The Feelies – The Good Earth

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

Six years separated the first two Feelies albums. Anton Fier and Keith DeNunzio both left the band and Bill Million and Glenn Mercer basically fucked around New York for a few years, making music in various guises. In 1985, they reformed with Dave Weckerman back in the fold and new members Brenda Sauter on bass and Stanley Demeski on drums. This five piece has been the Feelies ever since. This was the last of the core Feelies albums I bought, waiting for the 2009 reissue (the original had been released on the small Coyote Records imprint and it was impossible to find).

What I Think of This Album

Liberated from any momentum generated by Crazy Rhythms, and with a new perspective after years of exploring different approaches via their various side projects (some with new members Brenda Sauter and Stanley Demeski and returning original compatriot Dave Weckerman), the Feelies returned with the more sedate The Good Earth, a title that itself gives off bucolic vibes.

While some have attributed the change in sound to producer Peter Buck’s (REM) presence, he has denied playing much of any role beyond cheerleader. And it’s difficult to believe that Mercer and Million were somehow cajoled into doing something they didn’t want to. There are similarities to the driving sound of the debut, even if this album is much calmer. 

That said, this isn’t slowcore. There are plenty of electric guitars and Mercer still plays biting leads – check out the solo on “On the Roof.” If anything, there is a greater sense of steady propulsion and thrumming hypnotism on The Good Earth. Whereas the band communicated unease and tension on the debut, here they sound confident and determined.

Every track is excellent, but Demeski does a particularly impressive job on tracks like “The Last Roundup,” “Two Rooms,” and “Tomorrow Today.” “Let’s Go” is an invitation no one with a heart(beat) could turn down. The jangle of “The High Road” is immensely appealing. The twin guitar work on “Two Rooms” is fascinating. Closer “Slow Down” is a masterpiece of mood and tautness.

“Slipping (Into Something)” is an enjoyable slab of Velvet Underground homage while also being perhaps the least interesting song on the album. The atmospherics of “When Company Comes” sound like Ennio Morricone got his hands on, well, I guess the Velvet Underground. It is a lovely lovely lovely and meticulously crafted song – listen for the dog barking at roughly :40.

Note:  the reissue comes in a cardboard sleeve of non-standard size, which annoys me. It also comes with a little business card that allows you to download extra tracks (two covers (Beatles and Neil Young) and a live version of “Slipping”) – apparently the band wanted the actual album to stand alone. I have not downloaded the tracks, only because I don’t like “owning” music in purely digital form. I need a physical medium.

The Best Thing About This Album

Stanley Demeski is the absolute MVP on this.

Release Date

1986

The Cover Art

While I don’t feel strongly about it, I agree that this is probably the perfect image (with coloring) to accompany this album.

The Bats – Foothills

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 8)

I’ve made some (excellent) album purchases in the last several months, so I think it is time to backfill the relevant parts of my alphabetized collection. There is so much to appreciate about Foothills. It is the Bats’ tenth album, coming in their 38th year of existence – as previously mentioned, always with the same line-up. The music is just as appealing, polished, and melodic as everything else they’ve released. What a tremendous fucking band!

What I Think of This Album

There were probably a lot of reasons why this album might not have existed. The Bats have absolutely nothing left to prove – they’re giants of the New Zealand music scene and their track record is unassailable. They’re all in their late 50s to late 60s, and not only have day jobs but other musical projects as well. And the album was released during the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving the band with no ability to tour internationally to promote it. But we are all very fortunate that it does exist.

The Bats grace us with twelve warm, woody, comforting songs, mostly jangly in nature and sometimes augmented with colorful keyboard. Robert Scott delivers another strong batch of mostly downcast songs which he sings with his distinctive voice, and guitarist Kaye Woodward adds her perpetually underappreciated guitar leads as well as critical backing vocals and keyboards, too. The rhythm section of bassist (and sometimes second guitarist) Paul Kean and drummer Malcolm Grant adds a sense of urgency and fullness to the proceedings. That the record company could print the lyrics to twelve songs on two pages with plenty of negative space left over speaks to the economy of Scott’s songwriting.

