Twenty Years On: April 1998

April 1998: I’d just broken in a new notebook to continue the longhand writing of The Phoenix Effect, the predecessor of the Bridgetown Trilogy, still writing it in the mornings before starting my Day Job at HMV.  It was also around this time that I’d started ramping up the road trips in my trusty ’92 Cavalier, making weekly trips all around Massachusetts and New Hampshire for comics, books, and used cds and tapes.

Stabbing Westward, Darkest Days, released 7 April. Louder and angrier than their previous albums, yet more melodic and introspective. Saw these guys open up for Depeche Mode later in the year and they were by far one of the loudest bands I’d ever heard in my entire life.

Tones on Tail, Everything!, released 7 April. Okay, technically it’s missing 3 remixes (which were released as a promo EP called Something! the same day), but essentially this is the entire discography of the band that features Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus, Love & Rockets) and bassist Glenn Campling. More post-punk than Bauhaus and not quite as psychedelic as early LnR, but just as fantastic.

Massive Attack, Mezzanine, released 20 April. I just mentioned this one in a previous post about perfect albums, and this is indeed a perfect album. While previous albums Blue Lines and Protection were great trip-hop platters, this one blows them both away. The cover outside fits the sounds perfectly: dark and dangerous moods like the beetle, and delicate and spacious as the white background. And “Teardrop” is indeed one of the best 90s songs ever, and up there as one of my favorite songs of all time.

The Urge, Master of Styles, released 21 April. This band could easily be confused with metal-funk buddies 311, but they’re just as bright and fun. Nick Hexum from 311 pops up on their surprise hit from this album. They’d put out a few more albums over the years, though never quite achieve huge success.

Bernard Butler, People Move On, released 21 April. The ex-Suede guitarist released his solo debut, and it’s a hell of a great album. I know numerous Britpop aficionados who swear by this record. It didn’t quite click with me right away, but eventually I realized just how fantastic it really is. Definitely worth checking out.

Dave Matthews Band, Before These Crowded Streets, released 28 April. A much darker, maybe even a bit weirder album from the DMB gang, I seem to remember it dividing fans. Some (like me) loved it for its evolution away from his poppier jam-band style and more into straight ahead rock, while others wanted more of his pop-single sound. Regardless, it’s a great record.

Eve 6, Eve 6, released 28 April. This was a band that I found myself listening to far more often than I expected to, and it’s due to their flair for writing extremely catchy hooks and fun lyrics. A perfect example of the great readio-friendly alt-rock that was out there at the time.

Francis Dunnery, Let’s Go Do What Happens, released 28 April. I believe I first heard “My Own Reality” from a CMJ cd mix, but as soon as I got a promo of the album I was hooked. Dunnery’s music is quirky and introspective and amazingly catchy. His solo career has been relatively obscure and laid back, but he’s also a fantastic producer and backing musican, having worked with Ian Brown, Chris Difford, and Robert Plant.

VAST, Visual Audio Sensory Theater, released 28 April. One day the WEA rep handed me this album and said “listen to this, it definitely sounds like something in your wheelhouse.” How right they were! Jon Crosby’s one-man band is a tour de force of epic soundscapes, alternating between hard alt-rock, goth, and delicate balladry. And he’s still going strong 20 years later, putting out his own albums and EPs at his own website.

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Up next: May 1998!

Thirty Years On: April 1988

April 1988 will of course be the month when The Flying Bohemians were born. I’d floated the idea of starting a band of sorts sometime in March if I’m not mistaken, but it wasn’t until the following month that Chris and Nathane and I made any serious plans about it.  It would be after their spring break trip, so the band would have its auspicious debut jam session on the 22nd of that year.  Meanwhile, I’d started songwriting in earnest, pulling out lyrics old and new that could possibly used for our future sessions.  I still had a hell of a lot to learn at that point, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

Meanwhile, here’s some of my favorite tunage that was getting play both on college and AOR radio, and on my turntable and tape deck.

Thomas Dolby, Aliens Ate My Buick, released ?? April. Third album from the geekiest synth musician out there. It wasn’t a big seller at all, but it was definitely a fun listen. It’s got some of his goofiest songs on there.

