Cass McCombs-A

April 25, 2012

Cass McCombs

A (Monitor 2003)

http://www.mediafire.com/?m5vlzvrbccrtvds

On the surface, the tottering building blocks that lay the groundwork for Cass McCombs’ debut album seem all too predictable and safe for an indie-rock album circa 2003. The Velvet Underground, 4ad, Robyn Hitchcock and Syd Barrett spring to mind upon a cursory cruise through its eleven tracks. However, they years have slowly prodded me deeper and deeper into this lonely, lackadaisical and deceptively lush album and come to the conclusion that A is so much more than the sum of an easily solved equation. In fact, it might actually wind up being cited as a seminal influence all its own once the dust settles after his long and lonesome career is complete.

Many great artists are able to conceptualize their own insular universe over the course of an album. The Stooges inspire dread and nihilistic abandon. My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless embedded you in the middle of a kaleidoscope of feedback. Michael Hurley whisks you off to a crowded campfire where the bottles are quickly drained and the bowl is slowly passed. Cass McCombs’ A isn’t quite a card carrying member of that hallowed crew, but it does inspire a lonely and lost vibe that makes you want to wear pajamas and draw the blinds on the sunniest of days. However, there is a sunny undercurrent that drags it above a self-destructive slog through the depths of depression. It’s one of the first things I reach for on those days where life should go absolutely nowhere for an hour and my hectic existence reaches a much needed standstill. It achieves stasis as it balances majesty and melancholy perfectly on the scales of my mind.

Supposedly recorded after a long, protracted nomadic existence spent bouncing from city to city and couch to couch culminating in a Greyhound bus retreat to a home base of San Francisco, A definitely feels like the work of a restless soul in search of anything that could possibly become familiar someday. “Gee, It’s Good to Be Back Home” is alternately sentimental and sarcastic about his travails as he sweetly sings of how it’s wonderful to be around old friends, but offers up the half-hearted description of his home as a place where you “don’t sleep, don’t eat and don’t drink the foam” as a sad acceptance of the futility of this dark place and the excess it entails.

His detached, kind of downtrodden sarcasm and bitterness raises its weathered and weary head again on “AIDS in Africa” where he paints a landscape where cancer and AIDS decimate the ranks of our beloved while folks praise a benevolent creator who utilizes these tragedies as part of some divine plan. The effect is multiplied by its reliance upon a wheezing, jittery church organ and angelic harmonies, but the message is succinct and decries all who ignore the misery around them and build cocoons in which their minds slumber until eternity calls their inevitable number.

“I Went to the Hospital” captures the transient nature of his life as he ponders the fragility of it all when you face your mortality. He talks of a bout with illness and embarks on a narrative detailing all of the thoughts we all have when the unknown looms large and casts shadow puppets of our regrets and missteps upon the walls of our examination room. It is a meditation on mortality and straddles the line between paranoia and confessional, but that wash of organ and gently jangling chords make it seem like a gentle jaunt once you soak in it a few times.

Ultimately, A is an album full of dread about what has already happened and what may come. He puts on a straight face and conjures a narcotic and dazed aura around each song, but dig beneath the surface and there are countless ghosts that haunt every track. A puts on a brave face, but the fractures reveal themselves with time and make it one of those albums that you listen to when you want to enshroud yourself in defense of your own woes.

Dirty Three

Sad and Dangerous(Poon Village 1995)

http://www.mediafire.com/?1ymnoimyyjd

The title of the Dirty Three’s debut album is an apt declaration of what was accomplished here. There is something elegant and anguished at work here being performed by a trio who was simultaneously masterful and rough around the edges. They were a bit of a paradox at the outset before they sanded away some of the jagged edges into a more streamlined and contoured unit. I do love all of the albums that followed, but Sad and Dangerous is forceful, direct and embraces its imperfections and outbursts where subsequent releases just aimed for a musical approximation of loneliness, regret and despair. Worthwhile pursuits to be sure, but this one was full of piss and vinegar too and it’s essence is a prickly and difficult beast.

