Today’s Active Lifestyles (Merge 1993)


Throughout my college years, I despised the Grateful Dead. However, I was enthralled by the words used by my hippie friends when describing their music. I wanted to love a band whose music inspired others to enthuse about each rambling lick as if it were a sentient entity. They argued over which version of Dark Star flowed the best and I felt as if my collection of indie-rock and punk records just laid there like a dead fish in comparison to their heroes.

Thankfully, my hippie friends were a bit hipper than their drug rug wearing brethren and we shared a love of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Zappa, John Coltrane and Can. Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation was the one communal love that provided a forum where opposing sides could sing “kumbaya” and find an indie-rock parallel to the Dead that appeased us in the same manner. By no means am I lunkheaded enough to suggest one remotely sounds like the other, but Daydream Nation’s long, meandering riffs reminded us both of the controlled sprawl that made both bands so wonderful when they navigated their own respective mazes.

Years have passed and now I behave like a fucking Ratdog fan and listen to XM Radio’s Grateful Dead Channel for non-stop bootlegs and Pigpen anecdotes. What in the hell happened to me? As I aged, the Dead made sense once my life slowed down to a country trot and Jerry Garcia’s Run for the Roses album suddenly sounded like a stellar soundtrack to a lazy afternoon. Man, I guess this is all a long-winded way to telling y’all that I just really like music that is structured, but always on the verge of slowly falling apart.

The last phrase is why I somehow found that same strand in Polvo’s Today’s Active Lifestyles. It’s an album that tiptoes through the tulips. It has an urgency, but sometimes gets totally lost when expressing it. I regularly listen to instrumental passages over and over because they reveal additional nuances every time they unfurl. More importantly, Daydream Nation and Today’s Active Lifestyles remain special because they perfectly capture that magical vibe those hippies spoke of so reverently. I feel like I am getting all cosmic on your asses here, but that’s the kind of mood I am in at the moment.

It’s a shame that Polvo never quite recaptured the lackadaisical magic of Today’s Active Lifestyles. They were at their best here because they perfectly achieved a balance of loose and taut here. One guitar played a tightly wound punky riff while the other would play a loosey-goosey one that veered all over the road. This dynamic lends even their catchiest moments a ramshackle charm. For example, “Tilebreaker” is an anthemic pop song at its core, but they play it as if they were four wobbling hubcaps ready to fall off at any moment. However, “Time Isn’t on My Side” may be the best song they ever recorded even if it isn’t totally indicative of their other tunes. It is one of the few songs that captures the woozy ambience of Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbet except Chilton was actually trying to sound like red hot mess. This tune eclipses that since Polvo kind of couldn’t help but sound like a series of beautiful mistakes. Today’s Active Lifestyles is perfect because it sounds raw, unplanned and ecstatic. It’s the musical equivalent of the taking the scenic route home while speeding down every sudden turn and dusty road.

Thee Speaking Canaries

Songs For the Terrestrially Challenged (Scat 1995)


Going to college outside of Pittsburgh in the early to mid-90s was a fruitful and educational time for me. Yes, there were boring discussions of teaching pedagogy as well as exciting ones about Faulker and Walker Percy, but I still treasure the musical education shilled out by the many wise souls who took me under their musical wing. Plus, the added bonus was the local music scene populated by Don Caballero, Karl Hendricks Trio, Hurl, Blunderbuss, Shale, Watershed, Swob, Davenport and those times i saw Aus Rotten in a basement without ever knowing that filthy punks held them in such high regard. Today, my love for most of these bands is rooted in nostalgia instead of a current appreciation. However, one band still piques my interest and provides something new to enjoy with each successive listen. I guess it is fitting that this band is The Speaking Canaries since this lineup included Damon Che of Don caballero, Karl Hendricks and Noah Leger of Hurl.

