Monday, March 16, 2015

It's a Roundup!

Yes indeed folks -- we call these the Barry R. Memorial posts, as they are bunch of a bunch of his favorite type of music reviews:  historical ones.  These are all grouped into one handy bundle, looking back across the last 50 years of music, minus the most recent two to three years.  This is what you get for free, Barry!

So, while listening to 2013, 2014, and 2015 music (for these end of year reviews), I still managed to find time to sneak in these albums (as well as the reviews that will be appearing in the coming days).

In alphabetical order:
  • Abraham, Inc. - Tweet Tweet (2009).  As mentioned here, I had a bunch of reviews lost in one terrible blogging accident.  This was one of the casualties -- I think this is the third time I've tried to review the album (sorry for the wait, Ryan).  Despite the blog PTSD, I will bravely forge ahead.  A "collective" album with eclectic mix of lead vocalists, this jazz-rock-electronic-hiphop amalgamation is (on paper) something that is destined for either absolute greatness or total failure.  In this case, it's brilliant.  They even throw in a little organ fill ala The Roots on "Trombonik."  (As an aside, fans of The Roots will LOVE this.) As such a fusion would suggest, it's not just a single note:  it's challenging yet still accessible, edgy while remaining poppy.  They do not spare their uncompromising lyrical attitude, and yet they still seem mostly based in pop.  CD Placement Rating:  Car iPod.
  • Aldo Nova - A Portrait of Aldo Nova (1991).  It was so cheap, I had to give this a shot, even though my snarky first thought on seeing this greatest hits compilation was that it should be a one-song single.  Sometimes I hate being right.  CD Placement Rating:  I already owned "Fantasy," so Pile of Death.
  • Arcwelder - Entropy (1996).  This Minneapolis grunge or post-grunge band is very decent but not spectacular.  It may be more your cup of tea as opposed to mine.  But the highlights ("Snake Oil," "I Promise Not to be an Asshole") are great, groove-filled jams.  CD Placement Rating:  CD Rack.
  • The Automatic - This is a Fix (2008).  This took me years to track down as an import.  It's more solid overall that their debut, but lacks the top-end punch (and the over-the top voice of Alex Pennie) from that album.  Nice across the board without any real standout songs.  CD Placement Rating:  CD Rack.
  • Bad Religion - Stranger than Fiction (1994).  Bubba convinced me to give this album a shot after previous failed attempts to get into this band.  Initially, I thought this album fell into the usual complaint I have with Bad Religion albums:  a few great song, but an uneven album.  A listen in the headphones revealed something different; this is finally a BR album I can get behind.  Very solid from front to back, with many individual song highlights to boot.  CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case.
  • Golden Earring - Bloody Buccaneers (1994).  Long-time readers will recall my fondness for this band, and for some odd reason I decided to take one more bite of the apple.  Bottom line, like all the other Golden Earring offerings, it's just not as good as The Hole.  I'm beginning to think that The Hole was a brilliant one-off, and while the other albums have bits and pieces of greatness, none are whole-cloth strong offerings.  This one is okay.  It's my last foray into this band, unless I find Cut (the one with "Twilight Zone"), which has remained surprisingly elusive. CD Placement Rating:  I'll keep "Temporary Madness," "Planet Blue," "Pourin' My Heart Out Again," and "In a Bad Mood." Sell-back Pile 1.
  • The Delusions - I Hope It Dies on a Sunny Day (1998).  My obsessive interest in this band remains a mystery even to me.  They were a solid opener for Built to Spill over a few years of live shows, with occasional moments of perfection; they were always on the verge of something sublime, but eventually fell just slightly short.  This is very decent, but has a low ceiling, which probably is "Disabled at the Beach."  Like, not love.  I think we can only be friends, but I think you'll make someone very happy.  Someone else, that is.  CD Placement Rating:  CD Rack.