Bright Lights, Big City soundtrack, released ?? April. I’d picked up this soundtrack simply because it’s got an excellent line-up: MARRS, New Order, Depeche Mode, Prince, and Bryan Ferry, to name a few. The movie hasn’t aged well at all, nor has the book (though its unconventional use of telling the story entirely in second-person present tense POV did open my eyes quite a bit as a burgeoning writer at the time), but the soundtrack is still quite excellent.

The Wonder Stuff, “Give Give Give Me More More More” single, released ?? April. A ridiculously fun and witty British band from the Midlands, these guys were a listener’s favorite on college radio almost immediately upon arriving in the US. It would be another few months before their album would drop, but this was an excellent teaser.

Joe Jackson, Live 1980/86, released ?? April. This is an excellent live cross-section of his hits, including an absolutely amazing reinterpretation of his US hit “Steppin’ Out”, turned into a slow, elegiac jazz piece here. I remember ordering this from Columbia House back then just for that one track alone.

Graham Parker, The Mona Lisa’s Sister, released ?? April. WMDK and other AOR stations loved playing Parker’s stuff over the years, and this one got a lot of play as well. I used to love this particular track quite a bit.

In-D, “Virgin in-D Sky’s” single, released ?? April. Ah, Belgian techno…you never quite caught on here in the states, but I loved you just the same. Two club DJs from Antwerp got together and recorded three dance singles (and calling the style ‘New Beat’), and this was the one that somehow caught on with college radio.

John Adams (composer), Nixon in China, released 5 April. I remember this one coming out because it was such an unconventional subject for an opera. That, and Main Street Records down in Northampton had it set up on their endcap at the front of the store, so whenever we walked in, the first thing we’d see was the box set. It would be a few years before I’d finally give it a listen, and many more years until I finally saw it live (with Adams present, as he’s a Bay Area local!). It’s a strange one, sure, but it’s quite fascinating.

The Jesus & Mary Chain, Barbed Wire Kisses, released 18 April. The J&MC’s first collection of b-sides and rarities (they’d release quite a few over the course of their career), it’s an interesting mix that showcases just how far they’d come, from their early feedback screech to their sludgy alt-rock. [Also, the first of a few albums that were ‘borrowed’ from the radio station I worked at then…I mean, was an AM, low-watt, lite-pop, satellite-fed station ever going to play this? I highly doubted it.]

Erasure, The Innocents, released 18 April. I absolutely adored this album when it came out, and “Chains of Love” became one of my favorite tracks of the year to to that point. Another band given a lot of love and promotion by Sire (thanks again, Seymour Stein!), this was heavily played not just on 120 Minutes but during regular daytime MTV. Classic album worth having. [Also, another ‘borrowed’ album. Heh.]

Soul Asylum, Hang Time, released 25 April. One of many punk bands from Minneapolis, these guys were often seen as the slightly less inebriated little brothers of the Replacements, but they rocked just as hard and recorded solid albums right alongside them. They’d finally get their share of major fame in the mid-90s, but this album — their first for a major label — was the one that pricked up the ears of the college radio crowds.

X, Live at the Whisky a Go Go (On the Fabulous Sunset Strip), released 29 April. Another live album that got a lot of airplay on the college radio and AOR stations, it’s an excellent mix of all their classic underground favorites. This was actually the first X album I owned (again, thanks to Columbia House) and “Hungry Wolf” soon became one of my favorite tracks of theirs.

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Up next: May 1988!

Recent Purchases, March Edition Part 2

Here’s another huge blog entry featuring some truly excellent tunage from an excellent month of releases.  Enjoy!

The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart, released 9 March. Another ‘unplugged’ album, and it’s a lovely one, with a mix of old favorite tracks from the band mixed with some excellent new ones, including a cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”.

David Byrne, American Utopia, released 9 March. The always twitchy, always worldly Byrne treats us to another great album of the odd alt-pop he does so well.

