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Monthly Archives: August 2007

“Compiled of demos the band recorded with John Cale in 1973, The Modern Lovers is one of the great proto-punk albums of all time, capturing an angst-ridden adolescent geekiness which is married to a stripped-down, minimalistic rock & roll derived from the art punk of the Velvet Underground. While the sound is in debt to the primal three-chord pounding of early Velvet Underground, the attitude of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers is a million miles away from Lou Reed’s jaded urban nightmares. As he says in the classic two-chord anthem “Roadrunner,” Richman is in love with the modern world and rock & roll. He’s still a teenager at heart, which means he’s not only in love with girls he can’t have, but also radios, suburbs, and fast food, and it also means he’ll crack jokes like “Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole…not like you.”

“Pablo Picasso” is the classic sneer, but “She Cracked” and “I’m Straight” are just as nasty, made all the more edgy by the Modern Lovers’ amateurish, minimalist drive. But beneath his adolescent posturing, Richman is also nakedly emotional, pleading for a lover on “Someone I Care About” and “Girl Friend,” or romanticizing the future on “Dignified and Old.” That combination of musical simplicity, driving rock & roll, and gawky emotional confessions makes The Modern Lovers one of the most startling proto-punk records — it strips rock & roll to its core and establishes the rock tradition of the geeky, awkward social outcast venting his frustrations. More importantly, the music is just as raw and exciting now as when it was recorded in 1973, or when it was belatedly released in 1976.

With and without the Modern Lovers, Richman has produced an astounding body of work, which has streamed continuously from his start in the ’70s. While one of the most underrated songwriters of our time, Richman’s knack for writing clever, timeless, and most of all lovable pop tunes has prompted his embrace as one of history’s greatest songsmiths by those even vaguely familiar with his catalog. His work is highly regarded among his peers– David Bowie’s cover of “Pablo Picasso” on last year’s Reality being but the most recent example.

If you haven’t, track down any of many early (through the ’70s and ’80s) Richman recordings– Modern Lovers, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, or the seminal compilation Beserkely Years are good places to start– and be reminded how it feels to fall in love with music.”

-Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The Modern Lovers-The Modern Lovers (2007 remaster)
320kbps MP3

“Kurt Cobain made a lot of mistakes in his life but loving the Vaselines was not one of them. Nirvana covered one of their songs for their MTV Unplugged session, two other covers show up on the Incesticide record and as Kurt might tell you if he were alive today, from 1986 to 1989 the Vaselines were the best pop band on the planet. Sub Pop was kind enough to cash in on the Nirvana connection and on The Way of the Vaselines: A Complete History, release everything the Vaselines recorded. From the stomping, singalong opener “Son of a Gun” to the distorted and nasty “Let’s Get Ugly” 17 tracks later, this collection is the Holy Grail of indie pop music. It’s unfailingly amateurish, almost completely silly, occasionally quite perverted, and always about sex. The music has the simplicity and ear-grabbing melodies of the best bubblegum, the loud and semi-competent guitars of punk, and some of the attitude and lo-fi sound of the noise rock scenesters like the Jesus & Mary Chain.

Throw in a bunch of religion and add simplistic choruses that will have you singing along the first time you hear the songs (as well as the thousandth) and you’ve got just about all the bases covered. It’s near impossible to pick any songs as standouts since they are all so first-rate. A few moments that stand out though are Frances McKee’s sweet schoolgirl vocal on “Molly’s Lips” (she and co-leader Eugene Kelly both have great voices with a fleeting acquaintance to pitch but filled with humor, attitude, and style), the amazing lyrics to “Sex Sux (Amen)” including the immortal line “Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost/I’m the Sacred Host with the most,” the rare serious beauty of “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” the meows on “Monsterpussy,” the very rude bicycle horn on “Molly’s Lips,” and the loose vocal harmonies on “Lovecraft.” The whole of their recorded output is lousy with one amazing moment after another. If by some strange kink of fate you are reading this and don’t already own this CD, you have to get it. You’ve probably heard that a million times, but if you’ve never believed it before, please believe it now. You need the hilarious beauty of the Vaselines in your life and this album gives it to you in its complete glory.”

