Archive for May, 2010

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Album 18 of 500: Tapes ‘n Tapes – Walk It Off

May 30, 2010

BAND: TAPES ‘N TAPES
ALBUM:  WALK IT OFF
LABEL:  XL
RELEASE DATE:  April 8th 2008

Walk It Off was a letdown for most music critics, feeling that the album could not live up to their 2005 first full length, the Loon. This writer disagrees. Walk It Off is a polished extended version of the Loon. Walk It Off was released three years after the Loon.  Songs on the Loon like “Manitoba” and “Omaha” hinted the band’s direction. Comparisons to indie front runners like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Wolf Parade, Pavement, Modest Mouse, and even the Pixies, Tapes ‘n Tapes are expected of such ridiculous great heights. Tapes ‘n Tapes formed in Minneapolis Minnesota in 2003, led by Josh Grier. Walk It Off was produced by Dave Fridmann, who also produced albums by the Flaming Lips and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Walk It Off is low key, sappy and dreamy. While the lyrics differ, ranging from betrayal, frustration, confusion to sweet and romantic.

Walk It Off is like a fairy tale, sounding sweet and innocent, but at times it carries deep underlining frightening meanings, extremely poetic and even self loathing.  The song meanings are somewhat hard to interpret at times as well, for example in “Demon Apple”, “I am the demon of the apple’s eye/Come round when your head’s on fire/We will be in touch with time/When you come into the Apple’s eye.” Assuming ones guess is as good as the next. Walk it Off could also be considered as an audio version of a classic piece of fiction about the sea. Sea worthy lyrics are present in eight of the twelve tracks. The last song on the album, “The Dirty Dirty,” ends with the lyrics,  “Constant eye bends, where did all the money go/You are far from the isle in a sea bond.”  Tapes ‘n Tapes albums present more of a classic story book, than quick lived modern rock short stories.

Poetic lyrics conquers Walk It Off. An example of this can be heard in, “Hang Them All”. “What you might believe before/and you might believe in when the tide runs, runs/All you are the best of friend/and all you offered at all with the sides run, round,” we also see a  running theme of betrayal in this album.

Non happy emotions run rampant through this album.  Betrayal is also present in the sappy and dreamy song, “Conquest.” The first verse opens with, “A million miles/ of common sense/Can’t hide the reader/Can’t fill the trench/And what you hide/ is what I sold/And when you’re next to me/The feeling’s cold.” “Say Back Something,” by far the best song on the album and is chock-full of frustration and confusion. “Say Back Something,” is a love crumbling anthem of a frustrated person who just wants romantic assurance that everything will be okay after a fight, “Say back something/Why can’t you look me in the eyes,” only a few lines later we learn that, “And I- Oh, I’m so scared”.  Walk It Off does have rare moments of happiness.  Grier’s grainy vocals are soothing in the romantic “Headshock,” regardless of the title, “Your needs/I will never never never/ leave out/So still /Your heart/I will never never never never/Stop.” Truly a requested dedication on college radio to that guy or gal you dig in your sculpture class.

No one would let Walk It Off live up to the Loon. “Say Back Something,” and “Headshock,” could easily fit on the first album. Perhaps Walk It Off is more of a lyrically heartache but certainly not musically. In regards to the comparison of Pavement, this writer does not hear it, nor did Pavement member Bob Nastanovich as he stated in an interview.  Tapes ‘n Tapes should not be scared, for they are do have a fantastic sound, and every record has been decent.  Their third LP is being recorded this year and hopefully its a head shock for critics. Walk it Off is truly a wonderful indie rock conquest for your listening pleasure.

RM CRESSER © 2010 500 Rad Records

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Album 17 of 500: ALL – Percolater

May 30, 2010

BAND: ALL
ALBUM:  PERCOLATER
LABEL: Cruz Records
RELEASE DATE: May 12th 1992

Recently on Carrie Brownstein’s blog, Monitor Mix, she made an interesting observation to the effect of that music aficionados generally value the first of something, whether it is the first incarnation of a band, original lineup, first album, et cetera because it’s supposedly the most authentic and therefore the best.  This predisposition has victimized many a band deserving of better.  That being said, let’s just get this out of the way, friend: ALL is much better than the Descendents ever were.  ALL at its top-dollar best was and is capable of being more innovative musically, more moving emotionally and more sophisticated lyrically than the Descendents at their peak could ever dream of.  If you wish to discuss the matter further please leave a comment and I will happily oblige you, especially since I’m starting to get jealous of comment-magnet and 500 Rad Records originator R.M. Cresser.