As on all Bats albums, there is nothing to complain about and much to praise. “Red Car” is deceptively simple lyrically, but Scott and Woodward give revelatory performances that turn this so-basic-it’s-opaque song into a cathedral of musicality. The backing includes what sounds to me like a melodica, but there is no such credit (rather, it appears Woodward is making these sounds on a keyboard); in any event, it adds depth, drama, and nuance to what ends up being a stunningly beautiful song.

“Warwick” is another standout, with a precise and sharp lead part and energetic drumming; when Woodward adds her vocal harmonies, it feels like a flower blooming. The delicate “Beneath the Visor” finds Scott and Woodward making lyrics like “I’m none the wiser with you” sound like the pinnacle of romance. 

An atmospheric arrangement adds mystery and drama to the lovely “Scrolling.” The same is true of the watery guitar tones on the majestic “Another Door,” which benefits from an uplifting chorus that showcases Woodward’s vocal harmonies again; she also adds a great (albeit short) solo that Neil Young would be proud of. 

“Field of Vision” is one of the more upbeat tunes, with a great guitar part from Woodward and emphatic propulsion courtesy of Grant. “Change Is All” hints at domestic difficulties but does so via a charming melody, and towards the end of the song, the band adds a very encouraging drone (likely via Kean’s ebow guitar).

“As You Were” comes across as more intricate and also slightly darker in tone than the rest of the songs here, though Scott finds a way to interject some unusual bird-related humor into the proceedings (“You couldn’t say boo to a goose / You’re such a chicken”). Conversely, the surprisingly pounding “Smaller Pieces” sounds like the work of a tougher band, which is not to say there isn’t some delicate guitar work in the mix; this track may be the most welcome surprise on the entire album. Another surprise is the coda to this song.

The ebow makes additional appearances on “Gone to Ground,” which vacillates between reflective and somber, and the much more engaging “Electric Sea View,” which is the kind of song I could envision Ride playing when they are this age (if they are fortunate enough). 

Yes, it’s a Flying Nun release.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Red Car” is phenomenal.

Release Date

November, 2020

The Cover Art

Reminds me of Yo La Tengo’s Fade, but in any event, this is very pretty and calming. Good sans-serif font use, but perhaps too large and not well-placed.

Saturnine – Wreck At Pillar Point

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

I don’t recall where or when I got this album, or why. I must have read about the band in a magazine and then stumbled across Wreck at Pillar Point. At some point, I became aware of a connection to the Essex Green and the Ladybug Transistor, but that was years later, I believe. The band was from New York, formed by law students Matt Gallaway (vocals/guitar) and Mike Donofrio (bass) in 1993 (and originally called Saturnine 60). They added drummer Jim Harwood and guitarist Jennifer Baron, and lasted for fifteen years, releasing six albums. All of which you can find on Bandcamp, and I suggest you check out this unappreciated band. I do note that the final album, Remembrance of Things Past, is described as an “indie-rock opera loosely based” on the novel, and by then Baron had left and they had added a keyboardist.

What I Think of This Album

The easiest and possibly best, and almost certainly the shortest, description of Saturnine is “Michael Stipe fronting a slowcore/dreampop band.” The similarities between Stipe and Matt Gallaway’s voices are striking, though on this debut album at least, Gallaway can get a little pitchy and that might be a dealbreaker for some listeners. Others will grow frustrated with the languid tempos and may not appreciate the odd juxtaposition of skronky guitar solos in such a gentle setting.

There is a lot to like on this album and I suspect that some simple resequencing would’ve made it better. Mostly, if the band had been more strategic about the placement of the songs on which Galloway’s vocals are the most . . . challenging, the record would present better. A stagnant instrumental early on also doesn’t help.

The guitar noise – somehow both loud and quiet at the same time – on opener “This Time the Best” is impressive, as is the gnarled solo, which is equal parts Lou Reed and Neil Young. The somber “Ground Truth” slides by on a pretty melody, and the ghostly harmonies (presumably by guitarist Jennifer Baron) are excellent. I still think these songs should have been interspersed later in the track list.  

