About Jon Chaisson

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

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.

Spare Oom Playlist, March 2021 Edition

Thanks for waiting! As promised, here’s my list of new tunage that’s been rumbling through my speakers as of late. It was a quietish month for the most part, as the March release calendar usually is, but it contained some quality music that I’m sure I’ll be listening to by the end of the year.

Jane Weaver, Flock, released 5 March. This is a peculiar yet catchy album that I keep coming back to. It kind of reminds me a bit of St Vincent, only with a bit more of a Stereolab synth studio-boffin approach.

Barbarossa, Love Here Listen, released 5 March. Speaking of synth bloopiness, this is another one that popped up and stuck in my head during my writing sessions.

Ghost of Vroom, 1, released 19 March. For those of you who loved Soul Coughing back in the day, this band is for you. Mike Doughty has returned to his oddball poetry rap over funky riffs and quirky samples (thus the band name, hinting at the SC debut Ruby Vroom) and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s hard not to listen to this album without grooving along! This one’s definitely going to get a lot of listening here in Spare Oom! [Side note: Doughty prefaced this album in December with a three-track EP fittingly entitled 2. That one has a track called “Rona Pollona” that’s been getting some airplay on KEXP.]

Too Much Joy, Mistakes Were Made, released 19 March. I’ve been following TMJ’s singer Tim Quirk on Twitter and he’s always a lot of fun (he just wrapped up a super-long Tumblr post series called “5-Star Songs” that was wonderful), and I’m happy to say that his band’s first new record in years is a corker. They still retain their goofy sense of humor — their deep-fake video above for “Uncle Watson Wants to Think” is both creepy and hilarious — but they’ve also tempered it with some serious moments as well.

Middle Kids, Today We’re the Greatest, released 19 March. I’m still not quite sure where to file this one, as it seems to shift between mellow bedroom pop and bouncy indie rock, but it’s fascinating and I keep coming back to it during my writing sessions!

Ringo Starr, Zoom In EP, released 26 March. Still going strong after all these years, Ringo brings out his classic cheerful, positive sound once more, once again with a little help from his friends.

Siamese Youth, Echoes of Tomorrow, released 26 March. A recent find that is of course right in my wheelhouse. It’s light and fun, and self-consciously so, and that’s part of its charm. It’s a feel-good album meant to be enjoyed and lift your spirits. It’s up there with The Sound of Arrows as a record perfect for my writing sessions!

Fitz, Head Up High, released 26 March. The Tantrums’ lead singer drops a solo album that sounds like it easily could have been a FatT record, but it focuses much more on his poppier side and less so on the groove. It’s an interesting shift, but it works just fine.

UNKLE, Ronin I Mixtape, released 26 March. I will of course download any and all UNKLE music. This one is James Lavelle’s project of reworking some previously released tracks and creating new ones, also while revisiting the sound experiments of Psyence Fiction and Never Never Land that initially made the group’s name.

tUnE-yArDs, sketchy., released 26 March. Merrill Garbus returns with a record that may not be as off-kilter as WHOKILL but definitely contains that fascinating oddness the band is known for. It’s got some great radio-friendly tracks as well, such as “Nowhere, Man” and the above.

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Not bad for what’s usually a slow month! I’m looking forward to more in April, in which we’ll see some classic reissues, a few new platters from bands we haven’t heard in a while, and some long-awaited titles that have teased us for a few months!

BRB, scheduling my vaccinations

Oof, that was quite a chore. I just spent close to six hours this morning trolling eight or nine different websites (plus a phone app) looking for COVID vaccination openings, but my diligence and French-Canadian stubbornness PAID OFF. I will be getting the first dose next Thursday over in Mill Valley, which is a shortish trip across the Golden Gate Bridge from here, with dose #2 TBA at the same place. WIN!

Anyway, I was planning on doing a Spare Oom Playlist March Edition post today but due to said trolling (and needing to get some work done later today), I’ll push it off to tomorrow. Thanks for waiting!

Keep Coming Back

I mentioned over at Welcome to Bridgetown that I find myself once again returning to the 80s (surprise surprise), via an old story I started my senior year in high school and attempted to revive numerous times over the ensuing decades. This is the story that went through so many different titles, versions and mutations that it has its own report binder here in the file department of Spare Oom.

And here I am, half-seriously coming back to it. Again.

I mean, this is the same story that also inspired my much more recent nonfic book idea that shares the name of this blog, Walk in Silence. The college rock era of the late 80s will always be near and dear to my heart for many reasons.

