Archive for April, 2010

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Album 14 of 500: Beat Happening – Dreamy

April 28, 2010

BAND:  BEAT HAPPENING
ALBUM:  DREAMY
LABEL: K Records
RELEASE DATE: 1991

Calvin Johnson is untamed. A legend among indie rock, Johnson is the founder of the legendary Beat Happening, and co founder of K records. In 1991, Johnson’s band, Beat Happening released their fourth album, Dreamy. Beat Happening formed in Washington state in 1982, along with Bret Lunsford and Heather Lewis, who is the female vocalist of Beat Happening. Simple and great, Beat Happening is truly one of the greatest influenical acts of the indie movement.  Beat Happening is right up there with the Shaggs and influenced many acts such as Nirvana and the Thermals. Johnson’s voice is so different and deep that anything you will ever hear.  The man taps into your soul and leaves a permanent mark. Dreamy is a lo fi dream come true.  The 31 minute album is a throw back to the beat generation, with a sound that could match 60s garage. Calvin doesn’t really sing, but he tells you about naughty girls, failed dreams and crying for someone who wouldn’t give you the time of day. Way before Patti Stanger was calling redheads ‘fire crotch bitches’ on Bravo’s the Millioniare Matchmaker, Johnson was giving us a full warning in “Red Head Walking”.  “You bet you’re gonna lose it to that hellbound crimson glory/ Red head walkin/Red head walkin/Heed what this wise man says/Keep away from red heads.”

Oddly enough, the self titled song, “Dreamy” didn’t make the album, yet shows up on a 2003 collection of the band’s career, Music to Climb the Apple Tree By.  Dreamy opens with Johnson telling the world, he is untamed and looking for love, in “Me Untamed.”   Lyrics such as, “Hey ugly duckling, let’s get lost tonight” shows Calvin Johnson lyrics are bizarre and semi juvenile.  Perhaps a play on words in response to Johnny Cash’s lyric, “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die,” can be found in  “Revolution Come and Gone”. “Got a girl in Reno just to watch her cry,” An audio modern day Holden Caulfield.  “Cry For a Shadow,” shows Calvin’s bark is worse than his bite, with lyrics such as, “Every drop of your precious tears/When you’re crying for a shadow/Crying for a shadow/Like I cried for you.”  Heather Lewis sings lead vocals on three of the ten songs, “Left Behind,” “Collide” and “Fortune Cookie Prize.” These songs are love anthems for shy gals, “Fortune Cookie Prize,” being the best and probably dominated mix tapes made by girls for their crushes in 1991.  Dreamy is by far one of the best indie lo fi albums of all time, the Beat Happening revolution may have came and gone, but this album will always be dreamy.

RM CRESSER © 2010 500 Rad Records

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Album 13 of 500: Blonde Redhead – Misery is a Butterfly

April 28, 2010

BAND:  BLONDE REDHEAD
ALBUM:  MISERY IS A BUTTERFLY
LABEL: 4AD
RELEASE DATE: Mar 14th 2004

Misery Is a Butterfly is an album with depth.  Completely resistant to fatigue brought on by repeated listens.  Ornate, bordering on profligate, instrumentation.  Certainly an album conceived to be admired, but not exhibiting any signs of aloofness.  The charge might make sense in regards to some of Blonde Redhead’s other material, but not this album.  Singers Amedeo Pace and Kazu Makino are emoting aaaaaaaaall over the place.  The music might seem like genteel chamber pop, but they sing their tales of trauma and tsuris with startling emotional intensity.  Indeed, the passionate, perhaps even overzealous vocal delivery risks alienating certain listeners.  But their investment in the material, their admirable disregard for seeming histrionic is a challenge to the listener: their commitment deserves reciprocity (i.e. your full attention.)

This is an album that demands to be experienced in one sitting.  None of the songs independently amount to a satisfying pop experience (except for “Equus,” the discussion of which we’ll get around to shortly.)  Instead, you listen to the entire album and it unfurls itself before you.  The languorous pace of the songs suggests that they exist to be savored.  There’s no consideration for conventional song structure (once again, not counting “Equus”) and as such, each track follows it own logic, never contrived.  The chorus of the title track, “Misery Is a Butterfly,” comes a full three minutes into its five minute running time, yet you feel as if could not have conceivably come at any other point and sound as perfect as it does.  Indeed some of the songs, especially “Melody,” seem as if they could conceivably go on for hours without the listener wanting to skip to the next track.

The centerpiece of the album has to be the final three tracks, a stunningly conceived valediction.  “Magic Mountain,” with its breathless vocal presentation by Makino and uncharacteristically minimal instrumentation leads perfectly into “Pink Love,” the first track that breaks the pattern of a Kazu Makino-sung song alternating with an Amedeo Pace-sung song.  It’s a duet featuring the two on vocals, with its 3/4 time signature dramatically realized with relentless quarter note guitar strumming and insistent bassline.  This is the song the two singers have been waiting for to go all out.  They take turns trying to outdo each other trading verses until Makino authoritatively takes ownership of the chorus.  All of this leads to the one pop song on the album with a traditional song structure, curiously but boldly placed as the last song.  And a hell of a pop song it is.  “Equus” is energetic, catchy, and yes it’s about the play of the same name in which a guy wants to screw a horse.