  • Failure - Tree of Stars EP (2014).  While not the biggest or the most influential release of the year, this was (for me at least) the most important release of 2014.  Why?  Because after the four live tracks, one of my all-time favorite bands created its first new song together in 15+ years... which also means they will be recording a new album!  The live tracks are decent, the new song is okay, but that doesn't matter:  I'll always associate this EP with that joy of Failure's return, so it will always put me back to that moment of happiness.  I'll keep it forever.  CD Placement Rating:  CD Rack.
  • Ladyfinger (ne) - Dusk (2009).  This is actually one of the toughest albums I've ever had to review.  I've picked it up and put it down a number of times over the last six years.  I've found that when I listen to this album for the first time in a while, I really like it.  But after a second or third listen I get "listening fatigue" -- it's like the music wears off.  Very odd.  The elements were all there, but something was killing long-term enjoyment here for me.  A final review (loud, with some really good headphones) revealed the very good, possibly great album I'd heard hints of before.  No fatigue this time; they even remind me of a heavier Les Savy Fav (particularly vocally and lyrically) at points.  So I'll move it back up from Sell-back 1.  CD Placement Rating:  I guess it has to be Portable CD Case.  No matter what, "A.D.D." and "Little Things" hold up over time.
  • Social Distortion - Live at the Roxy (1998).  Captured in 1996 from the White Light, White Heat, White Trash tour, this is a great snapshot of a live band on top of their game.  Oddly, it holds together better as an album:  it's a total blur in its entirety, but the individual tracks don't really stand out on their own.  It's punk rockabilly at its best, an onslaught that just keeps coming.  Best listened to prior to fighting local toughs, or when caffeine is needed but not readily available.  The only downsides are the odd beginning and end, and the occasional misogynistic comments from frontman Mike Ness.  The liner notes are fantastic.  CD Placement Rating:  Car iPod.
  • Tears for Fears - Shout:  The Very Best of Tears for Fears (2001).  Reputed to be the "best" of the TFF compilations, Moira got this one for me and it has not let me down.  Even better in the headphones; all the hits are here.  Getting the US Remix of "Mother's Talk" is the key, although any excuse I have to listen to "Shout" is worth the time.  They were/are soooo good!  Only complaint with this is there is too much non-Curt Smith TFF, but even those songs are decent at worst.  CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case.
    • Tesla - Into the Now (2003).  That Metal Show strikes again.  TC got me into these guys back in the day (I still can't listen to Mechanical Resonance and not think of Die Hard, the No-girlfriendo, and Walpole, MA) and I've always found them to be a cut above most of the hair bands of the era.  I saw Frank Hannon on TMS -- and he gave an amazing performance.  They mentioned a comeback album, and I was suckered in.  From the first track ("Into the Now"), it's classic Tesla; if you told me "What a Shame" or "Recognize" was a b-side from 1988, I'd buy it.  It's bluesy classic rock meets indie garage rock.  (With some record scratching thrown in, which is odd but somehow not out of place.)  Sure, it tails off a bit after the first four songs, but, In general, this album is simply ridiculously infectious.  CD Placement Rating:  Car iPod.
      • Van Halen - The Best of Both Worlds (2004).  If you're going to own a Best of Van Halen album, I'd recommend this with one caveat to the producers of this album:  you cannot include "(Oh) Pretty Woman" without "Intruder."  No exceptions.  (Having a Sammy Hagar-fronted live versions of "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," "Panama," and "Jump" are lesser offenses, but mistakes nonetheless.)  Otherwise, this is a fun 2-CD set, only needed for those who own Van Halen I and nothing else.  (Like yours truly.  Okay, maybe I own Diver Down as well.)  CD Placement Rating:  CD Rack.  But a great, entertaining couple of discs for a drive.
      - Snilch

