Wednesday, February 25, 2009

forces at work: the Feelies

In the beginning, there was the Velvet Underground. A few people cheered at the time.

Then, there was Television and the New York No Wave scene in 1975-1978. Throw in the Ramones while you're at it.

Across the river in suburban New Jersey, there were a few people listening. Bored kids, mostly. What do bored kids do? Form bands.

At least those who listened to the Velvets did, that is. There's a school of thought that says (roughly) only 100 people liked the Velvet Underground in the 1970s, but of those 100, 90 of them formed bands.

Enter Haledon, New Jersey's Feelies.

Skitter-rock. Perpetually nervous music. Over-caffeinated guitars strumming along with wildly ecstatic percussion. I don't know how on earth to categorzie the Feelies except some weird amalgamation of those adjectives.

Picked up on a lark by the UK's famed Stiff Records, the Feelies released an album in 1980 (following a 7" on Rough Trade in 1979, "Fa Cé La" b/w "Raised Eyebrows" - same recordings as on the debut LP) and then got lost in the wilderness of suburban New Jersey again. That record, CRAZY RHYTHMS, was loved by every critic who heard it but bought by about 20 people at the time. Kinda like the Velvets... Unlike anything else out at the time, the clattering percussion and surgically clean guitars intertwine, mesh, jangle and twitter away like some deranged version of the Velvets meeting some backwoods jug band.

(Not released in America until 1986, the record finally saw greater commercial availability in 1990 when their then-label A&M re-released it with a bonus track cover of the Rolling Stones' "Paint It, Black" recorded in 1990.)

The Feelies didn't help their exposure (or lack thereof) by their pronounced tendency to only play gigs on holidays. They also dressed like nerds (reference CRAZY RHYTHMS' album cover photo). But what they did do is create unworldly music that only gets better with time. A lot like the Velvets...

The only consistent members of the band were/are guitarists Glenn Mercer (also vocals) and Bill Million (GREAT stage name!). Mercer/Million were the primary songwriters in the early years, with Mercer taking over more of the songwriting after their second LP. On CRAZY RHYTHMS they were joined by Anton Fier on drums, and Keith DeNunzio on bass. Fier later went on to form the critically-acclaimed Golden Palominos.

After the critical success, and commercial failure, of CRAZY RHYTHMS the band went back underground. Record label Stiff stiff-armed the demos for their proposed second LP, and the various Feelies played in random spinoff bands up through 1984 (the Trypes / Yung Wu / the Willies).

Come 1984, Mercer and Million decided to reactivate the Feelies name, and added Brenda Sauter on bass, Stan Demeski on drums, and Dave Weckerman on percussion (all of whom had been involved in those random side projects as well, so it wasn't a complete shock). Gigging a bit more frequently under the Feelies name, the band also found themselves in front of the cameras as the high school band in Jonathan Demme's 1986 film Something Wild (though that appearance on film was credited to the Willies). This expanded lineup eventually recorded the long-delayed second LP THE GOOD EARTH in 1986, with none other than R.E.M.'s Peter Buck behind the console producing.

Buck gave the sessions a much-needed "warmth" injection. Still around are the very dry untreated electric guitars, but the entire record has a more warm feel with gentle acoustics, relaxed harmonies, and just more solid "songy" songwriting than CRAZY RHYTHMS. It's got a really strong pastoral feel, and many consider it to be the band's best release (your humble blogger included). My favorite Feelies tracks are all on this record - from the gentle strums of "The High Road" to the glorious sounds of Mercer's and Million's guitars having sex with each other on "Slipping (Into Something)" to the 12-string freakout "When Company Comes" to the Byrdsian "The Good Earth" to the Citibank-commercial "Slow Down".

Also in 1986, the band released an EP entitled NO ONE KNOWS featuring two GOOD EARTH tracks ("The High Road" and "Slipping (Into Something)"), paired with gonzo covers of the Beatles' "She Said She Said" and Neil Young's "Sedan Delivery". This EP has only been released on vinyl.