“Your Maps” should have probably been the lead track, with some nice chiming/ jangly guitar, as well as an appealing vibrato part that almost sounds like a violin. On the other hand, this may be the most REM-adjacent song on the album, so perhaps they were a little shy about it. Similarly, we all would have benefitted from the frontloading of “Summer Was a Waste.” The solo wouldn’t sound out of place on a Galaxie 500 album. The harmonies once again are subtly excellent.   

“Broken” is another winning tune buried in the middle of the album, even if the sad-sack vocals can be a bit much. The guitar work, however, is fantastic, with a laser-like solo as the obvious high point, but credit to the band for the overall arrangement and construction of the song. Almost as strong is “Slightly Less Than Even,” with probably the best singing on the disc, more excellent guitar work and what sounds like piano to me.

The bass on “Reeling” is reminiscent of Naomi Yang’s work with Galaxie 500. The band kicks up some dust on “Tell Me Lies Later,” we can enjoy more great bass and guitar work on the deceptively entertaining “Had Enough,” and there is a pillowy beauty to ballad “Maverick’s” (and yes, that apostrophe is supposed to be there).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Broken” consolidates all the band’s strengths.

Release Date

September, 1995

The Cover Art

It’s just really difficult to make out what this even is. To the extent one can, the sepia-toned pastoral image only reinforces the REM comparisons.

Eleventh Dream Day – Zeroes and Ones

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

After a three-album stint on Atlantic, Eleventh Dream Day returned home to the indies. While they undoubtedly belonged there, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have found success while on a major label. It just didn’t work out, even though El Moodio was probably the most accessible album of their career. The band released Ursa Major in 1994, Eighth in 1997, and Stalled Parade in 2000. I have listened to Stalled Parade and Eighth for sure, and maybe Ursa Major? There are some good songs on there, but overall the band strays too far from their strengths and get too atmospheric for me. It was therefore a relief when Zeroes and Ones arrived. In fairness to the band, they released other albums later in their career that reportedly rock out like in the early days – Riot Now! (2011) and Works for Tomorrow (2015) – but I admit I have not yet given those a listen. I plan to, though.

What I Think of This Album

This is a record I wasn’t sure Eleventh Dream Day would ever make, and I am glad they did.

As much as I am wont to blame Doug McCombs for the change in the band sound on the preceding albums, I have to admit that he does a fine job on bass, particularly on the poppy, tuneful “Dissolution.” That first track also introduces keyboardist/percussionist Mark Greenberg (The Coctails), who succeeds in supplementing the tracks with subtle colorings.

Rick Rizzo throws down his usual excellent guitar, whether it’s the crunching chords that drive “Insincere Inspiration” or the Neil Young-influenced “For Martha” (which begins with a “Be My Baby”-esque drum intro). “Martha” has one of the best (albeit far too short) Eleventh Dream Day solos in a while, and Rizzo and Janet Beveridge Bean harmonize like their lives depend on it (the overlapping call-and-response segment is fantastic). 

The middle of the album is a little problematic. “New Rules” flows gently, and while Rizzo lays down a solo with some great tones, overall the slow pace is not my cup of tea, and it goes on for almost eight minutes. Greenberg’s vibes/marimba and McCombs’ bass are the best things about the “Lost In the CIty,” which is at least interesting even if not really enjoyable. “Lately I’ve Been Thinking” sounds like the work of disaffected teens, and I can only hope it was done with a wink. “Return of the Long Shadow” is another slow, somber number that suffers from a lack of melody.   

But the clouds clear with Beveridge Bean’s sole lead vocal turn on “The Lure,” which sounds sly and sexy, and benefits from some nasty lead work from Rizzo. Rizzo in turn sounds energized on “From K to Z,” which is punchy and loud. “For Everything” strikes the right balance between the energy of the rockers and the slow build of the more languid tunes. If I let my brain relax a little, I can hear some Wire in this tense, spiky song.

