About Jon Chaisson

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

Fly-By: Songs About Coffee

Hi gang, sorry for pushing another fly-by entry your way, but I’m feeling super distracted this morning and I want to get some writing work done today, so…here, have a recent video from They Might Be Giants, featuring songs about coffee that were apparently planned but mostly unused for a Dunkies ad campaign.

Mmm, coffee.

[PS: Speaking of whom, I recently bought a twelve-pack of a special run of donut-flavored beer put together by Harpoon and Dunkin, featuring Boston Kreme stout, pumpkin, coffee porter, and jelly donut IPA. It’s…actually kind of tasty!]

A Year of Reissues

While the events of 2020 has put a lot of entertainment on the backburner, even including the regular release schedule of albums, it hasn’t exactly put the kibosh on the usual round of reissues and remasters. These are usually planned well in advance, of course, with most of the remastering production done over the course of the time leading up to it.

Here are a few of my favorites that have dropped this year!

Porcupine Tree, In Absentia (Deluxe Edition), released 28 February. This release of their stellar 2002 record features recent remasters — a day job lead singer/guitarist Steven Wilson has been busy with for the last few years — and numerous demos and rarities.

The The, See Without Beeing Seen, released 27 March. Cassette copies of one of Matt Johnson’s early teenage projects recorded before 1981’s Burning Blue Soul were unearthed, prepped and made widely available for the very first time. It may not be as professional as his later work, you can definitely hear the seeds of his signature style.

Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie (Archive Collection), released 31 July. Paul’s 1997 album was deeply inspired by two things: the Beatles’ Anthology project and his relationship with Linda as she fought cancer. It’s full of lovely classic Macca pop songs and features an abundance of guests such as Ringo, Steve Miller, and Jeff Lynne. This reissue features numerous demos, single sides, and the six-part ‘Oobu Joobu’ radio show he’d put on as part of the album’s promotions.

Prince, Sign ‘o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition), released 25 September. I posted about this one earlier, and I can’t say enough about how amazing it is. It somehow manages to fit the remastered 1987 album, the multiple 1986 projects that led up to it, and a full live show.

John Lennon, Gimme Some Truth, released 9 October. This is not so much a ‘greatest hits’ collection but an extended selection of hits, singles and deep tracks, all of which have been remastered with ‘Ultimate Mixes’, and they sound so much clearer than I’ve ever heard them.

The Replacements, Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition), released 9 October. The Mats’ 1987 record (the first one of theirs I’d bought, by the way) gets the remaster / reissue here with rough mixes and demos. It’s one of their poppier albums and a fun listen.

Elvis Costello, Armed Forces (Super Deluxe Edition), released 6 November. Elvis’ third album was his breakthrough record and remains a fan favorite. There’s not too much new and unreleased in this collection, but it gathers as much related music from the 1978-79 era and drops it in one place, and it sounds great.

New Obsession: K/DA

First off, I should say that 1) I’m quite the latecomer to K-Pop. I’ve been well aware of it, but never paid all that much attention to it until relatvely recently, and 2) I am so not a gamer, so I have little to no background or interest in League of Legends.

That said, I cannot seem to get enough of the LoL virtual spinoff band K/DA (its name of course being a reference to a player’s kills, deaths and assists), as a part of Riot Games’ plan to include more original music in the LoL universe. It features Miyeon and Soyeon from the k-pop band (G)I-DLE as well as soloists Madison Beer and Jaira Burns playing the in-game characters Ahri, Akali, Evelynn and Kai-Sa respectively.

The 2018 single “Pop/Stars” came to my attention due to a few gifs of featuring a masked Akali (the tomboyish ninja assassin) rapping in a subway car, and after falling down the YouTube rabbit hole, I found the video and was blown away by the creative animation.

Sure, they’re eye candy for the gamer boys, but damn if this song didn’t get stuck in my head on a daily basis! I’d put it on my mp3 player that I brought to the gym and found myself playing it on repeat. It wasn’t just a great video, it was a damn fine pop song with some tight production work. It sounds absolutely amazing in headphones, so I imagine it would sound great on high-end speakers as well. It ended up on my end-of-year mix and I still throw it on now and again. And yes, it got me interested in (G)I-DLE as well!

League of Legends continued to release a few more tunes and videos to coincide with their World Championship event (2019 saw the badass track “GIANTS” by True Damage, and 2020 featured “Take Over” by Worlds 2020), but apparently the K/DA track proved to be so popular that it was announced they would release more music as a virtual band.

In late August of this year they dropped the news that a new EP would be released, and released the lead single “The Baddest” soon after. And wouldn’t you know, this song got stuck in my damn head as well! While it’s merely a lyric video with minimal animation, it’s still a great track and has already gotten over a million watches on YouTube.