1988 saw the band picked up by A&M Records, and the release of their third LP ONLY LIFE. With Glenn Mercer starting to dominate the songwriting, the album has a more pronounced Velvets feel, and is a more considered blend of the skittering CRAZY RHYTHMS sound with the warmth of THE GOOD EARTH. 1991's TIME FOR A WITNESS is a continuation of the same, and was a nice period at the end of the Feelies' sentence with the band calling it a day in 1992.

Fast forward to 2008, when the band announced several reunion gigs (with the late-80s lineup), and the reunion continues into this spring with the band performing at the scheduled R.E.M. Tribute at New York's Carnegie Hall in March.

Sadly all the band's catalog is long out of print. Twin\Tone, distributor of their 1986 releases, sells "custom-burned" CD-Rs of THE GOOD EARTH and NO ONE KNOWS (aren't all CD-Rs "custom burned"?) but Twin\Tone is not known for their reliable accounting to their acts (just ask the Replacements). Word on the street is that CRAZY RHYTHMS and THE GOOD EARTH are going to be reissued this year with bonus tracks, but this has been said the past several years as well and, well, no reissues have turned up. So here's hoping.

In the meantime you can grab all their commercial works here on the blog! What's missing? Some various covers that appeared on various promo releases, and possibly the odd cover that may have been on random compilations.

- - - - - - - - -


(minus compilation/promotional releases)

edit: links removed - all but Time For A Witness are now in print/remastered!


(1980 Stiff Records)

01 The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness
02 Fa Cé La
03 Loveless Love
04 Forces At Work

05 Original Love
06 Everybody's Got Something To Hide (Except Me And My Monkey)
07 Moscow Nights
08 Raised Eyebrows

09 Crazy Rhythms

10 Paint It, Black (Rolling Stones, 1990 bonus track)


(1986 Coyote / Twin\Tone Records)

01 The High Road
02 She Said She Said (Beatles)
03 Slipping (Into Something)
04 Sedan Delivery (Neil Young)

n.b. Tracks 01 & 03 are identical to the album versions below.
also, I only have this as mp3 sourced, I've cleaned it up somewhat as it was originally captured from scratchy/noisy vinyl. I hope to find a better version down the road, if I do you'll find it here.


(1986 Coyote / Twin\Tone Records)

01 On The Roof
02 The High Road

03 The Last Roundup

04 Slipping (Into Something)

05 When Company Comes

06 Let's Go

07 Two Rooms

08 The Good Earth

09 Tomorrow Today

10 Slow Down

yes, the whole record is a "pick to click"...


(1988 A&M Records)

01 It's Only Life
02 Too Much
03 Deep Fascination

04 Higher Ground
05 The Undertow

06 For Awhile
07 The Final Word
08 Away

09 What Goes On (Lou Reed)


(1991 A&M Records)

01 Waiting
02 Time For A Witness

03 Sooner Or Later
04 Find A Way
05 Decide
06 Doin' It Again

07 Invitation

08 For Now
09 What She Said

10 Real Cool Time (Iggy/Stooges)

So there we have it. Great, great band, criminally underappreciated today. Spread the word!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

temporary relief: LOW

I think we need a breather. Some temporary relief from the blistering postpunk I've featured lately. Something slowed way, way down. Always good to cleanse the palate, they say.

Duluth, Minnesota's legendary "slowcore" (as opposed to hardcore) trio LOW certainly fits the bill. Virtual inventors of the genre (perhaps shared with Codeine, but that's for the nitpickers to argue), Low doesn't write songs as much as songscapes. Low is all about atmosphere, all about the space between the notes being just as important - if not more so - than the notes themselves.

Early in their career (1994-1995) they worked with legendary New York noisenik Kramer (he of Bongwater fame), who produced the band's first two heavily reverb-laden LPs I COULD LIVE IN HOPE and LONG DIVISION - two records which introduced the world to the idea that hey, glacially-paced punk can be just as mind- (and head-) blowing as hardcore. After a third LP, 1997's THE CURTAIN HITS THE CAST, somebody had the genius idea - and I mean that with all due respect - to hook the band up with the original analog purist Steve Albini.