So why bring up this old story again, you ask? To answer that, I’d need to explain why it failed so many times in the past, and it’s called roman à clef. Each time I resurrected it, I made the mistake of wanting to write it as a self-insert piece of fiction, and therein lies the problem: my life back then wasn’t nearly as exciting as I often make it out to be. A lot of silliness and a lot of gloominess and everything in between, but not enough to make it an excitable read. So what’s different now? Well, thirty years on I’ve learned a thing or two about how to write fiction and realized roman à clef is not what was needed here. I knew what I wanted to write, but real life self-inserting wasn’t the way to go.

I’m not taking this project too seriously at the moment, as I’m already focusing on a few other things, but I’m letting myself devote an hour or two a day for it anyway, making notes and revisiting mixtapes and looking at discographies and chronologies. I’m also resurrecting a writing style I haven’t used since those same 80s days: using music to inspire and influence certain scenes, Michael Mann style. The difference here is that I’m not leaning heavy on memory here. I’m taking ideas from the songs I loved and expanding on what images and thoughts they inspire and evoke in me. Sure, there’ll be a few self-inserts in there — there always are in my books — but it won’t be as obvious this time out. And I’m making an expanded mixtape that’ll have both the obvious (say, “Under the Milky Way”) and the deep cut (such as the below Love Tractor song). That, of course, is the most fun part of this project so far.

I have no deadline for this particular story, but I am looking forward to spending more time on it if and when I can!

Walk in Silence – Beginnings

The first Walk in Silence mixtape, made October 1988 at the start of my senior year, and the Sony CFS-300 boombox (aka the Jonzbox) it was made with.

Walk in Silence, the mixtape series I’d started in 1988, was not the first mix I’d created (that goes to an unnamed multi-cassette collection from late 1982, taping songs off the radio and MTV), nor is it the first of the thematic mixes (that would be the noisy Stentorian Music from May 1988), but it’s the first one I’d made specifically to fit the mood I’d found myself in at the time. It was sort of a sibling thematic mix to the Listen in Silence mix I’d made in August, which was essentially “my favorite college radio tunes of the moment”. Walk in Silence, named of course after the first line in Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”, was meant to be more about dealing with my darker side. I was still feeling the sting of nearly all my closest friends having escaped our small town for college and the bigger world out there, and I’d made this to deal with that.

College radio was indeed my oasis during my senior year, alongside those Sunday episodes of 120 Minutes. I was doing my damnedest to deal with the frustration of still being stuck in a small town. The sources of these mixtapes were equally from the records I’d bought from Main Street Music and Al Bum’s, vinyl borrowed from the local radio station I’d worked at, taped off WAMH 89.3 (Amherst College), or second-hand dubs of albums I’d borrowed from that same group of friends. I wanted to start making more of these mixtapes, now that I understood how to create a smooth mix, and more importantly, fit as many songs onto each side of a 90-minute tape with minimal leftover blank space.

I still remember opening up a new cassette from its wrapper and smelling that fresh slightly plastic scent. I was super careful with the boxes they came in and would buy empties whenever I found them. I treated these tapes just like I treated my purchased albums: I made sure they were wound correctly, had a readable label, and didn’t get worn out or erased. I rarely bought the fancy expensive hi-def brands — I usually stuck with the affordable and reliable Memorex dBS 90s — because I didn’t care so much about the quality as much as I just wanted the music itself as part of my growing library.

I cataloged these mixes in notebooks primarily so my friends could see what was on them if they wanted to borrow them. It’s only because of this that I was able to successfully recreate nearly 99% of my mixtape library digitally, missing maybe only four or five lost and unavailable songs total. I used the Walk in Silence theme off and on, and currently I make at least two of them a year alongside two Listen in Silence and end-of-year mixes.

I bring this up to personally thank Lou Ottens, who helped invent the compact cassette tape, who recently passed away at age 94. I used so many blank tapes over the years for so many things: mixtapes, recordings of jam sessions for jeb! and The Flying Bohemians, live shows, soundtracks for my novels, dubbed albums, and maybe even a few class lectures now and again. I completed then hard-to-find discographies of favorite bands. I will totally admit to spending food and lunch money on blank tapes. I’ve put scotch tape over those holes on the top to use actual albums nobody wanted as fresh blanks. I came across a blank or two recently while cleaning out and rearranging things here in Spare Oom. I have a storage box full of my mixtapes, a few I’d remade around 2000 but many of them still the originals.

And now I see that cassettes are making a comeback, believe it or not. Indie bands are selling them on Bandcamp. And Amoeba Records has a nifty little corner full of cassettes new and old.

Thanks, Lou. Your invention was a huge and important part of my life.

Spare Oom Playlist, February 2021 Edition

Normally, February does provide one with some new and interesting sounds, but I’m well surprised that this time out there’s an avalanche of good stuff out there! Enjoy!

