Twenty Years On: December 1998

…and here we are at the end of a long year of great music!  As always, labels usually focus more on holiday sales of already-released albums than on dropping new ones, so this month was indeed a bit light.  A few singles here and there, and that’s it.  Personally I was letting myself relax a bit after an incredibly fruitful and creative year by listening to a lot of the records I’d purchased (or gotten as free promos!) from my store.  I started working a little on the revision of The Phoenix Effect and starting in on its sequel, and would continue to do so until about late 1999 when I decided a complete rewrite was in order.  (That, of course, would become A Division of Souls, the first book in the Bridgetown Trilogy.)  I spent New Year’s Eve up at my sister’s place and taping WFNX’s countdown, and driving home early the next morning.

Porcupine Tree, Metanoia EP, released December.  I didn’t get into this band until early 1999 when they dropped their fantastic Stupid Dream album, but I’d seen this cd floating around in the back room of the record store.  It’s full of instrumental outtakes from their 1996 album Signify but it does go to show how tight they were as a band.

Belle & Sebastian, This Is Just a Modern Rock Song EP, released 7 December.  A lovely follow-up EP to their fantastic The Boy with the Arab Strap record from earlier in the year.  The title track is a simple three chord tune but it’s got a wonderful slow build.

Beck, “Tropicalia” single, released 7 December.  A bit of light-hearted bossa nova fun from his otherwise moody Mutations album, this one got the most airplay from the record on the local alt-rock stations. 

*

All in all, 1998 was a very good year for me.  I’d finished up my first novel in years, and I was in a good place financially and emotionally for the first time in ages.  I still had a long way to go before I could save enough money to move out on my own, but I was no longer flailing.  Things would change soon enough when the store manager moved on to bigger and better things (a regional manager of Newbury Comics — during the post-HMV years I’d run into him every now and again).  He was replaced by a much less enjoyable manager, and by 2000 I’d be out of there myself.  Despite that, I found myself in a much better frame of mind.  And a lot of the tunes from 1998 had a lot to do with it.

Hope you enjoyed my year-long series!  I may follow it up with more overviews but I don’t have anything planned as yet.  We shall see!

Coming Soon: 2018 Year End Best-of Lists!

Thirty Years On: November 1988

Back again!  Thanks for waiting!  Here are a few of my favorite releases from late in the year.  I’m pretty sure by this point I was already obsessed with heading to Emerson College, having learned about it from a college fair in the Valley.  I remember spending a few mornings in The Pub Room writing up my admission forms and essays and looking forward to getting the hell out of town as soon as I could.  Changes were a-comin’.

The Wolfgang Press, Birdwood Cage, released November.  I’d first heard this band on 4AD’s Lonely Is an Eyesore compilation, and I loved the funk direction they’d decided to head towards.  

Danielle Dax, Dark Adapted Eye, released November.  She’s a singer I’d heard a lot about through music magazines and Trouser Press, but I’d only ever heard one song from her, a delicate and beautiful song called “When I Was Young”, which was only released as a b-side in 1986.  By 1988 she’d signed with Warner and released this great compilation containing multiple singles, about half of her UK Inky Bloaters album, and this new single.  She was weird and quirky, but she was a hell of a lot of fun.

The Waterboys, Fisherman’s Blues, released November.  I remember WMDK and most of the other AOR stations loving this album and playing the hell out of it.  You’ll still hear the title track on alternative radio to this day.  It’s probably their most well known track after “The Whole of the Moon.” 

Blue Clocks Green, “Hemingway” single, released November.  Alternately voted as the most favorite and the most reviled track by the DJs on WAMH during the ’88-’89 school year.  You either loved it or you hated it.  Sure, it’s a really dumb song, but it’s catchy as hell.  The 12″ of this album featured a remix called The Sun Also Reverses, which was the 7″ mix playing backwards.

My Bloody Valentine, Isn’t Anything, released November.  Before Loveless blew everyone’s mind in 1991, there was this album, a perfect bridge between their more psychedelic earlier sounds and their noisier follow-up.

REM, Green, released 8 November.  Their first album for Warner, this one divided some fans.  There’s a distinct move away from the acoustic countrified sound of the previous albums, leaning more towards the hard rock they’d started experimenting with on Lifes Rich Pageant as well as with more poppy fare.  This one’s my favorite REM album — it’s solid and it’s amazing.

Erasure, Crackers International EP, released 28 November.  Sneaking out some new tracks after the unexpected but welcome success of The Innocents earlier in the year, Erasure had another minor hit with the “Stop!” single.  

Coming Soon: December 1988!

Recent Releases, September Edition

Wait, September is already over?  Man, that month went by WAY too fast.

Here’s some good tunage that popped up during the past month that I’m grooving to.