Low and Albini was truly a marriage made in heaven. For a band that trades on the idea of the spaces being as key as the musics, Albini's recording style is absolutely perfect for this band. You can hear the room as much as the music - it feels as if you are RIGHT THERE as much as any recording I've ever heard. You get a real feel of texture, of space, of atmosphere - and it's all without any gimmickry, just a GREAT live room sound at Chicago's Electrical Audio (Albini's own studio) and very strategic microphone placement.

So I present two of the finest sounding records in my collection, 1999's SECRET NAME and 2001's THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE. Recorded in Chicago at Albini's Electrical Audio studios, by Steve Albini, these two records sound just frankly incredible. From a sonics perspective, there's headroom (dynamics! No loudness wars here!), clarity, depth. And just as important (it's a music blog after all, not an engineering blog) - from a music perspective, the songs are just wonderful.

Guitarist and co-vocalist Alan Sparhawk, "drummer" and co-vocalist Mimi Parker, and bassist Zak Sally have created here some of the most beautiful songs I have in my collection. You'll just have to hear for yourself - and I can't imagine hearing these recorded any other way, the recording fits the songwriting fits the recording....

As a bonus, I've included some extra tracks from the 3xCD rarities box set A LIFETIME OF TEMPORARY RELIEF that I'm fairly certain were also recorded by Albini (I had the box stolen so don't have the credits, just the actual CDs). Well, all but the final two songs I present here are Albini sessions, that is - the Smiths and Pink Floyd covers aren't Albini recordings, as far as I know. But whatever, they're just utterly spectacular regardless.

So enjoy....

- - - - - - - - - - - -

the ELECTRICAL AUDIO recordings



edit: Removed link.

- - - - - - - - - - - -


(1999 Kranky KRANK035)

01 I Remember
02 Starfire
03 Two-Step
04 Weight of Water
05 Missouri
06 Don't Understand
07 Soon
08 Immune
09 Lion/Lamb
10 Days Of...
11 Will the Night
12 Home


(2001 Kranky KRANK046)

01 Sunflower
02 Whitetail
03 Dinosaur Act
04 Medicine Magazine
05 Laser Beam
06 July
07 Embrace
08 Whore
09 Kind Of Girl
10 Like A Forest
11 Closer
12 (untitled instrumental)
13 In Metal

Some random internet critic:
While Low was playing live on John Peel's BBC radio show in England last year, an emergency back-up system kicked in without warning, momentarily replacing the group with a blast of pre-recorded, insipid pop (possibly All Saints). As Peel later explained, the system goes into operation automatically if there's an extended period of silence resulting, for instance, from the death of the DJ on the air. Those who designed such technology obviously hadn't considered how it might respond to Low, whose pared-down, slowcore aesthetic centers on an artful use of quiet spaces, pauses and decidedly un-rock levels of amplification.
With the assistance of producer Steve Albini, on Things We Lost in the Fire Low crafts another collection of downbeat, achingly stark songs. Threaded with slight, hymnal vocals and striking a delicate balance between dark intensity and ethereal fragility, this new material bears many of the hallmarks of Low's sound as it has defined itself on previous releases. The coordinates here are familiar: The Velvet Underground, Simon and Garfunkel, Galaxie 500, Joy Division, The Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star.
But although Low's music remains minimal in its design and beautifully snail-paced, this new release also attests to the continuing evolution of the band's sound. Things We Lost in the Fire picks up where Low's last recording with Albini (1999's Secret Name) left off, progressively expanding on the band's sparse common denominator of bass, drums and guitar. Things finds Low's measured atmospherics and gentle melodies further enhanced by layers of instrumentation — for instance, cello, violin, piano, mellotron and trumpet. Moreover, it finds the band's melancholy and affecting textures coalescing even more into traditional song structures.
The focal point of Low's sound has consistently been the human voice and, on Things We Lost in the Fire, the lulling vocals of spouses Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker again take pride of place, serving as the most engaging instruments in the mix. Throughout this album — most notably on "Sunflower", "Medicine Magazines" and "Kind of Girl" — the couple execute stunning harmonies with an emotive range that belies their quiet simplicity.
"Laser Beam", sung by Parker, is a brief yet superbly haunting lullaby, so down-tempo that it seems just to hang in the air. On the spare "Embrace", her voice captures and translates the melancholy swell of the string arrangement and the building tension of the unrelenting, funereal beat. Similarly compelling is Sparhawk's delicate, almost murmured, singing on the vaguely unsettling "Whitetail", probably the most stripped-down song on the album. With its repetitive arrangement of brushed cymbals, a suggestion of cello and a modicum of guitar and bass, this track displays little linear progression, moving not so much forward as downward to plumb the depths of some intangible menace.
While it's impossible to locate weak points on Things We Lost in the Fire, it's relatively easy to pick the two strongest tracks. "Closer" showcases Low at its lilting, unhurried best, the couple's voices breathtakingly intertwined and subtly cocooned by doleful strings. "Dinosaur Act", on the other hand, evokes a succession of controlled explosions in slow-motion, revealing a harder, distortion-scuffed edge of Low's sound. Here, Sparhawk's disembodied, Neil Young-esque vocals hover over the track's ponderous bass-heavy reaches, to be joined in the pounding crescendos by Bob Weston's trumpet as well as Parker's dulcet harmonies.
On Things We Lost in the Fire, Low proves once again that less is indeed more. Voices are barely raised and the sound is only rarely turned up, yet the band's understated, lingering vocal and instrumental arrangements conjure up textured, dynamic spaces whose emotive resonance speaks volumes.