      Tuesday, March 03, 2015

      An Interview with John Andrew Fredrick of The Black Watch

      The Black Watch began in 1987, the brainchild of primary songwriter and frontman John Andrew Fredrick.  The band history until 2011 is detailed here; their 2013 album was my favorite of that year.  This interview took place over email in January 2015 into February.

      The Snilch Report:  I just listened to the album [2014’s sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy].  It's very good, but I find it confusing -- it will take some more listens (perhaps many) to get to the heart of it.  My initial impression is that you were in a dark happy place when you made it, if that makes any sense. 

      John Andrew Fredrick:  Yes in a very very dark happy place.  It is meant to be very much a "fuck off" record -- made by a person who was, in effect, music itself. If that doesn't sound too terribly grandstandingly hyperbolic...

      SR:  That's a very interesting idea... is it the process of creating music or the business of creating music that's leaving you feeling heartbroken?

      JAF:  The metaphor of heartbreak is even more applicable, in that The Black Watch are over it, their heartbreak -- as one gets over it in life -- and are recording a follow-up EP to sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy.  Probably not surprising to those who said:  "You're a lifer, you won't quit," but I was mostly talking about feeling how I had a very bad time in the studio, on account of I did all the instruments save the drums myself, all the singing, all of it.  And it was very not-enjoyable. 

      Tyson, Chris, and Rick and I are rehearsing four new songs for the forthcoming EP.  It's a nice space to be in.  I still think I may not make another LP, but obviously I kind of don't know what I will do, am confused and such, and should just shut up and sing.  Haha!  [Editor's note:  Since this interview, John has written other new songs, so now this release is going to be an LP.  Which is great news for Black Watch fans!]

      For so long The Black Watch has been, in the picayune-scene indie press, "The band that never got even marginally as big as they deserve to be."  That got to me too.  I shouldn't have let it do so, but I did, more's the pity.  Tough luck and sucky hurts and disappointments, bandly-wise, music biz-wise, can be, or feel, at least, cumulative.  If you let them get like that.  Which I did.  More's the pity.  Now I will stop going on about stopping.  And go on.

      SR:  You can't let the bastards drag you down!  Don't let them win!  For sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy, was the "solo recording for the band record" a plan you went in with?  Or was that forced on you?

      JAF: I started by doing four songs that seemed like they'd be best acoustic.  The engineer at the studio -- guy called Luke Adams -- had been Pete Yorn's drummer, a studio session man.  I showed him some other songs, and because he speaks Beatles and is a one-take kind of guy, a "one-take Tony," as we say, he did the drums, all of them, in four hours for seven other songs.  I told the band:  “Look, if we rehearse and do this as a band, it'll cost four times as much.  Let me do this, and then we'll go make something afterwards.”

      Having Luke play was like finding money on the ground.  How could I not use his tracks? (The drumming on sugarplum, I think, is stellar.)  Steven Schayer having left the band, after 6 years, you know, I sort of did it, the record, by myself as a way of going, "Hey, I don't need you like you always say I do."  He'd say it to me in jest, mind you, but not really.  I missed him being there, in the studio, being my foil and thorn in my side.  I was heartbroken over the person, Anne, many songs are about, and thinking I was going to stop doing the thing I love most:  recording music. 

      Anyway, the work Steve did on Led Zeppelin Five and the end of when -- spectacular.  A great, great musician.  And, inevitably, someone who became unhappy playing in The Black Watch.  Someone who should do his own album -- and I really hope he does.  But now we have someone on lead, Tyson Cornell, who is just as good but different.  Tyson actually runs the publishing company here in LA that is my publisher -- Rare Bird Lit.  He has a spin-off label that's putting out a picture disc 7" of two songs we did this summer in Santa Barbara.  Geeky!  Collector's bait.  I mean, I love records but a picture disc?!  Haha.  I woulda been happy with a cassingle!!  Remember those?  Of course you do.  And, with Tyson, we're back to being a happy band.  Chris our bassist and Rick our drummer -- they've become great good friends with Tyson as well.  So we're fine.  Happy.  Obscure as hell, still, but happy.

      The Black Watch - "Terrific," off the 1991 album Flowering

      SR:  Sadly, I think I still OWN a number of cassingles.  Is it safe to say that the solo approach to the album was something you wouldn't attempt again?  Then again, you had a perfect storm:  a personal heartbreak plus a creative partner parting, and then the process of creating your potential cathartic outlet (the album) was not very enjoyable.  I can only imagine that you felt completely isolated.

      JAF: Yes, I won't be recording on my own again.  I do several other things professionally that are lonelyish.  Writing novels –- you can't do that with anyone else around.  I've just finished a book on the early films of Wes Anderson that is coming out soon -- you can't do that by committee.  Haha.  I wrote a musical over Christmas.  It's about Dr. Johnson and his biographer James Boswell, with an indie rock/contemporary twist.  When I teach Freshman English, that's kinda solitary 'cause you can't go "Hey, great class today, you guys!  Let's all go down the pub and talk about how great it was!" 