Paul McCartney, Egypt Station, released 7 September. He might be in his upper 70s, but he’s still rocking out, still touring, and still writing some great melodies. Like his previous record (2013’s New), while his voice isn’t as sonorous and steady as it used to be, that’s no worry, because he makes up for it by still being an amazingly creative songwriter.

Eric Bachmann, No Recover, released 7 September. The former Archers of Loaf/Crooked Fingers singer returns with his second solo album, this time full of absolutely gorgeous acoustic tracks. It’s quite a relaxing listen and its melodies go in all sorts of neat places.

Chai, Pink, released 7 September. This is a very weird and goofy J-Punk band, but they’re a hell of a lot of fun. They kind of remind me of Shonen Knife in a way, but with a more Puffy AmiYumi pop direction.

Craig Armstrong, Sun On You, released 7 September. Armstrong is more known for his film score work (including many of Baz Luhrmann’s movies), he occasionally releases an album that’s just as lovely as his scores. This one’s primarily a piano-based record but it’s a wonderful listen.

Bob Moses, Battle Lines, released 14 September. My latest music obsession, this electronic duo’s second album feels more vibrant and alive than their previous record, and sounds just awesome on headphones. Love this one.

Low, Double Negative, released 14 September. A perfect example of a band going in a completely unexpected direction, throwing you for a loop. This isn’t your quietcore Low… this is Low as filtered through electronic distortion, overmodulation, and who knows what else. It’s not for everyone, but it’s pretty damn fascinating once you get used to it.

Failure, EP3: The Furthest Thing, released 14 September. The third of four EPs scheduled for this year from this trio continues their project of releasing an album piecemeal, recording and releasing four EPs of four tracks once every quarter. Eagerly awaiting the final release in a few months!

Jungle, For Ever, released 14 September. The London collective releases their second record of 70s inspired groovy soul funk, and it’s infectious. They’re such a fun band to listen to!

Metric, Art of Doubt, released 21 September. While their previous albums were veering more towards a synth rock sound, this one pulls it all back and provides a lot of angry guitars and heavy lyrics. It’s a dark album, but it’s amazing and their best in years.

Alt-J, Reduxer, released 28 September. The alt-rock weirdos release a remix album of last year’s Relaxer, only they’ve introduced hip hop and electronica into their sound. The result is not only surprising and unexpected but it works perfectly. Definitely worth checking out.

The Joy Formidable, Aaarth, released 28 September. Noisy and often hypnotic angular rock that goes to unexpected places but sounds fantastic. An album that sounds dissonant and beautiful at the same time.

*

Coming soon: October tunes!

Favorite Albums: The Osmonds, ‘Crazy Horses’

ch

Yeah, yeah, I can hear y’all from here: oh god, he’s finally run out of things to blog about.  But hear me out:  I’ve been obsessed over this wonderful 1972 gem since I was a little kid when I used to listen to my sisters’ old beat up copy.

Why the Osmonds, you say?  Well, for starters, this is most definitely not your Jackson 5 wannabe album with sugary confections like “One Bad Apple” or feel-good grooves like “Down by the Lazy River”.  This is the five brothers taking an unexpected and amazingly competent turn into rock territory.

We’re talking about taking a page from freakin’ LED ZEPPELIN, fer pete’s sake:

It doesn’t hold a candle to “The Immigrant Song”, sure, but you gotta admit it’s got a hell of a punch. Their longtime fans didn’t know what the heck to think of it, but radio stations loved it and got it major airplay.

A few tracks later we get a goofy Beatlesque riff that I’m surprised more ukulele-playing hipsters haven’t covered, with “Girl”.

There’s also the groovy MOR sound of “What Could It Be”, which could easily be a song by Badfinger or The Raspberries:

…and the fantastic “Crazy Horses”, which is just as bananas as it is badass.

And my favorite track from this LP, “Hey Mr Taxi”, which sounds like they were trying to record their own version of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”, complete with all the noise, distortion and wailing guitars slowly going out of tune.

It’s does have their signature sugary pop as well, such as the swinging “Julie” and the ballad “That’s My Girl”.  There’s even a jamming groove dedicated to their home state, “Utah”.  There’s a nice comedic Looney Tunes touch at the end of the record with a twenty-one-second track called “Big Finish” that gives a teasing nod to their previous sound.

It’s definitely a trip to listen to.  While their previous album (Phase III, which had come out only nine months earlier) toyed a bit with rock, for the most part it stayed firmly in the pop category.  Their follow up after this one, their semi-religious concept album The Plan (released nine months after Crazy Horses) is even more of a head trip, with woozy blues, psychedelic joyrides and even the occasional horn-laden showstopper.  After that they’d return back to their safe haven of lite rock and MOR, and Donny and sister Marie would become a 70s television staple.

So yeah — I admit it.  Crazy Horses is a ridiculously fun album, and I still love it after all these years.