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.

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.

Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline

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

You may be wondering, where the fuck is Blonde On Blonde? Well, it’s currently in the re-sell pile. Everyone thinks that double album is Dylan’s crowning achievement, but I find it self-indulgent. The songs get longer and the melodies more oblique, and Dylan seems to focus on the personal in a way that hinders accessibility and prevents any universality. It’s an album where it sounds like Dylan has started buying into his own hype, and there is a strong sense of detachment and remove to the songs. Also, I think there are some troubling signs of misogyny and sexism (though there may have also been on other of his albums and I just didn’t pick up on them); “Just Like a Woman” is highly problematic, and “Visions of Johanna” seems to trade in the Madonna/whore dichotomy. Dylan had written lengthy songs before, of course, but on those tracks, there was a sense of inevitability. The opposite is at work here, where in no circumstance is there any good reason for these songs to last as long as they do. “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” just drags on and on, squandering what is a pretty melody. “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” is one of the stronger songs on the album, but it also overstays its welcome. The same is true of “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.” And whatever the merits of “Visions of Johanna,” they are diluted over more than seven minutes. No thanks. Also, I absolutely hate “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” I should also admit I’ve never listened to John Wesley Harding.

What I Think of This Album

I can’t help but feel this is a minor, though enjoyable, entry in Dylan’s catalog. It’s only got ten songs, one of which is an instrumental (was anybody clamoring for a Dylan instrumental?), one of which is an unusual reworking of an earlier song, and with two other tunes lasting under two minutes each. In fact, nothing cracks the four minute mark, which is highly unusual when compared to the songs on Blonde On Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. Relatedly, the surrealistic narrative geyser has been shut off in favor of straightforward, plain-spoken lyrics, set to simple country music arrangements at that. Also, Dylan sings rather pleasantly on this album, which by itself should lay to rest any complaints about his vocal abilities. If he sings in a less traditional manner on other albums, it is by choice, and maybe that’s something his critics should consider.

There are at least two classic songs on Nashville Skyline. One is the regretful and clear-eyed “I Threw It All Away,” with a nice organ part in the background. Yo La Tengo (among others) covered this song. Even better is “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” on which Dylan sounds invigorated for the first (and last) time on the album. One of the more romantic songs in his oeuvre, I think of it as a cousin to “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” Unlike the rest of the album, this is less country than it is soul – I can imagine Otis Redding covering this spectacularly. The piano is wonderful and Dylan sings with warmth and humanity.

“To Be Alone With You” just barely escapes being filler, with an energetic, daresay lively, presentation (the bass runs are impressive). “Tell Me That It Isn’t True” is decent without being substantial. “One More Night” also squeaks by, with another really nice Dylan vocal. Some people really like “Lay Lady Lay.” I don’t know. I find the melody annoying. But it’s a sweet song of seduction, and unexpected at that. I just don’t enjoy listening to it; the percussion is cool, though.

There is a fair amount of fluff here. Instrumental “Nashville Skyline Rag” is pointless. “Peggy Day” almost seems like parody (and it is downright criminal that it comes right after “I Threw It All Away”). “Country Pie” is insultingly silly (fortunately lasting just 95 seconds). The duet with Johnny Cash on “Girl From the North Country” strikes me as very strange. Both men sound fine, but this song does not work as a duet. At. All. Between this rerecording of a tune from 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the obvious filler, and the middling quality of those songs that rise above disposable (i.e., “To Be Alone,” “Night,” and “Tell Me”), it seems Dylan was creatively parched at the time.

That piece of shit Charlie Daniels played on this album, unfortunately. Bob Johnston was in charge of the board, once again. Kris Kristofferson was working as a janitor at the studio when this was recorded, and was recruited to hold the bongos and cowbell for drummer Kenny Buttrey on “Lay Lady Lay.”

The Best Thing About This Album

“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”

Release Date

April, 1969

The Cover Art

Look at Bobby smiling! A gold star just for that.

Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited

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

Two recollections this time. One, I am 99% sure I first heard “Like A Rolling Stone” on the school bus (one of the drivers over the years was a fan of the classic rock station). And I swear to god I remember being struck by it, even as I strained to hear it over all the talking (needless to say, I did not talk to anyone on the schoolbus). I didn’t know who the artist was or what the song was called, of course, but I knew I liked it. Two, many many years later, I saw Robyn Hitchcock play a solo show at the Old Town School of Folk Music. He was excellent, and for the encore (possibly the only song – I am not sure) he played “Desolation Row” (claiming, I think incorrectly, that Dylan didn’t play it live anymore). It was among the most impressive 12 minute time spans of my life. Beyond the fact that he knew all the words, and apart from his own very skilled guitar playing, Hitchcock gave this song a reading that honored the original while deviating from it.

What I Think of This Album

Springsteen described the opening drum hit of “Like A Rolling Stone” as the sound of the door of his consciousness being kicked open. That’s a tough description to beat. Highway 61 Revisited was the sound of Dylan refining his considerable gifts, somehow surpassing his stellar work on Bringing It All Back Home. If Dylan had moved away from folk on his previous album, he all but rejected it on this one (“Desolation Row” being the only link remaining).

There is so much going on in “Like A Rolling Stone,” it’s frankly daunting. Dylan delivers the lyrics with such intensity, drawing out certain words (“make a deeeeeeaaaaaal”) and emphasizing some (“how does it FEEL?”) and underplaying others (“With no direction home / A complete unknown”) and communicating a palpable, vitriolic disgust. Or is it self-loathing? Because I have a hard time listening to the song and not rapidly coming to the conclusion that Dylan(‘s narrator) is lacerating himself. But maybe that’s because while I can’t imagine subjecting another person to this relentless stream of abuse, I sure can understand doing it to myself. Speaking of relentless, Dylan’s acidic observations and mocking questions fuel this song past the six minute mark, which allows it to accrue momentum and mass, like a cartoon snowball rolling down a mountain, until it achieves this unstoppable power. Finally, there is the music itself. The instantly recognizable organ part was conceived and played by non-organist Al Kooper, a guest in the studio that day and not one of the musicians actually enlisted to record, who managed to come up with an unexpected contribution that Dylan insisted be highlighted by the mix. Mike Bloomfield played the guitar and Paul Griffin dances his fingers on the piano (Griffin also played the piano on “American Pie”), and of course that’s Dylan on the harmonica. Really, this is a perfect song.

Respite from the heavy emotion of the opening track arrives in an unusual guise, for “Tombstone Blues” is a deeply odd, essentially hallucinogenic, polemic in which Dylan verbally destroys symbols of authority and slaughters sacred cows. For all its unpredictable, evocative, surreal imagery, I find a great deal of humor in it:  from Jack the Ripper sitting at the head of the Chamber of Commerce to the sun being chicken and not yellow to the civic effort to reincarnate Paul Revere’s horse to the fantastic collection of stamps employed to win friends and influence an uncle. All the while, the band sounds like they can barely hold it together for the requisite six minutes, never slowing down even as the speeding locomotive of the song loses nuts, bolts, and plates of metal as it careens into the horizon. Bloomfield spirals out blues licks and throws out a couple of solos, Kooper adds more of his savant-organ playing, and drummer Robert Gregg tries to keep everyone on the same page. The experience is at once exhilarating and exhausting.

After those two monumental tunes, the next two songs suffer in comparison. “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” (one of my favorite Dylan song titles, actually) is a lazy, loping blues song with saloon piano. Paul Westerberg has covered this song, which doesn’t surprise me that much. Meanwhile, “From a Buick 6” is an energetic, sloppy blues song with Kooper on the organ and an insistent bass from Harvey Brooks. This odd song title has inspired Yo La Tengo (“From a Motel 6”) and Billy Bragg (“From a Vauxhall Velox”). The mean-spirited taunting of “Ballad of a Thin Man” follows, and unlike “Rolling Stone,” here it is clear that Dylan is directing his disdain outwardly, cruelly reveling in his hapless listener’s bewilderment. All the while, Dylan plays a somber piano augmented by Kooper’s spooky organ. A great song, but not one I enjoy listening to.