A bit more editorializing before we begin.  Why don’t more bands start off their albums with an instrumental?  Try it out, bands.  Conventional wisdom dictates that you should front-load your album with the hits.  That’s fine, sure.  But a good instrumental (not an intro- don’t do those!!) draws in the listener, and sets the proper tone.  Prime example, “Charligan,” a dizzying, dynamic burst of a song portends greatness ahead.  Some would think its careless to blithely speed through such compelling track of one and a half minutes, but this is the act of a band with talent to burn.  Indeed, all four members of ALL (no matter which lineup) write songs and can sing (the latter ability taken to its logical extreme on their debut album, the vocal harmony-rich Allroy Sez.)  Out of the four members, this is truly a Scott Reynolds’ and Karl Alvarez’ record.  Why, I dare you to name a better breakup song than the Alvarez penned duo of  “Nothin’” or “Breathe.”  The devastating lyrics in “Nothin” are like a bitter letter written but never sent to a paramour whose moved on with “somewhere else to be, with someone who isn’t me.”  There’s no chorus, no repeating lyrical passages, just a rant from a shattered narrator.  After the closing lament, “’Cause your promise means nothin’, much less than nothin’, ‘cause you left me with nothing now,” only a haunting guitar arpeggio is left, and then fades out.  It’s crazy, all the emotions ALL can dredge up, the effect this band can have on you in a song that’s less than two minutes long.  The album closes with “Breathe,” which has a dynamic musical structure that cleverly imitates the extreme mood swings petulant anger of the narrator. The song tempers the gloom with a humorous edge, to wit: “I’ll sit by the phone and make sure that you don’t call,” and “it only hurts when I breathe.”  Why, these very songs taught a young writer what it means to feel the psychic desolation of a messy breakup before that young writer had even been through a messy breakup.

The essence of Scott Reynolds’ genius is best displayed here by the sneakily exceptional, “Wonder.”  The first time you hear a song like “Dot” (his other show-stopper on the Percolater) you can’t believe that how you got by without the song being a part of your life.  It’s greatness is self-evident and it hits you immediately.  In contrast, “Wonder” seems initially like an enjoyable fillip of a song.  It rushes by (one minute and 38 seconds) and serves as a satisfactory introduction to fan-favorite “Minute.”  But then you listen to the lyrics.  “Wonder” is a heartbreaking tale about a young couple beset by dire economic circumstances and the disapproval of relatives.  It’s unbelievable Reynolds is able to fit what is essentially a short story (and a hell of a short story, at that) into such a short song so effortlessly. And the empathy he shows towards the characters, the complexity with which he deals with the subject of near-poverty conditions are unparalleled in punk rock, or even rock music as a whole.  Bruce Springsteen wishes he could write a song like, “Wonder.”

Now of course, there are the songs that are not about relationships, which (as is the case for practically every ALL album) range from songs about life on the road, food, the vapidity of popular music and commentary about the human condition.  Most of the time these are the second tier songs on any given ALL album, and in fact that is the case here.  But hey, you learn to deal with ALL’s stylistic restlessness, and in ultimately you end up loving it because it’s part of what makes them ALL (like say, how Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 wouldn’t be Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 without “feller filler.”)  The songs range from pretty good (Alvarez’ indictment of popular music “Empty” and Reynolds’ slice of life tale set in ALL’s then-new digs “Missouri 63”) to awful (namely Bill Stevenson’s wretched hair metal parody, “Hotplate” which runs at a relatively interminable four minutes and four seconds.)  “Egg Timer” is Stevenson’s bittersweet contemplation of his father’s struggle to provide for his family.  It lurches along at an agonizingly slow tempo (with music written by Stephen Egerton) as if to sympathize with the elder Stevenson’s sisyphean task of trying to make ends meet.  It works, mostly. But this writer feels that Scott Reynolds was never really able to nail the occasional slow songs that ALL did (whereas Chad Price, who would take over vocal duties on their next release Breaking Things took to ALL’s slower, more grinding songs like a duck to water.)

Scott Reynolds’ has an ineffable humanity (for lack of a better word) about his singing.  At his best, he sounds as if he’s empathizing with you directly, something many singers try though nearly none accomplish.  It’s for that reason that though using most any metric by which to judge singers; Chad Price (a close second) probably beats him soundly, Reynolds remains my favorite ALL singer.  In short, to borrow a turn of phrase from Pauline Kael, “if Percolater doesn’t make you feel, nothing will.”

PAT AGUIAR © 2010 500 Rad Records

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Album 16 of 500: Belle and Sebastain – Tigermilk

May 21, 2010

BAND: BELLE AND SEBASTAIN
ALBUM:  TIGERMILK
LABEL: Electric Honey Records
RELEASE DATE: June 6th 1996 (UK date)

Belle and Sebastian. The indie girl’s dream, poppy, dreamy and lovely.  Belle and Sebastian tends to surface on “hip” films about outcast gals, like  Juno and (500) Days of Summer. Belle and Sebastian formed in 1995, in Glasgow Scotland, fronted by vocalist Stuart Murdoch. Isobel Campbell plays a small role on this album,  and there were only six members of the band at this time. In fact, Campbell’s moving vocals are not really presented till their third album, The Boy With the Arab Strap.

