to the band’s active period and which, while played live, had never been committed to tape. And honestly, the songs are pretty awesome.

The hooky lead bass on the darkly ethereal “Black Car” is magnificent, and the noise pop of rumbly “For Ex-Lovers Only” is timeless. “Pack You Up” is basically the American version of a 4AD single. The cover of Love’s “Can’t Explain” sounds like kids who have learned that adding Jesus and Mary Chain sonics improves most songs by 300%. “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is an insular, hilarious, and heartfelt, as well as highly melodic, tumbledown plea to Pastels’ leader Stephen Pastel to dispose of Pastels’ keyboardist Aggi Wright (Shop Assistants) and make room in his heart for the narrator. The drums on this are fantastic; the demo version adds a whammy bar inflection at one point (2:12, to be more or less exact) that will make you stand up and cheer.

Releasing the short instrumental “Pam’s Tan” as the band’s very first single was a weird decision. The nervy “I Was Wrong” and speedy, distortion-laden “We Can’t Be Friends” are delightful. “Drown” is a girl-group number that predicts the 2009 recording of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” and is just okay. There is a calming, deep, foreboding to “By Tomorrow,” with its trance-inducing bass line and waves of distortion.

Kudos to the band for recording the 2009 songs in a way that sounds exactly like the 1990 songs; tracks “Lazy Heart” (with sludgy bass and a xylophone) and double-timed “Tears of Joy” fit in nicely with the original, original songs. That said, the greatest revelation from the more recently recorded tracks is the cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream,” (more xylophone!) which sounds like a kinder, gentler Spacemen 3 (who also covered Suicide).

“Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is referenced (along with about 500 other indie pop signifiers) in the classic Tullycraft song, “Fuck Me, I’m Twee.” If you care at all about indie, you need to own this album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is an indie-pop classic for a reason BUT . . . listen to the scuzzier demo version because it hits different.

Release Date

March, 2010

The Cover Art

Yeah, I like this. Simple and direct, and I am a huge fan of denim jackets. Also, props for adding a glossy texture to the button (or badge, as they would say in the UK).

Weekend – Sports

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I literally know almost nothing about this band, other that they are a trio from San Francisco and have a possibly unhealthy love of the Jesus and Mary Chain. I am almost as certain as I can be that I bought this because it’s on Slumberland and they’re a label I sort of implicitly trust, and I probably listened to a few samples of this on the label website. 

What I Think of This Album

This is essentially comfort food, insofar as a grey sour patch gummy worm can be considered comfort food. There is nothing original here, but it sounds cool. Equal parts Jesus and Mary Chain, Joy Division, and Suicide stylings, Weekend gives you the dark, noisy, atmospheric, textured rock you want when you don’t want to actually think about what you’re listening to. Look, I own it, so I like it, but I also recognize that it’s “good” only in the sense that it’s entertaining, and “not good” in the sense that it’s completely insignificant.

At its best, Weekend imbues these songs with some personality. “Coma Summer” sounds like a chainsaw in a wind tunnel, with a driving rhythm and vocals perfectly buried in the mix, as if vocalist Shaun Durkan is drowning in a sea of bees. “Monday Morning” has a mysterious, looped vocal intro, augmented by bass and guitar (and maybe keyboards? – there is no keyboard in the credits, but there is so much reverb and echo and more, it’s hard to tell what is going on), and developing into a stately quasi-instrumental piece. A decent melody informs feedback-wrapped “Monongah, WV.” There is an understated grace and beauty to “Veil,” despite the intense arrangement (the floor tom hits towards the end are wonderful). “End Times” benefits from a Peter Hook-like bass part.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Coma Summer” seems like the single here.

Release Date

November, 2010

The Cover Art

This is cool. I wish there was only one of the image, but regardless, it fits perfectly with the music and I like the white border on the bottom and the fading in the upper right hand corner (which you can’t see here).

The Boo Radleys – Everything’s Alright Forever

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

I’m pretty sure this was the first shoegaze album I ever owned. And it’s definitely my favorite Boo Radleys album. Their debut, Ichabod and I, I have to admit, I’ve never bothered to seek out. Giant Steps, their third is their artistic breakthrough, and their fourth, Wake Up! was a popular hit in Great Britain, whereas the follow-up, C’mon Kids, was a harsh left turn. Their last, Kingsize, like their first, has gone unheard by these ears. C’mon Kids was, in fact, a bit extreme and Wake Up! was too light-weight (though both are not bad albums by any means), and while Giant Steps is unquestionably more sophisticated and impressive than Everything’s Alright Forever, my heart remains with this second album. Also, props to the band for choosing an excellent name (even though folks at their record company derided them as “the Do Badleys”).

What I Think of This Album

This starts out unassuming enough, with acoustic strumming, some Spanish guitar work, and hushed vocals. And even when the horns come in, this still seems like a modest affair, though you can tell there is the potential for more. Things get more traditionally shoegazey on the “Towards the Light,” but with a healthy dose of Jesus and Mary Chain noise. There are mysterious Velvets-like sounds on “Losing It (Song for Abigail)” and then all hell breaks loose, but in a pretty way, with an obvious but not unmanageable debt to My Bloody Valentine. The awkwardly titled “Memory Babe” is sort of the quintessential early Boo Radleys song:  dense, layered, a little experimental but pop at its core, striking just the right balance between noise and melody.

From there on in, the band explores variations of that sound (almost all songs composed by guitarist Martin Carr), whether it’s the acoustic-based “Skyscraper” (which eventually incorporates distortion and some slightly ahead of its time Britpop riffing; Noel Gallagher definitely listened to this song a lot); schizophrenic “I Feel Nothing,” shifting from a light shuffle to a rocket ship of guitar noise and back and back again; standout “Does This Hurt?”, with a propulsive beat, guitars just piled on until they reach the moon, and vocalist Sice’s best singing on the album; short and delicate “Sparrow;” pedalboard workout “Firesky” (yes, it sounds pretty much like you think it would), with another great vocal melody; the cinematic “Song for the Morning to Sing”; and fizzy “Lazy Day.”

Producer Ed Buller (London Suede, Pulp, the Primitives) deserves a lot of credit for striking the right balance between all the competing sounds here. Fyi, Buller played keyboards on the Psychedelic Furs’ Mirror Moves and Midnight to Midnight.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Does This Hurt?”

Release Date

March, 1992

The Cover Art

This doesn’t do it for me, but I also don’t hate it. I think of it as a cross between a Picasso sketch and a stained glass window, and I actually think it well-represents the sounds of the album; I just don’t really like looking at it.

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