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!
Coming back with a few more releases that have been getting some considerable repeat play here in Spare Oom!
BRONSON, BRONSON, released 7 August. A new side project of Odesza and Golden Features, the cool smoothness of this record is perfect both for relaxation and for my writing sessions!
Glass Animals, Dreamland, released 7 August. They’re a quirky band with weird sounds and vocal deliveries, and yet they’re consistently catchy and fun.
Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber, released 21 August. I had no idea they’d been working on a new record, and it’s just as bold and soaring as their previous releases. And like them, it sounds great when it’s loud!
Cut Copy, Freeze, Melt, released 21 August. This record is a much more chill and laid back affair, but it’s got some of their most gorgeous melodies on it! Another great writing session album!
Bob Moses, Desire EP, released 28 August. This is one of my “I will buy anything they release” bands, and this continuous-mix collection is so worth it. They’ve become one of my go-to bands for many of my recent writing projects!
PVRIS, Use Me, releases 28 August. Another great moody semi-electronic alt-rock band (from Lowell MA!) with a lot of groovy and atmospheric tunes.
I was going to add more here, but I realized that September is gonna need its own entry (or two) because there was just SO MUCH that came out that I fell in love with! More to come soon!
Here’s a few more months’ worth of tunes that have been getting play on my PC! Enjoy!
Run the Jewels, RTJ4, released 3 June. When RTJ surprise-dropped their latest record online and let people download it for free for a few days, who was I to pass it up? They’re an interesting rap duo in that they’ll deliver anger and righteousness on one track and further down the playlist have something utterly silly (such as the track “Goonies vs ET”).
Hinds, The Prettiest Curse, released 5 June. This Spanish foursome delivers some super fun rock that slides between shoegaze and pop-punk and is so worth checking out. (Check out their cover The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs” as well, which is a super fun single!)
GoGo Penguin, GoGo Penguin, released 12 June. Still one of my favorite current jazz finds, the trio continues to infuse electronica-style beats into their music, making their songs not just memorable but easy to get lost in.
Wire, 10:20, released 19 June. This is an interesting collection of outtakes and new versions of previous tracks, very similar to their 1989 IBTABA record but with a much harder edge.
Sault, Untitled (Black Is), released 19 June. No one knows who this band is or anything about them other than that they’re a Black collective from the UK, and the group seems to like it that way. They dropped two albums in 2019 and two in 2020, and they are absolutely amazing.
Hum, Inlet, released 23 June. One of the positives of 2020 is that so many fantastic bands we thought were long gone or on an unending hiatus released new records! This is a welcome return from an underrated 90s guitar band.
The Beths, Jump Rope Gazers, released 10 July. A shiny, bouncy and bubbly alt-pop record that hints at some of the best 90s bands like Letters to Cleo, it’s a super fun listen that’ll definitely get you in a good mood!
Fontaines DC, A Hero’s Death, released 31 July. This Dublin punk band delivers a surprisingly dark and melodic record that took quite a few people by surprise. It’s also much tighter and more polished than their previous record.
Goodness, it’s been far too long since I last updated with a rundown of albums and songs that have been on my mp3 rotation. I should rectify that, shouldn’t I? Considering that my station of choice (KEXP, natch) hasn’t changed one bit, pretty much all of these albums and singles came from that one station. Big thanks to John Richards and Cheryl Waters for providing some damn fine music during this time!
The Weeknd, After Hours, released 20 March. “Blinding Lights” is such a wonderful earworm, and the rest of the album is an enjoyable pop gem.
Pearl Jam, Gigaton, released 27 March. Good to see this band is still going strong after all these years. The new record is full of fine and memorable singles.
Phish, Sigma Oasis, released 3 April. Sensing that the COVID pandemic was going to be a lot bigger than anyone expected, the band felt it necessary to drop their new album early in lieu of not being able to tour for the foreseeable future. It’s mellow and introspective as well, but the style suits them just fine.
EoB, Earth, released 17 April. Ed O’Brien, guitarist for Radiohead, drops an interesting record that sounds equally like his main band and…Zooropa-era U2? Sure, why not? It’s an unexpected style but it works fine, showcasing his flair for catchy riffs as well as meandering jams.
Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor, released 8 May. Her solo debut is just far enough away from her Paramore sound that it still rocks without having to lean on the epic hard rock trappings all the time.
Nation of Language, Introduction, Presence, released 22 May. An interesting band with one album to their name (so far) but with a big dreamy sound that pulls you right in.
