Thursday, May 29, 2008

Eric Salt & The Electric City

Eric Salt (a.k.a. “Eric Saulnier”) began playing guitar as a teen. I first heard the Glen Echo album from 1999 (which he sang and played guitar for) when his brother Denis turned me on to his stuff, but by that point he had already been in Dog and Stepmother Nature. Later he released a solo album (Rock Meadow) and has also played with Schnockered and Deep Purple Helmet. This is the first album by his latest band, Eric Salt & the Electric City. They play this Friday (5/30/08) at T.T. the Bears.
(Photo courtesy of Beth Oram)

: First of all, thanks for taking part in what is our first (and very possibly last, depending on how this goes) Q & A here at The Snilch Report. You've got a new album out, The Hail Mary -- what (if any) significance is there in the album title?

Eric Salt
: There are a few answers to this. Being in my 30's and currently mulling over the whole kid thing with my beautiful wife Ann :), I came to the conclusion that this album could be my last for a while, or at least my last big produced album since money would be tight. Just make the best record I can, close my eyes and THROW! It's also my first record in a few where I left the studio work to Ed Valauskas and Rafi Sofer at Q Division. The best team Boston rock production, period! I needed to stop being a control freak and let someone else have the vision. I wanted to be "artist only" on this one. Getting a producer was the best thing I ever did. You simply cannot do both. It's not a good idea to turn your own knobs. :)

Secondly, I grew up in Natick, MA, where the whole focus of the town was sports. I mean, they'd let class out early just so we could get to championship games on time. At the time, it was ridiculous to me cuz I wasn't a jock. Flutie set the bar. :) "Home of Champions" is our motto! I love that guy, though. A true hometown hero in every way and an enormous athlete and inspiration! Does a TON for charity, but I guess I was a little sad that this musician kid from Natick never got HIS Hail Mary pass. I have to admit, there's a bit of jealousy there. :) When I was very young, Doug would play pick up hoops next door to me. He probably wouldn't remember, but I was the little kid who'd race after the basketball when it rolled down the hill if they missed the backboard. They'd laugh and had nicknames for me. It was funny. I have two words for Doug Flutie... "Gerard Phelan!"

S: We will leave “turning your own knobs” (or Doug Flutie’s) alone, I think. Actually, when I saw title "The Hail Mary," what immediately came to mind was how (in some ways) it was a miracle that you were even making music at this point. Did your mountain biking accident change the way you write or play, or does it even cross your mind anymore?

I shattered the two bones that connect my wrist to my right picking hand. They told me I'd probably lose all motion. They were gonna heal what was left to my hand bones. Lose my wrist, basically. Three reconstructive surgeries, a bone graph and a lot of stainless steel. It sucked, but a surgeon tried a new procedure on me and saved my wrist. For a long time all I could do was fingerpick so I got pretty good at it. I still have no cartilage in areas, so every now and then the bones knock on each other and I get a swift reminder, but I've been lucky. Back to normal. The worst is actually recurring nightmares of waking up from my first six hour surgery with no pain killer. The morphine drip was somehow unplugged. Re-defined pain for me. Then they pumped me full of Ibuprofen which I told them I was allergic to. I blew up like a Christmas tree. Hospitals suck.

That's a heartwarming endorsement of the healthcare industry. So how were you able to get back into playing after the accident? Did your previous range of motion return?

: The accident was in 1999. The next year spent in physical therapy. I was soon able to lower my hand below my heart without it hurting, so I could use the few fingers sticking out of the cast to softly fingerpick. That was probably at the six month point between surgeries. I could only play simple patterns. I was also listening to a lot of Nick Drake, forced to learn about "space" in music. By late 2000 I had written a handful of soft riffs that became my Rock Meadow CD. Rock Meadow is the park where I crashed my bike. By 2003/2004 I was pretty much back to normal but had some extra guitar skills. :)

: That's pretty remarkable! This album has a "bar band" feel to it when I listened to it in the car, but as I mentioned here, this definitely had a different feel when I played it at home -- there is a lot of subtlety and depth to the songs that don't come through on a car radio/boom box listen.
ES: Our new record I think appeals to the car listen and the headphone thing. Personally, I'm a headphone, CD or vinyl only guy. MP3s make me hate my favorite music and I honestly feel when I listen to MP3s of older albums that I'm remembering more than I'm actually hearing. The format is all wrong. Rafi and Ed went through a lot of hard work with subtle, realtime guitar effects etc., on this record that you really only get a sense of on headphones at high quality. For example, I'd be playing a solo and Rafi would be on the floor turning knobs on my pedals. They'd mix this stuff way in the back to give it depth. Some of these sounds would be impossible to recreate. Also, the basic rhythm tracks were recorded to tape and the final master was sent to tape before it went to the mastering house. I wanted this record to really shine on many levels and I think they accomplished that.