(selections from)

(2004 Chairkickers CKM012)

01 Last Breath
02 Old Man Song
03 Try Try Try
04 When You Walked
05 Back Home Again
06 Blowin' In The Wind
07 Open Arms
08 ...I Love
09 Overhead
10 Don't Carry It All
11 Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
12 Fearless

1-2 extra tracks on the 2xLP vinyl SECRET NAME
9-10 extra tracks on the 2xLP vinyl
and yes, track 7 is a Journey cover

Saturday, February 14, 2009

postpunk on the prairie: the Jesus Lizard

Man, we're on a roll here with the Chicago postpunk, might as well strike again while the iron is hot - with perhaps the best of 'em all...

Today, I bring you the Jesus Lizard. Only the best live band I've EVER seen, bar none.

Vocalist - and I use that term lightly - David Yow fights his way through each song as if he were choking on booze and razor blades. Oddly enough, he's one hell of a nice guy in person, clearly a case of a stage persona vs reality thing. Bassist David Wm. Sims (who's blog I have linked to on the right) muscles each song forward with some of the best bass playing I've ever heard, guitarist Duane Denison layers each song with sheets/shards of furious - but tasteful - guitars, and drummer Mac McNeilly (the heart and soul of the band) anchors it all down with, again, some of the greatest drumming I've ever heard.

So yeah, they're pretty good.

Formed in Chicago in 1989 from the remnants of Steve Albini's Rapeman project (Sims) and Austin, Texas legendary punk act Scratch Acid (Yow and Sims), the Lizard began relatively inauspiciously with the 3-men-and-a-drum-machine debut EP PURE on Touch and Go. Having taken the drum machine approach as far as it could go, they recruited super drummer man Mac and unleashed the new 4-piece Lizard via a classic 7" single featuring a medley of Chrome songs ("TV as Eyes" and "Abstract Nympho") simply-titled "Chrome", backed with an original track "7 vs. 8".

Then they ran off a series of absolutely fucking stellar/devastating/ridiculously amazing/fantastic records on Touch and Go through 1993, and then began a slow gradual slide into irrelevance after signing to a major label in 1995, ultimately breaking up in 1999 after earlier losing drummer Mac to other projects (he was replaced by former Laughing Hyenas drummer Jim Kimball for the last couple years of the Lizard's life). 1994's DOWN was their final Touch and Go LP before jumping ship, and I don't know if the separation had already begun between tJL/Albini/T&G but it really sounds like the last LP of an era.

More tJL info here, here and here (official Touch and Go page about 'em).

All their Touch and Go output was recorded by the legendary Steve Albini, who, being the indie purist he is, refused to work with them again after they signed to the major label Capitol Records.

The latest news - "latest" being a relative term, of course, when Jesus Lizard news was few and far between until a month ago - is that the Lizard is reuniting with the original lineup (Yow/Denison/Sims/McNeilly) to play a few gigs in the fall. Oh how I'd pull my own Tight 'n Shiny to see those gigs!

