About Jon Chaisson

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

Unexpected Inspiration

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*

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PSA: Listening to music and being inspired to write yet another novel can be hazardous to your health.

Spare Oom Playlist, May 2021 Edition

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!

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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!

Deep Dive

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!

Fly-by: brb, busy with writing stuff

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!

First Listens: Gary Numan’s ‘The Pleasure Principle’

INTRODUCTION: Yes, believe it or not, there are famous albums I have not yet sat down and paid significant attention to. Many of them, actually. Some I have in my mp3 collection while slowly gathering various band discographies, and some I’ve only read about in the numerous music biographies and histories I’ve read over the years. And some I’ve owned back in my vinyl days and only paid attention to the singles from it. This occasional series is my way of dedicating some time to focus on the album as a whole, to familiarize myself with them, get to know them a bit. These are albums that can be fan or critic favorites (or both), many of them you can probably find in Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and Rolling Stone’s varied Best Albums of All Time lists.

So why am I doing this? Well, why not? I’m always up for discovering a new (old) favorite!

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I’m old enough to remember when “Cars” came out and thought it was the coolest damn thing I’d ever heard in late summer of 1979. It was so different from the pop, disco, AOR and classic rock that filled all our local radio stations. It was like M’s “Pop Musik” that came out just a few months previous: what the hell am I listening to, and why does it sound so cool?? It was one of those songs that was just so weird yet so catchy it became a huge hit — one of his biggest in the US, and pretty much the one everyone knows the most — but certainly it was a one-hit-wonder fluke. Even Numan had no idea it would be so big, as it’s just a song about when some yobs once tried to carjack him. It’s hanging out as the next to last track on the album, almost forgotten.

While the single itself was relatively easy to find, The Pleasure Principle itself was a bit tougher to find for someone like me whose closest record shop was a section of the local department store. It wasn’t high on my list of albums to look for anyway, considering I was deep into my Beatles collection at the time. I’d see it at Strawberries or Musicland. It never really went away.

The thing that blows my mind today about the record how quickly it was recorded and released after the second Tubeway Army album, Replicas, which already had a cult following due to its several singles and deep tracks like “Down in the Park”, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and “Me! I Disconnect from You”. That particular album is worth having in your collection as an early example of Numan’s flirtation with science fiction and dystopian imagery. Sacking his original band soon after, he gathered a new backing group and leaned even harder on the sci-fi synth gloom. [He’d move away from that sometime in the early 80s but return to it and stay there a decade later. His brand new album Intruder just dropped last week, continuing his recent foray into NIN-style industrial darkness.]

It wasn’t until recently that I finally got around to catching up with Numan’s discography, so I figured, why not start with the one that put him on the map for most Americans? Here we go!

Track 1: Airlane — An instrumental opening to set the mood. Right away you can hear the difference between the punkishness of Replicas and the post-punk synthetics of this album…a fascinating change given the five months between these two records. Right away you can hear many differences: Cedric Sharkpley’s powerful drumming, and the several synths going on.

Track 2: Metal — I’m familiar with this one as it was the b-side to the “Cars” US single (I learned to pay attention to flip sides early on). While it’s got the creepiness of his earlier songs, there’s far more aural tension here, with the grinding bass keyboard riff keeping the pace, inserted flanged whooshes and the twitchy tones throughout. It feels totally devoid of any emotion or humanity, which is kind of the whole point with early Numan. Totally makes sense that Nine Inch Nails covered this later on, as it’s right in their wheelhouse.

Track 3: Complex — This ballad kind of sounds a bit like a Replicas outtake, as it’s more tender and solemn. There’s even a treated viola in there, countering the swirling monotone-ish melody that kind of meanders all over the place. It feels more like a mood piece than an actual song, even though it was the follow-up single to “Cars” in the UK. Noting here that the first three songs do feel super short, even though they’re all a bit over three minutes.

