Kickboxing In America

Dark

Sometimes I want to talk about things other than music.  Although, I don’t, not really.  However, sometimes, your day is too busy to think of something original to write about.  I wanted to write about Simple Minds, a band that is way better than most people remember (right up until about 1985, that is), a band that is still making music today, but given that i just read a decent article about them on Stereogum, I didn’t want to potentially parrot anything I’d just read.  Instead, let’s talk about television.

I watch TV, like most people do.  We don’t have cable here at The Fault, so we watch streaming platforms, mostly Netflix but sometimes Amazon as well, and the odd new release movie.  Yesterday we started watching a Netflix show called Dark, which deals with time travel and shifting perceptions associated with the same.  The wife and I are suckers for a well done time travel story, and this one has started out well.  It’s a -bit- hard to follow because it has a large cast of characters (in 2019 and 1986 versions) to keep straight, so it’s definitely a show that is best watched and not had on as background to something else like a mobile video game.  The show centers on a nuclear power plant, a series of caves, and some odd time shifts, but that’s all I know so far (and it’s all I’m going to give you.  Go watch it yourself.)  It is a German-produced show, but dubbed into English – I wish they had left the native German with subtitles – but I do understand that there are lazy viewers out there who don’t want to, like, read, maaahn.

We’ve not finished the first series yet, but we’re halfway through it and so far, so good.  Although I do think it’s one of those shows you may have to watch through a second time to catch all the nuances and missed clues, which, hey, there’s only so much time in the day, so I’m not all cool with that.  Still and all, it’s decent, and you could do worse – the first (and only) season of The Mist was a massive letdown, with only the last 2 episodes being decent enough to warrant the (ostensibly free) cost of admission.

OK, yeah, Simple Minds.  Screw up, a quick recap.  Their first album, Life In A Day, is pretty sterile and lacking in focus.  Their second album, Reel to Real Cacophony, is a good, experimental, post-punk album.  It’s their third album, Empires and Dance, that really kicks.  It’s electro-rock in a vein not dissimilar to PIL, only with more melodies present.  They followed this up with Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call (an LP and EP recorded at the same time), which doubles down on the synthetics (a favorite here at The Fault) and electronic grooves.  The end of their ‘experimental’ period was also the start of their ‘pop’ period, 1984’s New Gold Dream.  It’s a perfect blend of pop and experimental, showing both sides of the band in perfect harmony.  After that they went pop, did some song to a John Hughes film (you know the one) and kind of got boring.  They’re still making music and they are touring, something I’d be – kind of – interested in, if I thought they’d be playing pre-1986 stuff only.  However, I doubt that’s the case so, in one of the instances where I wish I had access to a time machine, I’d go back and see them in their pre-pop, experimental (though unloved) glory.  That’s what a show like Dark’s possibilities could do for me – give me the ability to catch bands when I loved them, not when the general public decided which songs were good.

Failure?

Posies

Check out the duo above, they are the primary architects of long-standing Seattle band The Posies.  They look like rejects from The Cure – the leather coats, the button-up long sleeve shirts, the hair.  A picture is worth a thousand words (or maybe a thousand songs?), so you can be forgiven if, after looking at the above image (which graced the back cover of their debut album, Failure), you assumed the grooves inside were some goth-gloomcave-type sound.  However, you would be wrong.  The Posies might look like rejects from a Cure tribute band, but their music hews much closer to classic 70’s power-pop groups like The Raspberries, Cheap Trick, Neil Young, and of course, Big Star, a band they would at various times be members of.