Indigo Girls, Look Long, released 22 May. This is a fantastic record with a sound reminiscent of their first couple of albums. There’s a lot of introspection and remembrance here, but it’s just as strong and determined as the future-looking ‘Closer to Fine’.
I’ve been looking forward to this rerelease for a good couple of months now. It’s one of my favorite albums of 1987, and it’s a solid record from start to finish. It’s a soundtrack of my later teen years, in between the bouts of listening to college radio and the waning months of listening to pop radio.
Prince’s Sign o’ the Times intrigues me because it’s the end result of three different music projects. It’s the aborted next album with the Revolution, Dream Factory. It’s a solo project of androgynous sped-up vocals, Camille. and it’s a collection of both plus more, built into a three-disc behemoth called Crystal Ball. It features the best of all three, and decades later, the deluxe reissue (which drops tomorrow) features nearly everything else that was left off.
The three projects are quite different in their own ways… Dream Factory kind of picks up where Parade and Around the World in a Day left off, improving on his stellar mid-80s songwriting and the band’s tight and often improvisational sound. Camille on the other hand veers towards his uninhibited Sexy Prince character (which would surface less over the years but when it did, such as on The Black Album, it didn’t hold back). Crystal Ball ended up being sort of his White Album, a sprawling mass of past and present ideas and egos.
Some of what got left off of the final version of Sign o’ the Times eventually popped up on b-sides, soundtracks or future albums; the eventual official version of Crystal Ball, released in early 1998, would feature some of the outtakes as well. Prince being Prince, however, his recording regimen was so prolific that there was still so much left in his legendary vault. I’ve heard some of the rarities via bootlegs — a fantastic Revolution-backed version of “Strange Relationship” is a must-hear, for instance – and it’ll be great to hear them with a clear remastering.
I’ll do a recap of the reissue once I’ve given it a good listen! Stay tuned!
NOTE: I’ve been listening to their album Big Bang nonstop lately, partly because I love it so but partly because it’s inspiring some ideas on a new story idea that’s gestating over in my daily words. Thought I’d share a post from six(!!) years ago about one of my favorite 80s bands, with updates and edits. Enjoy!
We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!!, aka Fuzzbox here in the States, was a cute and punky quartet out of Birmingham UK, and one of my first music crushes when I started listening to alternative rock. They’d been brought to my attention right about the same time as Sigue Sigue Sputnik in the glossy music mag Star Hits, and upon seeing their crazy-colored and spritzed hair and punky Oxfam chic, I was completely hooked–which in all honesty wasn’t really hard, considering it didn’t take much to rebel in a small town like mine. They made me realize punk wasn’t just about rebelling against society, like American punk had suggested — it was also about doing your own thing, however bizarre it might be, and not giving a shit about what other people thought about it.
Fuzzbox was initially together only for a short time, releasing just two albums and a handful of singles before going their separate ways, but they were just so damn fun to listen to that it didn’t matter.
Fuzzbox started sometime in 1985 with four friends who’d decided to start a band. And like any punk band worth their salt at the time, mastering your instrument wasn’t exactly high on the list of priorities. Consisting of Vickie Perks (aka Vix) on vocals, Tina O’Neill on drums and sax, and sisters Maggie (aka Magz–vocals, keys and guitars) and Jo Dunne (bass, guitars and keys), they immediately jumped in on the occasional open mike night at the local bars and learned their chops onstage. It’s said Maggie was the creator of the band name, announcing that they did in fact have a fuzz distortion guitar pedal they were about to use.
Their debut single was the gritty and poppy “XX Sex”, with shockingly direct feminist lyrics about exploitation and sexism in the media. They followed up with a ridiculous and silly summer single with labelmates The Nightingales and alternative comedian Ted Chippington with “Rockin’ with Rita”, and by summer’s end they were given a spot on the highly influential NME C86 compilation with “Console Me”. They prefaced their debut album that October with a jittery and bass-heavy single about unrequited love, “Love Is the Slug”, my musical introduction to them via MTV’s 120 Minutes.
Bostin’ Steve Austin (released as a self-titled album here in the US, but with the same cover) was released in December of 1986, featuring a dozen gems about the girls’ life in Birmingham–not just containing the teen heartbreak of “Love Is the Slug” and “Jackie”, it also contains the confrontational “XX Sex” and “What’s the Point” (their follow-up single released in January of 1987) and “Preconceptions”, as well as a weirdly hypnotic cover of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”. The quality of the music here is surprisingly tight, even when it hints at sounding on the verge of disintegrating into a distorted mess. Vix’s lyrics alternate between playful, angry, and emotional, and despite the simplicity of the melodies there’s a lot going on musically. The stop-start of “You Got Me”, the building tension in “Love Is the Slug” and even the 60s-girl-group pastiche of “Hollow Girl” works perfectly.