: I agree on MP3's, and I do like the way the record sounds. Tell me about your favorite track on the album.

: My favorite changes. Lyrically, I like "Pearls". It's a song I wrote about getting out of depression after my Mom died and taking the bull by the horns. A success story. I also find myself listening to "Never Intended" cuz I never write songs like that. It almost has an 80's dance cheese to it that I'm proud of. :) It's also a song written from the point of view of someone else. A friend of mine who went through a bad break up. That's also something new to me. I like it when it's not all about me cuz I can be a giant egomaniac. :)

: Aren't we all? :-) Now tell me about my favorite, "Mean 'Ol Mile." (It’s all about me, and I am always a giant egomaniac.)

: Glad you like that song. That's one of those songs that comes out and you look back on it and say "Wow, I had a bug up my ass THAT day." :) I was originally gonna give it to Andrea Gillis (Andrea Gillis Band/Red Chord). It has a bluesy feel that she would probably take to an incredible level. I hardly ever write songs for other people, but I just kept hearing her sing it. She's phenomenal! Then I jammed it with the band one night and that sealed its fate. The dudes like to rock so the rockers get moved to the front of the line. They wanted to keep it. Have I mentioned that my band rocks? Anyway, they rock! I'm very lucky.

: I think that's all of my questions... however, we do have a question from a celebrity guest.

Eric Pepa
: Where are my royalties from "Whatta Man"? And why won't you talk to Spinderella?

Eric Salt
: I spent all the royalties on beer and hotdogs.

Eric Salt and the Electric City
play this Friday (5/30/08) at T.T. the Bears.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I've Got a Lot of Time on My Hands, Apparently

Unemployment, meet blog activity.