Embrace, Love Is a Basic Need, released 9 March. I love this new record of theirs. It’s tender, it’s beautiful, and it’s got a hell of a lot of heart to it. One of their best records.

The Neighbourhood, The Neighbourhood, released 9 March. Proving they’re much more than just a one-hit-wonder with “Sweater Weather”, this band continues to release fascinating and slightly weird music worth checking out.

Editors, Violence, released 9 March. One of my favorite bands of the last decade or so, their new album isn’t as dark as the previous one, but it’s just as tense.

The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl, released 16 March. A slight change of sound and mood for this Portland band, finally embracing their 80s post-punk influences. Very unexpected sounds, but they pull it off beautifully.

Meshell Ndegeocello, Ventriloquism, released 16 March. Cover albums don’t always work as well as we wish they would, but this one is absolutely stunning, covering 80s and 90s R&B hits from Prince, TLC, Funkadelic, Al B Sure, Janet, and more. One of my favorite albums of the month, hands down.

Preoccupations, New Material, released 23 March. After changing their name to a much less controversial one (they were formerly known as Viet Cong and released one album under that name), they’ve only gotten better and better. Their new record has a distinctly late-80s-college-radio sound (this particular video even looks like it would have been right at home on 120 Minutes back in the day) that I love so much.

Failure, In the Future EP, released 30 March. Failure returns with a new project, a science fictional-themed album that will be released as a handful of EPs (and will be released as a full album later on). Looking forward to more from this amazing band.

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Coming Soon: April releases!

Recent Purchases, March Edition, Part 1

Another month almost near the end! Here’s the best of what was purchased over the first couple of weeks of this month, most of which I’m still listening to quite heavily. I say ‘purchased’ and not released, because these all had a drop date of the 2nd, and I had to keep an eye on my bank account!

The Breeders, All Nerve, released 2 March. A welcome return to the original Last Splash-era Breeders, with classic chunky riffs, noisy production, and the always off-kilter lyrics of Kim Deal. This one’s definitely going to be a summer listen for me.

Moby, Everything Was Fine, and Nothing Hurt, released 2 March. This one’s quite similar to his classic Play album from 1999, mixing twitchy upbeat songs with quiet mood pieces. There’s even a hint of trip-hop in there as well.

Lucy Dacus, Historian, released 2 March. She reminds me of Beth Orton in a way; not just a singer/songwriter but a sound sculptor. This album starts out soft and sedate but it features a lot of unexpected — and sometimes loud — turns, which keeps me coming back to it.

Moaning, Moaning, released 2 March. Apparently taking a page or three from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, this Sub Pop band comes straight out of 1985 college radio and doesn’t give up with its walls of guitar and reverb. Which of course means this album is tailored just for me!

Lucius, Nudes, released 2 March. The first of a few ‘unplugged’ albums that show up this month, and it amazes me how well Lucius translates to alt-folk in the process. Especially the new track “Woman”, which is simply stunning with its dual-lead harmonies.

Buffalo Tom, Quiet and Peace, released 2 March. The Boston boys are back with another great record of brash alt-rock and excellent songwriting. There’s even a hint of Springsteen influence on this album, but I’m not complaining.

Tracey Thorn, Record, released 2 March. The vocal half of Everything But the Girl releases her first solo album in six years, and it’s a welcome return.

Andrew WK, You’re Not Alone, released 2 March. The professor of All Things Party releases an album that screams EPIC, but also talks honestly about life. Meat Loaf-esque hard rock bombast (but without the ten-minute operettas, thankfully) shares the same space as spoken-word interludes on being the best you can be at whatever you aim for. Noisy and uplifting, just how AWK wants your life to be lived.

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Up Next: The rest of the month!

Twenty Years On: March 1998 in Review

March is right about when the doldrums of first quarter taper off, the post-Christmas sales of older titles have quieted down, and more exciting new releases start popping up.  Some of my favorite albums of the year surfaced around this time, albums that remained on heavy rotation for quite a few years afterwards.  Here are a few for you to enjoy.