Bostin’ Steve Austin got a ridiculous amount of play on my tape players between early 1987 and mid-1989–this was the side of punk that I gravitated to, the revelation that I didn’t have to try fitting in with the in-crowd anymore. I didn’t really need to do much, of course–wear some of my college rock tee-shirts, my grandfather’s green trenchcoat, and let my hair grow out of its quintessentially 80s spiky ‘do (but not to the point of longhaired metaldom), and start writing music reviews for albums hardly anyone else in my school listened to.
Fuzzbox disappeared for a short while, and would reappear in early 1989 with a completely new and unexpected look and sound. I admit I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach it at first, having twitched and thought “oh god, they’ve become Jem and the Holograms.” But there was something about it…something about the slick late 80s production, the chart-ready poppiness, that called to me. I began to realize that this was the forbidden candy for me as a fan of college rock, the ultimate test: do I dare admit that, after labeling myself an alternative music nerd and a nonconformist, I actually enjoyed this admittedly catchy music?
Gone was the thrift shop fashion as well, replaced by glitz and glamour. The fuzziness of their sound was also gone, replaced by shiny synthesizers and sequencers. They now had an outsider as a cowriter of songs in the form of session musician/producer Liam Sternberg. And yet…
…and yet, there was something about this new album, Big Bang, that I just could not give it up. I was older and now in college, and yet the music hinted at the readymade poppiness of 80s Top 40, the kind that was throwaway and yet catchy and likable at the same time. The Brummie humor was still there, hiding in the lyrics of lead single “International Rescue”, a loving ode to the Gerry Anderson tv classic Thunderbirds (and, in the video, a humorous nod to Jane Fonda’s Barbarella as well, featuring Adrian Edmonson from The Young Ones as an evil scientist).
Big Bang kicked off with the irresistibly poppy “Pink Sunshine” (and also released as the second single) and my immediate reaction was to wonder where the hell my punk goddesses had gone off to…but I soon understood what they were doing. This wasn’t about rebelling, not anymore. It was about being an adult now, having gotten over the teenage growing pains. These were the Brummie girls stuck in their jobs, dealing with the drudgery of the real world and letting it all loose at the end of the working week.
There’s a lot of flirting and sexiness going on with this album, and that’s part of what makes it so irresistible. There’s the rocking sci-fi of “Fast Forward Futurama”, the heartbreak of “Self!” (featuring the guitar work of none other than Queen’s Brian May!), and the gorgeous dancefloor bliss of “Versatile for Discos and Parties” (quite possibly my favorite track off the album). There’s even a brilliant cover of Yoko Ono’s “Walking on Thin Ice”, retaining the song’s mystique but giving it additional emotional beauty. The album ends on a very somber yet lovely note with a track called “Beauty”, which sounds like nothing else they’ve ever recorded.
I realized that Big Bang‘s shameless pop wasn’t shameless at all — it was a loving tribute to the dance pop of the decade, one that was about to come to a close. The sound of 80s pop would age, and often not for the best, but when it was done right, it was still fun to listen to. A few years later, once I discovered anime movies and series from the 80s and 90s such as Urusei Yatsura and Silent Möbius and later to the Gall Force series and Sailor Moon, I began to realize that, thanks to Big Bang, I now had begun a long-lasting love affair with JPop. I began seeing the album as an unintended but spot-on paean to the J-Pop so prevalent in the credits and montages in anime, and that made me love the album even more. It’s pure pop, but it’s still irresistibly fun.
In 1990 they would release a final single, “Your Loss My Gain”, written for a never-realized third album, and while it seemed they were progressing in a more mature pop direction, they soon split up. They all went their separate ways. Only Vix remained in the music industry, recording under various band names including Vix n’ the Kix. Three compilations would surface a bit over a decade later: two albums of demos and outtakes called Fuzz and Nonsense and Rules & Regulations to Pink Sunshine: The Fuzzbox Story, and a greatest hits collection amusingly titled Look at the Hits on That (a very Fuzzbox-worthy pun title). And in 2010, Vix, Maggie and Jo reunited with the help of Vix’s backing band for a one-off single, a cover of M’s classic track “Pop Muzik”. Sadly, Jo would pass away from a cancer-related illness in 2012, but a year later, Vix decided it was time to rerelease the band’s 80s discography. Bostin’ Steve Austin would finally have its debut on compact disc, and Big Bang would contain all the remaining 80s tracks, including the “Your Loss My Gain” single.