Changing it up a bit here, rather than posting entire album(s), I'm going to compile the greatest tJL compilation ever. We're going to flat-out ignore the Capitol Records era, and focus exclusively on their indie years on Touch and Go 1989-1994, and better yet, I'm going to do it chronologically.

Here's a quick Touch and Go-era discography hit, we'll get to our exclusive compilation below....

- - - - -

1989: PURE (EP) T&GLP#43

Blockbuster / Bloody Mary / Rabid Pigs / Starlet / Happy Bunny Goes Fluff-Fluff Along

1990: CHROME (7") T&G#53

Chrome / 7 vs. 8

1990: HEAD
(LP) T&GLP#54

One Evening / S.D.B.J. / My Own Urine / If You Had Lips / 7 vs. 8 / Pastoral / Waxeater / Good Thing / Tight 'N Shiny / (None Other Than) Killer McHann

1991: MOUTH BREATHER (7") T&G#66

Mouth Breather / Sunday You Need Love

1991: GOAT
(LP) T&GLP#68

Here Comes Dudley / Mouth Breather / Nub / Seasick / Monkey Trick / Karpis / South Mouth / Lady Shoes / Rodeo in Joliet


Wheelchair Epidemic / Dancing Naked Ladies

1992: LIAR (LP) TG100

Boilermaker / Gladiator / The Art of Self Defense / Slave Ship / Puss / Whirl / Rope / Perk / Zachariah / Dancing Naked Ladies

1993: PUSS / OH, THE GUILT (split single with Nirvana) TG083

Puss (the Jesus Lizard) / Oh, The Guilt (Nirvana)

1993: LASH (EP) TG121

Glamorous / Deaf As A Bat / Lady Shoes / Killer McHann / Bloody Mary / Monkey Trick
(tracks 3-6 live)

1993: (FLY) ON (THE WALL)
(7") TG128

(Fly) On (The Wall) / White Hole

1994: DOWN (LP) TG131

Fly On The Wall / Mistletoe / Countless Backs Of Sad Losers / Queen For A Day / The Associate / Destroy Before Reading / Low Rider / 50¢ / American BB / Horse / Din / Elegy / The Best Parts

- - - - - - - -

Enough background.....

the Jesus Lizard 1990-1994, Compiled

(a Power of Independent Trucking exclusive)

Part I
Part II

01 Blockbuster (live soundboard recording 4 December 1992, 9:30 Club, Washington, DC - far better live than the 3-piece studio version)
02 Chrome
03 One Evening
04 S.D.B.J.
05 My Own Urine
06 If You Had Lips
07 7 vs. 8
08 Waxeater
09 Tight 'N Shiny
10 Then Comes Dudley
11 Mouth Breather
12 Nub
13 Seasick
14 Monkey Trick
15 Wheelchair Epidemic
16 Boilermaker
17 Gladiator
18 Whirl
19 Rope
20 Dancing Naked Ladies
21 Glamorous
22 Destroy Before Reading
23 Low Rider
24 The Best Parts

This compilation just plain rips. If there's enough demand I can post the individual records, but they're all still in print (the albums, that is) on Touch and Go, and there are plans afoot to issue remastered editions (and, from what I've heard, remastered the right way by none other than Shellac's Bob Weston) before the year is out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

postpunk on the prairie: TAR

If you haven't noticed yet... the blog has featured a LOT (relatively speaking!) of albums released in 1993 on Touch and Go Records.


Perhaps. But your humble blogger - in retrospect - is amazed at the quality and quantity of fine records released that year. It's as strong as a year as I can remember, for indierock releases. I was going to run a list of some of them but I don't want to lose focus... ;)

And being perhaps the greatest ever American indie label, it's no surprise so many quality records - from 1993 or any year since T&G's early 1980s inception - came out on this fine label.