-Tim Sendra

The Vaselines-The Way Of The Vaselines (A Complete History)
320kbps MP3

“As David Byrne describes in his liner notes, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts placed its bets on serendipity: “It is assumed that I write lyrics (and the accompanying music) for songs because I have something I need to ‘express.’,” he writes. “I find that more often, on the contrary, it is the music and the lyric that trigger the emotion within me rather than the other way around.” Maybe because it’s so obviously the product of trial-and-error experimentation, Bush of Ghosts sounded like a quirky side project on its release in 1981; heck, it didn’t even have any “songs.” But today, Nonesuch has repackaged it as a near-masterpiece, a milestone of sampled music, and a peace summit in the continual West-meets-rest struggle. So we’re supposed to see Bush of Ghosts as a tick on the timeline of important transgressive records.

It mostly holds up to that scrutiny. An album that’s built on serendipity– on Brian Eno fooling around with a new type of drum machine, on syncing the hook in a tape loop to a chorus, on finding the right horrors on the radio– can’t score 100%. But even if you cut it some slack, crucial parts of the album don’t sound as intriguing today as they once did– namely, all of the voices.

The sampled speech from various, mainly religious, sources ties the album into a long and prestigious history of artists who used found sound, which David Toop capably outlines in the liner notes. It’s still the secret sauce that provokes a reaction from the listener. But what reaction you have lies outside of Byrne’s, Eno’s, or your control. On the first half, where the voices are least chopped up, it’s difficult to divorce them from their origins. A couple of tracks read as satire– “America Is Waiting” sounds like Negativland with a way better rhythm section– and others as kitsch. “Help Me Somebody” pulls a neat trick by turning a preacher into an r&b singer, but the exorcist on “The Jezebel Spirit” doesn’t raise as many hairs on the back of my neck now that taping a crazy evangelist has become the art music equivalent of broadcasting crank phone calls. We can’t just hear them for their sound or cadences without digging into the meanings, and not everyone will find the meanings profound.

On the other hand, the rhythm tracks still kick ass 10 ways to Sunday, thanks both to the fly-by apperances of Bill Laswell, Chris Frantz, Prairie Prince, and a half dozen others, and to the inspired messing about of Eno and Byrne as they turned boxes and food tins into percussion. Tape loops are funkier than laptops, and the modern ear is so aware of the digital “noodging” of a sample to a beat that the refreshingly knocked-together arrangements of Bush of Ghosts are a vast improvement. At one stage of the project, they dreamed about documenting the music of a fake foreign culture. They largely pulled it off, and you can tell a lot about this far-off place from its music: It’s a futuristic yet tribal town made of resonant sheets of metal and amplified plastic containers, that the populace has to bang constantly in perfect time to make the traffic move, and the stoves heat up, and the lights flicker on at night, and to coax mismatched couples into making love and breeding new percussionists.

The seven bonus tracks will provoke more arguments than they settle. The setlist of Bush of Ghosts has changed several times over the years, and the diehard fans will still have to swap left-out cuts that aren’t resurrected here; most famously, “Qu’ran”, an apparently sacreligious recording of Koran verses set to music, doesn’t get anywhere near this reissue. The songs that are here include a few that sound almost finished, including “Pitch to Voltage”, and others that would fit almost as well as anything in the second half of the disc. The last cut, “Solo Guitar with Tin Foil”, features someone, presumably Byrne, playing a haunting tune on a guitar with an impossibly clean tone– a fitting end to an album that, for all its transcontinental fingerprints, sounds strikingly free of impurities.

Though Bush of Ghosts was a link in the chain between Steve Reich and the Bomb Squad, I’m not convinced that this talking point helps us enjoy the album. However, Nonesuch made an interesting move that could help Bush of Ghosts make history all over again: they launched a “remix” website, at, where any of us can download multitracked versions of two songs, load them up in the editor of our choice, and under a Creative Commons license, do whatever we want with them.