One of my favorite Dylan songs (there are a lot of them) is “Queen Jane Approximately,” which has a warm and gentle melody with Latin flourishes. This track, too, is critical of its subject; it provides a detailed description of the subject’s diminished circumstances, victimized by her own foolishness and shortsightedness. But, there is a sense of compassion and comfort, as Dylan invites Queen Jane to cry on his shoulder once she has hit rock bottom and rid herself of her illusions. The piano is wonderful, the guitar leads are cool, and the harmonica part is excellent. Luna’s “I Want Everything” borrows from the melody of “Queen Jane.” Dylan follows this up with the comical, Judeo-Freudian (Dylan’s father was named Abram [Abraham], and Highway 61 goes to Dylan’s hometown of Duluth) fever dream of “Highway 61 Revisited.” Between the omnipresent slide whistle and the considerable wordplay, this is Dylan at his most exuberant. LA punks X have an excellent cover of “Highway 61 Revisited.”

The barrelhouse piano reappears on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” another bit of comedy, this time revolving around a series of physical and moral grotesqueries in Mexico. still, the feel of the song is laidback and easygoing. Wrapping things up is the epic, multi-hued “Desolation Row.” Lacking the ire of much of the rest of the classic songs on this album, Dylan adopts a plainspoken delivery and lets the imagery flow, incorporating references literary, biblical, and historical, all of it disturbingly pointing to decay and destruction. While Dylan’s lyrics are the understandable focus, the intricate guitar fills by Charlie McCoy are nothing short of beautiful. The Old 97’s borrowed the melody for “Champaign, Illinois.” It’s difficult to imagine surpassing Bringing It All Back Home, but Dylan accomplished that, a mere five months later, with this jaw-dropping work.

Bob Johnston produced.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Like a Rolling Stone,” but almost every track is stupendous.

Release Date

August, 1965

The Cover Art

Intentionally or not, the combination of the red and white horizontal stripes and the motorcycle graphic on Dylan’s shirt give this a mythical “American” feel (though I am guessing its a Triumph (and therefore British) motorcycle).

The Dawning of a New Era

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

My period of music magazine reading lasted from maybe 1986 to 2010? I am not sure about that end date, as things just sort of petered out. At no point, though, did I read MOJO regularly. But I did come across their compilations at the used record stores, and I picked up a few of them. As noted before, I used to slot all of them in the “M” section, but now I don’t think that makes as much sense as going by title.

What I Think of This Album

I love love love ska, and this is a wonderful collection of what I believe to be both popular and obscure ska tracks from the 1950s to the 1990s. The conceit was that this featured original versions of songs recorded by the Specials (hence the title, taken from a Specials song), but I think only two tracks fit that description. Who cares? This is a fun fucking album; almost every one of the fifteen tracks is excellent.

The first rarity is “Skinhead Moonstomp” by Symarip. They were a British band (whose members were all of Afro-Caribbean descent) formed in the ‘60s. The track was released in 1969 and then again in 1980, to capitalize on the Two-Tone movement. The original version of the song – “Moon Hop”  – is also from 1969, and was written and released by Derrick Morgan. The spoken intro by Symarip is modeled on Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You.”

The Desmond Dekker classic “It Mek” is next, but I already owned this one on my Dekker comp. “Monkey Man” is also a pretty well known song, by Toots & the Maytals from 1969; and this was covered by the Specials. The other definite Specials cover is “A Message to You Rudy,” here in its original 1967 form by Dandy Livingstone, with future Specials collaborator Rico Rodriguez on trombone. The Livingstone original also features a saxophonist named Pepsi. The track was originally titled “Rudy A Message to You.”

A Bob Marley & the Wailers track follows (“Concrete Jungle” but not the Specials’ subsequent original of the same name), which is not ska at all but rather reggae, and I don’t like reggae. So. Also not ska is “Babylon’s Burning,” by the Ruts – this is just punk, and doesn’t fit at all with the other songs on the disc.

“Gangsters” is here as performed by Neville Staples, but this is a straight up Specials song. This version is admittedly different from the Specials’ recording, but I do not believe for a second this is the original version. Not cool, Mojo. What is VERY cool is the sound of “I Spy (for the FBI),” by the Untouchables, a Los Angeles band formed in 1981; they played with X and were in the film Repo Man (as a scooter gang), and this song was produced by Jerry Dammers of the Specials. I do need to acknowledge that the lyrics get a little stalker-ish towards the end.