Madonna, Ray of Light, released 3 March. I’ve been a passive fan of Madonna since her Like a Virgin days (which goes to show how old I am), and interestingly her albums always seesawed between phenomenal and lackluster. I consider this particular album one of her crowning achievements; it beautifully and seamlessly blends her signature dance sound and the brilliant electronica of producer William Orbit. It’s an amazing album from start to finish.

Fastball, All the Pain Money Can Buy released 10 March. Yes, it’s that song, their one-hit wonder (and there were many in 1998), but the rest of the album is actually quite a solid one worth checking out, with equally hooky riffs.

Morcheeba, Big Calm, released 16 March. One of many rock/electronica hybrid bands making the scene at the time, Morcheeba could be alternately loud and chunky or soft and sexy, sometimes within the span of a few tracks on their albums.

Cornelius, Fantasma, released 24 March. Keigo Oyamada has been called “the Japanese Beck” by certain critics, and they’re not wrong. Adventurous, experimental, weird, and often amusing, his work as Cornelius is a feast for the ears.

Semisonic, Feeling Strangely Fine, released 24 March. This band could have ended up a one-hit wonder with “Closing Time”, if it wasn’t for singer Dan Wilson’s brilliant songwriting, which kept the band in the spotlight and has carried his post-Semisonic career to achieving numerous award-winning hits. The entire album is catchy as hell and a lot of fun to listen to.

Superdrag, Head Trip in Every Key, released 24 March. After their snotty, punky mega-hit “Sucked Out” from 1996’s Regretfully Yours, this trio was bound and determined not to be pigeonholed into being another snotty-punk clone, and released a phenomenal album…which, alas, the label hated and proceeded to drop them unceremoniously. Surprisingly mature, often Beatlesque, and full of lovely melodies and introspective lyrics, Head Trip actually proved that they were a strong band, carrying them well into the early 00s and beyond. Highly recommended for your collection.

Sully, I Have Much to Report, released 24 March. An obscure Canadian band from Ottawa, this band nonetheless managed to pop up in the background in numerous shows and movies in the mid-90s. I love this album purely for its murky Cocteau Twins-meets-Sneaker Pimps ambience.

God Lives Underwater, Life in the So-Called Space Age, released 24 March. GLU’s second album is a change from the aggro-electronics of their first album, and in effect it sounds darker and more experimental. It’s a great album for headphones and long writing sessions, though! One of my favorites from this year, it got a hell of a lot of play down in the Belfry for a few years.

Scott Weiland, 12 Bar Blues, released 31 March. Scott’s debut solo album is quite the mix, alternating between weird and unstable, and heartfelt and beautiful. It features a few older tracks (“Lady Your Roof Brings Me Down” is from the Great Expectations soundtrack from a few months earlier, and “Mockingbird Girl” is a rerecording of the song he contributed to the 1995 Tank Girl soundtrack) alongside some fantastic new ones.

Pulp, This Is Hardcore, released 31 March. Jarvis Cocker & Co follow up their brilliant Different Class album with a decidedly darker and sinister outing about the more questionable side of life. This isn’t about the have-nots, it’s about the don’t-give-a-shits.

Harvey Danger, Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone, released 31 March. Another band that sadly became a one-hit wonder, despite multiple albums and excellent songwriting. A fun and exceptionally nerdy band, their entire discography is well worth checking out.

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Next Up: April 1998!

Recent Purchases, February 2018 Edition

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here, what with me releasing a new book, catching up on personal things, and preparing for FOGcon, I almost forgot to continue with the Recent Purchases post!  Thankfully February is a short month and I don’t have to split it up into two posts, so I can catch up quickly.

Hope you enjoy!

GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star, released 9 February. I don’t listen to jazz nearly as much as I used to, but this one was suggested by AllMusic and I have to say I’m glad they did, because this album is FREAKING AMAZING. They’re your basic piano-bass-drums trio, but their music is so energetic and unique that it sounds so much bigger. Highly recommended.

Franz Ferdinand, Always Ascending, released 9 February. These poppy weirdos have returned with yet another irresistibly catchy album full of quirky alt-pop gems. As always, it’s a fun listen from beginning to end.