Retro power-pop was a big sound at the turn of the 90’s, with acts like Matthew Sweet, Lloyd Cole, Material Issue, and Weezer all playing a 70’s-homage type of music.  The Posies released Failure on a local indie, Popllama, and the songs sound like polished demos.  They’re not bad, but they’re lacking something.  The Posies signed to Geffen records in 1989, and their debut for that label, Dear 23, came out in 1991, with Geffen putting a decent amount of promotion behind the album.  But, Geffen had also signed another local band, of a different stripe of 70’s sound, that ended up eclipsing what The Posies might have been capable of under different circumstance.  I speak of Nirvana, a band I’m sure you’re all familiar with.  I was already quite familiar with Nirvana by the time “Smells Like Teen Spirit” jump-started alternative nation, and perhaps on another post I’ll speak more about Nirvana.  For now though, let’s stick with The Posies.

While the power-pop vibe was a breath of fresh air after the late-80’s sterile, machine-like lock-step and homogenous lifelessness, it was Nirvana’s recycled punk/Sabbath grooves that really took off in popularity.  And while a rising tide lifts all ships, briefly helping any Seattle band shift units, each ship rises a different amount.  Dear 23 did ok for The Posies, and their follow-up Frosting on the Beater, from 1993, had perhaps their best-known track “Dream All Day”.  But while The Posies were probably looking around at what their career might have been if not for…, they did help resurrect the aforementioned Big Star, appearing live with Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens (from the original lineup), to bring 3 critically-lauded Big Star albums from the early 70’s to a new audience.  While it’s no doubt that without Big Star there probably would have been no Posies, it’s nice that they were able to play with their idols and maintain a side-career (as sidemen) while they were putting out original material that was largely ignored for the more aggressive and angsty grunge music of the time.

I personally prefer The Posies, Matthew Sweet, and the other power-pop adherents of the 90’s to the majority of the grunge acts from the era, despite my living in Seattle at the time, and also being in various bands also at the same time.  I mean, I never say “hey, I really feel like listening to some Nirvana”, but I do find myself saying “hey, some Posies might be ok right now.”  It’s a different vibe, something that I think holds up a bit better than grunge does.  This is, of course, my opinion.  Your mileage may vary in relation to mine.

Oh yeah, right.  I found an original Popllama blue vinyl copy of Failure yesterday at one of my local shops.  I grabbed it right away, and I’ve listened to it a couple times now.  Good stuff…a bit raw and unpolished, but definitely pointing in the direction their sound would ultimately take (despite them looking like Robert Smith acolytes).  The Posies are still making original music, and it’s still good.  They’re also running a PledgeMusic campaign to reissue their classic Geffen albums from the 90’s, if that’s your thing, support them.  Go forth and listen!

Sunny Afternoon

KinksSo, shortly after I complained about the constant rain, it stopped raining.  And hasn’t rained now for nearly 48 hours (although it did hail yesterday).  Hmm, maybe complaining does get you somewhere.  Since this is a blog about (amongst other things) music and record collecting, maybe I should talk about a record I found today.  Above is a copy of the Kinks’ lp Face To Face.  I like the Kinks, they’re a great band that is looked at more from an influential standpoint than a commercially successful one.  At one of my local shops today, I found this monophonic repressing which was released in 1979.  The original came out in 1967 and is rare as crap, especially in decent condition.  Pye Records (their original label) did a run of both mono and stereo reissues for the German market in 1979-1980.  Previously, at the same shop, I’d found a monophonic repress of my favorite Kinks album, Are The Village Green Preservation Society.  My find today was a nice companion piece.  The same shop also had a monophonic reissue of Arthur (Or, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire), but I have an original stereo copy from 1969 that sounds great, so I didn’t see the need to open my wallet for a mono edition, although the German market represses are quite nice.  Lately I’ve been striking out with records from my local shops, so today’s find was quite nice.

Another cool thing that happened to me today was I got into a random conversation with two guys in my locker room.  They were talking about getting tickets for Alvvays in April (a show I’ve already bought my tickets for), and so we chatted for awhile about music both new and old, what we liked and disliked, and upcoming shows.  These guys were a little younger than me but not, you know, young young.  It’s nice to know that there are other older people, aside from myself, that still try to stay current with what’s going on musically.  I turned them on to Dream Wife, one of my favorite new bands, so hopefully they’ll go out and support them with a purchase of their new lp.