The Belle Stars were an all-woman band who opened for the Clash; their song “Hiawatha” was produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley (Madness), and is one of the weaker tracks on this comp. Rico Rodriguez’s instrumental version of “Sea Cruise” (on which he is backed by the Specials) is from 1980; “Sea Cruise” was originally a Huey Smith song recorded by Frankie Ford in 1959, and has been covered a lot, including by Jerry Lee Lewis, John Fogerty (CCR), Dion, the Beach Boys, and Yo La Tengo.

Legend Eddy Grant gets a song on here – “ Baby Come Back” – as recorded by the Equators, a 1977 British band with a core of three brothers (Donald, Leo, and Rocky Bailey) whose parents emigrated from Jamaica; the song was first released in 1966 by the Equals. The Godfather of Ska, Cuban-born Laurel Aitken, is represented with his song “Skinhead.” I am not sure what the original release date of this song is. Aitken worked with producer Duke Reid and recorded with the Skatalites. Rancid covered his “Everybody’s Suffering.” He died in 2005.

Judge Dread was actually a white dude from England named Alexander Hughes who sometimes worked security for the Stones. He holds the record for most songs banned by the BBC. “Skin Lake” has a horn part based on some classical piece I can’t recall the name of right now; I also can’t tell what the release date is.

Perhaps the most entertaining song on the album is Arthur Kay’s “Play My Record,” which he delivers in a Cockney accent not far removed from Ian Dury. This is a 1980 song, and Kay (born Kitchener) was a session bassist for the Trojan label in the ‘60s. The last track is the odd but catchy “Dambusters March,” by the JJ All Stars, which was the one-off alias of British band the 4-Skins, who were around from 1979-84; the alias is apparently a tribute to the backing band of the same name from the late ‘60s who worked with producer JJ Johnson.

The Best Thing About This Album

ALL of it (well, almost).

Release Date

April, 2008

The Cover Art

I sort of like this – the pink, in particular, is nice.

Cub – Come Out Come Out

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

Cub is one of those bands that brings me as close to pure joy as I can get. Lisa Marr is an underappreciated songwriter, and her ability to craft shiny melodies and write complex lyrics amazes me no matter how many times I listen to her work. She went on to form Buck and then the Lisa Marr Experiment, and eventually moved on to filmmaking.

What I Think of This Album

Cub fully embraces the cuddlecore tag on their studio debut (the term is splashed across the inner sleeve), while simultaneously sounding much more professional and mature. The relative sleekness is simply a reflection of the steep learning curve – guitarist Robynn Iwata in particular shows a lot of growth (she lays down some impressive noise on “Life of Crime”) – and the band’s adoption a more consistently tough, punk-influenced sound (Lisa Marr’s bass presence is significantly greater this time around). But if the genre description and the sound seem at odds, then the problem perhaps is with your understanding of what cuddlecore means.

Smashing misconceptions, Marr writes lyrics infused with darkness – drowning, graves, blood, rot, bullet holes, and, uh, a crocodile attack. It’s all there. Notably, Cub starts to get sexy on this album, too. In addition to noting “you fuck me on the floor” on “Tomorrow Go Away,” the band sings of a girl crush:  “I saw you wiggle like a snake / Hey girl, make no mistake / I like it / Yes, I do” (on pounding first track “Ticket to Spain”). And delightfully fizzy “Your Bed” tosses off the witty, pajama-focused, movie-referencing, gender-swapping, sexually confused lyric “I wanna go / Never stop / I wear the bottoms but you’re the tops / Pillow fights, pillow talk / You be Doris, I’ll be Rock.” As on the Betti-Cola compilation, the songs range from thick, elastic rockers like “Flaming Red Bobsled” to charming dittys to silliness such as Ishtar-referencing “Isabelle.”

The highlights include jangly “Everything’s Geometry” (with a nicely subtle organ part by Lorraine Finch of Hello(Again)), which employs some questionable math, but everything else is perfect about this wondrous song of imperfect love (with a little bass solo!). Is there a better song about being young and in love in New York than “New York City”? No. There absolutely is not. They Might Be Giants covered this with some lyrical modifications. The already-discussed “Your Bed” is undeniably a classic. Also, “So Far Apart” is lovely, with guest guitar from Kevin Rose.

