The kids would all sing, he would take the wrong key

Last Friday saw the release of a major compilation from the Who entitled Maximum As & Bs, featuring nearly all their singles from their first release as the High Numbers to their most recent.

I’ve been a somewhat passive Who fan in the past, knowing most of their more famous songs from listening to classic rock radio as a youth, but I never really followed them too closely until years later.  I found them very similar to the Kinks; they were an acquired taste and you kind of had to understand their very British influences in order to really appreciate them.

So of course during the course of Friday afternoon I streamed the collection from Amazon, and found it quite fascinating.  Like most bands from the 60s (yes, even the Beatles), the band flailed around for a few years trying to find their footing.  There’s a lot of mod posturing and moon-June lyricism going on in the early tracks.  They managed to get past this most of the time, thanks to Pete Townshend’s wit and amazing riffs, John Entwistle’s thundering bass lines, and of course Keith Moon’s manic drumming.  Roger Daltrey’s of course a great singer, but those first couple of years are a bit shaky for him; it felt like he was trying too hard to fit his powerful voice into quiet songs.  By the time they came to Tommy, though, they were a powerhouse and a rock radio staple.

[Granted, their concept album era of Tommy and Quadrophenia isn’t for everyone.  I myself find both projects a little too ridiculous, but they both contain some stellar songs that stand on their own amazingly well.]

This compilation is quite long, covering multiple decades (and is essentially a cd/digital repackaging of the singles box sets they released recently), so you may want to take it in a cd at a time, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

A dreaded sunny day…

smths tqidr

Last Friday saw the reissue of the fantastic 1986 album by the Smiths, The Queen Is Dead.  The expanded package includes a lovely remaster of the album itself, with the addition of numerous demos from that era, single b-sides, and a live performance at Great Woods in Mansfield MA (of course mislabeled as “Boston”, as is normal for that venue).  The cd package also includes a dvd of the Derek Jarman mini-film, as well as a hi-fidelity remaster of the album.

The Queen Is Dead became my favorite Smiths album soon after I picked it up, which, if I recall, was not that long after I ordered their final album from Columbia House.  It’s their most solid and consistent album that’s not a singles compilation, in my opinion.  While some love the brutalism of Meat Is Murder or the doom of the debut (or the poppiness of Strangeways, Here We Come, for that matter), the consensus is usually that TQID is their best moment.  The songs are tight, exciting, and playful.  Johnny Marr’s guitar work here is top notch, and Morrissey is clearly having fun being the smartass intellectual lyricist.

I almost always gravitate to this album over their others.  While I love nearly all their work, this one is the most positive and uplifting, the most fun to listen to, even with the one-two punch downers of “I Know It’s Over” (mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head…) and “Never Had No One Ever” (I had a really bad dream / It lasted twenty years, seven months, and twenty seven days…).  They’re balanced by the silliness of “Frankly Mr Shankly” and “Vicar in a Tutu”.  The lead title track is an amazing kick-ass jam and is one of their hardest, loudest tracks they ever committed to tape.  [The reissue offers a ‘full version’ that goes on for nearly a minute longer.]

If you’re a passing fan of the band, I do suggest picking up this reissue; its remaster provides the album with a much fuller, warmer sound (the original mix suffered from too much treble and loudness, at least in how I’ve heard it).  I’m also happy that they provided us with the original twelve-inch crossfade of the two b-sides “Rubber Ring” and “Asleep”, which makes the two songs connect in a very Abbey Road medley sort of way.

Finding New Music

Finding new music to listen to isn’t always easy.  As I’ve mentioned before, commercial stations tend to have a set rotation so we hear the same core songs over the course of a few months, with maybe a new track popping up every now and again.  But it’s rare for that new addition to the playlist to immediately get a lot of play right away.