The accompanying EP, All Out, was released this past Friday (11/6) and it features the above song as well as the follow-up single “More”, which returns us to another high quality virtual band setting and featuring another LoL in-game character, Seraphine, as a special guest. It’s another visual feast with all kinds of eye candy but also a lot of fun blink-and-you’ll-miss-it drop edits (such as Akali causing Serpahine to bust up laughing near the end). And just like the previous singles, “More” is a hell of a fine earworm. This one’s going on my year-end mix, of course.

The rest of All Out is just as fun and worth checking out if you have the time!

Favorite bands: The Alan Parsons Project

Well before the band was a not-entirely-hilarious throwaway joke in one of the Austin Powers movies, The Alan Parsons Project — essentially Abbey Road studio boffin Parsons, vocalist Eric Woolfson and a revolving door of session musicians, some of them former members of Pilot — had a solid string of radio hits between the mid-70s to the late 80s. And they were one of my favorite bands of my youth.

I’d discovered them in late 1980 when their album The Turn of a Friendly Card was released, along with the one-two punch of two fantastic singles, “Games People Play” and “Time”. The first centered around a synth loop that got stuck in your head in a good way and had that driving beat and melody kind of similar to Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind” from earlier that year.

The latter was a gorgeous ballad that must have been played at numerous school dances and senior proms at the time, and was a favorite of mine for years:

I owned an ‘oldies reissue’ single containing both songs and was most likely one of the first non-Beatles-related records I ever owned as a kid. But it wasn’t until 1982 when my older sibling gave me a dubbed copy of their then-new album Eye in the Sky, which received a lot of airplay on many rock stations. It’s a light and poppy record that fits in well with the commercial charts of the time, even with its occasional foray into weird prog nerdiness.

I got caught up for the most part with their next release, which was a greatest hits compilation in 1983. It’s a wonderful collection of singles and album tracks that run the gamut from schmaltzy ballad to amazing pop-prog instrumental to goofy pop inspired by the 1978 King Tutankhamun craze, but it also features a new song that would show up on their next record, signaling a new and more serious direction, “You Don’t Believe”.

The next few albums may not have had the same chart success as their previous records, considering the tendency for their sound to remain firmly in the Adult Contemporary genre, but they still contained some fantastic singles both light and serious. The ELO-like “Don’t Answer Me” from Ammonia Avenue was a chart hit with a humorous animated video that gave a nod to old comic books and pulp novels:

Parsons and band alum Andrew Powell also recorded a fascinating soundtrack for the Matthew Broderick/Michelle Pfeiffer/Rutger Hauer film Ladyhawke in 1985, and you can definitely hear the APP influence.

I actually liked 1985’s Stereotomy as it had a really interesting and spacious mix and was far more prog-rock than their previous records. It didn’t do too well on the charts, but the title song was catchy as hell and had a surprisingly creative video directed by visual artist Zbigniew RybczyƄski.

Their last record as the Project, Gaudi, was an odd album centered around the architect, and went over the heads of a lot of people, but it did give them one last great single, “Standing on Higher Ground”.

Parsons and Woolfson went their separate ways soon after. Parsons occasionally released solo records while also returning to production work, including at Abbey Road. Woolfson released two solo records and then work solely in musical theater, and passed away in 2009. Parsons and many of the APP alums still pop up live occasionally!

The Alan Parsons Project may have been a corny joke in a Mike Myers film, but they wrote wonderfully creative pop records, and still have a strong fanbase. Their music still pops up in the most interesting of places — for instance, “Eye in the Sky” has been sampled by electronic group The Avalanches with their new song “Interstellar Love” with Leon Bridges, which dropped just this morning, thus the inspiration for this entry!

Wrapped Up in (Music) Books

The music bio bookcase in Spare Oom — I am actually in one of these! And yes, that is a Groot doll and Ezra Bridger’s light saber.

Over the last month or so, I’ve been making a significant dent in my music bookcase in Spare Oom, and I’m happy to say I’ve got it under much better control now. Only the bottom shelf is full of Books To Be Read now, and I’m being harsh in culling what I no longer want to keep. This of course will give me more room for newer purchases! And the circle goes round and round…

Right now I’m on a binge of punk and post-punk bios and histories, having just finished John Doe and Tom DeSavia’s Under the Big Black Sun, and I’m currently reading its sequel, More Fun in the New World. I’m probably going to dig through a bunch of the trades after that.

