Alternative and Indie

Royal Trux “Cats and Dogs” (Drag City, 1993)

Cats_and_dogs_royal_truxAkin maybe only to Guided By Voices for their non-ironic use of classic guitar rock fodder, Royal Trux came together out of noise dirges and suspended clangor when they pushed “Cats And Dogs,” making steps toward indie-rock stardom (yuck, gag) that would never really come (still gag).

What’s for real though is Neil Hagerty’s playing. Bluesy riffs, heavy riffs, nonsense noise interludes, all skewered or unwound… “incendiary” is the word and so is “unique.” Sure it’s only two people, guy-girl combo, plus a friend? Session drummer? Anyway, the stand-in holds the beat and can be driving or plodding. Just enough to support distorted spillage.

Not only do you get a three-piece on “Cats and Dogs,” the best possible line-up in a rock format, but you get referential hard rockin’ material mostly free of the tounge-in-cheek. And it makes the cut: more grit than crit. -Wade… Read more›

Guided By Voices “Get Out Of My Stations” (Siltbreeze, 1994)

220px-Gooms7_largeA single released before or after Bee Thousand? Same year (a prolific one for GBV) anyway, this EP also acts as a great companion piece. While Bee Thousand sounded like it came from many Rock-historical backgrounds as well as many varied recording environs, Stations is GBV set around a campfire, maybe with a transistor radio. Or maybe more like GBV unplugged…

“Scalding Creek” and “Melted Pat” are drumless, bassless acoustic jams, while “Queen of Second Guessing” is hissing squelching cassette reel noise atop guitar strum and spacey drum padding. Side B has the closest thing to legitimate songs on the whole thing, and that’s not a statement to authenticate it as the quality part of the release. But what nice tunes. “Dusty Bushworms” is especially warming in ways that remind you Pollard’s most emotive Bee Thousand moments.

One of the nicer singles (as in balanced) by GBV in their prime! -Wade… Read more›

Ponytail “Ice Cream Spiritual” (We Are Free, 2008)

220px-IceCreamSpiritualAn ecstatic rush in LP form, Ponytail wound up centrifugal surf riffs with stomping drums and added one shrill singer that managed to invoke the space between Bossa starlets and Yoko Ono. While it makes since that their square one instrumentation had them opening for Battles and Hella, they didn’t come off so much as rigid math-rockers thanks to Molly Siegel’s vocal contribution and some exciting (lively!) lead guitar breakaways.

Proof of this shines through on “G Shock” and “Celebrate The Body Electric” when lead guitarist Dustin Wong actually breaks free of rhythm and indulges in solos (Hendrix is a hero of his). And for every other track he is a great foil to vocalist Molly Siegel’s joyous outbursts, while the hyperagile rhythm section churns away.

A short lived act from Baltimore that apparently put on some mad parties (one involving a Kool-Aid Man costume breaking through a wall), Ponytail delivered a rush of energy that was swirling and positive, and not such a bad thing to be drawn into. By “Ice Cream Spiritual” they were at the peak of their powers. -Wade… Read more›

Mi Ami “Watersports” (Quarterstick, 2009)

homepage_large.a4031480Mi Ami have an ability to execute aural peaks and valleys like few pop groups have ever known how to do. Within each individual song is a crescendo, from the whispered and paranoid panting of Martin-McCormick and subtle metal beating from Palermo, to a racket of all the brutal parts looking each other in the eye and screaming. Just as quickly, though, they can drop it down and develop a groove, usually with the assistance of the bass, that envelops one’s sense of rhythm, all-encompassing.

A brilliant example of this is the two-song assault of “The Man In Your House” and “New Guitar.” “The Man In Your House” begins understated and disconcerting; an effects-laden guitar line covers the track in an odd, quiet blanket. From there, Martin-McCormick’s whispers grow to shouts of sex and sadness, while his guitar screeches and wail. The suspense grows as the track gets louder, and then it immediately segues into “New Guitar,” a jittery, stilted statement of seemingly nothing, carried out with Martin-McCormick’s competent hands manhandling and tearing at his guitar. The song’s beginning is a brilliant resolution to the song before it, and once this primal energy beams out, the trio jumps back four steps and carries out a mid-tempo groove, complete with a bass line rooted in funk and dub.