The covers are likewise nicely done. The spiky version of “Vacation” lets the vulnerability of the lyrics come through in a way that the Go-Go’s original chooses not to. And the elevation of Yoko Ono’s supremely tuneful  “I’m Your Angel” seems like a deliberate attempt to rehabilitate the image of a woman unfairly maligned by so many. A hidden track contains a house remix (I guess?) of Betti-Cola track “Go Fish.” This is Cub’s best album. 

The copious thank yous in the liner notes mention Beat Happening, Lois, Scott McCaughey, the Muffs, Ian MacKaye, Rancid, Sloan, the Softies, Yo La Tengo, and Zuzu’s Petals.

The Best Thing About This Album

There is so much good stuff here. “Your Bed” is irresistibly sweet.

Release Date

January, 1995

The Cover Art

I don’t hate this, but I don’t love it. The dominant purple color is cool. The cartoon is by Canadian artist Linda Smyth.

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.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

These guys were the indie heroes of 2005. With no record or distribution deal, they managed to sell tens of thousands of copies of this album through good press from blogs (and Pitchfork); they were hand-mailing these things out from their Brooklyn apartment across the globe. And they seemed pretty low-key about the whole thing. But I didn’t care for the second album and then I sort of forgot about them. Apparently, the entire band eventually quit and leader Alec Ounsworth is now the sole member of this project.

What I Think of This Album

I am not a fan of weird opening numbers – I don’t need a carnival barker to tell me to “hold on to your hat, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” Just start playing the damn music.

Eventually, CYHSY settles into an energetic groove. Alec Ounsworth half warbles / half mumbles, with a distinctly David Byrne sound to his voice. This is probably what’s going to make or break this album for you – either you accept Ounsworth’s vocals or you don’t. Along with the annoying intro, there are also a couple of other 90 second tracks, which are what I find the biggest stumbling block (though “Blue Turning Gray” is admittedly pretty). But that groove I mentioned? Yeah, it’s here in full guitar-and-keyboard glory, with Ounsworth’s haphazard voice on top.

“Let the Cool Goddess Rust” benefits from a suspension bridge cable bass line and some great tom pounding; there is a sort of Wedding Present vibe to the rushing guitars. It’s easy to lose yourself in the appropriately titled and glittering “Over and Over Again (Lost and Found).” There is a tense beauty and grace to “Details of the War,” particularly when you consider that one of the lyrics is “camel dick.”

The strongest track is unmistakably “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth,” with a New Order bass part (but more spare), disco beat (also, New Order-ish, frankly), glassine keyboard lines, skittery guitar (New. Fucking. Order.) and an unstoppable vocal melody that Ounsworth stretches like he’s some kind of taffy-pulling savant. “Is This Love?” is where the Byrne comparison is most appropriate, but that’s not to take away from the song at all, which sort of sadly tumbles all over the place.

The big surprise of “Heavy Metal” is that . . . it is not remotely metal (though in fairness, the lyrics indicate the band was talking about a suit of armor); this song is just okay. The band gets back on track with the dysthymic but thrilling “In This Home On Ice,” with a sort of Yo La Tengo sound. Closer “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” (umm, okay) is another pulsing song that somehow comes across as both modest and anthemic, and also clinically depressed. Which is to say . . . I like it! Ounsworth pulls you in to his vortex when he chants “child stars” for what seems like three hours and you emerge gasping for air when he yelps “With their sex / And their drugs / And their rock / And rock / And rock and rock ‘n’ roll, HEY!” 

The Best Thing About This Album

“The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” can even make me feel good, for almost six minutes.

Release Date

June, 2005

The Cover Art

I think this is hideous. The drawing is by Dasha Shishkin, with coloring and lettering by one of the band members.

Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

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

Yo La Tengo can never be accused of not having a sense of humor. Whether the reprinted fan letter on Painful, the fake releases advertised on I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, or the jokey song and album titles, Yo La Tengo never comes across like they are taking things too seriously. Here, the album title comes from a dispute between two New York Knicks, and the last song mocks the inability of people to get the band’s name correct.

What I Think of This Album

I tend to think of this as I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, Part Two. It’s another eclectic collection of songs, jumping from style to style (but somehow always sounding like Yo La Tengo; Roger Moutenot mans the boards once more), and while it would be easy to say that almost no album by anyone is as good as Heart, the truth is that this album suffers in the inevitable comparison. The band sounds more confident than on Heart, but that assuredness seems to have come at the cost of the sense of wonder and fun that permeated that landmark work. This is another Yo La Tengo album that works best for fans, though I could be convinced otherwise.