The sleeper track may be “Pinwheels,” on which every band member gives a terrific performance:  McCombs’ bass is elastic and musical, Greenberg adds some pillowy organ, Beveridge Bean and Rizzo harmonize like drunken angels, Beveridge Bean hit the drums with authority, and Rizzo’s guitar adds the right amount of grit  

Closer “Journey WIth No Maps” is another slow song; more importantly, it’s the best slow song of the album. Greenberg introduces piano and mellotron, the vocalists sing a truly pretty melody, and Rizzo plays with admirable restraint (but still that wonderful, fuzzy tone).

Tangents:  I saw the Coctails open for the Pixies on their first reunion tour. The producer for this album was McComb’s bandmate in Tortoise, John McEntire (also of The Sea and Cake).

The Best Thing About This Album

This is the return to form I wanted from Eleventh Dream Day.

Release Date

April, 2006

The Cover Art

Waaaaaayyyyy too on the nose. The artwork on the rest of the album confirms that the images are supposed to be representations of the album title (i.e., circles and vertical lines, though a zero is really an oval, not a circle). I do like the speaker, just because I like speakers. And the font works really well, as does the composition of the text. The orange-red tone (also found on the tray and the back cover) makes me almost ill. I like orange, and I like red, but this in-between shit is no good.

Eleventh Dream Day – El Moodio

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

This is my favorite Eleventh Dream Day album. I don’t know how this wasn’t a hit in 1993 – I’m not saying the album was made for the times (that would be too calculated and careerist for the band) but rather that there is no discernible reason why this album by this band shouldn’t have been widely and loudly embraced during that cultural moment. The overdue attention for women musicians that arrived with the rise of alternative rock should have made Janet Beveridge Bean a hero for her songwriting, drumming, singing, and guitar playing. The celebration of loud guitars that propelled grunge bands to stardom should have done the same for Eleventh Dream Day. The newfound appreciation for lyrics that went deeper than what had been offered by hair metal and top 40 pop should have popularized the band’s literate and dark songs. Should have, should have, should have. This album was the last on Atlantic, the major having given the band three chances. Also calling it quits was original guitarist Figi Baird, who left during the Lived to Tell tour, replaced by Matthew “Wink” O’Bannon, who had engineered the band’s debut album. O’Bannon died in 2020.

What I Think of This Album

While I cannot dispute that Prairie School Freakout is essential, I submit that this is the most enjoyable and accessible Eleventh Dream Day record.

Janet Beveridge Bean starts things off by taking lead on a memorable and tough song. That track is the chunky “Makin’ Like a Rug,” on which she adopts a clench-jawed Southern accent on the verses while someone engages in some seriously sinister string-bending. The tune explodes into fiery melody on the choruses, augmented by Rick Rizzo’s contrapuntal vocals.

Even better is “After This Time Is Gone,” a tuneful, jangly pop song that incorporates a fluid, expressive solo full of color and light. I don’t usually credit Doug McCombs with much of value on these albums, but his bass work on this track is sinewy and melodic. And there’s even a false ending! I love a false ending. 

“Honeyslide” achieves levels of sophisticated lushness nothing like the band had ever attempted before. It sounds like the time spent with Yo La Tengo on a 1991 European tour was instructive, as the epic soundscape is right in line with YLT’s oeuvre. “Figure It Out” likewise betrays a debt to the Hoboken trio, with some elegiac melodicism in the guitar solos and a delicate, intimate touch on the verses. 

Wink O’Bannon makes himself heard with “Murder,” a song that fits in well with not just the band’s sound but its history, as this creepy slab of malice is the closest the band has come to the terrorizing mayhem of Prairie School Freakout in a while.

“That’s the Point” recruits Velvet Crush drummer Ric Menck, who propels the punky tune (again, McCombs does critical work) which still makes room for some key guitar tremolo (or maybe vibrato?) accents and a laser-like solo. “Motherland” is another excellent song, with a more relaxed pace (though Beveridge Bean goes to town on the drums) and thoroughly enjoyable guitar work, including the solo. Speaking of guitars and solos, guest Tara Key adds some droney texture to mood piece “The Raft,” while slow workout “Rubberband” is this album’s Neil Young tribute.