In a way, the same can be said for listening to college radio.  While those stations often don’t have the set rotation setup, they can also be a bit too leftfield, playing nothing but obscurities and outsider music.  It’s fun to listen to if you like that sort of thing, but that sort of stuff doesn’t really resonate with me.

I tend to go somewhere in between; I’ll listen to college radio for part of the day (my home station lately has been Boston College’s WZBC, though I’ll slip over to my other favorite, Santa Clara University’s KSCU, later on), but then I might switch over to Boston’s RadioBDC or one of the SiriusXM stations.  Somewhere during all that listening, I’ll catch a new song that will catch my attention.

I’ll also stop by some of the websites that are streaming new albums.  NPR features an interesting selection, as do a few others.  I’ll also check out albums that I can stream through Amazon Prime (one of the main reasons I signed up for it, actually); I actually use that site extensively on New Release Fridays to check out the new stuff and decide if I want to explore the bands further or not.

Interestingly, I’ve found some favorites via social media as well.  Sometimes a random band will follow me, and I’ll always give them a quick listen and follow back if I’m interested. This is always fun, because these bands and musicians tend to be more low key yet absolutely fantastic. I’ve picked up a number of albums from bands this way.

Here’s a few of my favorite finds over the past year:

FiFi Rong (followed me on Twitter)

Of Verona (followed me on Twitter)

The DROiDS (followed me on Twitter)

Pia Fraus (suggested by AllMusic.com)

Cosima (suggested by Stereogum and The Line of Best Fit)

 

Cymbals (suggested by AllMusic.com)

Gang of Youths (heard on WZBC)

RIP Gord Downie

I remember hearing The Tragically Hip back in my senior year of college, when Fully Completely came out, just a few days before my 22nd birthday. I was the music director for our AM station, WECB, and I always tried to keep the selection eclectic and interesting. I’d heard of the band, having seen their previous three releases in the music bins (1987’s self-titled EP, 1989’s Up to Here and 1991’s Road Apples), but their third album was definitely their breakthrough, at least in Beantown. I loved that they were a mixture that defied description, other than they sounded really cool. I immediately put “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)” in rotation and “Fifty Mission Cap” as an extra play.

A year later, I’m living quite skint in the burbs of Allston and for a brief time my roommate and I have cable, and my then-girlfriend and I start watching Canada’s MuchMusic channel in earnest. It’s where I first hear great Canadian musicians like Moist, Barenaked Ladies, and Sloan in regular rotation instead of just occasionally. I stumble upon The Hip’s classic single “Grace, Too” (from 1995’s Day for Night) when I watch their video, greatly amused and fascinated by its lo-fi genius, using only video feedback, reflection, and a shirtless Gord to play off the boasting lyrics.  It becomes my favorite song of theirs.

A few years later and I’m back home in midwestern Massachusetts, trying to get my life and accounts back in order, and I’m listening to WRSI and WHMP, two Pioneer Valley stations that weren’t afraid to play the same eclectic music that I loved hearing back in my college days. I hear occasional plays of “Ahead by a Century” (from 1996’s Trouble at the Henhouse) but alas, never get around to taping it off the radio.

By 1998 I’ve got a steady job at the record store and expanding my musical tastes with every new and intriguing release that comes in. So much the better if I can get a promo copy for it! The BMG rep hands me a copy of their 1998 album Phantom Power and I immediately fall in love with it, especially the lovely “Bobcaygeon”.

By the end of 2000 I’d be leaving that job, but not before getting another dose of the Hip with that year’s Music@Work album. I find myself amused once more, this time by the fitting title song:

…as well as one if the deeper cuts, “Freak Turbulence.”

In 2002, I’m writing my trilogy down in the basement on a nightly basis, and hitting up Newbury Comics on a weekly basis, and In Violet Light comes out, another excellent Hip album. Oddly enough it’s years before I actually see the hilarious video for my favorite song off it, “The Darkest One”.