Track 4: Films — Okay, this one’s a LOT groovier, more melodic, and a lot more sinister. Hiring Sharpley as a permanent drummer was one of his best moves. The bass is pushed up front here as well. This one’s a really memorable and fascinating deep cut and I know it’s shown up on some of his numerous best-of compilations. Love the bassiness of this one, gives it that sprawling on the floor feel. Apparently Afrika Bambaataa loved this track and cited it as an early influence!

Track 5: M.E. — Not nearly as memorable a deep cut but kind of interesting. He’s leaning super heavy on the sci-fi here (it’s about the last machine on Earth) but I’m not sure if he truly pulls it off. Another track with the use of treated viola! That’s an unexpected choice, but it kind of works? Feels a bit overlong, though…could have faded out maybe a minute earlier.

Track 6: Tracks — Don’t let the quiet piano opening fool you — it quickly turns into a jerky uptempo track that almost sounds like post-Stardust 70s Bowie. [Side note: apparently those two initially did not get along at all, apparently due to Bowie offering a snarky “he’s trying to sound like me” at the time, but I digress.] I kind of like it!

Track 7: Observer — Another uptempo track that sounds like a variation on “Cars” with its “doont da-doont” backing riff and high, ghostlike synth notes. It’s not nearly as catchy, but he’s getting there. This one also feels a bit like a mood piece. Feels too short!

Track 8: Conversation — Back to midtempo here, and the drums and bass are up front once more. A groovy deep cut with delicate, sparse lyrics that interestingly reminds me of Three Imaginary Boys-era Cure. He’s definitely leaning heavy on the not-quite-human riffs here. It kind of meanders, but it goes in really interesting places, including a brief passage with that viola.

Track 9: Cars — Ah, here we go. This song really is brilliant and perfect, even decades later. Like “Films”, the tension is extremely high here. He makes really great use of the emptiness between the notes, filling them only with that three-note bass riff or the brief synth slap. And it’s the most danceable track too! Pretty sure the Blitz Kids loved this one. It’s like he really did his homework on this one track to make it the best song on the album: each section of the song is unique, with the verses cradled in that emptiness, switching only to a verseless and extremely melodic middle-eight that lifts up the listener…only to drop back down to another tense and sparse verse. And that extended ending! While it only repeats that two-chord verse riff, it’s what he does with the layers that pulls it all together: the high, soaring melody and its lower counterpoint, driving you away from it all with a super-slow fade.

Track 10: Engineers — Tying up the whole man-as-machine theme of the album, this one wraps it all up with a slow, chugging rhythm with all sorts of aural sound effects going on. It’s like you’re in a forest of technology, where all the living beings are really wired-up automatons. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as memorable as I’d like but soundwise it’s definitely interesting.

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Thoughts: As a post-punk/synth/new wave album, I see where he was going with this, though I don’t think he quite pulled it off. “Cars” definitely does feel out of place here, as it sounds super-polished compared to all the other tracks. I know now that it took him several albums until he figured out where he wanted to go with his records and how to make it all cohesive (personally I think 1986’s Strange Charm is where he finally hit that). I know he was going for the unfeeling “non-human” thing here, and seeing it in that point of view, it makes much more sense.

Final Opinion: I know this one will grow on me, like Replicas did. For me, it’s not a ‘drop everything and pay attention to this’ album but a background soundtrack, something to listen to while I’m writing.

Spare Oom Playlist, April 2021 Edition

Thanks for waiting! As promised, here’s the playlist for last month’s tunage!

Various Artists, Bills & Aches & Blues (40 Years of 4AD), released 2 April. A compilation of current 4AD bands doing covers of the label’s most popular tracks? How could I even possibly think of passing this up? Heh. Surprisingly this compilation works super well, giving many of the already quirky songs an even quirkier sound. Well worth checking out.

Flock of Dimes, Head of Roses, released 2 April. Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak’s side project returns with a fantastic, noisy and even bluesy album full of great sounds and earworm melodies. “Price of Blue” gets some heavy play here in Spare Oom.

Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg, released 2 April. A relatively new 4AD signing and a great fit for said label…just this side of eccentric yet extremely enticing. You’re not entirely sure what vocalist Florence Shaw is going on about half the time, but her sultry mumble fits the jerkiness of the music just perfectly.

Brian Vander Ark, Planet Sunday Sessions Vol II, released 5 April. The Verve Pipe lead singer has been extremely busy as of late — uploading YouTube videos, keeping up with weekly Patreon posts, and even working on a new TVP album — he’s also dropped his second covers album, a curious selection of classics with a darker edge.

CLAMM, Beseech Me, released 9 April. A super young punk band from Melbourne that blows the doors off so many others nowadays (save maybe IDLES, who utilize a similar face-punching delivery), and I love it. Short, brutal, and noisy AF, just how I love it.

The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Uncommon Weather, released 9 April. Yes, it’s the super-local (my side of town) SF band with a new record! While the previous album leaned towards the softer melodic Felt-like sounds, here he’s moving a bit more towards the lo-fi jangle of early Luna.

London Grammar, Californian Soul, released 16 April. This is a band that’s kind of tough to describe other than perhaps a cross between the moodiness of Florence + the Machine and the synth sounds of bands like Small Black. A very atmospheric and beautiful sounding album!

Field Music, Flat White Moon, released 23 April. This highly melodic band is a perfect example of sneaking into your space and making you stop and say ‘who is this…?’ They’re alternately dreamlike, sometimes jazzy and eclectic, and never dull. I’ve been coming back to this one a lot lately.

Dinosaur Jr, Sweep It Into Space, released 23 April. Perhaps it’s the fact that the pandemic has closed so many recording studios, but it’s somehow managed to turn this band’s clock back to its clunky, boxy lo-fi origins, and I am not complaining at all. This record would sit quite nicely right around Green Mind or You’re Living All Over Me, and I love it.

Beachy Head, Beachy Head, released 30 April. A mash-up side project with members of Slowdive and Flaming Lips, you’d think it would be a weird pairing, but it works amazingly well! It’s a dreamlike psychedelia that’s a lot of fun to listen to.

Dropkick Murphys, Turn Up That Dial, released 30 April. These guys entered the pandemic with an amazing and memorable free streaming concert, and they’re leaving it with a new album filled with many of the then-unreleased songs, including the absolutely hilarious “Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding”.

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There were definitely more (a lot more) albums that came out in April that I didn’t mention here due to space, but yeah, that was definitely a solid month for releases! And with it being almost the end of May, there’s even more great tunage to come!

Fly-by: Sorry ’bout that.

I was so busy yesterday with getting back into the swing of things with my current novel WIPs that I completely forgot to prep a WIS post! My bad. I’m now finally (finally!) finished with the revision work for Diwa & Kaffi and will be sending that out soon enough. I’ve got a few active projects back up and running (and possibly yet another new one, at least in pre-production phase) (when they come thick and fast, I rarely ignore them so I don’t lose them) (I know, I KNOW).

On the plus side, I did finally create a few new mixtapes, as I’ve been woefully falling behind on those. I have two finished, one that just needs a proper track order, and two others that are open and awaiting more selections. So at least there’s that!

So yeah, sorry about that. I’ll be back next week with hopefully more things to say. I realize I forgot to post an April Playlist, plus I’ve got a few First Listen ideas on deck as well. Stay tuned!

First Listens: Kraftwerk’s ‘The Man-Machine’

Image courtesy of Discogs

INTRODUCTION: Yes, believe it or not, there are famous albums I have not yet sat down and paid significant attention to. Many of them, actually. Some I have in my mp3 collection while slowly gathering various band discographies, and some I’ve only read about in the numerous music biographies and histories I’ve read over the years. And some I’ve owned back in my vinyl days and only paid attention to the singles from it. This occasional series is my way of dedicating some time to focus on the album as a whole, to familiarize myself with them, get to know them a bit. These are albums that can be fan or critic favorites (or both), many of them you can probably find in Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and Rolling Stone’s varied Best Albums of All Time lists.

