About Jon Chaisson

Writer, obsessed music listener and collector, okay bassist and guitarist, hoopy frood. Questionable logical circuits, but he gets by.

Fly-by: Twenty years on interlude

Hello from a very rainy Oxford Street in London! I have come full circle and stepped foot into an HMV for the first time since probably 2001, when its US stores started closing up. This particular shop I believe is connected to the original first one, if it isn’t THE first one.

I’m glad to say the selection is still fantastic and the prices are great. Found everything I was looking for (which is often a rarity) and the service was aces.

So yeah — glad to be able to hit an HMV one more time for old times sake. ūüėĀ

Vacation fly-by: 4AD origins

The above building with the green store front is 8 Hogarth Road, just down the block from where we’re staying in Earl’s Court.

For those curious, this was the original location of the Beggars Banquet record shop, and soon after housed the record label/distributor of the same name. In 1980, Ivo Watts-Russell started the 4AD label there on the second floor. They only stayed there for a few formative years, but those years included Matt Johnson/The The, Bauhaus, and Modern English.

Thirty Years On: August 1988

August 1988: Summer is winding down, and I’m preparing myself for my last year in high school. At this point I’m quite certain I want to go to Emerson College and study film, but I have Amherst, UMass and North Adams State as backups. All I need to do is fill out the forms, visit the campuses, and see where it all takes me. And try to at least do a decent job with my grades.

28 August: late Sunday afternoon, working my shift at the local radio station. Coming to terms with the fact that my closest friends of the last few years are spending this very same afternoon preparing for their move to college dorm life. I’m wishing we’d have gotten one last afternoon to hang out together, even though we’d gathered a few weeks earlier in one of our road trips to the Pioneer Valley. They’re probably planning what they want to pack, having one last get-together with their families, dealing with whatever else they have to deal with.

I’m feeling moody and irritable, faffing about on one of the half-working typewriters there, thinking I should probably work on some writing. The radio station feed goes to commercial, kicks off the usual carts, and then comes back to more adult contemporary. “Suddenly Last Summer” from the Motels comes on, like a punch to the gut.

I’d promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those students that gets all emotional that I wouldn’t be seeing my friends and classmates anytime soon. All I wanted to do was get the hell out of my small town and get to The Big City as fast as I could. But there it was: I wasn’t free yet. I still had one year left before I could escape. The circle of friends that had opened my eyes and mind to a new way of life were leaving. I had a few close friends still in high school, but everyone else was only an acquaintance of some sort.

I sat down at that rickety typewriter and bled out some of the most personal words and lyrics I’d written yet that would change not only my outlook on life but would change my writing style for years to come.

*

The Go-Betweens, 16 Lovers Lane, released ?? August. The Aussie quintet released what would end up being their last album for a number of years, but it’s a lovely pastoral album full of gorgeous ballads and quirky pop gems. WMDK loved this album and would play deep tracks from it quite often, and the above track was a favorite on 120 Minutes. Highly recommended.

Compilation: Listen in Silence: The Singles, created ?? August. Partly inspired by Chris’ mixtape style, I pulled together a 90-minute tape filled with tracks from some of my absolute favorite albums at the time: “Under the Milky Way”, “The Dead Heart”, “Blister in the Sun”, “Holidays in the Sun”, “Kidney Bingos”, “How Soon Is Now?”, “All Night Long”, “Alex Chilton”, and more. It’s one of my best mixtapes. I’ve since resurrected the title and theme around 2011 and still use it to this day.

The Wonder Stuff, The Eight Legged Groove Machine, released ?? August. Goofy, smartass Britpop that was a WAMH favorite. I’d hear “Give Give Give Me More More More” and “It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby” all the time. I picked this one up eventually when I took a trip to Boston to check out Emerson.

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars, released 9 August. Everyone knows the main single (“What I Am”, their only major hit), but the rest of the album is a lovely folk-rock collection of acoustic balladry and fun full band bash-outs worth checking out.