The Wombats, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, released 9 February. One of my favorite album names of 2018 so far, and another fun listen. This band somehow manages to write songs that sound gleefully happy, even when the lyrics aren’t, and I love them for it.

Fischerspooner, Sir, released 16 February. I’d almost completely forgotten about this band — I own 2003’s #1 album, but missed out on all their follow-ups — but this one jumped out at me and wouldn’t let go. Alternately sexy and weird, and that’s exactly how they want it.

Superchunk, What a Time to Be Alive, released 16 February. My manager at the record store loved this band back in my HMV days, but I never quite latched onto them. Thankfully their latest has fixed that ghastly mistake! Good punky fun.

FiFi Rong, Awake EP, released 23 February. Another groovy, trip-hoppy EP from one of my favorite internet finds.

Our Lady Peace, Somethingness, released 23 February. This crowd-funded release finally gets a wide release. There’s an energy on this album that’s reminiscent to their late 90s-early 00s sound that balances out their softer side that they’ve been mostly using on their later releases.

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Coming Soon: March 2018, which so far seems to want to bankrupt me with its awesomeness!

Thirty Years On: More March 1988

Welcome to another edition of Thirty Years On!  This one finishes up March 1988 with a mix of many differing styles and sounds. and ending with a classic that remains influential to this day.

Camouflage, Voices & Images, released 4 March. By 1988 there were quite a few synth-centric bands out there with more than just a passing resemblance to Depeche Mode. But Camouflage — who came from the birthplace of dark synthpop, Germany — made a name for themselves by writing gorgeous, catchy melodies and often uplifting lyrics. Their debut is worth checking out, especially for the lovely opener, “That Smiling Face”.

The Beatles, Past Masters Vols 1 & 2, released 7 March. These two volumes are important in that it completed the campaign to release the entire Beatles discography on CD, which had started in 1987. Collecting all the non-album tracks from singles, EPs and elsewhere, it contains an amazing number of their hits that we all know and love.

Love and Rockets, “No New Tale to Tell” single, released 8 March. A surprisingly late UK release coming nearly six months after their psychedelic folk-tinged Earth Sun Moon album (it was released as a single in the US much closer to its release date), it’s a classic alt-pop track from the trio that remains a fan favorite.

The Mighty Lemon Drops, World Without End, released 8 March. This British power-pop band was a critical favorite back in 1986 to the point that they even had a following here in the States, thanks to their signing to Sire (thank you, Seymour Stein!). Their second album is more electric than their quieter, dream-poppier debut, but their songs are still infectiously catchy.

Morrissey, Viva Hate, released 14 March. Moz’s post-Smiths debut remains one of his strongest albums, working directly with producer Stephen Street and Vini Reilly from The Durutti Column. It’s very similar to The Queen Is Dead in terms of songwriting, though with the moodier feel of Strangeways Here We Come.  It’s dark, at times angry and other times wistful…just as we’ve come to expect from Morrissey.

The Smithereens, Green Thoughts, released 16 March. The Smithereens’ second album after 1986’s fantastic Especially for You continues their signature sound of drop-tuned, hard-edged bluesy rock. Their sound is heavier and louder here, and would continue that way to 1989’s 11.

Throwing Muses, House Tornado, released 21 March. One of two amazing releases this day from the classic 4AD label. It sadly was eclipsed by the below release, but it’s still a stunner. It’s a perfect example of the disparate writing styles of Kristin Hersh (angular and full of off-kilter imagery) and Tanya Donelly (poppier and dreamlike)…and how easily they can play off each other.

Pixies, Surfer Rosa, released 21 March. The second of two 4AD releases on this day, this one stunned everyone, from critics to fans alike. Their strange and unique sound was crafted into a monster by producer Steve Albini, who pushed the power of their music to the extreme. It sounds like everyone’s levels are pushed almost into the red, with Dave Lovering’s drums just as thunderous as Black Francis’ howls and screams, Kim Deal’s insistent bass and Joey Santiago’s wailing guitar.

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Coming soon: April 1988!