Miss Grit, Impostor EP, released 5 February. “Blonde” popped up on Cheryl Waters’ playlist on KEXP a while back and stopped me in my tracks with a whoa, what the hell is this? It’s got the grimness of Sneaker Pimps-like triphop, the droneyness of Lush, and the blast of shoegaze. She only has a few singles and this EP out at the moment, but I highly suggest checking her out on Bandcamp.

Foo Fighters, Medicine at Midnight, released 5 February. Dave Grohl and Co return to a lighter and more melodic sound similar to their late 90s/early 00s albums There Is Nothing Left to Lose and One By One, though still retaining the power and strength of their more recent albums, and it’s a supremely inviting and memorable listen.

Teenage Wrist, Earth Is a Black Hole, released 12 February. A recent find thanks to AllMusic, they’ve got that excellent melodic emo sound similar to bands like Jimmy Eat World, with catchy riffs and the classic punchy choruses.

Django Django, Glowing in the Dark, released 12 February. Always a weird and quirky band, always full of incredible pop gems that sound both polished and lo-fi at the same time. This is truly a fun listen.

Goat Girl, On All Fours, released 12 February. Apparently picking up where Chairlift left off, this group mixes a warbly synth/guitar hybrid with odd lyrics and sounds and turns it into something surprisingly catchy and fun. I’ve been listening to this one quite a bit during my recent writing sessions.

Pale Waves, Who Am I?, released 12 February. Snotty, fun pop-punk that’s perfect to listen to on long and frustrating days. Sometimes goofy, sometimes angry, but it’s definitely a joy.

Mogwai, As the Love Continues, released 19 February. They’ve come a long way from their extended drone-blast days, and numerous movie scores have definitely tamed their sound somewhat, but they’ve only gotten better and grander with age. (Plus I hear they hit number one on the UK charts with this record recently!) This one is already a writing session staple, of course.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, Carnage, released 25 February. Cave and Ellis, who usually work together for movie scores, surprise-released their first studio-only project and it’s a dark and gorgeous masterpiece. It’s some of the saddest and quietest music Cave has ever done, but it’s absolutely beautiful.

Back Garden Light, Back Garden Light, released 26 February. I somehow stumbled upon this and I keep coming back to it. It fully and shamelessly embraces that 311/POD/Lit funk-metal-emo groove and it’s all kinds of fun! (Extra points for clever and unexpected use of 8-bit bleeps and beats to keep the mood light!)

Lost Horizons, In Quiet Moments, released 26 February. The second outing from Simon Raymonde (former Cocteau Twin) and drummer Richard Thomas (ex-Dif Juz) is just as lovely and moving as 2017’s Ojala, if not more so. There is definitely a heavy old school 4AD influence here (“Every Beat That Passed” sounds shockingly like Cocteau Twins circa Treasure) but they’ve made it their own sound and it’s just lovely.

Cloud Nothings, The Shadow I Remember, released 26 February. Their latest record, released only two months after their previous record (December 2020’s Life Is Only One Event) and less than a year after the one before it (July 2020’s The Black Hole Understands), this band has been incredibly busy — and prolific — despite the barriers that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused.

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*Whew* …and that was only a handful of what came out last month…!! I’m still wrapping my head around a lot of these releases, but there’s a lot to choose from and they’re all amazing. Now I’m curious as to how the next couple of months will be…

Fly-By: Still here, just…

…busy and distracted with a lot of different things at the moment, including two projects and submission research, leaving me with little extra brain juice to come up with anything exciting to post about. Sorry for the lack of posts this month! I’ll try to get back on the ball next week!

(In the meantime, posting a fun boppy tune by Oceanator I discovered a few weeks ago that I’m really digging. Enjoy!)

Spare Oom Playlist, January 2021 Edition

It’s about that time to post a monthly update of what I’ve been listening to over the past few weeks! This got me thinking a little bit about how the pandemic has affected the music biz over the last year, specifically in fact that it seems the heavy lean towards quarterly sales that we’ve long experienced has significantly changed. In the past, some bands would wait until Q4 for maximum sales or until just before they head out on tour to drop an album, but now many bands (and labels) have realized that the worst thing they could do is wait. So instead we’re seeing a slow but steady trickling of records and singles coming in early in the year. And instead of touring, they’re making special video appearances, whether as a pay-to-stream concert or as a remote connection to their fans.

Has this changed the sound of music? I think it has, in different ways. Productionwise, I’m hearing a significant change in the shape of the sound picture (as they call it): instead of everything glossed into a perfect letterboxed stereo production, it sounds more organic; maybe even a little rough around the edges. These are musicians recording on ProTools in their back offices instead of in Studio 2 at Abbey Road. That’s not to say it sounds worse; in fact, it sounds refreshing in an odd way. Like it’s a little more real and a little less flashy.