What matters is that they started the site and released these tracks, and by doing so, they put a stake in the ground– not the first one, but an important one– for Creative Commons licensing, Web 2.0 album releases (“this is an album where you participate!”), and the culture of remixing.

And by handing over their multitracks, Byrne and Eno also make a powerful acknowledgement of their own helplessness. It is a basic but real fact of our time that sampling can work both ways. In the 80s, you could fairly make an argument that Byrne and Eno were the Western white men appropriating all kinds of Others, be they domestic and primitive, or foreign and exotic. Now the world can return the favor: Anyone can rip this work apart and use it any way they please, and you can bet that if some kid in the Third World sends a killer remix to the right blogger, it’ll travel faster and farther than this carefully curated reissue. Byrne and Eno counted on a certain amount of serendipity in their studio; today, they can witness the serendipity of what happens to their killer rhythm tracks– the ones they released, and all the others that people will use anyway. And the strongest message they could send is not only that they’ve relinquished control, but that they admit they already lost it– whether they like it or not.”

-Chris Dahlen, March 24, 2006

Brian Eno & David Byrne-My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (remaster)
320kbps MP3

WFMU DJ Tom Scharpling belts out Springsteen’s “Born To Run” (with a little help from backing band Yo La Tengo) for pledges during the 2004 WFMU fund drive.

“Late in “bee thousand,” Guided by Voices singer/songwriter Robert Pollard provides a skeleton key to his remarkable music. “I am a pharmacist, prescriptions I will fill you,” he sings, “potions, pills and medicines to ease your painful lives.” It’s no empty boast – the stately little hymn “I Am a Scientist” and the 19 other sublime songs on this album possess just such restorative powers.

GBV’s seven previous albums (released in limited editions on minuscule indies) were brilliant, but Bee Thousand is a tour de force by a good old-fashioned American basement genius. A rotating group of thirtysomethings based in Dayton, Ohio, Guided by Voices mine familiar territory: classic English pop rockers like the Who, the Kinks and the Beatles, albeit filtered through latter-day Beatlemaniacs like Cheap Trick and Robyn Hitchcock, as well as lo-fi avatars like Daniel Johnston and Pavement.

The group is clearly guided by those voices, but the band name also goes a long way toward identifying the surely ethereal source of their inspiration as well as underscoring the way Pollard’s vocals drive the moving, indelible melodies. An irresistible English folk drone weaves throughout the record, as in the jingle-jangle mournfulness of “Queen of Cans and Jars,” singer and guitarist Tobin Sprout’s exquisite “Ester’s Day” (co-written with Pollard) and the uncannily long-lined melody of “Smothered in Hugs.”

Recorded on a four-track machine, Bee Thousand sounds like a favorite bootleg or a beloved old LP whose worn grooves now reveal only a blurry jumble. Amp hum, sniffling musicians and creaking chairs all inhabit the mix, but the homespun production only underlines the strength of the songs – lo-fi or not, there’s no denying an astonishing rush of guitar-pop glory like “Tractor Rape Chain.”

As with Big Star, the beauty of GBV’s music cocoons – and so triumphs over – its own root sadness, like an oyster building a pearl around an irritating grain of sand. In the jubilant climax of “Echos Myron,” Pollard’s voice radiates a downright heroic melancholy as he sings, “And we’re finally here/And, shit, yeah, it’s cool,” and then can’t help but add “or something like that.”

Even if the lyrics sometimes read like mad-libs (“I met a nondairy creamer explicitly laid out like a fruitcake,” Pollard sings on “Hot Freaks”), they always play to Pollard’s strong point, which is precisely where rock itself excels – combining music and words to produce a distinctly third impression that’s complex, unnameable and yet startlingly vivid. But the real miracle of Bee Thousand is that it not only celebrates the power of rock music, it also embodies it. “I am a lost soul/I shoot myself with rock & roll,” Pollard sings on “I Am a Scientist,” “but nothing else can set me free.”