Culled from a demo cassette recorded in 1992-1993, Sad and Dangerous captures the brilliant beginnings of a trio exploring the parameters of what was possible in an instrumental rock band with  violinist Warren Ellis as its centerpiece underpinned by an understated, but at times ferocious combo of guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Mick White. Their occasional swan dives into dissonance aren’t surprising since Turner and White previously played in the abrasive punk band Venom P. Stinger in the 80s. Other times, White and Turner sound like a stumbling drunk Grant Green jazz session only to rein themselves into a more mellow throb and strum that wouldn’t sound out of place on some forgotten 70s pastoral psych jam. They are the engine that drives this locomotive down its wayward and winding road and really fill in the background with some gorgeous and visceral melodies and brash and brutal stabs of noise that set a grand stage for Warren Ellis to glorify and mangle all that is good and great about the violin.

If Turner and White were responsible for painting the background of the canvas, Warren Ellis’s bold and vivid brushstrokes were splattered all over the foreground as he rightfully claimed the spotlight on both their recorded work and revelatory live performances. I remember seeing them on their first American tour and still remember the magical feeling during the opening strains of “Kim’s Dirt” as I realized within a few minutes that this was going to be one of those performances that forcefully suck you into the immediacy of the moment and are struck by the epiphany that you are witnessing greatness as it occurs. Yeah, Ellis’ drunken banter and rambunctious stage presence got everyone’s attention pretty quickly, but there was something truly romantic and vast about the melodies that emanated from his instrument. It swallowed you whole and conjured memories both ecstatic and romantic as well as troubled and tragic as each swell of sound gathered you in the palm of its hand like an impressionable child. It was a truly moving experience that was full of humor, drama, fuck-ups and true suspense which are incredibly rare qualities in a live or recorded event. Now, it was a bit disappointing when I traveled to see them a second and third time only to see Ellis use the same stories and schtick, but I refused to let it debase the purity of the first time I saw them perform.

Sad and Dangerous fittingly begins with the best moment of the career “Kim’s Dirt”, which is ironically not even written by the band, but by Kim Salmon of the equally brilliant Australian band, the Scientists. It encapsulates everything that is special about the band into a single ten-minute epic. The voyage begins with a deceptively simple and minimal guitar riff that gracefully putters along until Ellis breaks out the waterworks and delivers his best performance as he literally wrings every ounce of emotion out of each pull of the bow. It slowly builds and builds upon this pattern until they ever so gradually pick up the pace to hypnotic trot that continuously threatens to break into a sprint, but never does so in favor of a precarious control over a melody that threatens to topple over at any moment. “Devil in the Hole” is notable because it delves into chaos and clatter as an accompaniment and reveals a side of the band that should’ve been explored again, but rarely ever was. “You Were a Bum Dream” could almost be from the heyday of the 4ad or ECM labels due to its ethereal and ghostly ambiance and kind of foreshadows Ellis’ later career scoring such films as The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James. It is fitting that Sad and Dangerous’ closer is as abstract and difficult as its opening is warm and inviting as “Turk” buries its beauty under a swath of drones and feedback as if the band was not content with attaining beauty, but was interested in its seedy underbelly. I miss this side of the Dirty Three and wish they’d revel in the tatters and shards again for a little while. However, Sad and Dangerous is a reminder of when they were unsure of which way was up and the music was all the more powerful for it.

 

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The Delgados-Hate

January 18, 2012

The Delgados

Hate (Mantra 2002)

http://www.mediafire.com/?7m3zdwiwmb1

The Delgados kind of flew under the radar of most folks during their heyday. It’s a shame because they continuously progressed and evolved during their eight-year career into something truly special. Not only did they start their own influential record label, Chemikal Underground, which spawned the careers of Mogwai and Arab Strap, but they quietly released some of the most gorgeously bruised and bittersweet albums of the era. Between Peloton, The Great Eastern and Hate, this Scottish band recorded a trio of albums that will hopefully get the attention they deserve someday. The band was blessed with a knack for well-written odes to disappointment and despair and the tandem of vocalists Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock allowed the band to alternate between her stately and elegant singing and his more resigned and beaten tones. Ironically, as their music grew more orchestrated and gorgeous, their subject material and instrumental palette consisted solely of shades of grey. No one wins in these songs. No one finds true love. Everyone just drinks a bit too much and fixates on their flaws while pointing out the imperfections of others and how they let them down over and over again.