Pixies, “Gigantic” single, released 22 August. My ears immediately pricked up on this songs for two reasons.¬† First, that it was a bass-heavy song, which meant that I could learn how to play it. Secondly, that they were a local band. And by local, that meant their origins were at UMass Amherst, a mere 30 miles away from my home town. [And let me tell you, Amherst/Noho bands weren’t all that big a draw outside the Pioneer valley, except for maybe Dinosaur Jr!] I got in on the ground floor on this band and have loved them ever since.

Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking, releases 23 August. Another ‘borrowed’ promo from the radio station. Really, was there a single track here that they could get away with playing? I loved their curious mix of metal crunch, intricate melodies, and psychedelia. Oh, and the fact that this album sounds great when it’s played LOUD. “Summertime Rolls” is one of my favorite summer-themed songs of all time. Highly recommended, even and especially if the only thing you know by them is “Jane Says” or “Been Caught Stealing”.

*

Next Up: September 1988, in which my senior year starts and I get broadsided by a handful of brilliant albums.

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NOTE: We’ll be on vacation for the next few weeks, heading to the UK for a week and a half, followed by an extended weekend at Worldcon down in San Jose.¬† The blog schedule will be rather wonky until the latter half of August, when we’ll return.¬† Thanks for waiting!

Recent Releases: July Edition

The year continues to surprise me with a number of releases from new and old bands alike during what I usually expect to be a slow season.¬† July’s releases were few but they did not let me down at all.¬† Here’s but a few worth checking out!

Erasure, World Be Live, released 6 July. Seeing Erasure live is an experience; I got to see them on their 1990 tour for Wild! and it was a blast. Andy Bell is absolutely bonkers and fabulous and their songs are great. This is a wonderful extended album of their most recent tour and it’s a ton of fun to listen to, especially since they left in a lot of Andy’s ridiculous and hilarious in-between chatter.

Cowboy Junkies, All That Reckoning, released 13 July. I was surprised at how much this album resonated with me. It’s alternately lovely and brooding, but it’s an amazing listen. It’s rare that I’ll stream an album twice in one day on its release date, and that’s saying something. [There is also the fact that upon hearing the above track for the first time, I realized this was totally the kind of Flying Bohemians song I’d write back in the day.]

Dirty Projectors, Lamp Lit Prose, released 13 July. I think I used the word ‘tangly’ in my initial Twitter #NewMusicFriday review, and I think that’s a good description; this band’s sound is very heavily entwined within itself, with sounds going in all different directions and tied up in weird knots that somehow make sense. It’s strange yet fascinating at the same time.

Tanukichan, Sundays, released 13 July. Another AllMusic suggestion that paid off handsomely. Hannah von Loon (ex-Trails and Ways, who had a fantastic summer single called “Como te Vas” a few years back) plays heavy-sounding mid-tempo shoegaze (think MBV at their most accessible) and it’s right in my wheelhouse. It’s been playing quite a bit during my afternoon breaks while I’m whipping up some practice words.

The Internet, Hive Mind, released 20 July. Laid back hip hop with a touch of soul, reggae dub, and more. It’s an addictive album to listen to, especially when you need to chill out after a long work day. I need to look into more from this band.

Public Image Ltd, The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs form the Heart), released 20 July. Meanwhile, John Lydon’s career-spanning box set (available digitally as well!) is indeed an exercise in nonconformity and refusal to go with the flow, and experimenting with what sounds resonate with you. From their punk and dub beginnings to their late-80s/early-90s alt.rock all the way to their recent kicking-it-old-school crunch, it’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly an amazing ride.

Gaika, Basic Volume, released 27 July. A wild mix of slow reggae dub tinged with a dark and creepy Tricky-like trip-hop flavor, this one completely blew my mind upon first listen. Absolutely amazing album worth checking out.

ShadowParty, ShadowParty, released 27 July. Various newer members of New Order and Devo gather together to play a fun mix of britpop and post-punk that sometimes sounds like New Order and sometimes like The Killers. Well worth checking out.

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Coming soon:  August releases!