Here's an update before I jump into the reviews: on first listen, I'm pretty impressed with the new albums from M83 (Saturdays = Youth), Millencolin (Machine 15), R.E.M. (Accelerate), The Roots (Rising Down), and Thalia Zedek Band (Liars and Prayers). I'll have more detailed impressions later. The obvious conclusion is that bands alphabetized from A-L are just mailing it in this year.
  • Ken Andrews – Secrets of the Lost Satellite (2007). This took a number of listens to get into, primarily because it’s well produced, but there's no tension. For the frontman for Year of the Rabbit, On, and Failure, this is a disappointment simply because it’s not great like everything else he’s ever done. But it’s still very good. I’ll keep it, although it’s just not quite as good as his other stuff.
    Verdict: Recommended, but get familiar with Failure first. CD Rack.
  • Armalite – Armalite (2006). The first track (“Entitled”) is fast, punky, and musically excellent. The rest of the album is more of the same, not quite as good but there is a lot here to like – nice hooks and lots of potential from the kids. Think Sum 41 if they had paid more attention to Sleater-Kinney. Of course, a song like “Husker Dave” (which starts with a riff from “Celebrated Summer” by Hüsker Dü) doesn’t hurt either. Their lyrics are both ironic and intelligent… there’s even a little Dead Milkmen here. I like these guys better and better the more I listen to them.
    Verict: Highly recommended. This is my 5th or 6th listen: I originally penciled this in as “Sell-back Pile 1” when I started this review… upon further listens this has moved up to Portable CD Case and may even have an outside shot of hitting the Car CD Changer.
  • Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Baby 81 (2007). Black Rebel Motorcycle Club returns with a very typical BRMC album, and “Weapon of Choice” is a classic BMRC single. I love the guitar and vocal sound; they’re just not treading any new ground here. This is fine for long-time fans but I’d start earlier in their catalog first.
    Verdict: Recommended. CD Rack.
  • CSS – Cansei de ser Sexy (2006). The album opens with a simple lyric: “C… S… S… sucks.” This continues for the entire first minute of the album. Any group who can be that self-effacing will always have a place in my heart. This is definitely driving material – they’re a better vocabularied, electronicized, mid-tempo dancepop version of The Donnas. Not every song is great, and the album is not monumental, but it's a lot of fun. Want to hear them? You probably already have – they did that commercial with the lyrics “Music is my boyfriend,” which is on this album. Thanks for the recommendation, Andrew!
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.
  • Idlewild – Make Another World (2007). Another "first line truism": any album that starts with “In competition for the worst first line I could use” is already three steps ahead of the game. This album is a little grungy, a little heavy, a little poppy, and definitely enjoyable. “In Competition for Worst Time” is a great start; the second song (“Everything (As It Moves)”) did not strike me until I had a dream where it was the soundtrack, where I was James Bond or something silly like that. (Note to reader: my maturity has not reached that of a teenager yet.) And of course “No Emotion” is just an all-time great – worth the price of admission all by itself. Great album.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Car CD Changer.
  • Nada Surf – North 6th Street (1999). This is a collection of demos and alternate takes, which I’m normally not keen on – but these are excellent. If you’re like me and own everything Nada Surf has ever recorded, this is a must-have. If you don’t, this holds up even as a bizarro greatest hits album, truth be told. I was really surprised at how much I liked this album and how good the alternate/demo takes actually are. And yes, it’s got “Popular.”
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Portable CD Case.
  • Street Dogs – Fading American Dream (2006). Local Boston products with a lot of rage – a more slightly melodic Dropkick Murphy’s combined with a less lyrically interesting Against Me! “Fatty” is a great song of high school angst. And you have to respect them attempting a Billy Bragg cover (“There Is Power in a Union”). I want to like them more, but I just don’t.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back Pile 1.
  • Team Robespierre – Everything's Perfect (2008). The group has the manic energy of The Go! Team wrapped into a dual synthesizer attack. Not as musically diverse but you really cannot deny the force of these guys. More mid-tempo than 10 songs in 18 minutes would suggest. A guilty pleasure for sure, but I love it! “88th Precinct” is a great single – if you like that, you’ll like the album as all the songs sound the same. In a good way.
    Recommended. I keep flipping back and forth on whether it belongs in the Car Cd Changer or the Portable CD Case… who am I kidding, Car CD Changer.
  • Wire – Read and Burn 03 (2007). Following their return with the brilliant Read and Burn 01 and 02 (consolidated into the album Send in 2003), we get the latest offering from Elastica’s favorite musical inspiration, Wire. This is a four-song EP that is very solid overall. The EP may not be the best initial entry point to get into Wire, but if you're a fan and/or liked Send/Read and Burn as much as I did, you should definitely pick this up. These guys are just great.
    Recommended. Portable CD Case.
- Snilch

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Music Pride. Here's Proof. I Promise.

One correction from last post: Ken points out (with video evidence, no less!) that XTC actually has made a handful of live appearances since 1982, as part of an acoustic radio tour in 1989 and also making sporadic TV appearances, such as this one on Late Night with David Letterman. (In the first clip, that's Andy Partridge who looks like a cross between Bob Mould and Freddie Mercury; in the second, that's him with the top hat).

Conclusion: I still like my story better, with the downside being that it's not true. Details, details... thanks, Ken.

Here's a whole bunch of crap I've been listening to. (And yes, I am working on your mix CD's.) In alphabetical order:
  • James Dean Bradfield – The Great Western (2006). The lead singer from The Manic Street Preachers gives us one great song (“That’s No Way to Tell a Lie”) and a bunch of innocuous ones. Pick up the song on iTunes; the album is only for the MSP completist.
    Sell-back Pile 1.

  • Love of Diagrams – Mosaic (2007). Their EP was first profiled here. This is a very solid album by a band that has a great sound at a young age and a ton of potential. My worry is that this first album is a little too polished, if you know what I mean. “Form and Function” is a great example: it’s a great leadoff track, it’s nicely produced – it’s a great song. But it’s a little too slick for its own good. That isn’t to say that should deter you from picking it up – I’m just being cranky and taking it out on Love of Diagrams. This album is absolutely great: poppy, guitar-driven, mid-to-uptempo indie rock. Somehow I hear a cross of INXS, Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Dresden Dolls, Pylon, and Rainer Maria, if that makes any sense. (Not much does make sense in this review, come to think of it.) Bottom line: I really like this album and will definitely check out their next one. This one is one of my new favorites.
    Highly recommended. Car CD Changer.