I liked their debut, Joy of Wine, but Damon Che reshuffled the deck a bit and reconfigured the band in a new light. If you only know Damon Che from his drumming on Don Caballero’s albums, then it’s a bit of a shock to see how much his guitar playing suggests a combo of mid-90s indie-rock via Sonic Youth as well as the prominent influence of one  Eddie Van Halen. Where their debut cut to the chase, the followup takes more epic, overblown pathways as the band delivers so much more drama and pathos. There is a lot of anger here, but not in a raging manner where screams equal emotional release. In fact, the lyrics sometimes rely on throwaway lyrics and humor to mask emotions that do not bubble to the surface until we hit the climax of each track.

To be honest, time hasn’t been entirely kind to this album, but there is something about it that suggests a moody late night reflection on your regrets and woes with incessant riffs to lift it all beyond the mundane. In fact, Damon Che’s guitar playing and strangled vocals give the lyrics an added weight even when the actual words fail to match the intended frustration and hurt of the lyrics.

The opener “Houses and Houses of Perfectness” is the perfect union of Che’s riffing and angst. Initially, my young mind couldn’t wrap my brain around the Van Halen influence, but years have passed and it all seems perfect to me. I still am drawn to the imagery of this song and how it describes how someone can waltz into your life, shake it to the core and cause pain. He sort of portrays himself as the victim of this behavior, but it seems like he’s been the perpetrator more than the recipient.

“Our War on Cool pt. Two” is another highlight as it digs deeper into the alienation and pining that forms a core of many of the songs. Yes, the flippant side of the song advocates a “War on Cool” but it is really about a man who has lost his partner in crime. However, he’s angry because knows that they share little in common other than a desire to stir shit up in every direction.

Overall, Songs For the Terrestrially Challenged doesn’t sing to me like used to, but it does contain four or five songs that beat much of what was recorded in the mid 90s. Plus, its odd mix of Van Halen, Don Caballero and Sonic Youth still bear little resemblance to anything recorded since. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it sure was different and worth your attention.

I’m guessing this was a fundraising item during WFMU’s pledge drive in 2004. Compiled by John Allen, it collects a veritable who’s who of indie rock circa 1989. However, most of this compilation veers towards the punk end of the spectrum. It is great to hear some old favorites and get the chance to listen to some great songs that never made it onto their respective albums. It does an excellent job of summing of the the cream of the crop. It is even more impressive due to the fact that it focuses on a single year and catches many of these bands in their prime. I haven’t heard some of these songs in over a decade it brings back memories of bands that lost me with later efforts, but this comp is forcing me to reevaluate some of my opinions. Extra points for emulating the design and approach of Chuck Warner’s Messthetics comps that have lovingly collected forgotten punk and new wave gems.

Various Artists

Killed by Murder Volume One



16 Tons-Lauren(No Blow)

Action Swingers-Kicked in the head(Noiseville)

Bricks-Girl with the Carrot Skin(merge)

Dead Moon-Black september (Tombstone)

Death of Samantha-Rosenberg Summer (Homestead)

Die Kreuzen-Gone Away (Touch and Go)

Drunks With Guns-Drug Problem (Noiseville)

Dwarves-Drug Store (Sub Pop)

Gibson Brothers-Emusified (Siltbreeze)

Go Team-Ribeye (K)

Halo of Flies-There Aint No Hell (Amrep)

HP Zinker-The Know it All(Matador)

Ickey Joey-Ill Love You There (C/Z)

Jesus Lizard-Chrome (Touch and Go)

Lee Harvey Oswald Band-Ligtning Strikes (Touch and Go)

Lonely Moans-Rockinerd (amrep)

Love Child-Know its Alright (Sympathy)

Melvins-Anal Satan (Sympathy)

Monster Magnet-Lizard Johnny (Circuit)

Mudhoney-Hate the police (Subpop)

Seaweed-Inside (Leopard gecko)

Surgery-Not Going Down(Amrep)

Tar-Same (Amrep)

Treepeople-Important Things(Silence)

Unsane-This Town (Treehouse)

Vomit launch-Every Pretty Girl (teenbeat)