We are on vacation this week and heading to various local places so I’ll be taking this week off from blogging. See you next week!
As I’ve mentioned before, I spent most of my college days in the early 90s skimming over the sounds of grunge, instead focusing on Britpop instead. And one band that very rarely gets its due is the Manchester band New Fast Automatic Daffodils. They were never directly a part of the Madchester scene, as their sound veered more towards guitar-driven post-punk than the psychedelic grindy-organ sounds of bands like Inspiral Carpets or the Charlatans, and Andy Spearpoint’s loud, growly vocal delivery was quite similar to The Wedding Present’s David Gedge. [In fact, Grian Chatten from Fontaines DC sounds quite a bit like Spearpoint now, come to think of it.] They were just as groovy and noisy as the rest of them, however, and had their own loyal following.
Their second album Body Exit Mind dropped in October of 1992, just as I was starting my senior year at Emerson and I had somehow landed the position of music director at our AM station, WECB. Our airwave reach was laughable, but that wasn’t going to stop me from pretending that the entirety of the campus (and anyone nearby) was listening in. I latched onto this record super quick and I put multiple tracks into rotation over the course of that year.
They first popped up on WFNX’s playlist in September with the single “Stockholm”, which surprisingly hit the Top 30 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart in the US. It’s slow and stark, but it’s groovy as hell with a lot of great memorable lyrics (“No monster me, sadly no saint either”) that get stuck into your head.
Our station also acquired the Bong EP that came out soon after the album, and its title track also became a station favorite. Yes, partly because of the title (har har) but the “Ha-why-why-why-whyyyy” chorus would get stuck in your head every time you heard it. And it’s the perfect lead-off track to the album.
The teaser single “It’s Not What You Know”, set the tone for the entire album: this isn’t a blissed-out groove band, this is a band with thoughts and opinions about life. This was a band that had dropped the Madchester rave of their first album Pigeonhole and got serious. The album focuses a lot about the irritations of Not Being Where You Want to Be, which in the early 90s was exactly how we all felt at the time.
Things speed up with the odd and skittering “I Take You to Sleep”, about a man caught between mental stagnation and religious awakening and the ensuing problems deciding between one or the other. It’s a man looking for inspiration yet falling prey to ignorance instead.
My absolute favorite song on this album, however, has to be “Beatlemania”: not only because it starts off with a great bass riff, not that its title references my favorite band, but also because it’s just so freaking driven from start to finish. It starts fast and STAYS fast, even during the quiet verses held up only by the drums and bass and the occasional strum of the guitar. It’s a slow-build song that gets stronger and louder as it goes and by the end of it, you’re left breathless. It’s a song that is meant to be played loud.
Even the deep cuts like “American Money” (a growly screed about tourism delivered in a very Wedding Present-like way) and “Patchwork Lives” (a meandering Blur-like dive into suburban decay), Body Exit Mind goes out of its way to be not just topical but experimental, often sliding into minute-long segues (some no more than a few clunky treated noises, others wild and noisy jams). It’s a trip from start to finish.
This is also one of the few albums from post-college Boston days that I still listen to, to any significant degree. While some albums are great but now feel dated, and others were so overplayed that I lost interest after awhile, this album never strayed all that far from my cd player. In fact, this is most likely one of the first albums that became a staple in my Writing Session soundtracks, often giving it a spin in my shoebox apartment as I worked on what eventually ended up being the Bridgetown Trilogy. It’s not one I play incessantly, but when I do play it, I still enjoy the hell out of it.
Summer Solstice is here! Not that that means anything weatherwise here in San Francisco, as our weather usually stays around the low 60s for the entire season. (In a way I’m glad I’m no longer heading to the East Bay, as the weather fluctuates wildly there: it’ll be low 50s early in the morning and almost 100 by day’s end. Bleh.)
Anyway! Here are some summer songs for you. Hope y’all have a good season!
Me: *relaxing with a bit of YouTubing at the end of the day, watching music videos*
Me: *watches K/DA’s “Villain” once again*
Brain: *poke poke* Oh hey…you know what would be a great villain idea for a sequel to In My Blue World?
Me: Oh COME ON —
Brain: I’m picturing a pirate, a woman with the ability to steal magic from multiple worlds —
Me: WILL YOU STOP THAT I’M TOO BUSY ALREA–
Brain: And she’s like, super strong and almost invincible, and Zuze needs Diana’s help in fighting her off —
Me: … *sigh* FINE. *writes 1500-word synopsis*
PSA: Listening to music and being inspired to write yet another novel can be hazardous to your health.
What’s this, you say? Am I returning to blogging twice a week again? Maaaaybe? Gonna try it out again and see how it pans out.
ANYWAY! A few weeks late here, but there’s my playlist for May, in which I’m surprised by unexpected new releases by classic bands, pleased by new albums of recent favorites, and of course a few great new finds!
Hooverphonic, Hidden Stories, released 7 May. Wait, new Hooverphonic? Sweet! New album with the return of their most popular singer Geike Arnaert? EXCELLENT! And I had no idea they were also a Eurovision entry! This album definitely sounds like their early 00’s albums like The Magnificent Tree and Jackie Cane, and I love it!
