The Go-Betweens

Spring Hill Fair(Sire 1984)

http://www.mediafire.com/?bdvvlns3fks

In my younger years, I was wrong about a lot more than I am today. However, I can easily imagine a similar judgement from a cranky bastard who looks incredibly like myself in ten years. It’s just that I have been so misguided in my first impressions of bands. I thought Spacemen 3’s Perfect Prescription was a load of hippie bullshit and that Dolly Parton was funny in 9 to 5, but who in the hell wants to listen to that hokey bullshit? Years later, I cannot imagine life without Dolly’s tales of bargain stores and multi-colored coats. A similar situation occurred when I first heard Spring Hill Fair.

Countless cronies had talked them up a storm over the years, but they just seemed so monotonous and dour. Neither vocalist seemed too excited by thought of life and there weren’t many hooks or melodies to my ears. Never gave ’em a whit of thought until a chance encounter with a fellow traveler bearing Spring Hill Fair. Maybe life dealt me a few too many dour moments since its cynicism and broken spirit seemed more approachable now.

Spring Hill Fair is devoted to slowly decaying affairs, broken promises the consequences of decisions not made. It’s a bit like a poor bloke in the throes of his own version of the Stations of the Cross. Each song piles yet another indignity upon our poor protagonist as mortgages, age, domesticity and accumulated slights weigh heavily upon him.  Now, Spring Hill Fair isn’t all piss and vinegar. Our hero also may be the most sentimental record about humiliation ever recorded. It’s almost an ode to falling out of love as Forster and McClennan vie to see who can take the most pleasure from being hurt.

Therefore, it’s only fitting that a B-Side on the bonus disc tackles the plight of the courtesan. An educated, beautiful devotee to their love who perpetually shuns them in favor of less worthy souls. All of Spring Hill Fair’s lovable losers kind of remind me of courtesans in training. All of them enthusiastically take their lumps and stoke the fires of love while the object of their affections kick dirt upon the flames. Highly recommended for moments of masochism.

The 6ths

Wasp’s Nest (London 1995)

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

Stephin Merritt has always utilized the vocal talents of others to realize his artistic vision. His choices were sometimes a bit suspect on 69 Love Songs, but he usually has a great ear for who best coalesces for this tragic songwriting. His best collaborations can be found on Wasp’s Nest, the 6ths debut, but how can you go wrong with a roster of vocalists that includes Barbara Manning, Mary Timony(Helium), Dean Waeham (Galaxie 500), Amelia Fletcher (Heavenly), Rober Scott (The Clean/Bats), Mark Robinson (Unrest), Chris Knox (Tall dwarves), Georgia Hubley (Yo La Tengo) and Max MaCaughan (Superchunk)?

The music doesn’t differ from the baroque electronic indie-pop that marks his work in the Magnetic Fields. The lyrics doesn’t stray from his usual tales of unrequited love and romantic promises, but the roster of vocalists make this his best release. From Barbara Manning’s ode to the joys of the San Diego Zoo to Georgia Hubley’s rejection of a lover who can never compare to her own imagination, every element of each song is on point. The highlight is Dean Wareham’s take on “Falling Out of Love With You” which documents the dissolution of a relationship in a blase sort of way. I always loved the lyrics to this one although they sound better in performance than on your screen.

“In an old silverline
I was yours, you were mine
I was hoarse, you were mean
We designed drum machines

But every day in every way
Im falling out of love with you
Every kiss means less and less
Im falling out of love with you
Every hour kills a flower
Im falling out of love with you
You just bore me more and more
Im falling out of love with you

They made sounds much like drums
I was young you were dumb
Now youre older and im wiser
We design synthesizers

But every day in every way
Im falling out of love with you
Every kiss means less and less
Im falling out of love with you
Every hour kills a flower
Im falling out of love with you
You just bore me more and more
Im falling out of love with you”

It is playful, bitter, sarcastic and a downright mean rejection, but the music is so chirpy and bright that you find yourself humming along with each caustic word. Now that’s a pop song.