I love reading things like this because I’m such an obsessive music fan. I was never one to be part of any ‘scene’ (I was way too broke to be part of one anyway), but I always like learning about their histories. For instance, in the Doe/DeSavia books, I learned that the death of LA punk in the early 80s wasn’t just the encroachment of hard drugs like heroin, but also due to the arrival of frat bros and skinheads from Orange County wanting to start shit during Black Flag shows. [This second point is confirmed by multiple musicians in both books, who saw it firsthand.] The scene died because it wasn’t fun anymore and because outsiders appropriated it into something unlikeable.

It’s things like this that make me rethink my own musical history, Walk in Silence-style. Ian Underwood’s Smash! (about the 90s punk resurgence) made a good point about the fact that there were rarely any decent punk bands in the late 80s because the scene was so dead and/or dangerous. This would, in turn, explain why my experience with college radio at the time was almost exclusively post-punk, new wave, industrial, experimental and often Eurocentric, with a hefty cornucopia of unconventional hard-to-label bands in between. I do remember the punk bands of the time, but they were few and far between, and often super-local.

It would also explain the 90s in pretty much the same way: the resurgence of American punk with Nevermind and Dookie (among numerous other albums and bands) competing with the newly-minted Britpop/Madchester scenes. And moving further, the eventual mainstreaming of alternative rock by the mid 90s, mixing sounds from both sides of the Atlantic with a splash of easier-on-the-ears alt.rock like Collective Soul, Dishwalla and Third Eye Blind. And like the original LA punk scene, the early-to-mid 90s alt.rock scene was a lot more inclusive, from Bikini Kill and the riot grrl scene to the trip-hop sounds of Tricky and Portishead.

And even then, the frat bros entered the scene like cockroaches, injecting their testosterone into it all, thus Marilyn Manson, Korn and Limp Bizkit and so many other ‘alternative metal’ bands with down-tuned guitars and grinding bass riffs. (As someone who worked at a record store in the late 90s, I can definitely confirm that most of the purchasers of meathead metal were in fact the bros, with many of the alt.rock stations then following the money.)

Which, in response, brought in a wave of twee music from Belle and Sebastian, Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver. Inject the sounds of late 90s/early 00s techno into that and you’ve got chillwave. Inject reverbed guitars and you’ve got the next waves of shoegaze. Add a bit of proggy nerdiness and you’ve got post-rock.

Everything in circles. Everything influencing and inspiring everything else. Despite the ups and downs and the explosions and implosions of the music industry, there are influences and inspirations between bands, fans and musicians that feed the next waves. And the interesting thing is that often they aren’t aware of it happening; a lot of it really is all about ‘hey, this sounds kind of cool, I think I can play something like this.’

[Note: if you’re curious about which book I’m in, I donated a silly suggestion for Michael Azerrad’s Rock Critic Law. Look for the one featuring Joey Santiago.]

What I’ve been listening to, part four

September was one hell of a great month for new releases! So much so that it gets its own post! Here we go…

Tricky, Fall to Pieces, released 4 September. His first record after the death of his daughter is a dark and somber affair, but it’s also about healing from that pain.

Throwing Muses, Sun Racket, released 4 September. It’s indeed a racket, with Kristin Hersh turning up the volume and kicking out some great noisy tunes reminiscent of their early 4AD records.

Doves, The Universal Want, released 11 September. They haven’t released a record in ages, having been on a hyperextended hiatus, but the new album is so worth the wait! They haven’t lost their touch at all.

Cults, Host, released 18 September. This band has a way of merging alternapop sensibilities with experimental sounds, and it works like a charm here.

Sault, Untitled (Rise), released 18 September. As mentioned previously, no one really knows much of anything about this band at all, other than that their output is prolific (this is their fourth album in the span of two years!) and it’s all amazing. Highly recommended.

Semisonic, You’re Not Alone EP, released 18 September. Wait — Semisonic released a new EP?? Dan Wilson is still an amazing songwriter and this is certainly a welcome return!

Bob Mould, Blue Hearts, released 25 September. Oh man, this was the punk album we definitely needed at this point in time. Mould is pissed off and this is the angriest album he’s dropped probably since Black Sheets of Rain.

Prince, Sign ‘o’ the Times Super Deluxe Reissue, released 25 September. I posted about this one previously, and it was well worth the wait. The deep dive into alternative versions, demos, live tracks and unreleased songs will take you a few days, but it’s a fascinating ride.

Idles, Ultra Mono, released 25 September. These guys deliver powerful lyrics and brick-wall noise, but they have a super-strong conscience that they’ve never lost in any of their songs. Also, check out the video for ‘A Hymn’, which shows their softer side by riding along with their parents on a mundane grocery run during the pandemic.

**

Whew! Yeah, that was a great month. More tunage to come later in the season!