      I like the perfect storm metaphor.  That's apt.  I think the record is at once very spare and very honest.  I could barely open my mouth to sing.  Hence the vocals are a bit "safe."  It was risky enough just attempting to sing the lyrics because I kept thinking I was going to burst into tears... instead of into song!  See what a jolly-melancholy person I am!  I never cry.  Never ever.  I didn't when my mum, whom I loved very much and was very close to, died six years ago.  I probably should cry.  It'd be cathartic.  I don't seem to be able to, however.  Oh, well.  That sounds rather monstrous, actually.  Makes me wanna cry. Hahaha.  

      SR:  It's not a stretch to say we all have different ways of coping and dealing with our grief, although I appreciate your stream-of-consciousness self-analysis -- it sounds like something I would do!  I can't recall off the top of my head whether this is the case, but have you written anything about your Mom since she passed?  I'm also wondering whether or not it's coincidence that you stopped releasing music for a few years (2009- 2011) right around that time.

      JAF:  We didn't have anything out from 2009-2011 just because we didn't have a label then, that's all.  We recorded Led Zeppelin Five in 2009 and it took a year for it to come out in New Zealand first and then here in 2012, I think.  It's very hard to keep track of the records, and I’m not good with numbers.  There's a bit about my mom in my first novella, The Knucklehead Chronicles, but that's it, really.

      SR: Fair enough.  I did want to touch on something you mentioned earlier -- how great the drums were on sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy.  I've always maintained that the drumming is a huge part of your sound and you are well served by having a strong drummer; to my mind, you leave a lot of space for percussion to really move the songs along.  Is that a factor in your composing?

      JAF:  Yes, it is a factor.  I am a huge fan of drums, and am moved by great drumming and drummers, having started off as one, at 10 or so?  Played for 3 years, drove my parents crazy.  They were so happy when I just played guitar when I turned 13.  Of course, as a serious fan of musical drummers -- Ringo comes to mind of course, and Mitch Mitchell of the Hendrix Exp., as well as, oh, David Narcizo, the great cymbal-less guy from Throwing Muses -- I think about how the drums will go. 

      But even though I played for a few years, I don't really "speak" drum.  I just know what I want... when I hear it.  I can only direct the drums sort of derivatively -- a la, "Do a Ringo fill here that goes into a sort of XTC kinda vibe."  I think it's driven Rick a little crazy over the years -- like, "Yeah, sure, John.  Whatever you say."  Does that make The Black Watch a bit of a pastiche?  Perhaps.  We try to hide our influences, that's for sure -- all the way down to the rhythm section.

      The Black Watch - "Uncheerupable," off the 1999 album The KIng of Good Intentions

      SR: I am a huge huge HUGE fan of musical drummers. I think that a great rhythm section can take good to great and great to unbelievable.  People underestimate their power and their impact.  But don't get me started.

      So since let's talk about the new stuff.  What can fans expect from this one?  And, of course, will you be doing a cassingle promo release?

      JAF:  Hahaha.  No cassingle.  One song is a nine-minute guitar freakout.  Another one is a drone like "The King of Good Intentions" off Amphetamines.  One is a very catchy song, very poppy -- called "There's No Fucking Way" (so that it won't ever get played on the radio).  Another is an old thing we've had from The Hypnotizing Sea days.  A song called "Beautiful Sleeper" that is both acoustic and full-band.  We're going to work with Rob Campanella who has been in and out of The Brian Jonestown Massacre.  A great guy with a super basement studio in Toluca Lake near Warner Brothers.  He has two mellotrons -- so look out.  I might compose a sort of psychedelic symphony on those things, just because.  Rob is big on The Byrds and on space rock, as are we.  So I am sure it will be way more trippy than sugarplum was.  He was telling me how dry the vocals are on this new record.  He'll maybe hose them down some.  And Tyson's definitely singing on the new LP. 

      So there will be some harmonies, whereas we eschewed them for sugarplum.  I have been listening to Hϋsker Dϋ around a thousand times in a row, so I am looking forward to loads of fuzz guitar, flanged fuzz, overdriven, screaming screams. I took a year off from listening to anything but classical.  Well, a bit of The Beatles and of course I had to get MBV [My Bloody Valentine].  I mean, they are my second favorite band -- next to TBW, of course. Hahaa.