14 Hour Technicolour Dream

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It’s awesome album cover Saturday here at The Fault.  Take a gander at the psychedelic masterpiece above.  It has everything a good psych cover should – odd, collagist imagery, a juxtaposition of Victorian and modern styles, and enough surrealist composition to beckon you inside, take a trip, relax your mind, float away, yada yada.  I find myself wanting to listen to nothing but old garage/freakbeat/vintage psych stuff two or three times a year.  For me, there’s a timeless quality to this music that just puts it head and shoulders above anything else.

A large part of why the Nugget series works so well is that it’s, like the cover art that adorns the music contained within, a melding of multiple styles.  You’ve got electric blues, garage, and burgeoning psychedelic sound stylings.  The Nuggets series is a great place to hear some truly amazing performances by artists who in many cases went on to greater success with other bands.  And that’s something most people don’t realize – bands weren’t meant to ‘last’, at least not in the way today’s acts do.  A group of working musicians might have been three or four different ‘groups’ within the span of a few short years.  Remember too, that most of these acts were British, and British pop (of which heavy blues, garage, and psych were all parts of) bands were controlled as much by their management as they were by their songwriters.  Thus, a band might be garage for six months, and then try to cash in on this ‘psychedelic’ phase that just popped up.  So, you switch the brothel creeper boots and sharp suits for paisley shirts and flowers.  Same members, different package, different arrangement style.  The technology of music was evolving at such a rate that a guitar reverb was a novelty at the time that, if showcased on a record, was likely to become a hit due to it’s relative novelty.  Now, anyone can have dozens of delay options for practically no cost.  In the 60’s, it’s relative newness gave it a cache that bands wanted to cash in on.

Most people who weren’t there just assume that all the psychedelic bands were trying to promote some sort of lifestyle of dropping acid, smoking mary jane, and kids grooving against the old establishment.  This is not the case.  For many of them, it was simply a means to an end.  Let’s look at some of the bands represented on Nuggets, and their eventual ends:

I Can Hear The Grass Grow – The Move.  These guys started as a traditional rock group, dabbled in psychedelia during it’s peak, and went back to rock.  Two (eventually three) of the members went on to form a little band in the 70’s known as ELO, much more disco than psych rock.  That eventual third was Jeff Lynne, who fronted his own band known as The Idle Race, represented here with Imposters of Life’s Magazine.  The band Tomorrow appears with My White Bicycle, featuring guitarist Steve Howe who would later join progressive rock band Yes.  Speaking of Yes, another band featured on Nuggets was The Syn, with their entry here being 14 Hour Technicolour Dream.  The Syn’s bassist Chris Squire would help form the progressive band Yes that Steve Howe joins.

Nuggets is packed full with a who’s who of players.  David Bowie has an entry here as Davy Jones performing You’ve Got A Habit of Leaving.  Jimmy Page shows up playing guitar for The Primitives on You Said, while John Paul Jones plays bass for The Poets on That’s the Way It’s Got To Be.  There are cuts by The Small Faces, Status Quo, The Creation, and The Pretty Things.  Most of these bands would continue in some incarnation or other for years after the psychedelic bubble had burst.  Some of the bands represented are unique and certainly were probably cobbled together quickly from competent players to cash in on the psychedelic craze.  Bands like The Action, The Eyes, Sorrows, Kaleidoscope – these are the real unsung, disappeared entrants in the psychedelic musical canon.  That’s what’s great about Nuggets, it brings all these one-off hits by bands big and small and makes them all available in one place for optimum listening pleasure.  Sadly, this box set is now out of print, so hopefully you either stumble upon a used copy or find a download somewhere.  Happy listening!

Do You Want To Know What’s Going On Inside My Happy Head?