Hate sounds like a swan song and it probably should’ve been considering its followup Universal Audio was a shadow of what came before. There is nothing cheeky or ironic about the album title because it kind of sums up the tone of the lyrics and weary, late-night ambiance of a prickly album about the failings of the world and those who live on its accursed surface. It’s kind of odd that they aligned themselves with producer Dave Fridmann who is most famous for crafting kaleidoscopic orchestrations that are more style than substance. Best known for his work with Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips and MGMT, his work tends to be gorgeous at first glance, but as satisfying as an aesthetically pleasing confection that leaves you wanting soon after. However, his work on Hate and its predecessor The Great Eastern brings the band out of its cantankerous shell and coaxes plenty of bombast and drama to accompany the band’s predilection for delicate and dour slices of life.

Hate is as bleak as its namesake. Here you’ll find explorations of a man’s last moments before he takes his life, the embrace of the last halcyon moments before the end of a relationship and a plea for all to accept the fact that everyone’s heart harbors hateful intentions. All of this vitriol and self-loathing is couched in lush arrangements and laced with catchy choruses to mask its true intent, but this album is misanthropic to its core and all the better for it. It is a brutally honest exploration of what lurks behind our smiles and exposes the grim motivations behind our weaker moments. Hate is a walking contradiction that marries the most resplendent and ostentatious arrangements married to the most calamitous and desolate worldview and this conflict is the the source of its staying power and gravitas.

Aeriel Pink

“Round and Round”

http://www.mediafire.com/?mmiixzh2vgz

Sorry for the long absence. The heart was willing, but the fingers weak. To be honest, life moved at such a pace that rambling about random tunes lost its significance when life grabs you by the boo-boos and drags you off to exciting locales. Sans the metaphor, I just bought a house and will be welcoming my first child on Halloween. Therefore, my inane scribbling about lonesome perverts and their latest musical excerpts took a back seat. However, that itch kept scratching and here I am for another round of conversation with whoever the hell reads this red hot mess.

As the years accumulate, it get a bit tougher to bask in the new. Those moments where your jaw drops for a few seconds and a smile spreads from ear to ear become increasingly rare. Yes, this mostly applies to the big picture in life, but it also rears its ugly head in my difficulty to hit that high one gets when hearing Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Supper Club or My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless for the first time. By no means, do I intend to sow such hyperbole upon Aeriel Pink’s “Round and Round”, but it did catch me by surprise and plaster a shit-eating grin on my face. On the surface, its just a kiss on the toes of 80s nostalgia, but it is such a departure from his weirdo vibe that its sudden accessibility kind of weaseled its way into my psyche and has not left for over a week.

“Round and Round” is the single from Aeriel Pink’s upcoming album Before Today and it sheds the murkiness and willful eccentricity of past efforts in favor of a more cuddly sort of creep. It’s like R. Stevie Moore intersecting with Can during a slow early-80s r&b jam at first before busting into the smoothest chorus this side of Vaseline. Yes, I did just sow the proverbial hyperbole, but it just sounds that great as the flowers bloom and wind takes on a warmer tinge. Each time I hear it, it reveals yet another aspect that makes me wonder where in the hell this song was lurking in this dude’s head. So familiar, yet kind of alien, “Round and Round” is a soothing, yet smarmy anthem about nothing in particular.

Unrest-Imperial f.f.f.r

February 5, 2009

Unrest

Imperial f.f.f.r (Teenbeat 1992)

http://www.divshare.com/download/6473493-1d9

As a teacher in a hardscrabble inner-city neighborhood, I have recently become disgusted with a certain cliche that is robotically spouted from the lips of my more disaffected and unmotivated students. The offensive phrase in question is “It is what it is” and it sort of a reverse rallying cry for the swells of apathy and one-dimensional worldviews that have rotted tender minds before they’ve had a chance to evolve. No fewer than six students out of 78 seniors chose this call to surrender as their personal quote for the year book. I know that I am being a bit histrionic since each generation has chosen their own brand of bite-size nihilism to embrace as a call to arms. Instead, this one feels different since it is a call to surrender. It signals acceptance of a life  that is static and unchanging instead of one that is ecstatic and unpredicatbly full of sublime moments that will never be summed up in a pithy phrase.