Tara Key would end up collaborating with Rizzo on a couple of albums’ worth of instrumentals; all the members of Eleventh Dream Day as well as Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo contributed to Key’s Bourbon County album from 1993. Producer Jim Rondinelli (Sloan, Jayhawks, Everclear, Wilco, Pooh Sticks, Magnolias) became a tech executive. 

I recently learned (or possibly relearned, who knows?) that Eleventh Dream Day originally recorded a version of this album in 1991 with Brad Wood (Liz Phair), which they hoped to shop around to labels after they fell out with Atlantic. When Atlantic wooed them back, they were encouraged to start anew with another producer, and those sessions led to El Moodio. The original recording was finally released in 2013, under the name New Moodio.

The Best Thing About This Album

I love “After This Time Is Gone.”

Release Date

1993

The Cover Art

The art reminds me something from the v23 shop – mostly it’s the album title printed on top of itself. The crab by itself would be cool, but the ropes make it too busy. I also don’t like the letters in circles used for the band name.

Eleventh Dream Day – Lived to Tell

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

Signed to a major on the strength of their excellent debut, Eleventh Dream Day did themselves no favors by turning in a disappointing second effort with Beet. While Rick Rizzo and Janet Beveridge Bean wrote lyrics that could easily populate a short story anthology, the music was lackluster and unimaginative. Fortunately, they righted things with the unassuming Lived to Tell. At some point in the band’s history, Rizzo and Beveridge Bean married and had a child – I just don’t know when that happened.

What I Think of This Album

Eleventh Dream Day returned to Kentucky to record Lived to Tell, and that may have made all the difference. While it is not as noisy or dread-inducing as Prairie School Freakout, this third album finds the band on familiar turf, refocusing on their strengths. The songs are compact, melodic, heartfelt, and reflect an organic expansion of the band’s sound. 

Janet Beveridge Bean throws down the gauntlet with the rousing, churning “Rose of Jericho,” a propulsive tune that tells an unexpected story of one Melissa and her inscrutable but unmistakable act of liberation involving a glass vase. Beveridge Bean and Rick Rizzo harmonize on key parts of the verses, and the guitars mimic Melissa’s ascension; the solo at the end is excellent. The Rizzo/Beveridge Bean collaboration “It’s All a Game” incorporates a good helping of pop into the countryish song of a faltering relationship that also features the most overtly Neil Young solo of the album.

Rizzo delivers on the biblically apocalyptic “North of Wasteland.” The guitar solo kicks ass, frankly. As on “Jericho,” Beveridge Bean’s intermittent harmonies add a glistening new dimension. Indeed, the angelic vocals and pretty melody that Beveridge Bean graces us with on “Daedalus” are the biggest surprise of the record. Notably, the band incorporates cello, calliope, and some spoken word/found sound on this excellent track as well.

Baird Figi’s downright demonic lapsteel is the defining feature of the punishing “Dream of a Sleeping Sheep,” on which Rizzo, deciding that contemplating death is too half-hearted, invites it with open arms. That lapsteel, though – Jesus Christ. Similarly intense is “Strung Up and/or Out,” which is unapologetically lacerating. 

Beveridge Bean admonishes someone on “You Know What It Is,” which has a punk intensity even while the guitars practice unusual restraint. The recording of this track sounds out of place with the other songs – it’s thin and distant, which is at best distracting and at worst detrimental. This song deserved better. 

X appears to be the touchstone for the frantic and brief “Trouble,” which is the better of the two Figi-penned songs on the album. Another surprise is the acoustic turn on closer “Angels Spread Your Wings,” complete with mournful harmonica from Rizzo. 

“I Could Be Lost” is a decent rocker that doesn’t sufficiently develop musically, unfortunately. Rizzo sets a short story to long music on “It’s Not My World.” The languid (exhausted?) guitar workout that starts at around minute 3:00 is the best thing about this song, and I think I can hear some nice tremolo work in there, too. 