-Michael Azerrad

“White men with guitars: this remains the paradigm for indie rock, college rock, underground rock – whatever, nevermind. Still, despite its obsolescence due to politically incorrect Caucasian maleness, this brand of indie rock still produces vital, exciting music and continues to blaze into uncharted territory as well as rediscover territory long thought settled. Many such groups ultimately find themselves shot from obscurity into the limelight: R.E.M., of course, remain this genre’s figurehead, and Nirvana, Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth (which, of course, have a significant female member, Kim Gordon) followed similar paths to their places in rock history.

Currently, Pavement’s lethargic avant pop reigns as the indie-rock sound du jour, but that could be threatened by this year’s model, Guided by Voices. GBV manage to be even more politically incorrect than their contemporaries: Not only are they guitar-wielding males, but since their ages peak in the late 30s, they’re practically baby boomers, making them especially unlikely indierock superstars. You would never guess it from the youthful spirit of their music, though: hooky rock that infuses songwriting smarts and a love of melody with a sometimes spiky, sometimes whimsical sense of experimentation.

GBV first drew serious attention in 1993 with Vampire on Titus; their next album, the masterful Bee Thousand (1994), with its kaleidoscopic command of the pop vocabulary, solidified their acclaim. GBV’s maturity should come as no surprise, considering their history. While they appear to be an overnight success, they have actually been together since 1983, honing their craft on numerous self-released albums that never made it outside their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. These albums – many of which are collected on Box – chronicle the band’s evolution into its signature sound as styles are tried out and discarded like so many clothes. The result of this woodshedding hits home most clearly, however, on GBV’s new album, Alien Lanes. If anything, Alien outshines Bee Thousand in its startling consistency; over the course of 28 songs, GBV explore nearly as many styles, in the process creating a magnum opus of pure pop for now people.

GBV typically get tagged as avatars of low-fi – a sound characterized by hiss and noise, the result of home taping on primitive recording equipment. Indeed, like most previous GBV projects, Alien was recorded in a basement on four-and eight-track machines. The coarse sound gives the album the feel of a treasured bootleg, a millionth-generation tape of a favorite unknown band on which lie gems of unquestionable value.

Alien’s diamonds in the rough include “Game of Pricks,” whose title belies desperately sweet power pop. On that song, lead vocalist and primary songwriter Robert Pollard croons opaque proverbs like “You can never be strong/You can only be free” over churning, infectious guitar hooks. Like the most sublime rock, “Game of Pricks” manages to be both tragic and uplifting; that its chord progression never quite resolves imparts a curious melancholy, a feeling that pervades the album. Similarly, “Motor Away” succeeds as a driving anthem – recalling such ’80s icons as the Records and Bram Tchaikovsky – while maintaining a plaintive longing. Also striking are Alien’s darkly beautiful ballads like “They’re Not Witches,” “The Ugly Vision” and “Ex-Supermodel,” their honeyed despair rivaling anything off Big Star’s Third (true to the low-fi spirit, “Ex-Supermodel” features a snoring noise underneath its gorgeous guitar line). Throughout, Pollard dazzles with his casual vocal virtuosity. He appears able to weave beautiful melodies over anything, often with a faux British accent to boot.

On Alien the band – which includes Jim Pollard on guitar and bass, Mitch Mitchell on guitar, Kevin Fennell on drums, (rock critic and Kim Deal squeeze) Jim Greer on bass and multi-instrumentalist Tobin Sprout – displays a chemistry born of a near decade spent rocking the basement. Sprout, who plays Keith Richards to Robert Pollard’s Jagger, also makes excellent song contributions. He wraps his elfin voice around the exuberantly simple “Yeah!” chorus of “A Good Flying Bird” and tugs at the heartstrings on the Buzzcocks-style rave-up “Little Whirl.”