The contrast between the examined and unexamined life recently came into focus for me while listening to the eight-minute title track of Unrest’s Imperial f.f.f.r. There are certain songs and sounds that have pushed me to moments of catharsis, bliss, confusion, sadness and countless other shades of emotional states in between. There is something sublime and larger than the mortar and brick that surround us. It is larger than the accumulated minutia and detritus that threaten to avert our eyes from the larger themes and possible directions of our lives. I’d like to compile a laundry list of these musical moments, but it kind of feels like mental masturbation at the moment. However, this review is probably guilty of the same sin. Anyhow, “Imperial” is just so minimal, elegant and evokes a stream of recollections of those times when your next step in life is alternately  exhilirating and frightening as well. It makes me believe in the gravitas of a simple chord progression, angelic harmony and lyrics that resonate in your own life. In fact, the opening notes of “Imperial” are so full of introspection and melancholy and the eventual addition of Mark Robinson’s awkward choirboy vocals is one of those instants where every coalesces and becomes a positively transcendent harmony. It is a song about dreaming about things vast and undefinable like love, life and where our respectives paths will lead next. I wish it was 80 minutes long instead of eight, but the reverberating echoes that bring it to a premature finish do provide a simply gorgeous end to this meditation.

Unrest were always stylistic chameleons, so it is only fitting that the elegance of “Imperial” is quickly abandoned for the rapid-fire strumming of “Suki.” It’s a sunny ode to the early pangs of lust, but it pales in comparison to “Cherry Cream On” its hedonistic doppleganger. Where “Suki” focused on puppy love, “Cherry Cream On” is all about lusting after every single nook and cranny of your love interest. It’s bubblegum pop with a horny, hedonistic side that joyfully explores the raging hormones and awkward desires of your first sexual encounters. I always found their inclusion to be kind of a humorous contrast to the weighty subject material of the album. However, Unrest never stuck to one theme for too long. Considering the album contains an ode to American painter Isabel Bishop, meditations on the death of a father, clumsy hip-hop instrumentals and churning drones, the shifts and juxtapositions make sense when listening to the album as a whole.

Although Imperial f.f.f.r was released sixteen years ago, it still sounds youthful, fresh and optimistic. It makes me just as wide-eyed and excited about life and love as it did throughout my youth. Just because life has slapped us around a few times doesn’t mean that there aren’t infinite possibilities for adventure and personal growth. Yes, it’s just an album. It is what it is, but much of this “it” has provided a well of inspiration and a aural canvas on which to project my own thoughts and dreams.

Adventures in Stereo

Blue Album (Creeping Bent 1997)

http://www.mediafire.com/?ywtmzvcw3ey

Primal Scream was always Bobby Gillespie’s outlet for whatever genre’s corpse he felt like fucking at that particular moment. I’m not going to act like I didn’t believe Screamadelica and XTRMNTR were bold statements at the time of their release, but hindsight is a cruel mistress. Almost their entire catalogue sounds so dated and opportunistic these days, but I guess that is the nature of their game. However, I still love their debut album, Sonic Flower Groove, since it is more fey than a Little Lord Fauntleroy costume. Their early singles for Creation are even better statements of their twee purpose as the band succeeds in crafting perfect pop tunes with the heft of an empty garbage bag, This is no insult because I still hum along to “Velocity Girl” each time I hear it because it is one of the most concise and perfect sides of pop perfection.

Jim Beattie was a founding member of Primal Scream, but left before that pasty-faced Scot believed he was a hallucinogenic prophet, then Mick Jagger’s uglier kin, then a cyberpunk, trip-hopping danger to no one. He left to focus his efforts on Spirea X, a band that recorded an amazing single for 4AD before following it with an underwhelming album. The single got me all worked up over his continuation of the Creation era of Primal Scream, but his songwriting grew thin over the course of a full-length. I wrote the fellow off until I encountered the two cds released under the moniker of Adventures in Stereo. One was Blue, the other yellow, but both seemed to be semi-official releases due to the uncleared samples that formed the foundation for Beattie’s second stab at twee.