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I wasn’t going to post anything today, as I didn’t think I had anything to say.  I then realized that I had an empty head, and an empty head is a happy head.  Ignorance is bliss, they do say.  Of course, I then realized that Happy Head is the name of an album and a song by the band The Mighty Lemon Drops.  The Drops were a mid-80’s psychedelic band in the vein of Echo & The Bunnymen or the Chameleons, and they seemed especially influenced by the 13th Floor Elevators.  They produced some fine tunes, especially their early indie releases and their lp World Without End.  After that they seemed creatively lost, with a redeeming song here or there but definitely diminishing returns.  I did see them live once, headlining a 3-act bill with the Ocean Blue and John Wesley Harding, and they put on a good performance.  Like many things though, they were hitting their mid-period weak point at the same time grunge broke mainstream.  Grunge sank a lot of listing ships.  I suggest seeking out their stuff on Youtube if you’re interested in hearing more.

I also realized that I probably have enough song titles and lyrics in my happy head that I could, conceivably, answer every question posed to me with a song-lyric response.  I could probably hold entire conversations made up of quotes from song lyrics.  Think of it as the musical equivalent of the ‘meow’ game from Super Troopers.

Rockin’ Records Rockin’ Records, Cash Rockin’ Records

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I’m still processing the death yesterday of Mark E. Smith, leader and only permanent member of incredible UK band The Fall.  With over 30 studio albums, and nearly the same number of live albums (plus compilations, one-offs, etc…) and a bunch of non-album singles, it’s hard to absorb everything the band ever managed to put out.  A good place to start, I suppose, would be 458489 A Sides, a (tongue-in-cheek) ‘hit’ singles collection that comprises all their single-release A sides in one place from the period of their birth through 1989.  If nothing else, it’s a great way to listen to these cuts (some of which didn’t end up on any ‘official’ full-length) in one place.  Of course, that leaves out one of MY favorite all-time Fall singles ‘High Tension Line‘, because that song came out in 1990.

Lots of people like to put dividing lines on a band’s musical worth, output wise.  We all know those who say “well, their stuff was good before X or only after Y but not -” and they draw a line in the sand.  Full stop.  You are not to enjoy (this) band (before or after) (X or Y) because I say so.  Some people say a band lost credibility, or went soft, or modern (wouldn’t they have been ‘modern’ when they started?), or some other nonsense.  I’ve been guilty of this myself, so I’m not without blame.  Most bands do change their sound as they evolve.  Let’s be honest with each other, shall we, because The Fault is honest, if nothing else.  A band generally has to change their sound to adapt to a changing musical landscape, or (as was the case with disco or the ultra-clean, overproduced sound of the mid-80’s) to even get their studio time funded.  These types of conceits don’t exist as much in an age where you can setup an OK recording studio in your house for under 10 grand.  Most people only have limited listening time though, so a band you loved at 19 may not reverberate with you at 29, especially if their sound has evolved while you, yourself, were evolving in parallel.  Whether it’s to maintain sanity, or for commerciality, or because yeah, they’re sell-outs, most bands change their sounds.  Few of them are allowed to get away with it.

This is where The Fall were gloriously different.  They changed their sound like most people change their socks – frequently, regularly, routinely.  Ask ten people, they’ll probably describe the sound of The Fall in ten different terms.  It was punky, dubby, shambolic, jangly, messy, loud, brash, electronic, lo-fi…get it?  What kept The Fall going was the fact that each time Mark E Smith fired someone, he brought someone new in who would, inevitably, bring his or her own influences into the overall sound.  So, the thing that scares most fans (a new band member, oh no!) was The Fall’s saving grace (and this nation’s…that’s a joke.  Some of you get it).  What kept The Fall relevant was their ability to shift with, and respond to, the times.  While appearing to embrace the ‘new’ sound (whichever sound was in vogue at the time), lyrically, Smith was always commenting on it whilst the band was ‘aping’ it.  The Fall were always in on the joke, and many people just didn’t get that.  And sure, Smith didn’t sing, per se, as much as bark, growl, spit words.  Brilliant words, bitter words, angry words, odd words.  There really were few lyricists who could do so much with so little.  Odd couplets, repetition (lots of repetition), edifice hiding behind art.