Similarly, Beveridge Bean’s “There’s This Thing” is like Tom Waits reading a Jim Thompson story:  great lyrics, but the music doesn’t do much for me. The guest saxophone adds a new touch. Bassist Doug McCombs’s “Frozen Mile” is repetitive and irritating. Rizzo and Baird do what they can to make this interesting but to no avail.

Twiddling the knobs this time was Paul McKenna, who has had a diverse career working with the Cramps, the Circle Jerks, the Long Ryders, and Wall of Voodoo, but also Elton John, Barry Manilow, and Sting.

The Best Thing About This Album

The return to form.

Release Date

1991

The Cover Art

I don’t like a single thing about this. The painting was by Beveridge Bean’s partner in Freakwater, Catherine Irwin. This image is of some alternate release insofar as mine does not have that text on the left margin.

Eleventh Dream Day – Prairie School Freakout

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Eleventh Dream Day is a frustrating band that l suspect might’ve made far less infuriating choices if early on they had found the success their talent merited. I also blame Doug McCombs. The band’s roots are in Louisville, where Rick Rizzo and Janet Beveridge Bean met. Both guitarists moved to Chicago and joined forces with McCombs (bass) and the incomparably named Baird Figi (guitar), with Beveridge Bean switching to drums. The band steadily released albums from 1988 to 1994 (Figi being replaced in 1992 by Wink O’Bannon), and then collectively put Eleventh Dream Day on the back burner:  Rizzo returned to school; Beveridge Bean focused on her band Freakwater; and McCombs pursued annoying ideas with his band Tortoise. They released albums sporadically after that (minus O’Bannon), none of them with the fire of the early work and many with a strong ambient influence.

What I Think of This Album

I own a “deluxe” reissue of Prairie School Freakout which prints the four band members’ reminisces of the recording of the album. Almost all of them reference the extreme heat, the late night start, the compressed recording time, the small footprint of the studio, and the noise coming from Rick Rizzo’s amp. All of that comes through on the recording, which captures Eleventh Dream Day giving an inspired performance, born of sweat and desperation.

Rizzo and Figi Baird dominate the album with their Neil Young homage. Apart from the shouted vocals – rooted instead in punk – opener “Watching the Candles Burn” could’ve easily been a Crazy Horse track, with Janet Beveridge Bean’s tom rolls adding to the momentum. The same is true of “Beach Miner” (though I think the opening guitar figure is downright Beatles-esque). Final song “Life On a String” similarly brings to mind Young.

What the band also does, critically, is to subvert and twist the Americana that Young (a Canadian) appropriated, delivering a modern, burned-out, ominous landscape drowning in violence and sadness, unmoored by an utter lack of meaning. This is thanks to the stunning work of songwriters Beveridge Bean and Rizzo; Bean provides three tracks, Rizzo another three, and they share credit on one more (Figi wrote two and McCombs one). The album would work well as the soundtrack to an updated movie version of In Cold Blood

Beveridge Bean’s harmony vocals do nothing to ease the unsettling atmosphere; if anything, her singing on “Sweet Smell” (her own song) only contributes to the claustrophobic feel. Rizzo deconstructs a couple’s failure to communicate and connect on “Coercion” (again, a Bean number) and it comes out sounding like an (American) gothic nightmare. His singing of the closing line “She became the night” evokes dread and exhaustion. McCombs provides the anomalous “Through My Mouth,” which is all hardcore rhythm – appropriate for Rizzo’s shouting about dying – and then turns into an atonal squallfest.

Relatedly, Bean’s “Death of Albert C. Sampson” is tale about a suicidal killer of a grocery store clerk; this is basically a Rust Belt version of Camus’s The Stranger accompanied by a blistering guitar lead. “Among the Pines” is equally existential and similarly death-obsessed, building from a tapestry of instruments to a sunny, jangly chord progression that would fit in perfectly on a classic era Lemonheads album while Rizzo sing-speaks like Lou Reed after overdosing on Emily Dickinson. The two solos here are wonderfully lyrical and melodic – arguably the highlight of the album.