Beattie and vocalist Judith Boyle pay homage to Phil Spector’s work with 60s girl groups, but keep things somewhat fresh by incorporating tape loops and samples as the bedrock for their upate of 60s AM radio. To be honest, most of this wouldn’t sound out of place on K, Creation, Sarah or Slumberland, but the songwriting places it a step above most of their contemporaries. The Blue Album is just a stellar collection of moody, introspective indie-pop that reminds me of Tracey Thorn’s solo album or her work with the Marine Girls. It’s a dated formula, but it works wonders here.

It’s a shame that the Yellow and Blue albums were released in such limited quantities because the band shit the bed on its subsequent releases. What was once a charming patchwork quilt of AM Gold and twee was abandoned in favor of more beats and a slicker sheen. What was once rough is now sanded smooth and their music suffered because of it. Therefore, they now populate budget bins and no one cares to investigate the origins of what made them special.

Pale Saints

The Comforts of Madness (4ad 1990)

http://www.divshare.com/download/5210899-715

From the first moment I heard the angelic choirboy voice of Ian Masters, I was hooked. I’ve followed his circuitous career and always was surprised that more folks haven’t come to appreciate his more spartan, ethereal work as Spoonfed Hybrid and ESP Summer. However, none of these projects ever compared to the brilliance of his work on The Comforts of Madness. His influence on the band is made even more clear by the blandness of Slow Buildings, the album they recorded without him. In fact, the followup to The Comforts of Madness, In Ribbons, is a lesser work because Masters was disenchanted with the poppy direction of the band and pressures to tour outside of England. However, their debut was entirely Masters’ platform and it resulted in one of 4ad’s best albums.

The Comforts of Madness is definitely influenced by Galaxie 500, Jesus and Mary Chain, AR Kane and My Bloody Valentine, but Masters’ songs are much more delicate and fragile despite the swells of feedback that propel some songs. They also set themselves apart from their peers in the shoegaze scene with their sudden shifts in tempo and mood within each song. Plus, it kind of sounds like a member of the Vienna Boys Choir tinkering with twee and shoegaze by writing complex, but odd pop songs with tape loops and almost subliminal samples. They even cover Opal’s “Fell From the Sun” and improve on the original by lending it a graceful quality lacking from the original. It’s a thoroughly 4ad take on an American gem. I could listen to Masters coo the alphabet and be a happy man, so I may be biased in my praise of this vastly underrated album.

I’ve been pondering the posting of lists. This will be the first in a series of thematic collections relating to floats my boat. Today’s list was inspired by a humid drive into the barren heart of Delaware County where Peter Jefferies’ depressing Electricity album placed me in one of those pensive moods that went perfectly with the blur of chain restaurants dominating my horizons. Therefore, this led to this list of songs that always make me feel like a maudlin chump. Sorry that these are individual tracks, but I broke it up so you may pick and choose. There will probably be a sequel since I gave up at twenty.

1. Skip Spence-“Broken Heart” from the Oar LP

-he sounds broken down before his life even began. There are many worthy choices on this album, but this captures the weight of love gone wrong.

http://www.mediafire.com/?dxntyjgtxyv

2. Beck-“Lost Cause” from the Sea Change Lp

-he has devoted so much time to being the most wiggity-wack Scientologist in the club that you forget how great he can be without the fixins’. A vivid snapshot of regret, lost friendships and the worry that goes along with new beginnings.

http://www.mediafire.com/?2tst2o2jbts

3. Bread-“Look What You’ve Done” from the On the Waters LP

-a soft-rock classic where the protagonist is pitiful and pissed at the same time. Who knew Bread had such issues with passive aggressive behavior?

http://www.mediafire.com/?nfzg1c4gg91

4. Camper Van Beethoven-“All Her Favorite Fruit” from Key Lime Pie LP

-domesticity gone awry.

http://www.mediafire.com/?r69tkztryc2

5. Codeine-“3 Angels” from the Frigid Stars LP

-I could probably pick any of their songs, but this one crushes you more than the others.

http://www.mediafire.com/?3005tccwn42

6. Galaxie 500-When Will You Come Home” from Peel Sessions

http://www.mediafire.com/?mauo9b1cnem

An old chestnut that deals with those times you miss the company of other humans.

7. Gary Stewart-“She’s Acting Single(I’m Drinking Doubles) from The Essential Gary Stewart

http://www.mediafire.com/?dgibufxxzum

-Oh Gary, lemme give you a big old hug. Nevermind, let’s finish the bottle.