Compositionally, I think there’s a lot more introspection, which is not a big surprise at all. It’s been a hell of a year since this pandemic started, and not every musician is going to be in the mood for writing in their usual style. Being a writer stuck at home makes one rethink their creativity, both as a career move and as a creator. [I can confirm for instance that my own writing style has definitely shifted between last March and today.] In the process these new albums may sound less grandiose and more contemplative.

Sometimes I wonder if all of this will change the music industry significantly enough to cause a monumental shift in how it works and how musicians can work within it. The fallout of this pandemic has definitely changed the process of a lot of things; I’m only hoping that it’s changed the music, and the industry, for the better.

Let’s begin…

Wax Tailor, The Shadow of Their Suns, released 8 January. Wax Tailor kind of reminds me of bands like UNKLE and tweaker in that it’s essentially a one-person production (French trip-hop producer Jean-Christophe Le Saoût) featuring a rotating cast of musicians and guest singers. It’s somewhat darker and less goofy than previous albums (Dusty Rainbow from the Dark veered more in the quirky direction of The Avalanches).

Grandbrothers, All the Unknown, released 15 January. This was an amazing find! They’re a jazz duo with a mindset similar to GoGo Penguin in that their music is infused with elements of techno. In this instance, it’s literally an organic infusion: all the noises you hear are played on a grand piano and processed through samplers, with the piano melody laid on top. [If you want to understand what I mean, watch this video as it shows just how the above song was created sonically.] It’s an amazing album and it’s getting a lot of repeat plays here in Spare Oom.

Matthew Sweet, Catspaw, released 15 January. Good to hear that Sweet is still writing fun and groovy pop after all these years. It’s a fun album full of his trademark quirkiness and wit.

Shame, Drunk Tank Pink, released 15 January. A few years on from their stellar punk debut and they sound better than ever. This one’s a hell of a lot more angular but it’s just as racous and fun.

(G)I-DLE, I Burn EP, released 15 January. This K-Pop girl group releases another fantastic EP of catchy beats and attitude.

Arlo Parks, Collapsed in Sunbeams, released 29 January. Funky, groovy and laid back alternative soul that’s also catchy as hell. “Hurt” is one of my current earworms and I have no complaints!

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, I Told You So, released 29 January. More funk, this time with a Seattle trio that really sinks into that boozy jazz groove. Also check out their damn fine cover of Wham!’s “Careless Whisper”!

Steven Wilson, The Future Bites, released 29 January. Wilson, these days better known as the guy behind all those award-winning 5.1 remasters of classic albums (oh yeah, and former Porcupine Tree leader) constantly recreates himself with every new solo project, and it’s always a pleasant surprise. (This particular video is a lot of fun, considering all the unexpected facial cameos!)

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Stay tuned for February’s playlist in a few weeks — looks like there’s some more great records dropping this month!

Let the Golden Age Begin

Yeah, I took more than just a week off, and it was for a good reason. I’m taking my writing schedule a lot more seriously right now as I’m working on two novels in tandem (again), and I want to spend as much time as I can on them. So how does this affect Walk in Silence? Well, as you’ve probably guessed (and I mentioned this earlier on WtBt), I’ll be blogging only once a week until further notice. In this case, WIS will be appearing on Thursdays only.

I’ve been adjusting my listening habits lately by shuffling between recent releases and old favorites. Finding a decent balance between the two instead of overobsessing over the latest record drop or playing the same five classic records over and over. I’ve been doing a lot of balancing lately, come to think of it. It’s high time I did.

This includes balancing my life on and offline. I’ve pretty much committed myself to listening to John Richards on The Morning Show on KEXP Monday through Friday almost without fail, and sometimes I’ll listen to the follow-up Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, but after that I try to close the browsers and get some hard work done. I’ll put on whatever music I’m in the mood for at that moment. Sometimes it’ll be a recent album (like Bob Moses’ Desire EP) and sometimes it’ll be a classic (like Beck’s Sea Change). I try to mix it up as much as I can so I don’t become a creature of habit again.

A lot of this is to do with my need to change my approach to a lot of things in my life. Yeah, I’m still doing that, bit by bit. Taking time for stretches and exercise. Avoiding static comfort. Experimenting with new ideas. Thinking things through differently. Not falling into passive habits. That sort of thing. Just…y’know, living life better. And keeping a good soundtrack for it all.

Fly-by: Taking next week off

I’ve decided to take next week off for a few reasons: One, it’s my birthday on the 22nd. Two, we’ll be installing the new President (Version 46, now available with Vastly Improved Intelligence Capability) and I feel like celebrating that. And Three, I just want to get some offline creative work done and get myself caught up.

See you in a week!