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Monthly Archives: April 2009

Black Tambourine was one of the first (and finest) bands to grace the Slumberland catalog — the label’s reissue of their work collects all of the material from the short string of singles they released before moving on to other projects. Slumberland’s decision to collect and reissue the material is commendable — Black Tambourine’s work can truly be described as seminal, not only because the band’s members moved on to such excellent projects (Archie Moore and Brian Nelson to Velocity Girl, and Pam Berry to the Glo-Worms and the Castaway Stones), but also because the band’s sound practically defines the state of indie rock in the early ’90s, when many American bands were looking to Britain’s shoegazing trend for inspiration. As one might expect, Black Tambourine’s noisy guitars and ethereal female vocals tend to sound like a more conventionally indie pop-based warm-up to the blissful noise of Velocity Girl’s Copacetic — in fact, the material on Complete Recordings frequently surpasses Copacetic, with its shambling and C-86 influences lending it a purity and indie charm that was traded for focus and complexity at the onset of Velocity Girl’s career. The album also serves as a time capsule for the indie-pop culture of its contemporaries — there’s the inordinate number of songs about crushes, songs about crushes on Stephen Pastel (“Throw Aggi from the Bridge”), a high level of attention to British music, and all of the other indie-pop hallmarks that spread during the ’90s (as typified by some wonderfully nostalgic liner notes). It’s doubtful that too many of the bands that followed in this vein drew their inspiration specifically from Black Tambourine, but there’s still a heavy debt owed to them, and Slumberland’s reissue of Complete Recordings is an excellent way to pay it.

-Nitsuh Abebe,

Black Tambourine-COMPLETE RECORDINGS (1999)

I had a vinyl rip uploaded earlier today, but I just found out about this new special edition that tops it, so I yanked the old rip. Sorry for the confusion, duders. This has both stereo and mono versions (listen to the mono, I beg you) and a ton of bonus tracks and outtakes that all would have been top tracks on any Who album. Even though I love WHO’S NEXT and TOMMY and stuff, my heart is really with the pre-stadium rock version of the band. -Ian!

Pete Townshend originally planned The Who Sell Out as a concept album of sorts that would simultaneously mock and pay tribute to pirate radio stations, complete with fake jingles and commercials linking the tracks. For reasons that remain somewhat ill defined, the concept wasn’t quite driven to completion, breaking down around the middle of side two (on the original vinyl configuration). Nonetheless, on strictly musical merits, it’s a terrific set of songs that ultimately stands as one of the group’s greatest achievements. “I Can See for Miles” (a Top Ten hit) is the Who at their most thunderous; tinges of psychedelia add a rush to “Armenia City in the Sky” and “Relax”; “I Can’t Reach You” finds Townshend beginning to stretch himself into quasi-spiritual territory; and “Tattoo” and the acoustic “Sunrise” show introspective, vulnerable sides to the singer/songwriter that had previously been hidden.

“Rael” was another mini-opera, with musical motifs that reappeared in Tommy. The album is as perfect a balance between melodic mod pop and powerful instrumentation as the Who (or any other group) would achieve; psychedelic pop was never as jubilant, not to say funny (the fake commercials and jingles interspersed between the songs are a hoot). The 1995 CD reissue has over half a dozen interesting outtakes from the time of the sessions, as well as unused commercials, the B-side “Someone’s Coming,” and an alternate version of “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand.”

-Richie Unterberger,

The Who-THE WHO SELL OUT DELUXE (1967, 2009)
320kbps from FLAC

…And Tom Scharpling is playing “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand” on The BEST SHOW on WFMU.

I’m gonna re-up THE WHO SELL OUT because I just heard there was a super deluxe new version that includes the mono mix. -Ian!