  • New Young Pony Club – Fantastic Playground (2007). I saw the video for “The Bomb” on MTV2’s Subterranean and was hooked. And you probably know one of the songs – “Ice Cream” was all over TV as a commercial. They’re young, it’s danceable, it rocks! I could play “The Bomb” all day every day. Really good guitar-synth-girl singer pop, although not really a complete album. You can tell they have a great album in them… as long as they avoid input from the A&R people.
    Recommended, especially if you like bands like CSS. (I won’t name names… Andrew.) Portable CD Case.

  • Silversun Pickups – Carnavas (2006). This is actually getting more airplay now, I believe, than when it was released two years ago. I really like these guys –- this is an excellent indie rock album, IMHO. But what really sold me on the band was watching a live clip of “Lazy Eye” on MTV2, which is much more fierce than the studio version. If they can channel a little of that energy into a studio album… now THAT would be something. Think Kill Hannah meets Built to Spill. Excellent album.
    Highly recommended. Car CD Changer.

  • Sum 41 – Half Hour of Power (2000). When I mentioned Sean was a fan of these guys in this post this post, he corrected me -- he tells me he was actually into Green Day. And The Spice Girls. Seriously. No, seriously, I can’t make this stuff up, and I wouldn’t say that about anybody if it weren’t true (not even Sean). This is a decent album, but like All Killer No Filler, it’s a bit saccharine-ey. Sweet taste but not filling. So Sean – sorry for the incorrect attribution. (P.S. Scott was under the same impression I was about you liking Sum 41. So I blame you.)
    Verdict: Not recommended. Neither are The Spice Girls. “Peaches” Pile/Pile of Death.

  • Squirrel Bait – Squirrel Bait (1985). This was one of two albums these Louisville, KY teens released before Peter Searcy went out to do his own things and the rest of the band formed Slint. Musically, it’s punk-ish and pop-like. “When I Fall” is the best of a decent group of songs. I’ll keep it as a historical document.
    CD Rack.

  • Linda Thompson – Versatile Heart (2007). Linda Thompson returned in 2002 with Fashionably Late, her first record in 17 years, which was remarkable as she had finally recovered from hysterical dysphonia, which is essentially a psychological condition that resulted in her inability to sing, and thus had completely halted her career. She followed that album (which was fine but not really remarkable) with this one in 2007. Most famous as the second half of the “Richard and Linda Thompson” duo, her voice is still amazing, but this album does not do it for me.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Pile of Death.

  • Richard Thompson – Sweet Warrior (2007). The other half of the duo. Richard Thompson has tended to have had one monumental album each decade (Shoot Out the Lights in the 80’s and Mock Tudor in the 90’s), and decent to excellent albums in between. This falls into the former category. “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” was an absolute scorcher live, and when you understand that “Dad” is slang for “Bagdad,” you realize that this song has a lot going on. "I'll Never Give It Up" and "Johnny's Far Away" are classic RT songs. “Needle and Thread” is also a keeper. On the other hand, there a bunch of tracks I’m on the fence about. It’s not a bad album -- I just have plenty of other excellent albums by Sir Richard I’d rather go back and listen to.
    Verdict: Enjoyable for RT fans. Otherwise, buy yourself Mock Tudor or the gold disc of Shoot Out the Lights (which really is worth the extra $$$). CD Rack.

  • Year of the Rabbit – Year of the Rabbit (2003). When I hinted here at my musical man-crush on Ken Andrews, who know it would take 10 months to actually follow up on it? (Hmmm… you don’t seem surprised.) Year of the Rabbit (like On, which was reviewed in the above link) is another band for Ken Andrews after the breakup of my all-time faves, Failure. This album is not terribly complicated, but I really enjoy it. “Rabbit Hole” is a great leadoff track and Ken follows up with great song after great song: "Last Defense," "Absent Stars," "Vaporize, and "Hunted" are highlights for me too. (Yes, I just referred to almost half the album as “highlights.”) A little heavier and grungier than Failure, it’s eminently enjoyable. There is a unified “sound” to this album that is great. Not a bad song in the bunch; I wish they had done another album together.
    Verdict: Recommended. Car CD Changer.