But there’s more!Since I first posted this, Vix and Maggie have returned to music under the Fuzzbox name and have dropped a few new singles over the last few years! In 2016 they released a new single called “Let’s Go Supernova”, and in 2018 they crowdfunded another single, fittingly called “WGAF…AWGUI!!”. In 2019 they released a video-only single called “Say Hello” for a local Birmingham project. And they will soon be releasing a box set called We’ve Got a Box Set and We’re Gonna Use It!!. It certainly is great to see them still going strong, still irreverent and still full of poppy goodness.
We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!! is a band that influenced not just my listening habits but my way of life when I was growing up in the late 80s; it was a refreshing view of punk-as-freedom rather than punk-as-anger, and helped me realize that the music I listen to, then and now. My tastes still lean towards the alternative, but I’m not above the shamelessly pop, especially if it’s done well. In relistening to Bostin Steve Austin I now hear a lot of the intelligence and fearlessness in the lyrics, which makes me appreciate it all the more. And as an added bonus, they’re there if all I want is some great and fun music to listen to.
Oh hey! It’s time for another month’s worth of new releases! The first quarter’s music so far has been surprisingly fruitful with a lot of great albums, and I’m quite happy about that! Here are a few new records I’ve been playing on my mp3 player as of late…
Destroyer, Have We Met, released 31 January. This is a rather quirky band that’s been around for quite some time, but their music has always been consistently melodic and intriguing.
Joseph, Trio Sessions: Vol 1, released 31 January. This is a fine alt-folk trio that channels the sounds of 70s Laurel Canyon and their three-way harmony is just lovely. I highly suggest checking out the rest of their work as well.
Poliça, When We Stay Alive, released 31 January. This Minneapolis band has always been a bit on the strange side with their music, but this new one is far more soulful and moving than their previous work. It’s an unexpected but wholly welcome direction and I love it.
Revolution, I Love You, Black Feathers, released 7 February.I don’t even remember where I’d discovered this band (NoiseTrade, perhaps?) but I fell in love with their strange but amazing mix of shoegaze, goth, synthpop and maybe even a bit of punk. The new record goes in all sorts of unexpected and wonderful directions.
Green Day, Father of All…, released 7 February. The new album kind of reminds me oftheir late 90s/early 00s era records, especially Nimrod and Warning, as the songs slide between all-out punk assaults and radio-friendly groovy rock. Not that that’s a bad thing, because they still manage to pull it all off.
Stone Temple Pilots, Perdida, released 7 February. They’ve lost two singers and that’s enough to break any band, but the DeLeo brothers soldiered on to write and record a stunningly gorgeous and heartbreaking album.
Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor 1 EP, released 7 February. The Paramore lead singer finally releases her first solo outing and it’s well worth the wait. It’s darker and quieter than her band work, but it’s just as powerful.
Best Coast, Always Tomorrow, released 21 February. I’ve always liked this band, and I love how they’ve completely embraced their own brand of that California sound — sunny, punchy, and just that little bit off-kilter. This one’s a fun and infectious record and I really should be playing it a lot more!
Grimes, Miss Anthropocene, released 21 February. I did not expect to enjoy the new Grimes as much as I do! She’s quite firmly in the ‘off in their own universe’ column when it comes to musicians and personalities, but the new record is just brimming with really neat sounds and ideas that pulled me completely in from the beginning. One of my favorites so far!
I can easily divide up the 90s on a musical and personal note: the college/post-college years (Jan 1990 – Sept 1996) and the HMV years (Sept 1996 – Sept 2000). And I often do, because I approached my listening habits according to how much money (or more accurately, how little) I had in my coffers at the time. The former was filled with mix tapes of things recorded off the radio, dollar bin raids at the various used record shops I frequented, dubs from friends, and the occasional splurge when I really should have been paying a bill. [I’ll totally own up to that. But they were of course few and far between.] The latter was filled with meticulously crafted mix tapes of things bought at a discount from my store, freebies, even more dollar bin raids, and, erm, maybe a few dubs surreptitiously made in the back room of the store? The music of the post-HMV years, aka the Yankee Candle years, would be informed almost entirely by Newbury Comics. I’m pretty sure I singlehandedly kept them in business then. But that’s another post.
Personally, I would say the personal delineation is around the same time, and surprising no one, was informed by financial reasons; I was finally able to pay off overdue bills and stop deferring my student loans. I would also posit that it was also the time I got my shit together and started my writing career on a much more serious level. Whatever worked to dislodge myself from the spiral I’d found myself in. And once I found myself in a better mental and emotional state, there was no looking back.