So why am I doing this? Well, why not? I’m always up for discovering a new (old) favorite!

*

Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine was released on 19 May 1978. I was seven years old, and more than likely I was listening to my older sisters’ record collection and taking out albums from the local library. (ELO’s Out of the Blue was a constant favorite at the time, I recall.) I’d also listen to whatever was playing on the radio, still wet behind the ears (*ba-doom-tiss*) when it came to finding my own musical tastes. My Beatles obsession would becoming within a few months, of course.

The new music selection that month was extremely varied. Captain & Tennille released Dream, which contained the single “You Never Done It Like That” which I thought was kinda groovy. Cheap Trick dropped Heaven Tonight, their best and rockingest album to date with the classic “Surrender” as its first track. Commodores had a chart hit with “Three Times a Lady”, as did Nick Gilder with “Hot Child in the City”; The Cars dropped their amazing first single “Just What I Needed”; Bob Seger’s Stranger in Town and Journey’s Infinity quickly became AOR radio gold; The Rolling Stones released their very first 12″ remix with “Miss You”. And on the more obscure, won’t-know-this-stuff-until-later side of things, The Go-Betweens released one of their first singles, “Lee Remick”, The Dickies covered Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, and The Stranglers dropped their Black & White album.

I actually knew about Kraftwerk early on, as one of my sisters owned the “Autobahn” single, which I thought was a really neat track. I loved that it had that sort of mellow prog-rock feel to it, and that it was purely synthetic in its sound. I’d listen to that single enough that it eventually ended up becoming part of my own burgeoning collection. For me, Kraftwerk is up there with Gary Numan (and in a way, Gary Wright’s The Dream Weaver) as This Is What Science Fiction Music Sounds Like in the 70s and early 80s, before I discovered post-punk. [Side note: I’ll be listening to the English version here.]

Track 1: The Robots — I know this one well as it’s an AOR classic and one that KEXP plays every now and again. It’s kind of funky, isn’t it? It has a bit of a late 70s disco groove too. I recently learned the Blitz Kids in London loved dancing to this track. I love how the R’s are rolled on purpose like it’s some kind of We Are Aristocracy type of thing. It’s also very bloopy — I can see where early Depeche Mode picked up on this style on their early albums. It’s deliberately synthetic in its completeness.

Track 2: Spacelab — Have I heard this before…? I think I have! Hooray! It’s this series’ first example of “Oh THAT Song”! And there will be many, I’m sure. The opening is like that cool spacey intro to the album version of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle”, which I love so much! Nice use of rippling ascending keyboards to signify liftoff. Kicking in now…a high meandering melody with a driving yet primitive drumbeat. Kinda groovy! I’m picturing this as a music bed under some PBS film I might have seen as a kid, or one of those long bumpers that MTV used to play in their early days, you know, the ones with a bunch of NASA and public domain films. This totally sounds like something off of Duran Duran’s first album…one of their deep cuts. Martin Gore must have taken a page from this song as well, as it kind of sounds like something from A Broken Frame! Looking at Discogs, apparently this was a single in the UK and the US, so maybe that’s why I recognize it…I must have heard it at some point in the past.

Track 3: Metropolis — The Depeche Mode comparisons continue…this plodding, plonky opening is straight off Construction Time Again, and that one bass note that’s keeping the beat sounds like water droplets on a PVC tube, doesn’t it? Very Blue Man Group there. Ah, there we go…song kicks in, and now it’s got a bit of Thomas Dolby beat to it. Minor key, high flanged chords shimmering in the background. Okay, I see what they’re doing here…kind of going for an aural poem of 70s urban tension, with maybe a bit of a wink to the 1927 movie of the same name with its dramatic delivery. Not exactly a memorable track, but it’s an interesting deep cut.