(one of the nifty things about running your own blog is that you're beholden to nothing. Zippo. I declared early on that the blog would have several recurring features such as the "variations on a theme" producers meme, the "5 songs" meme, etc. But there's no rules here, no schedule. Nothing but my wily wiles to guide me. And if I want to post nothing but snippets of Benny Hill jokes, for 30 days straight, by all means I'll do so. So, long story short, if you're waiting for the "variations on a theme" or "5 songs" series to continue, just settle down. There. Feel better? Good. Now pay attention... ;) )

Which brings us to TAR, formed in the teeming metropolis of DeKalb, Illinois (75 miles west of Chicago, thick in the cornfields, home of Northern Illinois University and Cindy Crawford). I don't have a clue how to describe TAR but that they're rhythmically awesome, they're guitarishly amazing, and they were one of Steve Albini's favorite bands ever. I know this because Mr. Albini told me so himself, when I found myself standing next to him at TAR's last-ever gig at the fabled Chicago venue Lounge Ax (RIP...) in November 1995. The gig was pre-announced as their last ever gig, so all the indie/postpunk Chicago luminaries (and, I suspect, others from all around our fine world) were there. It was a stellar gig, opened by Arcwelder, and closed with TAR auctioning off their handmade aluminum guitars from the stage.

Albini is perhaps a tad more qualified than most to assert "favorite band" status on TAR because he recorded the majority of their releases.

TOAST, the band's 1993 Touch and Go LP, is being featured here only because I can't stop listening to it myself. No other real reason - their prior record JACKSON may be better, or it may not - but that I like it and "Barry White" kicks some serious butt.

Believe it or not I even reviewed this record for my college newspaper in 1993 and even more terrifying, I still have a copy of that review, from the paper's September 17, 1993 edition:

TAR sticks to you like... well, tar


Touch and Go Records

Chicago's neo-Nirvanaesque TAR has kept a busy pace this year with three releases: Winter's "Teetering" 7-inch single, April's Clincher EP, and now Toast, their third full-length album. Toast is much in the same vein as their past two LPs, Roundhouse and Jackson: Walled guitars, shouted vocals, brisk drumming, throbbing metallic bass, muddy-yet-clear Steve Albini production. The album's ten tunes show off what makes TAR one of the best neo-grunge groups around.

The first tune, "Altoids, Anyone?" opens the disc with a full-frontal-assault of guitars. Nice, powerful, aggressive music. Aggressive is a good way to describe TAR's sound, actually. If you feel like kicking the shit out of a wall, or smashing your head against a (punk) rock, put on TAR instead and just yell. Works wonders for the mind. Anyway, "Barry White", the next song, has kind of a groove-type thing working for it. Good for shaking your booty to while letting off steam. Same goes for "Quieter Fellow", the next ditty, which isn't really quieter.

The rest of the songs are much in the same vein as the first three, and they are choice. "Mach Song" stands out in my mind, for some reason. The last song, "Theme", is really two songs separated by 12 minutes of total silence, reminiscent of "Endless Nameless" from Nirvana's Nevermind. The second part of "Theme" is quite brilliant, actually, It's about 2 minutes of weird guitar sounds and indecipherable vocals. Pretty cool.

If you want good frustration-releasing music, check out TAR. Especially since Nirvana's taking so long to put out their next one, which I just found out is delayed 'till October.

For the record, that "second part of 'Theme'" that I described above in the review is tracked separately in the download below, as "(untitled hidden track)". So no need to have a 14-minute song on your iPod ;)


- - - - - - - -


(1993 Touch and Go TG106CD)

01 Altoids, Anyone?
02 Barry White
03 Quieter Fellow
04 Satritis
05 Clincher
06 Giblets
07 Testor's Choice
08 Standpipe
09 Mach Song
10 Theme
11 (untitled hidden track)

edit: removed link.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

postpunk on the prairie: Seam

There once was a time when I wanted to be SEAM.

(Musically, that is.)

Still do, actually.

Something about this longstanding Chicago band captivated me at very first listen, and kept my rapt attention with everything I ended up hearing from them. If I have to pick my top three indierock bands, Seam easily makes the list, and would be in strong competition for the #1 spot.

Led by Bitch Magnet alum Sooyoung Park on vocals/songwriting/guitars - and fleshed out by various different bassists/drummers/second guitarists depending on the album - the band's penchant for huge somber-to-in your face dynamics, Sooyoung's barely-audible vocals, terrific minimalist songwriting, and just stellar guitars, it's truly a shame they never got more recognition.