Tigermilk was the band’s first release. Released only on vinyl by Electric Honey Records, to a limited edition of one thousand. Reissued by Jeepster in 1999, this album is the first book of the Belle and Sebastian series. Belle and Sebastain really defines their sound on their third album, If You’re Feeling Sinister, yet it never really ever changed. Tigermilk is a darker album, full of teen angst, and a fear of commitment.

While kids were listening to the juvenile lyrics of the Weezer, the really hip ones were listening to this high school audio hell.  “Expectations” is the finest example, even used in the film, Juno. The song is about a young outcast girl who listens to the Velvet Underground and throws teenage fits in the lunchroom. Oh the memories. “Your obsessions get you known throughout the school for being strange/Making life-size models of the velvet underground in clay.” The lyrics in the song are fantastic, “Tell Veronica the secrets of the boy you never kissed/She’s got everything to gain ’cause she’s a fat girl with a lisp,” at least she had Veronica.

Tigermilk is not only full of teen angst, but also commitment fears.  In one song, “My Wandering Days Are Over”, we are greeted with happy lyrics about finding a new love, “You know my wandering days are over/Does that mean that I’m getting boring?/You tell me.” Yet, Murdoch is questioning his commitment fear, and totally brings it forth in the next song, “I Don’t Love Anyone.” “I don’t love anyone/Well, maybe my sister/Maybe my baby brother too, yeah/I don’t love anyone.”  TigerMilk is not their best album, it may even feed fears into the unsure, yet it is defines the state they are in.

RM CRESSER © 2010 500 Rad Records

NOTE: One thing this writer questions the comparsion between “Electronic Renaissance” and the Postal Service 2003 song, “Great Such Heights” which sounds very similar.

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Album 15 of 500: Sammy – Tales of Great Neck Glory

May 5, 2010

BAND: SAMMY
ALBUM: TALES OF GREAT NECK GLORY
LABEL: DGC
RELEASE DATE: April 1996

By far, the most unknown, underrated and unappreciated indie band of the nineties, New York City’s Sammy was hip.  Accused of sounding too much like Pavement,  Sammy constisted of vocalist Jesse Hartman, Luke Wood and guest drummers. Sammy was a short lived act that lasted for two years. Two wonderful albums, and still being called a Pavement ripoff to this day, Sammy albums are now hard to come by. Sammy debuted their first album, Debut Album in 1994, followed up with Tales of Great Neck Glory two years later. Both albums are equally good, and this writer has always felt that Sammy was never given the chance.  Tales of Great Neck Glory did better that Debut Record, even having airplay and even a cozy little spot on MTV’s 120 Minutes, for the single,  “Neptune Ave. (Ortho Hi Rise)”.  In this review, we will look at the more well known album, Tales of Great Neck Glory.

Tales Of Great Neck Glory has a cleaner, less Pavement sound than Debut Album. Jesse Hartman knew the Pavement factor, being influenced by Pavement and one can really hear it on Debut Album, yet Sammy is more lo fi.  Hartman’s vocals are similar to Stephen Malkmus, but deeper and more of a comparison to the vocals of Lou Reed.  Tales of Great Neck Glory is an absolutely underrated fantastic album, and for such a great band, it was a shame for them to disband shortly after the release of Tales of Great Neck Glory.  This writer feels it is unfair to view this band as a total Pavement ripoff.  Let’s step back, and pretend we never heard the indie legends Pavement.  Tales of Great Neck Glory is a simple album, lyrics that tell tales about crushes and rejection.  Corky and fun lyrics run rampant throughout the album. Jesse Hartman vocals give the lyrics such a sweet boyish charm. The best song on the album is the second track, “Encyclopedi-Ite”. Opening with the lyrics, “I used to sneak into your room/I felt like  I was raiding King Tut’s tomb/Scrapbook on the walls/Trophy on your shelf/Yes I wanted to all, all for myself,” can remind someone of going into their crush’s room for the first time, just to sneak of a peep of that person’s personal life.  The radio hit, “Neptune Ave. (Ortho Hi Rise)” has lyrics just as curious and charming, including the best lyric on the album. “I wish that I knew You/That You Weren’t Made Up/ Hear the Frog in Your Voice/See the Way that You Strut.” We all day dream about what our love lives hold in the future when we are single, and this is a perfect illustration, “I wish that I knew you/Not a sketch in my book.”  The closing track, “Kings Pt. Vs. Steamboat” shows the example of  rejection, “I think you got the short end of the stick.” Overall, Sammy got the short end of the stick. Lets not say Sammy is a Pavement ripoff, but the East Coast version.  Tales Of Great Neck Glory will forever be tales of great underrated glory.

RM CRESSER © 2010 500 Rad Records