So much of Watersports’ appeal is in its embrace of the physical, but the album’s final third is a dirge into the mental abyss. Indeed, the album consists almost entirely of the members going ballistic on their respective parts, but this happens so sparingly, if at all, in the final two tracks. “White Wife,” a manifesto towards sincerity and honesty, is quiet, sad, and slow. Here, the trio is exploring their sonic workspace in a very profound way: not through flexing their chops, but through creating space. The song, probably the most cerebral track on the album, dips and undulates until you get to “Peacetalks/Downer,” which, like the best of shoegaze music, creates volume in lines that should be quiet. It all builds without changing, until the album slowly fades into oblivion.-Tyler… Read more›

Cat Power “What Would The Community Think?” (Matador, 1996)

WhatwouldthecommunitythinkMammal music was how Richard Meltzer described Chan Marshall’s music. Probably one of the last positive statements he said about anyone musical (that wasn’t playing jazz, blues or country maybe), since he called the decade of the 90’s an “empty room” and had long before pulled the plug on rock in most any form.

After the double barrel shots of “Dear Sir” and “Myra Lee,” Marshall went for something a bit prettier and more ornate than her stripped-down debuts. Not that Chan’s themes have changed much; it’s all nervous woman-breakdown content, but each song doesn’t sound so morbidly hopeless this time around. Steve Shelly of Sonic Youth is still drumming and some SY feedback rubs on the production in places, but for the most part this is Chan’s vision, and while the songs are brighter with chimes and steel pedal all is not well in this Southern girl’s world.

Originals “Good Clean Fun” and “Nude As The News” can leave a slab in the back of your throat with their honesty and moments like “They Tell Me” are very country-derived and sound just as true. Gearing up for Moon Pix, Chan shows that she can work people into her own personal foil and come up with something more elegant. But her own reinterpretation of “Enough” near the closer is still anxious and skittering, like what the inside of her head must’ve been like. -Wade… Read more›

The Smiths “Strangeways Here We Come” (Rough Trade, 1987)

0f14733c89d93d64beea7e7a6079347773c61194The last album by The Smiths may be the last one you’ll pick up. And while popular consensus would rank “The Queen Is Dead” and “Meat Is Murder” as their best full lengths, I’d vouch for this one. This decision didn’t come overnight, rather, it came after my formative years of Smiths-fandom in a moment of clarity, when Morrissey’s rants seemed to have less wallop but a bit more pronouncement.

Not that Steven Moz has become any less angsty on this release. If anything his wit is at it’s most refined here, just before his solo career dulled it, turning him into a caricature. His musical foil, Johnny Marr, shows off more chops than ever as well. “Strangeways…” puts the studio to use more than ever before, but don’t let that scare you into thinking this was a last-ditch effort assembled in post before the fall. Studio adventuring leads The Smiths to some of their most spacious and interesting recordings yet, like “Death of a Disco Dancer” and “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.”

Lyrically, Moz touches on themes that you’ve heard before, but there is more humor here that may touch long-haul fans of Morrisey’s work rather than those jumping into Smiths albums during adolescence. The key here is time, not for wisdom gained but for longing, even for those dour times. Life is funny like that. – Wade… Read more›

TV On The Radio “Return To Cookie Mountain” (4AD, 2008)

61Q190HN53LDrones, loops, samples, plus plenty of live instrumentation create the defined sound that TV On The Radio engulf themselves in. Tracks can be made in a hip hop foil, but don’t really convey the feel, and they rarely rock out (except on the well-arranged radio fodder of “Wolf Like Me” and few other album tracks), so what is it exactly that they do?