Camper Van Beethoven

Key Lime Pie

http://www.divshare.com/download/4720786-c87

The advent of Ronald Reagan’s reign over American politics inspired a strong reaction from the arts. Reagan’s huckster routine was designed to sell mom, apple pie, the American Dream as a way to make us feel better about cuts in government services, the arts and a sharp increase in our nation’s deficit which plagues us to this very day. It was Leave it to Beaver shrouded in leg warmers and Hollywood smoke and mirrors. However, I would take the calculated deviance of the Reagan era over the clueless bumbling of the Bush administration. Plus, Reagan’s administration had a plan, but it was one which disenfranchised and dismantled America’s unions, arts funding and assistance to the poor.

Yes, there was “Piss Christ” and Mapplethorpe’s photography that garnered media attention as a reaction to the Reagan era. In addition, the Dead Kennedy’s cover of Frankenchrist and various heavy metal covers gained the attention of the prudish pointers of the PMRC. Yes, punk, hardcore and many artists made their disapproval heard in some low-key and high profile ways, but Camper Van Beethoven’s Key Lime Pie is one of the most caustic criticisms of the Reagan era. It didn’t resort to shock and awe, but assumed the form of thoroughly American musics like Country, folk and rock and roll.

Camper Van Beethoven was an odd combo. David Lowery was the child of an Air Force officer who pushed the country and rock and roll side of the band while the rest were artsy-fartsy intellectuals. Both sides were intelligent and adventurous, but in different ways and this cultural clash eventually caused their breakup. However, this friction is the impetus behind Key Lime Pie.

Key Lime Pie takes a look at the seedy underbelly of the 80s and the forgotten. From “I was Born in a Laundromat” where Lowery paints a picture of a woman who finds comfort in being a queen bee of a laundromat as long as she finds sexual release. “All Her Favorite Fruit” skewers American domesticity and portrays the nuclear family as a sad and pointless endeavor. “Come on Darkness” features a patron at a honky-tonk who pursues smokes, drinks and sex as a way to escape the pressures of the workweek.

The most damning criticisms come in the track “Jack Ruby” where Lowery sings:

So draw the box along quickly
Avert your eyes with shame
Let us stand and speak of the weather
And pretend nothing ever happened on that day
Grant us the luxury, ’cause all our heroes are bastards
Grant us the luxury, ’cause all our heroes are thieves
Of the innocence of the afternoons
Now we think it’s a virtue to simply survive
But it feels like this calm it’s decaying
It’s collapsing under its own weight
And I think its your friend the hangman coming
Choking back a laugh, a drunkard swaggering to your door
Now do you feel that cold, icy presence?
In the morning with coffee and with bread
Do you feel it in the movement of traffic
And days are terrible, simply forget

Key Lime Pie may be one of my favorite albums because it relentlessly attacks complacency and addresses many of the shifts in American culture which plague us today. Oh yeah, it is catchy as hell and is an amazing country album by way of indie-rock.

The Delays

Faded Seaside Glamour

http://www.divshare.com/download/4710547-d03

I cannot begin to count the ways I hated this album at first listen. An esteemed colleague pulled me aside during a happy hour or a drunken visit to the nearby record store a few blocks from the selfsame happy hour. It doesn’t really matter other than to suggest that I was resistant to his statement that “You need to hear this Delays album, it sounds like Stevie Nicks except it’s a dude singing.” Bryan, I apologize if I muddled the mixture as usual. However, I distinctly remember my defiance to the idea of a fellow putting on the guise of the ultimate gypsy, Stevie Nicks.