“Driving Song” is exactly that, though it does not traffic in liberation and fun. Rather, it speaks to resignation and pointless repetition – the acknowledgement of being trapped. Written by Baird, he proves that he can nail the anomie that his bandmates have been doling out. This song is mostly an excuse for the lead guitar part, which is admittedly fucking awesome. The band gets atmospheric on “Tarantula,” which invokes a charred cathedral, the orbit of heavenly bodies, and, of course, death. Beveridge Bean provides spooky harmonies, Rizzo delivers his lyrics with punk aggression, Baird plays some cool slide guitar, and the other guitars carve like glaciers across the plains.

I am shocked that this album did not catapult Eleventh Dream Day to fame. This thing fucking rocks, and does so intelligently. Future band member Wink O’Bannon co-engineered the recording.

My reissue tacks on the three tracks that comprise the Wayne EP, from a year later:  “Tenth Leaving Train,” “ Southern Pacific,” and “Go.” The first is a marathon number (over 11 minutes long) that allows Baird and Rizzo plenty of room to stretch out, which they do not fail to take advantage of. Making things explicit is the Young cover “Southern Pacific”; Bean’s distant harmonies are great, the guitar figures in the background are awesome, and Rizzo sounds half-demented. “Go” is a fun, noisy romp, a bit like X if they had come out of Kansas instead of L.A.

The Best Thing About This Album

I would say the guitars but the songs wouldn’t be the same without Rizzo and Bean’s harrowing lyrics. I will therefore punt to a certain degree and praise the band’s energy, which should cover both the sound and the fury.

Release Date

1988

The Cover Art

It’s okay. It bears no relation to the amazing sounds on the record. The title is fantastic, of course.

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.

Dressy Bessy – Dressy Bessy

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

This is the album that made me fall in love with this band. Only after listening to their other albums, both those that came before and the ones that followed, did the unique nature of Dressy Bessy fully reveal itself. I can’t think of another indie band that got harder and louder as its members aged – it’s usually the other way around. But this is the first time that Dressy Bessy sounds tough. Granted, they took it too far on the next two albums before course correcting with the excellent Kingsize, but this self-titled masterpiece is where Tammy Ealom and Co. turned the corner to become a powerhouse.

What I Think of This Album

While there are several great Dressy Bessy albums, this is the best one. Tammy Ealom’s melodies have never been sharper and John Hill’s guitar is grittier and displays more bite than ever before. The sound just explodes from the speakers, bringing to mind the cover art of singles comp Little Music.

Dripping with attitude and distorted riffs, Dressy Bessy sounds like a statement of purpose, suggesting that the band was tired of being both handcuffed to its twee origins and dismissed as a lesser light in the Elephant 6 collective. Well, this is definitely harder than most twee, and the band more than distinguishes itself as a capable, powerful, creative unit.

I will never get enough of the intro to “Just Once More,” which has to be one of my favorite beginnings of an album ever, with a rapid eighth note guitar strum leading to a simple quarter note riff by bassist Rob Greene and a second, distorted guitar, which then releases Greene to a deliriously hyperactive line. At key times, Hill does short Neil Young guitar impressions, carefully controlling the chaos he is on the verge of unleashing. And the way the band takes the momentum from the refrain of “it goes on and on” and resolves it is masterful. The band chunks its way into “The Things That You Say That You Do,” and as Ealom coos her way through the song, drummer Darren Albert surprises with rapid snare rolls.

Ealom is equal parts sassy and vulnerable on “Baby Six String” and Hill modulates his feedback expertly on the bridge, bringing it back to a melodic but distorted lead part. Speaking of modulation, Ealom does impressive things with her voice on the dark and taunting “This May Hurt A Little,” singing the title phrase less like a warning and more like a delicious blood oath. The band powers its way through the thick, syrupy “Georgie Blue,” with Hill kicking out short distorted riffs, and the little bit of studio verité at the end is fun. Ealom’s multi-tracked vocals lead the way on gnarly “Girl, You Shout!” and Hill continues his showcase with tidal waves of distortion and vicious squalls of lead guitar. “Hey May” is more of the same, with a melody that wouldn’t have been out of place on the debut, but never with this arrangement or delivery.

