Wednesday, April 6, 2011
I've been threatened with chewing gum in my hair if I don't come out of my posting hibernation soon, which is as good a motivation as any. My only excuse is that I've been spending my time being a miserable grad student, so to make amends for my absence, today we have another criminally underrated band from my hometown that I love to hate & hate to love - the wonderful Junior Varsity from Houston, Texas. Fashioning themselves as a squeaky clean 1950s sock-hop combo, Junior Varsity combined everything that you could ever want in a rock & roll band - songs under two minutes about ice cream socials & pin monkeys, two girls on guitar/bass plus a boy drummer who plays standing up, a mascot named Bippy the Bear who would show up in full costume at shows, matching custom sweater vests for the band members & infectious garage-pop sounds that suggest what would happen if Cub listened to a steady diet of Buddy Holly & Chubby Checker. After banging out a couple of singles in the late '90s (I highly recommend picking up the "Go! To The Ice Cream Social" or "Pep Rally Rock" seven inches if they ever cross your path), Peek-a-Boo Records brought this full length into the world in 2000 - fourteen songs, twenty minutes, three chords. Forget all of those "surf-pop" bands everyone is going nuts over these days, because Junior Varsity is the real deal if you're looking for music perfect for doing the twist in saddle shoes at your next high school dance.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
A quick recap on Bathory for the unfamiliar: Bathory was a Swedish proto-black metal band whose sound, lyrical content, and imagery served as a primary influence (along with other bands such as Venom) for the wave of Norweigan black metal bands that existed in the early 1990's. Sole member Quorthorn played all instruments and again served as an importance influence upon various metal microgenres before his death in 2004.
On Blood, Fire, Death, we see Bathory continue the transformation (started with their previous release, Under The Sign Of The Black Mark) from the black metal archetype into what is now known as the 'viking metal' microgenre (this transformation was solidified with Bathory's next release, Hammerheart). This might all sound a bit haughty and unnecessary, although after taking a quick listen to tracks from Hammerheart, one can easily note the sound/style departure. In Blood, Fire, Death, we are left with a sprawling, dark, and ambitious album that has quite a mature sense about it, especially when compared to Bathory's earlier efforts. The progression of sound, toward the viking metal microgenre, is largely responsible for this, and accounts for the album's sweeping breadth, to the point where this record listens/feels almost like a film soundtrack. That being said, I think its the balance between the two styles that really make Blood, Fire, Death a noteworthy release, as it caters to the aural fixations of just about any fan of heavy metal music in general. To say that Blood, Fire, Death is an accessible album might be a bit of a stretch, and also might not serve as a proper compliment, but in my opinion it is precisely that and I most certainly use that label in a complimentary context.
Friday, March 4, 2011
In anticipation for the upcoming Sebadoh tour in support of the reissues of Bakesale and Harmacy, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit the band's last bit of time-travelling, allllll the way back in 2007 when the Barlow/Gaffney/Lowenstein configuration of the band got back together to celebrate the reissue of the indie smash album III. Not only did Lou and Jason mend fences with the ever-erratic Eric Gaffney, but they also decided to put together this little self-released album of b-sides, outtakes, and alternate cuts, spanning from about 1989 through 1992.
While Wade Through The Boggs is nothing overly spectacular and by no means essential listening, it is a delightful reminder of Barlow/Gaffney/Lowenstein's collective sense of humor directly contrasted with serious artful songwriting. The album kicks off w/ the intense melancholy feel of a track like 'Happily Divided' (originally on the Bubble & Scrape LP), a personal favorite of mine. The album showcases the aforementioned contrast throughout, inserting goofy cuts ('MEE-YOW!') and interesting revamps ('Cry-Sis'). Ultimately, its a great snapshot of the band at one of their various high points.
Monday, February 28, 2011
The Shivering King And Others is a beautiful, perfect storm of a record. Over the years I've listened to this record so often, so intently, that even the most subtle nuances put a smile on my face. That faint sound of feedback just before the opening track, 'I Love You Too', kicks in with a riff that haunts dreams and nightmares alike? Oh yes. I could go on, but the end result is simply an album that fires on all cylinders.
Upon its release in 2003, the album generated a bit of buzz in certain circles, but was disregarded by many. It was felt that the band's appearance on Matador, a label that (at the time) was largely reconfiguring its own identity, seemed odd at best and a poor move at worst. With the dust now long-settled, we are left with a near flawless snapshot of the band at what I would argue to be its creative apex (which should not be misinterpreted as a slight to their material since this release, which I also enjoy). This album goes far beyond their two previous studio releases, their self-titled debut and their sophomore effort, Howls From The Hills (both on Joe Lally's Tolotta label). While those two releases were good in their own right, The Shivering King And Others showcases stunning execution with proper variation and just a bit of restraint. That variation can be seen in the intense riffage of a track like 'Good Moanin', countered by the much more cerebral and introspective 'Heaven' and the acid-soaked revamp of 'Everything's Going On'.
Shivering King is the documented result of a band acting as a true musical unit. That end result, a near decade later (!!), remains awe-inspiring.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
When it comes to riot-grrrl bands, your Bikini Kills & your Bratmobiles tend to get a lot of attention, but Emily's Sassy Lime might not have made it onto your radar (fittingly enough, they apparently formed after a Bikini Kill/Bratmobile show in 1993 that they had to sneak out to attend - rock & roll high school!) . Maybe it's because they were from Southern California & not Olympia. Their backstory is an almost textbook example of early/mid-90s DIY punk: three teenage girls who didn't own their own instruments & were forbidden from practicing by their parents start a band, swapping borrowed instruments at shows & writing songs over answering machines until they all graduate high school, go to college & break up the band. Somewhere along the line (okay, it was 1995), Kill Rock Stars puts out their sole album, Desperate Scared But Social. Like their more twee spiritual forebearers Beat Happening, the songs are often not "songs" as much as shambling, charmingly awkward bursts of giddy noise. Snotty vocals, off-kilter rhythms & we-know-we're-amateurish-but-we-don't-give-a-fuck attitude - they were doing it all in Southern California a good decade before Mika Miko came along. This whole sound seems to be popping up in the influence lists of more & more contemporary female-fronted punky-noise-pop bands (Wetdog & Pens from the UK immediately come to mind), so listen to this & fill in the gaps in your riot-grrrl education.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I thought I'd shake things up a bit by posting an album that has quickly become a Spring/Summer favorite of mine. 1st, the Bee Gees' 3rd studio album, is an incredibly strong example of the band's early psychedelic songwriting and stands out as an incredible pop album.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. The album is an unabashed response to the Beatles' Revolver, which was released one year previous. 1st includes some rather clear comparisons (see the Bee Gees' "In My Own Time" versus the Beatles' "Taxman") as well as some more stylistic nods through instrumentation (see "Red Chair, Fade Away" and "Cucumber Castle"). Even the artwork on 1st was designed by Klaus Voormann, who was responsible for Revolver's iconic cover.
This is not to say, however, that 1st should be cast aside as some sort of inferior mimic. While all the previously mentioned songs share some resemblances to a certain famous foursome, are all fantastic songs on their own accord. At the time of its initial release, the album yielded three top 20 U.S. singles ("To Love Somebody", "New York Mining Disaster 1941" and the fantastic "Holiday"). Additionally, the album does not stagger in its style, which gives it a fresh feel throughout. From the near-criminal catchiness of "I Close My Eyes" to the quirky baroque/chamber rock of "Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You" and all the others in between, 1st is an absolutely stunning record overall, perfect for the current season.