While I never hope to solve that recognition thing with the 35 readers this blog has, if even one person recognizes this band's utter brilliance, my mission is done.

With every band I was in, and with nearly every song I wrote for a duration some time ago, I wanted to sound like Seam. That's the level of influence these guys had (and still have) on me. But my songwriting skills are nowhere even close to matching up, and I include myself in the inability of any band I've been in to perform them well. So of course I had to live vicariously through just listening instead (though here you can hear an utterly pathetic-yet-still-cool garage cover an old band of mine did of their first LP's track "Shame", with yours truly on bass guitar).

As far as I know Seam is still a going concern, but they've not released an album since 1998's THE PACE IS GLACIAL, and haven't played a gig (as far as I am aware) since 2007. Sooyoung's since relocated to the West Coast, and other band alum are scattered about Chicago either in other bands or doing who knows what.

But to hell with that - featuring here on this very blog are the finest works they've released, the stellar 1993-to-1995 run of an EP and two LPs.

First we feature 1993's KERNEL EP. With a remake of a song initially appearing on their debut LP HEADSPARKS (the aforementioned "Shame") but this time much more subdued than the original (my old band's cover version I linked above is based on the original), a cover of a Breaking Circus track "Driving the Dynamite Truck", again much more subdued/dynamic than the original, and two new tracks "Kernel" and "Sweet Pea", Seam comes roaring out with passion and energy.

Later that same year they blasted everything away - rewrote the book, if you will - with the utterly fucking phenomenal LP THE PROBLEM WITH ME - a landmark record, in my eyes. The first full-length to feature my favorite aspects of the band as mentioned earlier, there's not a duff track in the bunch. Blasting off with "Rafael", slowing the pace a bit with "Road To Madrid", flying off the handle again with a remade "Sweet Pea" (the E Bow guitar here is utterly stellar, that keening sound throughout the track that sounds almost like feedback), building and releasing tension all the way through to the closer "Autopilot" (what a song!) - this album is utterly unstoppable.

Then we segue into 1995's ARE YOU DRIVING ME CRAZY? - a refinement, if you will, of what they perfected with THE PROBLEM WITH ME. It's much the same spectacular sound/songs/dynamics but with added new twists, and a more developed sense of pacing. Had I never heard THE PROBLEM WITH ME this album instead would be tops - but the band had a hard act to follow, and while they didn't top it, they may have matched it with this one.

I've seen Seam quite a few times and each gig was spectacular - I even taped them once. I will upload that gig at some point to the blog.

So enjoy - and as usual, these records are (as far as I know) all still in print on Touch and Go, so for Chrissakes go buy 'em after sampling 'em here!

Kernel / The Problem With Me / Are You Driving Me Crazy

- - - - - - -


(1993 Touch and Go TG112CD)

01 Kernel
02 Sweet Pea
03 Shame
04 Driving The Dynamite Truck


(1993 Touch and Go TG118CD)

01 Rafael
02 Bunch
03 Road To Madrid
04 Stage 2000
05 Sweet Pea
06 Dust And Turpentine
07 Something's Burning
08 The Wild Cat
09 Autopilot


(1995 Touch and Go TG142CD)

01 Berlitz
02 Hey Latasha
03 Port of Charleston
04 Rainy Season
05 Two Is Enough
06 Haole Redux
07 Tuff Luck
08 Broken Bones
09 Sometimes I Forget
10 Petty Thievery

all the above split into two RAR files, need to download both to extract....

edit: removed link.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

postpunk on the prairie: Arcwelder

Today we add yet another meme to the blog - postpunk on the prairie (i.e. the American Midwest). Since your trusty blogger originates from this heartland, he is quite familiar with the musics of the region.

What exactly is postpunk on the prairie? That's an easy one.... how about music that comes from the Midwest? Let's say that middle third of the US that lies between the East and the West. In terms of the blog, it's good old alternative/indie music that originates from Midwestern acts. For whatever reason (boredom? too many cornfields?), the US Midwest was - and continues to be - a very fertile ground for aspiring indierockers.