Honestly, I’m not sure any iteration of The Fall would be allowed to survive today.  To have been able to survive in a corporate-controlled record-selling world is even more impressive, especially given all their stylistic shifts, lyrical impenetrability, and musical left-turns.  I get it, The Fall aren’t most people’s cup of tea, but they produced so much music, there’s something in their catalog for you.  You just have to have big enough ears to be willing to seek it out.  Good luck out there.

 

I Need An Angel To Stone My Soul

Dixie Narco

Primal Scream always seemed to be a band of extremes.  They’ve always been retro-leaning, just check the very Byrds-like twang of their debut Sonic Flower Groove.  It’s not a great album by any means, made worse by singer Bobbie Gillespie’s thin, reedy voice (which would improve over time).  His full-time gig as drummer for Jesus & Mary Chain at the time likely didn’t help matters either.  But it was Primal Scream’s second, self-titled album, that would see them first flirt with their most well-respected dalliance:  late 60’s & early 70’s Rolling Stones style compositions.  The grooves on Primal Scream are thick with Goat’s Head Soup style leanings.  It’s not a bad album, but it would quickly be overshadowed by their breakout, the Britpop-meets-Acid House mashup that was Screamadelica.  If you don’t know anything about this album, seek it out and listen to it before reading further.  Despite the majority of the songs being modern (at the time) groove constructions, there are still a few nods in the direction of the Stones (notably “Damaged”, and lead album track “Movin’ On Up”).

And it’s here that the band’s Stones fixation would point in the direction of their future.  Sure, “Movin’ On Up” has enough of a groove that it fits in well with the majority of the Screamadelica album, but it’s the EP released to promote the song, the Dixie-Narco EP, that would really reveal their Stones fixation to a wider audience, one that hadn’t been listening at the time of their self-titled lp.  Produced in Memphis, TN by Jimmy Miller, “Movin’ On Up” points directly towards their follow-up album to Screamadelica, the maligned Give Out But Don’t Give Up, a mellow, swampy album of ballads and mid-tempo rockers.  One side of the 12″ is given over to the song “Screamadelica”, which oddly enough didn’t appear on the album of the same name.  It’s a great acid-house jam, totally encapsulating the dance sound the band were trying to convey.  But it’s the other 2 b-sides that proved that Primal Scream had done their homework.  “Carry Me Home” and “Stone My Soul” both sound like Beggars Banquet-era Stones outtakes.  The songs were produced by Andrew Weatherall, so you can’t credit the sound on the influence of Jimmy Miller (who produced many of the Stones’ classic albums, along with, of course, “Movin’ On Up”).  “Carry Me Home” is probably one of the best things the band has ever recorded.  Originally written by Dennis Wilson for the Beach Boys, the band removes any trace of California sunshine from the track and inserts an organ and piano, and drowns everything in echo and reverb.  It’s a brilliantly conceived, melancholy cover, one of many that Primal Scream would do over the course of their career.

After Give Out, the Scream would flirt with electronica, shoegaze, and industrial dance, before once again returning to the Stones with Riot City Blues in 2006.  I think the album as a whole is fairly terrible, and there are some reviews that back me up.  It seems like Primal Scream ran out of ideas by the time they got to RCB.  The only good song was the remix of “Sometimes I Feel So Lonely“, so most people didn’t even hear that one.  Your mileage, as always, may vary.  Perhaps the well of Stones-inspired music was over though, as they have wisely stayed away from the swampy retro sounds of the bar-band done good with their last 3 official albums.   I still like Primal Scream, even if not everything they touch turns to gold, and unlike a lot of bands that have been around for 30 years, they’re still trying to push the envelope, still putting out new music, still trying to find relevance when most of their fans have stopped caring about ‘relevance.’  It’s not a bad trait to have.