Track 4: The Model — I definitely know this one. Their Other Big Hit here in the US. I remember seeing the video for this on MTV, which I learn was made because of its resurgence with the English version as a 1981 single. It’s kind of sad sounding, isn’t it? Comparing this to Air’s Moon Safari this time, with some pretty nifty use of mellotron-like chords and delicate high melodies. But yeah…it’s kind of an odd song, isn’t it? It’s definitely got radio potential, though.

Track 5: Neon Lights — Longest song on the album. so I’m going to assume this is the centerpiece. It’s kind of a counterpoint to “Metropolis” I think…definitely lighter and dreamier in its delivery. I can see where M83 stole a bit from them here! I do like the shift two minutes in…a change in key to a motorik-style single chord groove (which makes sense, considering Neu! was formed by two ex-Kraftwerk guys with similar musical ideas). I like that this has suddenly become an extended jam for the main melody synths. Okay, yeah…this song is in my wheelhouse as Possible Writing Session Soundtrack material!

Track 6: The Man-Machine — And we’re back in early Depeche Mode territory again. Like “Metropolis”, it’s not entirely memorable as a song, but the parts that make it are kind of neat. Programmed drum loops, vocoderized voices, and the classic high dissonant bloops to hint at Big Computer Technology. Kind of an odd, anticlimactic way to end the album (this feels more like a denouement than a climax point), but it does work in its own way, pulling the rest of the album together as a whole, as it’s a more humanlike response to the cold and clinical “The Robots”. This song’s less about the song and more about the What Have We Learned Here summary of what we’ve just heard.

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Thoughts: I can definitely see now how all those early 80s synth bands like DM, OMD, Visage and so on were highly influenced by this record and others like it. A lot of them had their minds blown by this stuff, realizing that not only could they write and play this sort of thing that was so different from the pop charts of the time, the newest much smaller keyboard models were actually becoming quite affordable — or alternately, they were learning to kludge together their own electric bits and bots to make the same or similar unnatural sounds and beats.

There’s also the fact that this stands out separate from other experimental bands at the time, in that they’re supremely melodic. They’re not hard on the ears like Throbbing Gristle, or hypnotic like Neu!, or weird like Einsturzende Neubauten. Each of these bands would inspire other bands in some way, and Kraftwerk, to my opinion told these new groups that electronic music can be enjoyable as much as it is experimental. It’s the appeal of the passive listener as well as the big music nerd.

Final Opinion: I think it might take me a few more listens for most of the album to stick with me, but it’s definitely something I’ll listen to in the future!

Coming Soon: First Listens

Source: K-On!

I’ve been posting Favorite Albums and New Release Reviews for so long that I think I’m starting to burn out. I’ve already talked about a lot of my all-time faves (numerous times for some), so maybe I should shake it up.

SO! It occurred to me that The Internet Kids have been using a variation of music blog and vlog by posting First Listen reaction videos. I’m sure you’ve seen and enjoyed some of the best out there (such as this classic featuring Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’). I’m certainly not someone who wants to create a reaction vlog, though. I’d rather be behind a camera than in front of it. And for the longest time I felt reaction videos were kind of silly, but I kind of get them now, especially if they’re done in a fun way like this.

So what I was thinking is, there’s got to be a significant number of bands, musicians and albums that are well-known that even I haven’t gotten around to listening to, right? I might be familiar with their discography and history, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve ever gotten around to sitting down and listening to it, or even owning it. I know a handful of Neil Young songs thanks to classic rock radio and MTV, but do I even know what After the Gold Rush or Harvest sounds like? I live less than three miles from Haight-Ashbury, but do I really know more than maybe five Grateful Dead songs?

I’m thinking this might be worth looking into, and also a hell of a lot of fun. Sometimes I’ve avoided these musicians due to disinterest, and other times it’s due to their unavailability (or my being too broke), but I’ve also ignored them due to rock radio overplaying the same three songs out of their multi-album, multi-single career and turning me off them. It’s my own ridiculous prejudice there, so I think it would be interesting to work past that and see and hear what I’ve been missing.