I have been indoctrinated to the gypsy supremacy of Stevie Nicks by more than a few ex-girlfirends. However, those same ex-girlfriends also attempted to convince me that Annie Lennox’s solo albums were masterpieces. (Editors note: I only believe them to be enjoyable albums in the company of a lovely woman.) When they brought up Sarah McLachlan as a feminine icon, I felt dirty, but said no. Tori Amos was a coin-toss, but I picked heads and I find the coin landing on tails much too often. I am getting carried away with myself, let’s get to The Delays, whom I love in a conditional way.

Lead singer Greg Gilbert has perfected the throaty magic of Ms. Nicks and wields it effectively and does sound like a fellow who can imitate Stevie Nicks after a whiskey and a few cigs. There is no mockery in this statement. I love this about his vocal acrobatics. I don’t even wince when the slow numbers happen and I think I am listening to The Wild Heart on my headphones.

Honestly, Isome of this is sheer mimicry while other moments really knock my socks off. The opener, “Wanderlust” opens with some well-placed steel drum as Gilbert swoons over every note of lyrics like “Can You hear that knocking in your soul/No, you don’t listen.” It is the theatrical qualities of his voice that make such lines work, just like a chorus of “Stand Back, Stand Back” worked. My parallels are drawn too closely since this band also delves into folk and Brit-pop. The other albums blow. This one offers an intriguing glimpse of what might have been.

The Moles – Instinct

June 10, 2008

The Moles

Instinct

http://www.divshare.com/download/4710277-dbf

For better or worse, Richard Davies’ orchestral obsessions took hold on the Moles and the result is Instinct. Now, I really love this mini-lp and his eventual shedding of his grubbier past for peacock feathers and strings with Cardinal, but it was kind of shocking and abrupt. Untune the Sky, his earliest efforts posted on the blog a few days ago, saw Davies’ mastery of a fuzzy, sort of off-kilter psychedelic indie pop song. Instinct finds Davies unhappy with past efforts and he has shaken the Moles to the core.

Instead of English Nuggets, indie-pop and the Bats, Chills and Verlaines, we find Van Dyke Parks and Nilsson as new bedmates. To be honest, this comparison isn’t totally honest because I still haven’t heard a parallel to some of the sounds found here. I remember some godawful term called “ork-pop” used to describe Cardinal, but i cannot protest too much since I repeatedly cited the term “post-rock” when I worked for Alternative Press. Neither are appropriate. There is something inherently prog about all of these tracks, but the influence of Untune the Sky grounds it before it gets too floofy.

I sound conflicted, but I really do love this album. Davies’ remains a wordsmith in the vein of the Davies’ brothers and and truly has a way with words. He builds worlds within songs and if you but into his musical worldview, it is a rich experience. I like Untune the Sky better, but this middle ground is very enlightening in the context of what comes after. What comes after? Well, I will post the rest throughout the week.

The Spinanes

The Imp Years (Merge 2000)

http://www.divshare.com/download/4699663-19b

If only I had my crystal ball to predict which 90s indie-pop bands will be most fondly remembered by futuristic hipsters who may be able to telekinetically download albums in the shake of an ass cheek. Oh shit, I found it and believe that Portland, Oregon’s Spinanes will be hailed as one of the most beloved voices in this crowded room.

I believe my love for this band is firmly rooted in the fact that they echo many of the moody, introspective and catchy qualities of the Verlaines, Bats, Chills and other hallmarks of New Zealand’s Flying Nun Label. In fact, the chorus on “Hawaiian Baby” consists of a soothing chant of “Verlaines, Verlaines, Verlaines…” Well, you get the idea. Yes, they are somehow indebted to and part of the K records ethos of twee, but their lyrics and music were so much more mature and melancholy that that.

Their debut Manos was full of piss and vinegar. Lots of loud, amplified pop song played at a frenetic pace, but The Imp Years predicts the direction of their later albums more than the debut which followed these classic singles. Rebecca Gates carries much of the action as there is just something about her vocals that make you empathize with the heartaches and wariness that permeate these songs. Check out their second album Strand if this collection of singles speaks to your troubled heart.