If there’s one problem I can find with Misery Is a Butterfly, it’s a relatively trifling one.  I think that if a band has a false ending in a song, they should make damn sure that the song is brilliant to the degree where the possibility of the song ending where the false ending is placed is genuinely risible to the listener, in order to justify the contrivance in the first place.  If a song isn’t absolutely great, chances are the tune’s resurrection after the false ending is going to be met with disappointment from the listener.  Because, let’s face it, a lot of songs should end before they do.  And almost all songs with false endings should end where the false ending is.  The use of the false ending technique is acceptable in “Doll Is Mine,” especially since it’s conspicuously placed so early in the song.  But it’s just irritating in “Falling Man,” definitely the weakest song on the album.  I point this out more as a general criticism for the device of the false ending than I do to dissuade you from listening to Misery Is a Butterfly, which if I tried to do so would be much to my eternal discredit.

PAT AGUIAR © 2010 500 Rad Records

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Album 12 of 500: Beulah – The Coast Is Never Clear

April 24, 2010

BAND: BEULAH
ALBUM: THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR
LABEL: Velocette Records
RELEASE DATE: Sept 11th 2001

What does one think of when they think of sunny California, for me, Beulah comes to mind. Founded in San Francisco in 1996, fronted by Miles Kurosky, Beulah reaches out to the style of the Beach Boys with a hint of fellow acts such as the Apples in Stereo. Beulah is indie pop at its finest. The Coast is Never Clear is the 2001 follow up to Beulah’s second album, When Your Heart Strings Break. Happy go lucky indie pop. Not quite. Beulah songs sound happy, but the lyrics are grim, disturbing and heartbreaking. “A Good Man is Easy To Kill” is a perfect example. “When you flew through that windshield/And your life passed reel to reel/Was there a big part for me?” So happy sounding, but such dark lyrics. “Hey Brother,” tells a story about a woman getting pregnant and the guy runs, “You said you were late, and I planned my escape/Such a happy thing/Just another one of my mistakes”.  This is an album that screams of heartache, breakup and just giving up on everything. “Popular Mechanics for Lovers” is about a jealous ex,  with the best lyrics on the album, “You’re so bitter, you think he’s sweet.”  The best song on the album goes to, “Gravity is Bringing us Down,” a song about finding a rebound, “Hey I’m on the rebound/watch me fall at the speed of sound ” and ending the song with the lyrics, “Lonely/I’m just lonely”.   An album for the broken hearted, The Coast is Never Clear is so bitter, its sweet.

RM CRESSER © 2010 500 Rad Records

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Album 11 of 500: The Thermals – The Body, The Blood, The Machine

April 4, 2010

BAND: THE THERMALS
ALBUM: THE BODY, THE BLOOD, THE MACHINE
LABEL: Subpop Records
RELEASE DATE:  August 22nd 2006

Perhaps its sacreligious to write a review for this album on Easter, yet it is unheard for a band’s third record to be their best.  You don’t see the Bible thumpers protesting at Thermals shows. The Body, the Blood, the Machine is more anti religious than any Marilyn Manson album. The Thermals, hailing from Portland Oregon, formed in 2002. Their first album, More Parts Per Million only cost roughly ten dollars to make and got in the hands of Death Cab for Cutie’s front man, Ben Gibbard. Mr. Gibbard dug it so much he passed it on to Sub Pop and the rest is history. The Thermals is an indie kid’s dream with a punk background. Their songs are fast, and front man, Hutch Harris’ vocals could match any of the big indie players.  Produced by Fugazi’s Brendan Canty, The Body, the Blood, the Machine is a great album that reminds one of Bad Religion’s “American Jesus”.  According to the band’s biography on their official website, “The album (loosely) tells the story of a young couple who must flee a United States governed by fascist faux-Christians.”  An anti Bush, anti Christian album,  each song breaths the fear of a Republican forced Christian nation.  The album opens with “Here Your Future”.  Eleven seconds into the song, we are introduced to this bizarre rock sermon, “God reached his hand down from the sky, he flooded the land and he set it on fire.”  “Pillar of Salt” brings forth human nature with the lyric, “We were born to sin”. The most startling lyric comes from the song, “I Might Need You to Kill”. Some may think it is a comparison of Christianity to the Nazi party, “Locusts, Tornadoes, Crosses and Nazi Halos.” Yet, this writer truly believes its an attack on war. How can a Christian society go to war and kill, when it against the ten commandants. Harris simply is focusing on the hypocrisy  of religion and war.  Harris asks what any kid wants to ask in Sunday school, how is that possible?  Sadly looking ahead to the next Thermals album, Now We Can See seems to be censored. Perhaps Now We Can See is because it was released during a democratic term, or it could be maybe the Thermals were told to tone down a bit, either way God help us if this album foreshadows a Palin administration.

RM CRESSER © 2010 500 Rad Records