8. Gene Clark-“Life’s Greatest Fool” from the No Other Lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?39z1yp4mmog

-an exploration of powerlessness, then hope. Actually, this is kind of uplifting in its own way.

9. Go-Betweens-“Dive For Your Memory” from 16 lovers Lane LP

http://www.mediafire.com/?ify3xjmnyyw

-A man willing to do anything to regain the past. Kind of romantic, but tragic.

10. Graham Nash-“Military Madness” from the Songs For Beginners LP

http://www.mediafire.com/?hiyftjm9pdn

-Sad only because its Vietnam era warnings seem relevant again.

11. The Jayhawks-“Take Me With You When You Go” from Hollywood Town Hall

http://www.mediafire.com/?1tcummrzuyd

-I always imagined this to be about Mark Olson’s worries about his wife’s struggle with Multiple Sclerosis.

12. Kristin Hersh-“Beestung” from Hips and Makers Lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?pqdg46mvcky

-I don’t know what the hell she’s talking about, but it seems to deal with her struggles with mental illness and her pleas for a lover to assist her.

13. Lisa Gerrard-“Sanvean” from Live in Dusseldorf bootleg.

http://www.mediafire.com/?ndelmnjn9an

-I hope these are the sounds I hear as my life enters its last minutes.

14. The Magick Heads-“Before We Go Under” from Before We Go Under Lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?lmy9qzbtgzo

-A song about drowning from a side project of Robert Scott of The Bats.

15. Michael Hurley-“Sweedeedee” from Armchair Boogie(the best album ever made)

http://www.mediafire.com/?axmtoxymmuc

-another tale of lost love and the attempts to regain it.

16. Mickey Newbury-“The Future’s Not What It Used To Be” from ‘Frisco Mabel Joy

http://www.mediafire.com/?lxmd2y1ddij

-a man discovers that travel and booze won’t solve his problems. Go figure.

17. Peter Jefferies-“Scattered Logic” from the Electricity lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?el1jtm1ej3n

– my favorite song at the moment. A heart-wrenching three minutes.

18. John Cale-“I Keep a Close Watch on My Heart at Night” from Music for a New Society

http://www.mediafire.com/?nxtwsbscisl

-somebody not only broke this dude’s heart, but squashed it into a pulp.

19. Peter Hammill-“Been Alone So Long” from the Nadir’s Big Chance Lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?semmnz2ejsd

-This is a close second to the John Cale song in terms of crushing hopelessness. A song about a man who has been isolated so long that he’s forgotten how to relate to humanity.

20. Marc Ribot-“Saints” from the Saints Lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?qbadnytjjdx

-let’s end on a wordless note. His cover of Albert Ayler’s “Saints” is a dark, moody end to this self-indulgence.

Tarnation

Gentle Creatures (4AD)

http://www.mediafire.com/?thfexd1gx9m

Around the time 4AD Records picked up Paula Frazer’s momentarily brilliant Tarnation for their roster the label was in the midst of a California awakening. There was that branch office in L.A., while that San Franciscan diary-rock band, Red House Painters, picked up the slack for the grinding bore that was the mid-90’s Pixies, and Heidi Berry unceremoniously made Joni Mitchell records. It was as if the blueprint Ivo Watts-Russell had laid with his canonical vanity project, This Mortal Coil, rose up in a moment of awkward transition and obscurity. Watts-Russell, with not so much time left for the label he started in 1979 (he officially split in 1999) seemed to enjoy a moment as the charioteer of that Laurel Canyonland which had been so integral to This Mortal Coil.

Gentle Creatures, when it works, does so for two reasons: sloppy grace and luck. Paula Frazer’s pristine Appalachian-style yodel has all the rusticated clarity of Patsy Cline, if not Ms. Cline’s jazz-like sensitivity with phrasing. Far from problematic, the sense of slackness grants the music a kind of unguarded warmth.

No doubt, Frazer carries this record over patches a lesser singer could not. Behind her plays a competent, if drowsy, alt country ensemble cooked up of the usual genetic stuff: Lone Justice, Cowboy Junkies, the Eagles, and Gram Parsons. It’s a modern honky-tonk approximation, and it tires along the way—that Frazer herself is such a natural makes some of the results all the more frustrating.