The weakest song here is “New Song (From Me to You)” and even then, it sports an enjoyable baseball reference. DeeDee Ramone would be proud of the count-in to spiky “Better Luck,” with by-now-fully-expected fireworks from Hill. “Blinktwice” starts out sounding like an attempt by Herman’s Hermits to be the Stooges and that’s not any sort of criticism, but in any event, Ealom eventually makes it her own through her creative delivery. Closing song “Tidy” is as good as the other eight outstanding songs on this album, with a wonderful second half that includes Keith Moon rolls and meaty riffing.

Chris Ziter of the Essex Green was one of the recording engineers; Britt Myers (Aimee Mann, Essex Green, Mates of State) was the other. My CD came with a bonus DVD that I’ve watched once. This is again on the Kindercore label.

The Best Thing About This Album

John Hill’s guitar work overshadows even Tammy Ealom’s excellent songwriting and assured vocals.

Release Date

August, 2003

The Cover Art

Ealom provided the artwork. I like this a lot – psychedelic but soft but also intense.

Dramarama – Hi-Fi Sci-Fi

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

Vinyl should’ve turned Dramarama into stars, but even after once again failing to catch on, they had one bullet left. Turning the guitars up was probably the right strategy, but by then the target had shifted towards grunge, and I think Dramarama missed the mark through no fault of their own. At the same time, personality conflicts between John Easdale and Chris Carter were growing more intense, and substance abuse was a factor, so after the tour to promote Hi-Fi, the band broke up. Carter became a radio DJ, Peter Wood moved back to New Jersey to work construction, Mark Englert went into insurance, and Easdale stayed quiet for a couple of years before resuming performances solo. But VH1 came calling in 2003 and gave the band a second chance.

What I Think of This Album

The hardest rocking and loudest album of Dramarama’s career, Hi-Fi Sci-Fi was also the last bid for success by this hard-luck band. As usual, it features some great songs and wonderful guests, but the public was focused on sounds other than an unhip mix of melody and classic distorted guitars.

Blondie drummer Clem Burke is happily beating the skins for this album, and the other guests include friend and Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, Dwight Twilley, Sylvain Sylvain (New York Dolls), Astrid Young (half-sister to Neil), and Nicky Hopkins (Stones, Kinks, Who). Though not as consistent as Vinyl, this is a very strong collection and ranks as the band’s second best album.

The excellent musician-turned-homeless-person saga of “Work for Food” should’ve been a hit; Easdale’s clear-eyed and sympathetic recognition of a passed moment and the difficulties thereafter is among his best songwriting. I love the line “No one wants to pay me for my broken heart.” The incendiary and hilarious “Bad Seed” gets by on nasty guitar work and pounding drums. At the other end of the spectrum is the sweet “Incredible,” a celebration of love and radio. The band puts two drug songs back-to-back, which seems like a bad sign. “Prayer” rocks almost as hard as “Bad Seed” and provides some unforgettable imagery:  “Got used to bloody snot / And going to heaven in a parking lot.”

Meanwhile, “Don’t Feel Like Doing Drugs” offers a more nuanced take on maturity and sobriety. Also worth a listen is “Shadowless Heart,” which is dark, direct, and foreboding, as well as “Swallowed Your Cure,” which could have worked well on Vinyl with its slightly less hard guitars (but a great solo and yet more references to drugs); this track was written by bassist Chris Carter and another individual. The remaining tracks are forgettable, but the ones listed above are well worth getting this album for.

Hopkins died in 1994, and Sylvain passed in 2021.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Work for Food,” though if Sylvain had played guitar instead of just providing vocals on “Bad Seed,” I might have chosen differently. Keep rollin’ on.

Release Date

January, 1993

The Cover Art

Weird and messy, but I actually don’t hate it.

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