I was a little embarrassed to realize I was enjoying my own music so much, for in a way it was like hearing it for the first time. What Petra does with her voice, which is not so easy to do, is challenge the entire rock framework … When she does depart from the original music she does it purely to bring a little piece of herself — and when she appears she is so very welcome. I felt like I’d received something better than a Grammy. -Pete Townshend

So many times the title of an album is peripheral to what the contents actually hold. In the case of Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out it is perfectly descriptive because, yes, Petra Haden does sing the Who’s Who Sell Out album right down to the make-believe ads that link the songs. Not just the vocals but all the instruments too. Working from a suggestion from Mike Watt (who may or may not have remembered the Who’s own foray into singing instrumental parts on “A Quick One, While He’s Away” when they had to sing “cello, cello, cello” because they couldn’t afford to hire the real thing), Haden spent time during the span of three years (2000-2003) re-creating the sound of the Who’s pop-art masterpiece using her voice and an old eight-track recorder. The results are pretty amazing. Apart from an occasional rhythmic stumble and the tendency for the drum sounds to sound like synsonic drums, she really nails the layered, flowing and psychedelic in the true sense of the word feel of the original album. She pulls off the feat of being reverent to the original material while also sounding completely out on a limb artistically. Never trying to imitate instruments exactly, she instead goes for the feel and texture of them. It would have been impossible to sound like Keith Moon anyway and she wisely limits the drums to an occasional piece here and there.

The astounding moments are many but some of the best are the guitar plinks and twangs from “Our Love Was,” the drum hits and wailing guitar solos on “Relax,” the chant-like bass on “Silas Stingy” and the choral effects of “Rael.” Maybe the most impressive feat was managing to account for all the parts and pieces of “I Can See for Miles,” a task which would have driven a lesser artist insane but one that she makes sound effortless. The song that actually competes with the original is ” Sunrise” as she imbues the song with a feeling of joy and light equal to the original and her lead vocal is perfect. The aspect of the album that will probably be overlooked is the actual vocals — the vocals that sing the lyrics, that is. She has a crystal-clear, beautiful voice that really soars and her harmonies are consistently breathtaking. It would have been lovely enough just to hear her sing the Who’s melodies and lyrics without all the backing “instruments.” The likelihood that you will reach for Petra Haden’s version of Sell Out before you will reach for the Who’s will vary with each listener’s tolerance for novelty. Even the strictest Who purist should hear Haden’s version at least once though and anyone who likes to hear artists taking wild chances and succeeding wildly should hold up Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out as a shining example.

-Tim Sendra,


The third and final volume of Post-Mersh crams an extraordinary amount of music on one disc, compiling the EPs Paranoid Time (1980), Bean-Spill (1982), and Tour-Spiel (1985), the 1981 “Joy” single, and the 1984 rarities and outtakes collection The Politics of Time.

The Minutemen had as high a batting average as any band that came out of the California punk scene, releasing a number of superb records that confirmed their status as one of the finest, most intelligent, most forward-thinking, and most individual bands of their time. However, there isn’t an awful lot of that on The Politics of Time; this compilation ties together a bagful of studio outtakes, rehearsal recordings, and live tapes of highly variable quality (one of which is thoroughly inaudible; it’s a joke, but not necessarily a funny one). The album leads off well enough with seven tunes the band recorded for an unreleased album. Stylistically, the songs fit comfortably between the ambitious What Makes a Man Start Fires? and the magnum opus Double Nickels on the Dime; on their own, they would have made for a superb EP, and “Working Men Are Pissed” and “Shit You Hear at Parties” are excellent. But side two is bogged down with far too many unfocused, lo-fi live tapes, and while the selections by the Reactionaries (an embryonic version of the Minutemen) are historically interesting, ultimately they’re little more than juvenilia from a band destined to create much stronger music. The Minutemen were far too gifted to make an album that wasn’t worth hearing, and completists will be more than willing to forgive the duff tracks to get at the handful of great songs here, but ultimately The Politics of Time is the band’s least essential release.

The Minutemen’s debut EP Paranoid Time is a startlingly coherent set of primal minimalism — a cross between Californian hardcore punk and the succinct experimentalism of Wire. It speeds by too quickly for any particular song to stand out, but the band’s terse, frenetic energy is invigorating, as are their imaginative ideas.

-Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Mark Deming,

Minutemen-POST-MERSH, VOL. 3 (1987 compilation)

If What Makes a Man Start Fires? was a remarkable step forward from the Minutemen’s promising debut album, The Punch Line, then Double Nickels on the Dime was a quantum leap into greatness, a sprawling 44-song set that was as impressive as it was ambitious. While punk rock was obviously the starting point for the Minutemen’s musical journey (which they celebrated on the funny and moving “History Lesson Part II”), by this point the group seemed up for almost anything — D. Boon’s guitar work suggested the adventurous melodic sense of jazz tempered with the bite and concision of punk rock, while Mike Watt’s full-bodied bass was the perfect foil for Boon’s leads and drummer George Hurley possessed a snap and swing that would be the envy of nearly any band.