Vacation Tunage

We’re heading out to London in a week and a half, and my mind is on two things:

1) I need to prep my In My Blue World and Bridgetown Trilogy freebie cards for when we head to Worldcon immediately upon return, and

2) What should I put on my mp3 players?

Yes, while most other sane people in this world prepare for a vacation with more mundane concerns such as what to pack, what they’d like to see and do once at their destination, and so on, my addled brain almost always goes to ‘I need to bring stuff to listen to.’¬† [Mind you, I¬†do think of what to pack, just that I usually take care of that in the space of an hour a day or so before we go — I always remember the things I must bring like my passport and any show tickets, and¬†anything I end up forgetting probably wasn’t needed to begin with.]

For these long flights, I usually fill up both mp3 players.¬† The Zen player is for recent releases and compilations, so that’s easy to update.¬† The SanDisk one, on the other hand, can be tricky.¬† That one is my writing mp3 player.¬† I’ve also gotten into a habit of putting (almost) complete discographies on that one, as I can get through three or four albums in the process.¬† I already have The Beatles on there (both the mono and stereo box sets from 2009, plus a few compilations), and ELO as well (primarily due to work on In My Blue World), but I still have lots of space left.

So…what band’s discography should I put on there?¬† Should I go old school and put on Cocteau Twins or The Smiths?¬† Should I do something new and put on Pinkshinyultrablast or GoGoPenguin?¬† I’ll have to think about this some.

Any suggestions, of course, are quite welcome!

Songs from the Eden Cycle, Vol 5 (Under Construction)

What’s that, you say?¬† Is this an¬†official follow-up to the original four compilation volumes from 1997-98?¬† Didn’t I make a bunch of semi-official compilations for the trilogy over the next decade and a half?¬† Am I just recycling the same damn mixes over and over again at this point?

What’s the diff, anyway?

Well, the original Songs from the Eden Cycle mixes were made when I was writing The Phoenix Effect and were used to get me inspired, rather than songs that were assigned to specific scenes (with a few exceptions).  The follow-up mixes, on the other hand, were when I wrote and revised the Bridgetown Trilogy and were specifically focused on those stories.

Thus, this new “Volume 5” is a return to the original reason for the series: music to get me inspired to write the new Mendaihu Universe book(s).¬† Like the original four, these will be mixes that will be made over an extended stretch of time, as certain tracks pop up.

Here are a few that I’ve gathered so far…

Blonde Redhead, “23”. This song popped up on my radar in 2015 when I was playing around with MU story ideas, and caught me at the right moment with its unrelenting, twisting power. Beauty and tension at the same time.

Kasabian, “Club Foot”. I’m surprised I never put this song anywhere on any of my major compilations other than a half-assed one I threw together in 2005, because it’s one of my favorite badass bass lines. Also surprised I never used it in any Mendaihu Universe stories, either. Admittedly the video (again, one of my favorites) did give me a bit of inspiration as well.

U2, “The Blackout”. Say what you will about U2’s last two albums, personally I still think they’re the best and strongest albums they’ve had in years. Pretty sure they’re both going to get a lot of play when I start writing the new stuff.

Editors, “No Harm”. These guys consistently blow my mind with each release. In Dream was quite the dark affair — not as creepy as In This Light and On This Evening, but emotionally raw — and got a hell of a lot of play when I was revising the original trilogy. Pretty sure it’s gonna get play here as well.

Dot Allison, “Message Personnel”. This track actually dates back to the original TPE/trilogy sessions and popped up on one of the “Mendaihu Universe” mixes, but I’ve chosen to add it to this one because it’s the soundtrack to one of the first scenes I’d come up with for the new story.¬† This is one of the few exceptions where I had a perfect song in mind for a specific scene.

The Horrors, “I See You”. I think I need to look into this band more, because they totally slipped under my radar until I heard their Luminous album a few years back. I love their dark post-punk sound, which fits in quite nicely with what I’m trying to achieve with the new story.