I couldn’t listen to those early 90s years without feeling a sense of failure. I could have been such a better student. I could have applied myself better. I could have done this, I could have done that. Giving into my moodiness and lack of self-esteem far too often. So it’s with no surprise that I avoided obsessing over that era here at Walk in Silence for quite a number of years. The HMV years were much more positive, not to mention directly tied in with my Belfry years writing The Phoenix Effect and the Bridgetown Trilogy.
So why now? Why am I picking up these pieces? Well, it’s been three decades on, and I’m in a much better place. It’s time for a bit of closure on a lot of things related to that time. Make peace with what I couldn’t achieve, and celebrate everything else I’ve done since. I’m listening to these albums and singles the way I’d wanted to in the first place: without all the extra baggage. Experience them as the creative endeavors they are, and if I’m lucky, learn to appreciate them a hell of a lot more.
I’m ridiculously picky when it comes to updating my mp3 players. I currently have three, which I’ve acqured over the years: a Creative Zen Mozaic, an older SanDisk Sansa Clip, and a newer SanDisk Sport Plus. Do I use all three? Yes, of course I do! Normally I tend to have them filled up with specific themes or sounds; the Zen is usually reserved for new and recent releases plus the Beatles discography (because come on…do you know me?) while the Sansa Clip has older favorites.
Now that I work in an office again (grumble grumble), I’ve been putting all three to good use throughout the day. I don’t have direct access to my music library unless I use up a significant amount of phone data via our Plex server, so I make do with the old-school travel-sized players.
Lately I’ve been playing around with a new possible writing project (no promises yet) in which I sort of decided its soundtrack would be the music of the early 90s up to the early 00s. Why? Good question, but I won’t go into detail just yet. Suffice it to say, I’m going to start listening to these albums for first time without equating them to the Bridgetown Trilogy. I’m not doing it on purpose, it just happened that way. But in the process, I’m getting to revisit these songs with fresh ears and no prior influence.
But more importantly, I get to revisit these songs without the emotional attachment I’ve long had with most of them. I’ve written so many blog posts about those lean post-college years, and about the music I listened to during that time, but this time out I’m finally giving them a spin without getting caught up in all the personal drama. I’m listening to them in the context of what was going on in the world during the time of their release. [I suppose in a way you could say I’m purposely not making it all about me this time. Heh.]
Also, it’s kind of fun to revisit some of these songs and albums that I know pretty well but haven’t visited in ages. In particular, I’ve been making it a point to revisit some of the mainstream pop albums I enjoyed — the downside to being so into alt-rock is a habitual avoidance of all things pop — and getting something new out of them. It’s to the point that I’ve been tempted to do another visit to Amoeba Records’ dollar bin to find more of those albums that passed me by.
And who knows — maybe I’ll rediscover a few tracks that flew under my radar!
Hey there! It’s been far too long since I’ve posted one of these, and I’m trying to be good and keep up this time out. There promises to be some interesting new albums coming out this year, some from new bands and some from old favorites. And now that I’m able to listen to my favorite station at work via a phone app, I’m going to try to stay on top of this again!
Here’s a few new releases worth checking out:
Stabbing Westward, Dead and Gone EP, released 3 January. Well, this was unexpected! I had no idea they’d gotten back together (their last record was their self-titled fourth album waaaaay back in 2001), but their new record is a banger. They’re still loud and noisy as hell, and that’s just how I like them.
Field Music, Making a New World, released 10 January. On the other end of the spectrum we have a band steeped in that quirky angular sound that feels and sounds very much like Eno, Belew and Byrne. A bit odd but still catchy.
Beach Slang, The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City, released 10 January. Not as frenetic as their previous albums, they seem to have embraced that 80s new wave guitar group sound, and they wear it really well. I’m really digging this one a lot.
Deserta, Black Aura My Sun, released 17 January. I know I’ve posted this track earlier, but I just cannot stop listening to it! The entire album is full of that soaring guitar reverb slicing its way through tracks, gorgeous spacey passages and dreamy vocals. This one’s been getting the most play on my mp3 player lately!
Holy Fuck, Deleter, released 17 January. Another band I knew of (due to its, er, distinctive name, of course), but I hadn’t expected them to be so groovy! And bonus points for having Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor on the vocals on this excellent track.
Wire, Mind Hive, released 24 January. I’m intrigued by the last few Wire records, as they feel like hybrids of both old and new sounds. This one in particular sounds a lot like their early 00s Read & Burn / Send output but also is quite similar to the darker melodies of 154 and Chairs Missing, and I love it. Great to see they’re still consistently amazing after all these years.