In the course of Double Nickels on the Dime’s four sides, the band tackles leftist punk (“Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing”), Spanish guitar workouts (“Cohesion”), neo-Nortena polka (“Corona”), blues-based laments (“Jesus and Tequila”), avant-garde exercises (“Mr. Robot’s Holy Orders”), and even a stripped-to-the-frame Van Halen cover (“Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”). From start to finish, the Minutemen play and sing with an estimable intelligence and unshakable conviction, and the album is full of striking moments that cohere into a truly remarkable whole; all three members write with smarts, good humor, and an eye for the adventurous, and they hit pay dirt with startling frequency. And if Ethan James’ production is a bit Spartan, it’s also efficient, cleaner than their work with Spot, and captures the performances with clarity (and without intruding upon the band’s ideas). Simply put, Double Nickels on the Dime was the finest album of the Minutemen’s career, and one of the very best American rock albums of the 1980s.

-Mark Deming,


Picking up where the first volume left off, Post-Mersh, Vol. 2 contains the Minutemen’s 1983 Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat LP and the 1985 Project Mersh EP.

What Makes a Man Start Fires? marked a real step forward for the Minutemen, and while Double Nickels on the Dime was where the group would reach their peak, there were plenty of signs pointing to that album’s diverse brilliance on this eight-song EP. While “Dreams Are Free, Motherfucker!” and “The Toe Jam” are goofy, noisy throwaways (hey, this was a EP sandwiched between albums), the rest of the songs found the band consolidating their strengths and growing even tighter and more confident. “I Felt Like a Gringo” and “Cut” merge funky rhythms with a punk rocker’s sense of concision, “Self Referenced” and “The Product” reveal how far this band’s writing had progressed since The Punch Line, and “Little Man With a Gun in His Hand” showed the Minutemen could reduce the tempo and the volume and still create stunning music. It’s hard to think of a stronger rhythm section in an independent band in the 1980s than Mike Watt and George Hurley, and D. Boon was by any standards a superb guitarist, with smarts, style, and a keen sense of how to edit himself. Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat remains a superb record from a band just edging into greatness.

“I got it! We’ll have them write hit songs!” some nameless record company executive says in the cover painting to the Minutemen’s 1985 EP Project Mersh, and that joke covers about half of the record’s formula. While the Minutemen had been writing more melodic and approachable songs with each release, the massive barrage of 90-to-180-second songs on the epic Double Nickels on the Dime was at once an embarrassment of riches and a bit much for a casual listener to chew on. So for this tongue-in-cheek experiment in making a “commercial” (or “mersh”) recording, D. Boon and Mike Watt wrote a few actual three-minute-plus rock tunes, complete with verses and choruses and melodic hooks. On top of that, the band made a game stab at cleaning up their act in the studio; while hardly on the level of something Bob Ezrin or Richard Perry would come up with, Project Mersh boasts a good bit more polish than anything the band had released up to that point and even featured horn overdubs and keyboards on a few tracks. But the punch line was that the Minutemen had used all this fancy window dressing on songs that weren’t all that different from what they’d been doing all along — “The Cheerleaders” and “King of the Hill” are typically intelligent, clear-eyed polemics from Boon, and Watt’s “Tour-Spiel” is one punker’s bitterly funny ode to life on the road (it stands comfortably beside their cover of Steppenwolf’s variation on the same theme, “Hey Lawdy Mama”). While the Minutemen were a band that followed their own creative path from the beginning to the end, Project Mersh made clear they could have followed a more easily traveled road and still made good music with plenty to say.

-Mark Deming,

Minutemen-POST-MERSH, VOL. 2 (1987 compilation)

The Minutemen’s Post-Mersh is a valuable series, collecting all of the group’s official discography, with the exception of Double Nickels on the Dime, 3-Way Tie for Last, and Ballot Result, over the course of three discs. Post-Mersh, Vol. 1 starts at the beginning, combining the trio’s first two albums, The Punch Line (1981) and What Makes a Man Start Fires? (1983) on one disc.