On the opener for “Return To Cookie Mountain,” fractured samples create an eerie and depressive mood for vocalist Kyp Malone and troupe to spill their souls on. In truth, “I Was a Lover” really could be the centerpiece of the album, but they decide to hit us with it first. Samples stutter, horns and sitars create a morose atmosphere and lyrically, it’s all about cycles, days going by. Maybe getting a grip when it looks like good days are long gone. This cycle of sound and repetition flows through the whole of “Cookie Mountain,” and gives something for Kyp to ride his observations over.

Repeated listens may reveal meaning behind their mostly esoteric lyrics; all in all it’s very self-conscious stuff. TV On The Radio can be lumped in with the Arcade Fire / LCD Soundsystem camp, where an inability to stop being cognizant prevents them from being a conventional pop group, or a sweaty id-driven rock band… If a group can be carried on sound alone though, TV On The Radio have a unique niche locked down at some musical crossroads that’s worth a look. -Wade… Read more›

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Before Today” (4AD, 2010)

homepage_large.8df288c5Previous releases and performances by L.A. iconoclast Ariel and his rotating players (which sometimes included R. Stevie Moore and John Maus) had a feel of pop songs gone astray, drifting into listless hiss, or maybe fragments and collages akin to Throbbing Gristle. But eventually he found the musical foils necessary to breathe new life into his bedroom rock and roll fantasies, and the results really culminated on the 4AD released “Before Today” and haven’t stopped since.

Many tracks are reworked and given a new sheen, like “Beverly Kills” and the totally anthemic “Round and Round,” and each side includes interesting choices of cover songs such as garage rocker “Bright Lit Blue Skies” and the African guitar pop instrumental “Reminiscences.” Ariel and co. string together Jackson Family-funk, power pop and soft rock songs, all of high quality. The most important change isn’t even the recording fidelity, but the fact that this may be Haunted Graffiti’s first release that comes across as a genuine album… Each track is put in it’s proper place from front to back, and despite all the genre leaps it feels like a real cohesive piece of work.

Most of these numbers would be oddly enjoyable to the average listener, but if there is any real insight into Ariel’s head it can be detected on “Menopause Man,” a sub-grooving number about being who you are, with emphasis on gender identity. Shades of Genesis P-Orridge maybe? Perhaps a few notches off… Anyway, all tracks within come across as slightly askew pervo-pop, but “Before Today” is an example of how punchy and professional Ariel and his Haunted Graffiti are these days. -Wade… Read more›

Black Moth Super Rainbow “Dandelion Gum” (Graveface, 2007)

Black-Moth-Super-Rainbow-Dandelion-Gum-album-cover-artworkComing out of nowhere (actually, rural Pennsylvania), Black Moth Super Rainbow are quite an enjoyable anomaly. Working with samples, synths, vocoders and a living, breathing rhythm section, BMSR produce a sort of electronic psychedelic pop informed by all sorts of contemporary sounds.

On “Dandelion Gum,” a mid-period release, it all comes together in the best possible ways. “Jump Into My Mouth and Breath The Stardust” is meditative with it’s acoustic guitar samples and sounds somehow folky, despite vocoders heavily transforming vocals. “Melt Me” is a pure sugar rush for your speakers with fat electronics, maracas and a killer bass line. And “Rollerdisco” sounds as if it was disco-edited library music from a PBS channel; hipped-up space age material reminiscent of Stereolab.

Side one is chock full of these meshed, unique tracks. Side two has a few detours; many of the songs are simple demos or snippets. One is even called “Untitled Roadside Demo,” and just off the cuff you can tell that the players here have found something special with each other. Recommended if you’ve ever liked a Ghost Box release, The Books, or library music in general. – Wade… Read more›

Guided By Voices “Fast Japanese Spin Cycle” (Engine, 1994)

Fast_Japanese_Spin_Cycle_EPReleased the same year as “Bee Thousand” and about a thousand other EPs, “Fast Japanese Spin Cycle” represents a time when Guided By Voices were often on point with their prolific output and produced more hits than misses.