Despite their indie-rock status, GBV are no Sonic Youth: GBV don’t rebel against rock conventions, they revel in them, unafraid of intoxicating harmonies, smart melodies and chiming guitars. On Alien they also reveal influences ranging from early Cheap Trick and T. Rex’s psychedelic glam to Wire’s deranged art punk and everything by the Beatles (check out “As We Go Up We Go Down”). But GBV’s individual outlook and infectious enthusiasm make old ingredients seem new, mixing them into a brilliant collection of songs whose importance feels predestined.

Alien’s release coincides with that of Box, which collects four early GBV albums (the vinyl version includes five) along with a set of unreleased songs. Taken together, these objets trouvés become a kind of indie-rock version of Dylan’s The Basement Tapes. Devil Between My Toes (1987), GBV’s first album, is their most bizarre, as the band experiments with abrupt rhythm changes and discordant guitar rants à la Wire and Joy Division, with oddly compelling results. Sandbox (1988) incorporates these idiosyncratic tendencies into sunny pop replete with Mick Ronson style guitar solos; songs like “Can’t Stop” prefigure Nirvana’s spiky stopstart hooks, and “Long Distance Man” is a virtual rewrite of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man.” Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia (1989) continues the slide into stylistic bedlam, adding ambitious song structures to the maelstrom. These elements continue on Same Place the Fly Got Smashed (1990), a strange concept album that tells the tale of a lonely Midwestern alcoholic in ballads like “Drinker’s Peace” and losers’ anthems like “Pendulum.” Propeller (1992) remains the pièce de résistance of the band’s formative period, presenting big-sounding, punky arena rock, a blend of the Sex Pistols and Grand Funk Railroad. More than anything, the records in Box recall a pre-Veruca Salt time when indie bands didn’t get signed by major labels before they’d left the garage.

Unfortunately, Box doesn’t include GBV’s debut EP, Forever Since Breakfast. Like many records circa 1986, Forever replicates exactly the sound of midperiod R.E.M., a band with whom GBV share much. It’s easy to forget that R.E.M. were once a regional cult band with a Byrds-obsessed guitarist, a poetry-mumbling singer and an indie hit called “Radio Free Europe.” GBV are in much the same position today, but in a musical climate more open to their success. Like R.E.M., GBV blend the conventional with the weird and are accessible enough to get that mix over to the masses. Maybe they’ll bring low-fi to the charts the way Green Day replaced Nirvana’s grunge with pop punk.

Even if that happens, the songs will probably remain the same. On “An Earful o’ Wax” (from Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia), Pollard sings, “When you come around/I can still be found/In another world.” Let’s hope he never gets his head out of the clouds.”

-Matt Diehl

Guided By Voices-Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes
320kbps MP3 (reminder: sendspace)

“Considering that the only previous hip-hop hits collection to stretch two full CDs came from 2Pac (and that only after his death), Gang Starr’s Full Clip is a surprising release, though it’s incredibly welcome. The duo of DJ Premier and Guru has been one of the longest continuous acts on the rap scene, beginning with 1989’s No More Mr. Nice Guy and a spot on the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s 1990 film Mo’ Better Blues.

And as demonstrated by Premier’s stunning productions on classic early tracks like “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight,” “Words I Manifest,” and “Just to Get a Rep,” Gang Starr hit its stride early, and just kept on hitting peak after peak during the ’90s with “Speak Ya Clout,” “Code of the Streets,” “Tonz ‘O’ Gunz,” and “You Know My Steez.” And new tracks, usually the bane of any best-of collection, provide quite a few highlights here — including “Full Clip,” “Discipline” (featuring Total), and “All 4 Tha Ca$h.” Also, the set compiles several notable B-sides — “The ? Remainz,” “Credit Is Due,” and “You Know My Steez (Remix)” — as well as soundtrack works like “1/2 & 1/2” (from Blade), “Gotta Get Over” (from Trespass), and “The Militia II (Remix)” (from Belly). Though Guru’s monotone raps can grate over the course of two hours, Full Clip documents one of the best, most underrated hip-hop groups ever, from their jazzy beginnings into Premier’s harder productions from the mid-’90s and beyond.”