On the positive side of the ledger, there is the light and yearning piano-based ’60s pop of “Beanbag Chair” and surprising soul number “Mr. Touch, replete with horns and a shocking falsetto from Ira Kaplan (who, it has to be said, overall gives probably his best vocal performance throughout this album). Also noteworthy is a strings and euphonium pairing, augmented by a drum machine, that turns “Black Flowers” into the song latter-day Flaming Lips were always trying to write but couldn’t.

The band goes back to the sounds of Painful on the drones-and-bongos-and-Farfisa (seriously?) “The Room Got Heavy” and the “Eight Miles High”-isms of “The Race Is On Again.” Scottish pop á la Belle and Sebastian is the name of the game on the airy and pleasant “The Weakest Part.” 

Less successful are songs like the meandering “I Feel Like Going Home,” with a subdued vocal from drummer Georgia Hubley; the jazzy “Sometimes I Don’t Get You;” and lengthy instrumental “Daphnia,” which stops the album dead in its tracks. “I Should Have Known Better” is 85% of a good song, but the rest never arrives, and despite all its energy, “Watch Out for Me Ronnie” doesn’t even get that far.

Finally, the album is bookended by a pair of Kaplan guitar showcases, each over ten minutes long; the first is fairly mundane, but finale “The Story of Yo La Tango” (that is not a typo) is galactic.

The Best Thing About This Album

“The Story of Yo La Tango” is one of their best six-string jams.

Release Date

September, 2006

The Cover Art

Another miss. This is an abstract painting that does nothing for me. I do like the shadow effect on the band name.

Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out

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

It’s not always easy to hear the lyrics in Yo La Tengo songs, and you’re not often left feeling good when you discern them. On this album in particular, as well as on I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, the conclusion that there is much amiss in the marriage between Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley is easily, though perhaps inaccurately, drawn. These are just songs, of course. Who knows from whence they sprang or why. But still . . .

What I Think of This Album

Yo La Tengo gets ambient, bitches. For the most part, this is a subdued, gentle blanket of an album, including the 17 minute long treatise, “Night Falls on Hoboken.” But even within the hushed tones, there are plenty of surprises. Whether the arrangements were carefully planned or developed organically, they add color and texture to the songs courtesy of shifting drum patterns (some from a machine), other percussion, bass swells, strings, organ, shards of piano, and guitar.

Representing another evolution for the band, I am not sure I would call it essential for the casual listener, though it is a superb album, and any existing fan should definitely check it out; in fact, I am not confident a non-fan would really appreciate it, if this was their introduction to Yo La Tengo.

That said, the album is anything but boring. There is plenty to keep you engaged, whether it is the Georgia Hubley-sung “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House” (referencing a Simpsons gag, and invoking a bizarre love triangle of Tony Orlando, Dawn, and Frankie Valli); the excellent feedback-laced, whammy bar workout “Cherry Chapstick,” which is inconsistent with the feel and mood of the rest of the album; the unusual samba cover of “You Can Have It All” (which has “A Fifth of Beethoven” type strings, I swear to God); and the disquieting, Whit Stillman influenced “The Last Days of Disco;” the lyric “And the song says ‘Don’t be lonely’ / It makes me lonely / I hear it and I’m lonely / More and more” is a gut punch every time. In addition, there is the spoken word majesty of the “The Crying of Lot G” (the Pynchon tribute being incomplete insofar as the song is accessible and enjoyable); Hubley’s vocals on the country ballad “Tears Are In Your Eyes;” and the soundscape of “Hoboken.”

The band thanks the Ladybug Transistor and Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan in the liner notes. Roger Moutenot produced again.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Cherry Chapstick.” Reapply liberally. Though the “it makes me lonely” from “Disco” is a veeeeeeerrrrrrrrry close second.

Release Date

February, 2000

The Cover Art

Pretty good. This supernatural photograph is by Gregory Crewdson, a professor at Yale University School of Art, and nicely juxtaposes the mundane reality of suburban/small town living with the otherworldly. The formatting of the band name looks good, as well as the use of very small font for the album title.

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