- Snilch

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Au Pairs - Stepping Out of Line: The Anthology (2006)

This review kicks off yet another rating system here at The Snilch Report. I realized that we needed to have a special place in hell for the music industry's magic revenue bullet: the compilation.

Now compilations have varying degrees of value: on the one end are those 10-song "Millennium Compilations" for the casual fan; at the other are the completely remastered box sets with both an exhaustive recap of the band's official releases and lots of unreleased extras. Some of these are necessary summations of a band's career; others are attempts to bleed a few extra dollars from the revenue stone. (Here's a hint: it's usually the latter.)

Thus my latest creation: The Compilation Ripoff Index. It consists of two components -- the casual fan summary (which ideally is high) and the hardcore fan ripoff factor (which ideally is low). When the ripoff factor is high, usually it's because there's one unreleased song or demo added to a compilation which is otherwise the same crap you already own. (For an example of this, please refer to "Love, Courtney" and reference "Nirvana.")

So we will start with an example of a great compilation: The Au Pairs' Stepping Out of Line: The Anthology. I had never heard of these guys until I watched the 1981 movie,
Urgh! A Music War, which is a bunch of New Wave acts performing one song each. Now I was primarily interested in seeing The Police, X, Gang of Four, The Go-Go's, Wall of Voodoo, Devo, Pere Ubu, Gary Numan, and the big draw, XTC on stage from back in the day. (Aside: Why is XTC live a big deal, you ask? Andrew Partridge, the lead singer of XTC, suffered a mental breakdown on stage at a show in 1982 and has never appeared live since, despite still releasing albums even today. Seeing Andrew Partridge sharing the mic with Sting for "So Lonely" at the end of the movie is worth the price of admission alone.)

So The Au Pairs were not even on my radar going in. I'm not sure exactly what it was about their performance... but there was an energy and an electricity that was undeniable. I read about them on, and then went out and picked up this compilation, which is absolutely great.

Their story is very interesting -- they released Playing With a Different Sex in 1980, Sense and Sensibility in 1982, and were recording a 3rd album in 1983 when lead singer Lesley Woods went to Morocco for a vacation... and never came back. (Well, she did eventually.) Of course, they supposedly had played 285 live shows in 1982 and got ripped off by their record label, which could very easily drive any group over the edge. In fact, the rest of the group remain in touch except for Lesley, who dropped out of the business altogether to become a barrister in England, and has maintained a very very low profile for the last 15 years.

Think of The Au Pairs as the Gang of Four if they were fronted by a radical feminist. Big bass lines up front, a very funk-inspired rhythm section, choppy guitars, and Woods' great voice. Playing With a Different Sex (Disc 1) is a great album. It starts out very strong with "We're So Cool", and the tempos vary from there: they even throw in a little reggae-type rhythm ala The Slits at points. Other highlights are "Come Again" and "It's Obvious." What makes this disc is the extras: for example, the album version of "It's Obvious" is excellent, but the stripped-down A-side single version (also the disc) is an all-time great song. Six words that say so much:

You're equal but different
You're equal but different
You're equal but different
You're equal but different
You're equal but different
You're equal but different
You're equal but different
You're equal but different
It's obvious
It's obvious
It's obvious

It's obvious

Sometimes simple is better.

Disc 2 (Sense and Sensibility) has some great songs too ("Stepping Out of Line," "Shakedown," "Intact," "Don't Lie Back") and it's a rare example where a band steps out of the skin of album 1 and into new but interesting territory in album 2: this album reflects more of the jazzy/funk influences than its predecessor, and holds up well. And you get the 1983 demos, which honestly are not all that great but with some work... who knows. It would have been interesting to hear how the 3rd album turned out.

Compilation Ripoff Index: This passes the test for both casual and hardcore fans. It has both their proper studio albums in full, plus four demos from what would have been their third album, plus EP and BBC studio tracks, and compiles singles tracks. Hell, they even throw their original 1979 EP in here. All in all, it's basically every track they ever recorded -- how can you beat that in a 2 disc set? Value for the casual fan is high, ripoff rating for hardcore fans is low, giving it an "excellent" in the compilation index.

CD Placement: Car CD Changer.

- Snilch