-John Bush

Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr
320kbps MP3 (reminder: sendspace, replace in 5 days or mirror)

“One wants to believe in Brian and Karen Tregaskin, because who wouldn’t be charmed by the heartwarming tale of two Cornish musicians who find themselves at the center of a bidding war won by the Aphex Twin’s label? A star is born, and all that. But forget romance: denials abounding to the contrary, the Tuss is Aphex. Richard D. James has returned and after an initial EP, Confederation Trough, which got the conspiracy theories going, Rushup Edge finds the frenetic hypergenius still cackling his way around life and having fun with his international cult as he goes.

Having reinvented a slew of perceptions of what electronic music could do as much as kicking against the worship of new clichés he ended up establishing, James’ side-step into guerrilla releases and stone-faced responses makes perfect sense: he’s been using similar obfuscations right from the start. But Rushup Edge is, dare it be said, the most straightforwardly warm sounding thing he’s done since the early ’90s. If it’s hardly straight-up, four-to-the-floor house or something similar, the swooping melody bursts and the frenetic but not crushing basslines of the opening “Synthacon 9,” for example, counterbalance the sudden jerks in rhythm and the mind-dances-faster-than-the-feet feeling as a whole.

A short album — six tracks at 32 minutes total — Rushup Edge might best be heard with that debut EP, but on its own it is a classic “hit it quick and be done with it” effort, with each song containing delights that sometimes put a smile on one’s face just for being so immediate. “Shiz Ko E” could just about be something from Chicago 1988 (after being put through a wringer) while the rising vocal squelches and serene electronic sighs on “Last Rushup 10” are no less entrancing. It’s not a revisiting of the past, but a return to some of its spirit that turns out very well. And it has a song titled “Death Fuck,” which somehow says it all.”

-Ned Raggett

The Tuss-Confederation Trough/Rushup Edge
320kbps MP3

“Ignored upon its release in 1974 and celebrated upon its reissue in 2001, Shuggie Otis’ fourth and last album Inspiration Information exists out of time — a record that was of its time, but didn’t belong of it; a record that was idiosyncratic but not necessarily visionary. It was psychedelic soul that was released far too late to be part of any zeitgeist and it was buried at the time.

Yet no matter what Luaka Bop’s grand poobah David Byrne claims on the sticker — he says Shuggie’s “trippy R&B jams are equal to Marvin’s and Curtis’, but somehow more contemporary sounding…closer to D’Angelo meets DJ Shadow” — this isn’t revolutionary. It can occasionally sound modern, such as on the rolling head trip “XL-30,” but only because it’s the kind of groove Shadow would sample and build on; the slow, liquid instrumental head trips sound the same way. Perhaps that’s why it can seem more contemporary — contemporary ears are more attuned to these relaxed, warmly trippy soundscapes.

Otis crafted all of this essentially alone, playing each instrument himself, and it’s quite clearly a reflection of his inner psyche, and no matter how much it floats and skates upon its own sound, it’s a welcoming, inviting sound. But, no matter how much the partisans claim — and their effusive praise is plastered all over the liner notes, with Sean O’Hagan claiming that it shocks you out of a rut, Stereolab’s Tim Gane says it is “almost like a new style of music that could’ve developed but never did” — this isn’t revolutionary, even if it’s delightfully idiosyncratic. So, don’t fall for the hyperbole.

This isn’t an album that knocks your head off — it’s subtle, intricate music that’s equal parts head music and elegant funk, a record that slowly works its way under your skin. Part of the reason it sounds so intriguing in 2001 is that there just aren’t that many musicians that doggedly pursue their individual vision while retaining a sense of focus. But it isn’t a record without precedent, nor is it startling. It’s a record for people that have heard a lot of music, maybe too much, and are looking for a new musical romance.”

Shuggie Otis-Inspiration Information
320kbps MP3, ripped from vinyl (sounds great)