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, When God Was Great, released 7 May. These guys have been bopping along for decades now, and they’re still fantastic. They still sound like they did back in my Boston days!
Morcheeba, Blackest Blue, released 14 May. Another band that’s been around since the 90s, and they’re still amazing with their laid back grooves and Skye’s quiet, sultry vocals. This is a great chillwavey album perfect for relaxing to.
Fightmilk, Contender, released 14 May. I’m glad I follow KeithTOTP on Twitter (yes, his stage name is Keith Top of the Pops…he produced Art Brut’s first couple of singles and is buddies with AB’s Eddie Argos — both of them are hilarious and complete nutters), as he’s been hinting at this new Fightmilk album for a while now. And it’s worth the wait because it’s REALLY good! Kind of late-90s Britpoppy (don’t tell him I said that). Definitely worth checking out.
Art d’Ecco, “That’s Entertainment” single, released 19 May. Art d’Ecco is kind of hard to pin down; she’s kind of brash like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but with the bloopy disco-y dance of LCD Soundsystem. Purely retro and yet not…? Either way, she dropped a wonderful spot-on cover of one of The Jam’s best songs.
Ducks Ltd, Get Bleak, released 21 May. Jangly lo-fi alternapop hinting at early eras of The Church and the Go-Betweens? Of course I couldn’t pass this one up! This is the sound of 80s college radio for me, to be honest. It’s a wonderful mini-album, and I’m looking forward to more.
Gary Numan, Intruder, released 21 May. Numan continues in the NIN-style industrial sound that he’s mastered over his last few albums, and it’s a perfect fit for his bleak dystopian style.
CHAI, WINK, released 21 May. This foursome from Nagoya, Japan has evolved in such odd ways yet they remain catchy and poppy as ever. The new record veers much closer to light electronic grooves than their previous more punky sounds, but they’re still just as off-kilter fun.
Bachelor, Doomin’ Sun, released 28 May. A project between Ellen Kempner of Palehound and Jay Som, this is an irresistible alt-pop gem. “Stay in the Car” has been an earworm for me lately, thanks to KEXP!
Okay! Now that I’m somewhat caught up, hopefully I’ll be able to give you June’s playlist on time in a few weeks! Stay tuned!
I’ve been doing a deep dive into 80s music lately.
I’m shocked, SHOCKED! I hear you say, not bothering to hide your eyeroll. But this is different, honest! I mean, sure, I’ve been listening to some of my old mixtapes and radio tapes, primarily because of a few writing projects I’m working on, but instead of doing the usual dive into records that have a bit of a long history to them, I’m playing around with records I remember seeing in the bins back in the day that have kind of been forgotten.
Not the “forgotten” bands that were really one-hit-wonders, or “obscure” bands that actually get a lot of airplay on certain genre stations. (And on the other side of the spectrum, I’m not yet at the “outsider” musicians that are just a bit too weird and impenetrable for my current tastes. I’m getting there, though.) I’m talking about the ones that I distinctly remember hearing on college radio and seeing their videos on 120 Minutes.
I’m talking about bands like the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience…
…or Gaye Bykers On Acid…
…or Fetchin Bones…
The funny thing is that many of these bands were the ones where I could never find their records, or never got around to buying them for budgeting reasons, or that I didn’t want to chance it if I didn’t exactly like it. I’m coming across a lot of them and checking out their grainy ripped-from-videotape music videos on YouTube. A lot of them are bands where I’d said I’d check them out sooner or later because I’d been hyperfocused on other obsessions…and I’m now realizing that I’ve finally come to the “later” part of that equation.
Some of these bands have stood the test of time, or are definitely a time capsule of a specific style. Some of them have not aged well at all (there’s one comic-punk band I used to like, but now sound like those one-joke pastiches you’d hear on those “irreverent” (read: tasteless bro humor) Morning Drive radio shows). They’re the bands that haven’t had as much of the Old Wave Renaissance play on satellite radio, but they’re the bands music nerds like me will remember.
What am I getting out of this? Well, aside from expanding my soundtracks and playlists, they’re filling some much-neglected holes in my personal history of listening to college radio. And as I’d hoped and expected, they’re also bringing back some memories I’d long forgotten. They’re putting the music history (and my own history) in a much richer context, that 80s college radio wasn’t just about The Cure and Depeche Mode and Wire and REM, but about the smaller bands and scenes that popped up. The music from different parts of the country — or the globe — that had a small but sizeable fanbase of their own. The music that may have somehow made its way onto major labels, but for the most part felt right at home on the independents.
And let me tell you, I’ve been having a hell of a fun time with it all!
Sorry about that. I know my output here has been a bit patchy lately, and for varying reasons. Right now I’m busy with some writing-related things that are taking precedence!
In the meantime, here’s some Love Tractor. I’ve had this song stuck in my head for a good couple of weeks now and it’s one of my favorites of theirs!