I’m still working on this one right now, and it is in fact a mix of newer and older songs (note: the original four volumes did in fact have the same type of content as well).¬† With the exception of maybe one or two songs, the rest of these haven’t been put on an official Eden Cycle mix as of yet.

Yes, I know…I’ve got two other novels I have to finish first before I can get anywhere serious with this new Mendaihu Universe novels, but it doesn’t hurt to get an early start with the notes and the soundtrack, right?

2018: Favorite Albums of the Year, So Far

As promised, here are some of my favorite albums of the year up to June.¬† Whether or not my 2-8 Theory of Great Music Years* is coming to fruition is still up to question, but I will say that quite a few releases this year are resonating positively with me in some way, more so than some previous years. I find myself actively putting many of these albums on extended heavy rotation, which doesn’t always happen.

Of course, the best releases are still to come — past experience has proven that the releases from August to November are usually the best of the year. A quick peek at those releases tells me this may be true again this year. Something to look forward to!

* – My 2-8 Theory of Great Music Years is pretty simple: that years ending in 2 and 8 tend to provide us with a bumper crop of stellar, well-crafted albums. That’s not to say that they’ll stick in the minds of everyone, mind you…this is more about my personal tastes and probably has something to do with my state of mind as well. Still, this theory has yet to steer me wrong!

So, on with the show!

B√ėRNS, Blue Madonna, released 12 January. Quirky, fun synthpop with just that little bit of soul thrown in there to make it funky. Great album for kicking back and relaxing or having fun.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Wrong Creatures, released 12 January. My sister likes cranking these guys up, and I can’t blame her. This is a great album to listen to at top volume, whether it’s their slow dirges like “Haunt” or the raucous “Little Thing Gone Wild”.

GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star, released 9 February. As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t often get this excited about a jazz album. I’ve always loved this kind of trio setup, and this band gives the genre a modern, maybe a post-modern, spin to it. Still bummed that I won’t be able to see them at Outside Lands this year, as we’ll be elsewhere!

Lucy Dacus, Historian, released 2 March. She reminds me of those 90s musicians I liked so much like Jen Trynin and Jonatha Brooke, taking alternative rock in interesting directions while still keeping it laid back. “Addictions” is indeed an addicting song.

The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart, released 9 March. I’d been a passing fan of TNaF, but this album of semi-acoustic covers of their older songs (and a lovely cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”) made me revisit their previous albums to hear the originals. It’s an amazing record and one I’ve been returning to during my writing sessions lately.

The Neighbourhood, The Neighbourhood, released 9 March. I didn’t expect to like this album as much as I do, but I keep coming back to it. It’s weird and dark and experimental but it’s also consistently catchy and groovy. I really like the direction this band has taken.

Wye Oak, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, released 6 April. There are just some albums where certain melodies imprint on your brain and this is one of them. I get the title song stuck in my head all the time, as well as my favorite track from it, “Symmetry”.

The Damned, Evil Spirits, released 13 April. This is one hell of a fine album and possibly one of their best in a long time. While previous albums revisited their early punkish roots, this one revisits their early to mid-80s post-punk sound, which I always felt was their strongest and best. And Dave Vanian’s voice is still amazing after forty-plus years.

Snow Patrol, Wildness, released 25 May. A welcome return for Gary Lightbody and Co, and it’s a great record that seems tighter and more cohesive than previous records. I can definitely hear a few ‘big singles’ tracks, which they were known for in the last decade, but there’s not a bad track on here at all.

Dave Matthews Band, Come Tomorrow, released 8 June. This record reminds me of their less jamming and more single-oriented 90s albums like Crash, and that’s just fine. There’s a certain positive vibe to this particular record that makes it a lot of fun to listen to.

Johnny Marr, Call the Comet, released 15 June. Johnny’s recent solo albums have all been super catchy and fun. This particular record on the other hand feels like he’s decided to return to his 80s roots, because this album really does sound like The Smiths circa 1986-87, when he wrote some of his finest guitar work. It’s his signature sound, and it sounds absolutely lovely.

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The first half of 2018 was full of great tunes…I’m definitely looking forward to the second half.