I kind of lose track of the band in the mid-2000s due to multiple moves and personal events, but eventually I catch up and pick up the rest of their catalog. I sadly admit that I don’t listen to them nearly as much as I should, and I never got to see them live.

But The Tragically Hip has never really been a band that I wanted to overindulge in. I like the fact that I’ll throw on Live Between Us or Now for Plan A or even Yer Favourites and think…damn, this is one hell of a great band. I like being pleasantly surprised by just how fucking good a band like that can be.

 

Thanks Gord. You were one hell of a great songwriter and humanitarian.

When I left your house this morning,
It was a little after nine
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves, one star at time

Listening versus collecting

peanuts several hearings

[This is something I wrote on my Dreamwidth account this weekend but thought I’d revise it and post it here as well.  I don’t repost all that often, but figured this was something worth talking about here at WiS.]

I was thinking recently about the way I’ve been listening to music over the last few years. No big surprise there.

As far as expensive habits go, at least I’m not collecting cars that I won’t drive, or picking up housewares that I’ll never use. And I’ve always been pretty frugal about it, very rarely spending an absurd amount in one go.  I’ve gotten pretty good at finding sweet deals.  The more tunage I can get for my money, the happier I am.

But at the same time, I know I’ve made some purchases over the years where I’d probably have been better off streaming instead of buying, or maybe purchasing an album track or two.  These are albums that I liked but don’t listen to all that often.  Sometimes it’s the sound of the band that fascinates me, but the song or album as a whole doesn’t make an impression.  In the past, these would have been cds that I most likely would have brought to the record store in exchange for credit, but as I’m mostly a downloader these days, that method is impossible.

I was also thinking about some of the radio stations I’ll listen to online. There are some that have an interesting mix that keeps my interest, and there are others that adhere to a set rotation to the point where I get bored easily.  One particular station I’m thinking of was a favorite of mine, but now I rarely listen to them because they’ve been playing the same songs for the past 2-3 years that I’m not really a fan of.  As a former radio person, I understand the idea of set rotation, but it needs to be recycled after a few months otherwise you’ll lose a portion of your audience who really doesn’t want to hear that same damn Lumineers song for the 374,539,453rd time.

I also feel like I’m not quite immersed in the sounds when my listening habits are stretched too thin. Don’t get me wrong, there are some years where a ton of great albums come out and I love them all, but there’s only so many hours in the day where I can listen to the albums. Not to mention that I’m not listening to current albums all the time…sometimes I want to listen to something from a few decades ago, or a different genre altogether. For instance, I’ve been listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM lately because a) c’mon, it’s the Beatles, and b) it was a refreshing change from all the noise I’ve been trying to escape.

Perhaps my collecting habits are getting the best of me. There are moments where I’ll be a little too focused on trying to find a band’s entire discography and not enough on their music. The idea that I’d listen to their full work is there, but it doesn’t always work out…it really does depend on how connected I am to the music. I never really wanted to be a music collector for the sake of owning something — I find that a bit wasteful and pointless. This is precisely why I’ll pass on collectibles if I already own the songs.

Is this partly due to wanting to recapture the excitement of turning to a station and hearing favorite songs? Who knows. It might be part of it. But it’s definitely my collecting habits getting the best of me. I need to rein them in again.  I love buying albums on release days, but I don’t necessarily have to do so.  That’s partly why I signed up for Amazon Prime, so I could stream the albums where I’m on the fence.

This of course doesn’t mean that I’m giving up buying music I love; it’s merely that I need to be smarter about it.

Favorite Albums: Synchronicity

R-367750-1504307656-3893.jpeg

I’ve been hearing a few Police songs on Sirius 1st Wave lately, and it got me thinking: I haven’t listened to their last album Synchronicity in a LONG time. It occurred to me that this was one of the early non-Beatles albums that I connected with from start to finish in the early 80s. [I’d say Rush’s Moving Pictures and Thomas Dolby’s The Golden Age of Wireless are two others from this era…I’d listened to full albums all the time, but very few of them contained a full album’s worth of tracks I completely loved.  That would change within a year or so.]