Today we feature a wonderful album from a lesser-known Midwestern postpunk act, Arcwelder. Hailing from Minneapolis (postpunk hotbed of acts such as Hüsker Dü, Replacements, Soul Asylum, Jayhawks, etc), Arcwelder is from the "third wave" of the Minneapolis punk scene, having started in the late 1980s and continuing through today.

With melodies galore, sub-Bob Mould vocals, blistering guitars, and just damn good songwriting, the album we feature below was Arcwelder's first "mass market" release - mass market in that it wasn't just put out on a tiny regional label, but instead on Chicago superindie stalwart Touch and Go - granddaddy to many indie labels itself.

Produced by Brian Paulson, Arcwelder's third full-length LP Pull is stellar - just hear it for yourself below. And allow me to quote some random reviewer on amazon:
This is no question one of the best indie/alt rock albums of the early 90s. I rank it up there with Superchunk's Foolish, Seam's The Problem With Me, Nirvana's Nevermind, and Pavement's Crooked Rain Crooked Rain. There must be something in the water in the Twin Cities, because Arcwelder have picked up where the Replacements and Hüsker Dü left off. With the Graber brothers (Bill and Rob) switching back and forth on guitar and bass, and drummer Scott Macdonald sharing vocal duties with Bill, Arcwelder mixes it up a little yet maintains a consistent post-punk, melodic power. Songs "Truth" and "Raleigh" are as good as any anthem in the power-pop canon. "And Then Again" is a heartfelt, nostalgic gem and my personal favorite. "Criminal" adds a wonderful rhythmic twist to plow ahead, while the subtle piano solo on "Finish My Song" makes me think of an overcast Minneapolis winter day. The album overall maintains a certain gloomy edge, but there is too much hope, potential and excellent songwriting to become bogged down in a quagmire. If you feel that indie rock is dying (as I do), go get this CD -- it will recapture the past glory.
(I plan to feature at least two of the above-mentioned albums in later blog posts - the author is spot on with his comparisons here.)

And from Trouser Press:
Like the sizzle of hot sparks hitting cold metal, Minneapolis' Arcwelder splatters impassioned vocals over a chilling backdrop. There's a frayed fury that lingers behind even the strongest hooks, the same tension-building mix that in the past has proven explosive for bands like Naked Raygun and Hüsker Dü, to which Arcwelder has most often been compared. With vibrant melodies that jump out of penetrating grooves, Arcwelder's albums also tend toward more subdued soundscapes. If the Hüsker match doesn't always apply, Arcwelder's singing does owe something to Bob Mould's disaffected tone. Drummer Scott Macdonald and guitarist Bill Graber share vocal duties — sometimes harmonizing, but often taking on differing melodies.

Completed by brother Rob Graber (bass/guitar), the trio debuted in 1988 as Tilt-a-Whirl and released its first album, This, under that moniker two years later. But the manufacturers of the carnival ride threatened to sue, and Tilt-a-Whirl became Arcwelder.

Armed with such terse pop constructions as "Raleigh" and "Remember to Forget," Pull again hits with harsh Big Blackened aggression and rhythms that churn and grind. A few tracks slow the pace, yet still seethe with anguish: see "What Did You Call It That For." Though the repetition of lyrics and riffs gets monotonous, the vocal interplay adds a caustic beauty to the basic melodies of "Finish My Song," "Lahabim" and "And Then Again."

Your humble author has seen this band at least twice that he can remember. Once in Chicago, opening up for Tar at the legendary Lounge Ax in 1995 for Tar's last-ever gig, and once in Minneapolis in 1999 at the 400 Bar. Both shows were terrific and if they ever make their way to where I reside currently, you can bet I'll see 'em again.

So on with it.....


(1993 Touch and Go Records TG108CD)

01 Truth
02 What Did You Call It That For?
03 And Then Again
04 It's A Wonderful Lie
05 Raleigh
06 Cranberry Sauce
07 Criminal
08 Will When You Won't
09 Remember To Forget
10 Lahabim
11 Just Not Moving
12 Finish My Song
13 You

nota bene: this LP is still available worldwide on Touch and Go. So buy it and support this fantastic band.