“The Game of Broken Hearts” opens the affair grandly. Reverberating hollow-body guitar and voice share the nickel-size spotlight. The production effects suggest it was recorded in a coffee can in 1945 rather than a studio in 1995—a rare instance of such contrivance working in the song’s favor. Nevertheless it does. Like the music David Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti, and Julee Cruise created for the tv show, Twin Peaks, it isn’t so much an imitation of early 60’s rock aesthetics (or early 40’s production values as the case may be) as it is a kind of time-warped invocation. The difference is, in both cases, there is a sensibility being channeled, as opposed to a sound being lifted.

And was it that a vintage aura, and the light in moving brine-rusted chrome were all it took this would readily be called a classic.

However, songs grow thin as Gentle Creatures proceeds, and certainly the high watermark of that first, rather astonishing, number is not met again. One notable exception is the Warren Defever-recorded “Big O Motel”, a California country weeper in the vein of Linda Ronstadt. It’s a pretty song, gilded by Frazer’s spiraling chorus. Her lover is but a peripheral shape, and the image of her lying beside him “in the Big O Motel/On the vibrating bed” has a terrific Loserville poignancy.

After finishing another record in 1997, the logical progression played out, Tarnation disbanded, or more accurately, Paula Frazer started professionally calling herself Paula Frazer. She scored some memorable cameos over the years (a smart duet on Cornershop’s When I Was Born For The 7th Time, and again on the Prince Paul/Dan the Automator project, Handsome Boy Modeling School). A solo career has yet to earn her the recognition a voice so intelligent and gifted deserves. And even if Gentle Creatures’ flawed magnificence becomes her legacy—which by all appearances it has, it is still a legacy worthy of a visit involving genuflection.

The Breeders

Pod Demos

http://www.mediafire.com/?xkeytnkyt0i

At the time, The Pixies were my favorite band in the universe. The Smiths and Cocteau Twins were runners-up. My teenage mind latched onto Frank Black’s primal screams on Surfer Rosa and loved the eclectic smorgasbord of Doolittle. This teenage mind liked Bossanova and told Trompe Le Monde to talk to the hand. I saw them with the Ciure and Love and Rockets and my heart swooned at the possibilities of music. Now I am much older and calloused and I look back and wonder why I thought their first two albums were a door to all that was new. I still view Loveless, Queen is Dead, Heaven or Las Vegas and Viva Hate as impeccable gems, but the Pixies just haven’t aged well with me.

The Breeders’ debut, Pod, is a horse of a different color. It still gets played regularly and it grows more loved with each listen. I like First Splash a lot and find something to love on the other two, but the overall legacy is weak except for Pod. I used the term “supergroup” already today, but here we go on our hackneyed path again. In my mind, the Breeders were much more than Kim Deal. The band included Tanya Donnely of Throwing Muses, Josephine Wiggins of The Perfect Disaster and Britt Walford of Slint, who recorded under the alias of Shannon Doughton to preserve the all-girl flair. When you listen to the demos for Pod, it becomes apparent that they had a lot more to do with its success than you may think.

Pod was produced and engineered by Steve Albini. Known for his work with  Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac as well as production credits on albums by Nirvana, Superchunk Page and Plant and Pj Harvey. It was always obvious that he beefed up the sound of Pod, but one listen to the demos and it points to how Albini and Britt Walford made this album a great one instead of a good one. The demos include all of the Kim Deal tracks and excludes the Beatles cover as well as a few others. The demos are a great insight into the creation of the album and stand on their own as an album, but it lacks the forboding, metallic guitars and creepy atmosphere of the finished product. Yes, this is the case with most demos, but the contrast is schocking.

In the finished product, Walford’s drumming is pushed to the forefront and is recorded higher in the mix than than Deal’s vocals at times. In addition, Deal and Donnely’s guitars sounds more abrasive and harsh while Wiggs’ bass is prominent and drives each track with an air of aggression. The finished product is genius while the demos sounds almost twee. There is no Pod as wel know it without the pounding drums of Walford and Albini’s raw reconstruction of these songs. You may say this is unfair since these are demos. However, the band’s direction after Pod shows that they were always a catchy pop band with rough edges instead of the infinitely more interesting band which recorded Pod.