I remember Synchronicity coming out as there was an amazingly detailed push by the label, A&M, on MTV, including multiple versions of the album cover, as well as a four-minute long teaser that was played on the music channel:

Having become a somewhat passive fan of the band on the previous album (1981’s Ghost in the Machine and the many hits that got airplay on rock radio, I loved what I was hearing. And when it was released in June of 1983, one of my sisters bought it and I damn near wore it out playing it. I’d dubbed a copy of it for my own listening until I finally found a used vinyl copy a year or so later.

Of course everyone knows the lead-off single, “Every Breath You Take”, which still gets an amazing amount of airplay over thirty years later. I was more a fan of its b-side, “Murder By Numbers”, which was treated as a bonus track on the cassette and CD. I was also a fan of the second single, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. It’s not often you hear a song that uses the phrase “trapped between the Scylla and Charibdys”. Nerdy stuff indeed.

But what I found myself really enjoying was the strange mix of album cuts, from the jazzy “Miss Gradenko”…

to the new wave weirdness of “Mother”…

…to the jittery opener “Synchronicity I”.

I was only twelve when it came out, but budding writer in me really liked the idea that the album was all about different kinds of philosophies, both religious and profane, and how often they were linked in one way or another. Sting’s uber-intellectual lyrics were tempered by some brilliant melodies that seemed to transcend anything they’d recorded before.

Of course, it was also their last album together before they broke up (acrimoniously due to clashing egos, of course), so they certainly went out with a bang. Each member went on to vastly different solo careers and though they’ve reconvened a few times for one reason or another, they’ve never released anything new since.

Out of all the Police albums I listen to, Synchronicity gets the most plays by far.  It’s the tightest, the wildest, and the most interesting in my opinion.  The others tend to have weak spots that lose my attention, but this one I’ll still listen to from start to finish.

 

Recent Purchases, September Edition, Part II

More musical goodness from last month for you to enjoy!

Living Colour, Shade, released 8 September. Great to see these guys back, still rocking hard and writing some damn fine songs.

The National, Sleep Well Beast, released 8 September. A somewhat more somber affair for these guys (well, a bit more laid back than they already are!), but still a great album.

Lamb, “Illumina” single, released 13 September. A new track by Lamb? SWEET! A lovely track by one of my favorite electronic bands. Definitely looking forward to more from them.

Foo Fighters, Concrete and Gold, released 15 September. A harder, darker album, less catchy but just as great.

Ringo Starr, Give More Love, released 15 September. Ringo’s albums can be hit or miss, but he definitely hit it with this one. Very upbeat and confident on this one.

Prophets of Rage, Prophets of Rage, released 15 September. Music by the guys from Rage Against the Machine and rappers from Public Enemy and Cypress Hill. You’d better expect some fucking rage.

Gary Numan, Savage (Songs from a Broken World), released 15 September. I think I may have found another album that I will be listening to during writing sessions for the next Mendaihu Universe story. I’m amazed at how damn good this album is.

Cut Copy, Haiku from Zero, released 22 September. This band manages to create a new variant of their signature electronic sound with every new album, and I’m always fascinated by them. Yet another fine release.

Tricky, ununiform, released 22 September. Another ‘I will buy anything they release’ musician. Tricky’s not as grimy and gritty as he used to be, but he still retains the great triphop chill that defines his sound.

The Horrors, V, released 22 September. I stumbled upon this group a few years ago and I love their mid-80s goth retro sound that kind of reminds me of Comsat Angels. Definitely worth checking out.

Wolf Alice, Visions of a Life, released 29 September. This is such a fun band to listen to! You never quite know where they’re going next with each song, but the ride is a blast.

Coming soon enough: October releases! We have some fine albums for this month as well that I’m looking forward to picking up!