This won’t just be classic rock or albums from Rolling Stone’s Usual Cast of All-Time Greats. There are a lot of records out there that I’m familiar with by name, fame, infamy, or word of mouth, but have bypassed for one reason or another. This includes different genres as well: I’d like to try ’em all.

I’ll be taking next week off to come up with a list of albums to try out and how to deliver this crazy little idea in blog form, and hopefully by the end of the month I’ll have a few posts for you! Stay tuned!

Favorite Albums: INXS, Welcome to Wherever You Are

For some people, INXS was that band that kind of slid into semi-obscurity after the mega-huge multimillion-selling album Kick from 1987. They followed up in 1990 with X which contained a few hits such as “Suicide Blonde”, “Disappear” and “Bitter Tears”, but they never quite hit the same heights after that ’87 album. By the early 90s they were an 80s rock band trying to compete with the oncoming 90s alternative rock wave.

In late summer of 1992, they released what I think is their best 90s album, Welcome to Wherever You Are, and it’s often one that get the least attention of their later career. It’s a band growing out of their old sounds and styles and trying out new things.

The album was preceded by a teaser single, “Heaven Sent”, which features the band sounding gritty, playing loud and loose, the complete antithesis of the glossy tracks on X. Back in my college days, Boston’s alt-rock station WFNX picked up on it and gave it a decent rotation as it fit in nicely with their current playlist of grunge, Britpop and late post-punk. The follow-up single in the UK and Australia was the groovy singalong “Baby Don’t Cry” which also received local airplay here in the States.

Welcome to Wherever You Are is all over the place, but that’s a part of its charm. The production also has a distinctly early-90s quality to it, heavy on the treble and distortion for maximum loudness. There’s the bouncy New Jack beat of “Baby Don’t Cry” as well as the funky Madchester beat of the US follow-up single “Not Enough Time”, which is my favorite track off the album. It’s got a laid back mid-tempo groove and a smooth delivery that makes you want to move. (It’s also got a fantastic slow build to a glorious coda, and you know how much I love those.)

They didn’t completely ignore their own tried-and-true styles, however. Even with the tense beats and trippy feel of “Taste It” (complete with video that most definitely did not get airplay on MTV in the US due to its, er, sexiness), there were hints of the classic INXS seeping through. The gorgeous ballad “Beautiful Girl” (featuring backing vocal from none other than U2’s Bono) could have fit anywhere on their last three albums and really should have been a hit single for them.

[Side note: I will always equate this song with the radio commercial for Cambridge Soundworks that WFNX used to play in late ’92 into ’93, which used the instrumental opening as its music bed.]

Interestingly, one of the downfalls of this album — aside from it being from an 80s band and released during the initial relentless wave of Nirvana, Metallica, Soundgarden, and all the other grunge and metal favorites of all the bros out there — was that they chose not to tour for this album. Instead they would let the singles run the course while working on the follow-up album, 1993’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts. That particular album went further in the direction of attempting new sounds to fit in with current styles, but alas did not quite nail the landing; it’s got some fantastic singles (“The Gift” is a powerhouse track that demands top volume, and “Please (You Got That…)” is great bluesy fun with Ray Charles duetting) but overall it feels a bit disjointed and out of place. Despite this, they’d continue touring and releasing a greatest hits compilation, but not re-emerging with anything new until 1997’s Elegantly Wasted, which was a fine return to form but unfortunately their swan song with Michael Hutchence, who died later that year.

All told, listening back to this album now, Welcome to Wherever You Are is truly a fantastic album that just happened to be out of place with everything surrounding it, including the rest of the band’s discography. Some of its singles do still get airplay now and again, but more often than not you’ll hear something from Listen Like Thieves or Kick instead. It’s a deep-cut kind of album that really deserves another listen.