Clocking in at just more than ten minutes, this EP contains some of Robert Pollard’s best pop fragments. Opener “3rd World Bird Watching” begins with only piano and vocal accompaniment of the most perplexing variety. Strangely or maybe logically, the near esoteric quality of Pollards lyrics work fine the more condensed and punchy he keeps his numbers. This continues whether the songs have pop hooks such as with “My Impression Now,” or simply attack in bits like “Snowman.” Repeated listens are easier with shorter track times, so these ditties seem to create pathways in your brain that worm Pollard’s bizarre statements into your mind.

The B-side is even more interesting, with radically altered versions of previously released material. “Marchers in Orange” is less hazy, more rocking, while “Dusted” sounds much more improved in about every way. “Kisses to the Crying Cooks,” part of the medley that opens GBV album “Propeller,” is also acoustic and more poignant.

If there was any time to mine GBV material, most releases from 1994 are still a sure bet. “Fast Japanese Spin Cycle” is the cream of their pop-rock collage crop. – Wade

 

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The Replacements “Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash” (Twin/Tone, 1981)

The_Replacements_-_Sorry_Ma,_Forgot_to_Take_Out_the_Trash_coverSort of akin to The Minutemen by the way that they shove Americana and classic rock staples into one or two minute bursts early on, The Replacements show hints of what would follow this hardcore-scoped LP. Except instead of using Creedence or Blue Öyster Cult for snatches they channel Johnny Thunders in a way, plus Big Star… but you know that already! What you may not know is that “Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash” holds up well on its own and if they had chosen to stick to this rough-edged (but NOT straight-edge) sorta hardcore aesthetic, they still would have done just fine.

Most of the album sounds like a mess of days gone by full of tedium; boredom leading to speeding, cigarettes and a need for kicks. Case in point: tracks “Takin’ a Ride” and “More Cigarettes” describe those moments of ennui and relief while “I Bought a Headache” shows that the answer isn’t the same each time, not when it comes to instant gratification… You can’t be pleased all the time, folks.

So is this The Replacements wearing hardcore clothes? Nah, it’s more like the core components of what you would hear from them later, stripped down to its bare essentials. Like their crosstown rivals Hüsker Dü, they had to crawl before they could walk and rub shoulders with the hardened punks of the day. This disc is a speedy and satisfying ride that usually gets skipped on the way to “Let It Be” or “Tim.” So turn around and grab this one. You’ll recognize these guys when you put it on and read the liner notes. -Wade… Read more›

Hella “Hold Your Horse Is” (5 Rue Christine, 2002)

a2970431076_10Modern Rock’s possible reality as natural progression post-Hip Hop/Drum and Bass? A product of over-saturated media youth?

Hella fall short of being a traditional rock group by only having two members, but tradition isn’t a relevant factor when the stuff these guys push feels so immediate. Debut album “Hold Your Horse Is” would be as good a place as any to start with their brand of hyper-fast prog rush. An electronic doodle kicks off the album that brings to mind 90’s gaming console sound chips, before the live element crashes through with “Biblical Violence” and from that point never lets up.

To produce the sort of manic nowness of your active day, Hella’s self taught drummer Zach Hill actually uses (in a relative sense) slow punctuated beats… but fills the space between by hitting the skins and cymbals as fast as superhumanly possible, creating a striking sound that’s not start/stop but rather start/gogogogogogo/start et al. While Hill flogs his kit, guitarist Spencer Seim plays spastic melodies, creates strange drones and chips away at you with repetition. And whenever necessary, they make neck-breaking changes. It happens a lot.

As crazed as all this may sound, the overall tone here is not violent or oppressive but rather triumphant, it can be used sonic pick-me-up; like chugging a pot of coffee to get through a heavily scheduled day. Does that help you? “Hold Your Horse Is” is about as focused and concise as their albums get and a solid debut… After this, the duo felt free enough to experiment in more electronic territory and at one point expanded their roster.

This album is near-live instrumental music synced to modern times, man made jams informed by all sorts of media blitzkriegs, and a document that is as good a tool to your life as amphetamine might be, if that’s your drug of choice. -Wade… Read more›