The Minutemen may have come out of the same California hardcore scene that produced Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and Fear, but they not only bore little resemblance to their West Coast contemporaries, they didn’t sound much like anyone else in American rock at that time. The Punch Line was the band’s first album, packing 18 tunes into less than 25 minutes, and if the music shares hardcore’s lust for speed and assaultive rhythmic punch, their sharp, fragmented melodies, complex tempos, and overtly poetic and political lyrics made clear they were rugged individuals; imagine James Blood Ulmer teaching Wire how to get funky and you start to get an idea of what The Punch Line sounds like. It wasn’t until the band began to slow down a bit on What Makes a Man Start Fires? that the strength of the group’s individual songs became clear, and The Punch Line works better as a unified sonic assault than as a collection of tunes, but moments do stand out, especially “Tension,” “Fanatics,” and the title cut, which certainly lends a new perspective to Native American history. The Punch Line was as wildly inventive as anything spawned by American punk, and the band would only get better on subsequent releases.

But on their second (relatively) long-player, What Makes a Man Start Fires?, the three dudes from Pedro opted to slow down their tempos a bit, and something remarkable happened — the Minutemen revealed that they were writing really great songs, with a remarkable degree of stylistic diversity. If you were looking for three-chord blast, the Minutemen were still capable of delivering, as the opening cut proved (the hyper-anthemic “Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs”), but there was just as much churning, minimalistic funk as punk bile in their sound (bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley were already a strikingly powerful and imaginative rhythm section), and D. Boon’s guitar solos were the work of a man who could say a lot musically in a very short space of time. Leaping with confidence and agility between loud rants (“Split Red”), troubled meditations (“Plight”), and plainspoken addresses on the state of the world (“Mutiny in Jonestown”), the Minutemen were showing a maturity of vision that far outstripped most of their contemporaries and a musical intelligence that blended a startling sophistication with a street kid’s passion for fast-and-loud. It says a lot about the Minutemen’s growth that The Punch Line sounded like a great punk album, but a year later What Makes a Man Start Fires? sounded like a great album — period.

-Mark Deming,

Minutemen-POST-MERSH, VOL. 1 (1987 compilation)

Glassworks remains Philip Glass’s bestseller from the middle period of his career, the recording by means of which many listeners familiarized themselves with his music. Conceived as a thematically whole instrumental studio album taking advantage of the promotional and marketing capabilities of what was then Glass’s new major label (CBS, now Sony Classical) and targeted at consumers intrigued with his newfound notoriety, Glassworks features six parts (three per side on the original LP and cassette), alternately meditative and frenetic, that have since broken free and developed lives of their own.

The most frequently rearranged and recorded part, “Facades,” is an outtake from the score to Godfrey Reggio’s film Koyaanisqatsi, which before editing had spent more time panning across the flat modernist surfaces of New York City skyscrapers, imparting a sense of alienation and despondency. Glass frequently performs the first part, “Opening,” in solo piano recitals. When his ensemble performs the second part, “Floe,” in concert, he adds a female voice where, in the recording, the horns perform the Sibelian accompaniment of stately rising and falling crotchets. Throughout, Glass popularizes his earlier idiom of relative rhythmic and harmonic stasis by enriching the instrumentation as well as modulating quickly and even–as in the case of “Rubric”–at a vertiginous pace.

This album was one of the first by a contemporary composer to be recorded digitally, and it has held up remarkably well since 1982 despite the slight harshness and hiss. (CBS remixed the cassette version to satisfy users of portable stereos–back then a fairly new technology.) Fans of Glass will have added this title to their collections long ago, but if you’re new to the composer’s tonal, reiterative music, Glassworks is still as good a place to start as any.

-Robert Burns Neveldine,

Philip Glass-GLASSWORKS (1982)

I’ve only read negative reviews of this EP, which combines the original single and the remixes together. It’s really unfortunate because I think this is a great little lofi, bedroom take on mid-period Aphex Twin like I CARE BECAUSE YOU DO, with lots of places and hooks to get lost in. -Ian!

Aphex Twin-VENTOLIN (1995)