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Vinyl Friday #22: Black Tambourine “Black Tambourine”

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These past few days I’ve been making conscious decisions to listen to music I used to listen to in University. Now, I really used to love twee pop. Like a lot. I love every sweet little band that popped up on K Records in the 80s/early 90s like Tiger Trap and, of course, the twee movement in the UK (which contained great bands like Talulah Gosh and ever-popular Pastels). Just sweet little bands. Black Tambourine was one of those bands, but they were always a little bit more haunting than the rest and I loved them all the more for it. But they were brought the forefront of my mind for a strange reason.

There’s this game that some people like to play (you know who you are) that drives me bat-shit crazy. Let’s call it the “Do You Know… Game”. I really hate telling people I’m into music because it inevitably ends up in questions like “Do you know…” over and over again with various band names. I can tell you 99.9% of the time I will not know the band. There’s just too much shit out there to know everything. But the other day my co-worker tried played this little game with me in which I answered everything with no. Finally he said, “But I thought you liked music.”

Oh and how my drunk, immature mind didn’t appreciate that statement much. So out of my mouth spewed a slew of American bands that I probably hadn’t listened to in years – including Black Tambourine. Because if there’s one thing these Europeans don’t know…

Does that equate me to having the emotional maturity of a teenage girl? Probably. Worth it, though, if I’m left in peace for the rest of my working life.

But at least that little incident seemed to jog my memory. Even if it was immature. So this week I got to revisit this Maryland band.

Black Tambourine were one of the first bands to be on the indie label Slumberland Records along with Velocity Girl. Black Tambourine is not an album, though. It’s a compilation that was released in 2010 – the very year I bought this. This compilation followed 1999’s Complete, which wasn’t very complete for something with a name making that claim.

There are six additional tracks here not seen on the Complete compilation, including a, well, dreamy cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream”. But the two most familiar original tracks to listeners has to be “For Ex-Lovers Only” and the excellent “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge”.

This is a pretty good compilation. But because of the obvious, it doesn’t play as well as an actual studio album would.

Unfortunately, this album doesn’t have any sort of interesting back story. I found it in Milwaukee brand new and bought it. Doesn’t get more un-sexy than that. In fact, I probably haven’t listened to it much. Newer copies of albums (or remastered songs on vinyl) never made much sense to me. What’s the point in improved sound? Might as well just listen to it on digital form if that’s the case. There are no pops on this baby.

But considering this is a band that is unlikely to find copies of the original EPs any time soon, it’s worth picking this up. If anything, it will be a great name to pull out of the bag to end another stupid game of “Do You Know…”

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Vinyl Friday #21: The Smiths “The Smiths”

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The Smiths. The loves of my life. My favourite band since I bought this album when I was just turning 15. It was the band that turned my life around in such a dramatic way. A band that changed me like no other. Growing up with only cornfields, cows and hicks (a word I had forgotten existed until this moment), a band that referenced unknown writers and played such intricate, yet accessible music was a revelation. They became my solace in a world I knew I would never fit into. While many bands helped me gain the courage to go out into the world, The Smiths were the band that gave me confidence that somewhere there was a world that I belonged in and I would some day find it.

But there’s something strange about loving the Smiths. It’s something that I mostly noticed when I first studied abroad in London. When I told someone that I loved Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce people just… stared. I later would understand that saying your favourite band was the Smiths was one of the most cliched things you could say. Apparently at some point the band had had a cultural comeback and it had been something I missed entirely. In some ways it almost became embarrassing to admit my love for them. A band with so much beauty and keep layers became something to not share. This is something I really do hate to admit because I am firm believer in loving whatever the hell you want when it comes to music.

For a long time I stopped listening to the band (which was a dramatic change from my university days when I would listen to each album in its entirety at least once a week). Thankfully there’s plenty of other music in the world to fill my time with, but no band has ever filled my heart the same way the Smiths have. I kept a copy of Simon Goddard’s The Songs That Save Your Life by my bedside table for over five years. Goddard’s book is a song-by-song analysis and backstory to every Smiths’ recording. I read the entire thing then proceeded to read it whenever I wanted to. I don’t think I could stomach doing that for any other band. But I think it’s very much overdue that I write about the debut album from this Manchester band.

The Smiths, along with Strangeways, Here We Come, is a pretty grossly over-looked album for an iconic band. Within recent years, I’ve seen countless articles pop up about how this 1984 album is their worst by far. As a completely biased woman, I can’t possibly pick a “weak” album out of the four. Because each is excellent and crap in different parts and ways. But to say The Smiths is the worst still baffles me even as I write this. But as the story goes, this is really the second version of the album. The first being recorded with producer Troy Tate (which can be listened to on bootleg). The producer on the final product was John Porter. This version of the album was released after being recorded in fits and starts – to no one’s satisfaction.

That being said, I’m quite fond of the way it sounds. It’s quite distinct from the middle two albums and certainly worlds away from the production on the fourth and final release. For the longest time, I never bought and Smiths albums on vinyl. I stuck to constantly playing the CDs I bought at Exclusive Company – I was completely convinced this was a band that I would only buy their albums if I found them used in a shop. I needed to be a part of a longer history of the physical record.

One day I was totally stunned when I saw the complete collection of albums, along with several other “Best Of…”s and Rank at a resale shop. Being pretty young at the time, I didn’t have all the money to buy the complete lot at the time. So I hid the albums. Yes, I was that dick. But it worked. Every two weeks after payday I would return and buy the next piece. Unfortunately, many of them are now damaged beyond playing ability (to put it politely, never ever ever ever ever let a drunk ‘borrow’ your record collection for five months). Thankfully this one survived relatively unscathed. Maybe it’s due to the unpopularity of the album. I’d like to think so because at least the album and I are on the right side of music justice.

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Vinyl Friday #20: The Dream Syndicate “The Days of Wine and Roses”

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This is by far one of my favourite, if not my favourite Paisley Underground album. The Days of Wine and Roses was the first album by The Dream Syndicate, originally released in 1982. It’s a fantastic album that, like many of its time, is grossly over-looked by far too many.

The Dream Syndicate, like many bands in that scene, there is a heavy psychedelic feel to the album, particularly opening song and single “Tell Me When It’s Over”. But Dream Syndicate sound different than their contemporaries in one way in particular: the lyrics. While bands like The Bangles were heavily influenced by pop music, Wynn and co sound mature in the college-radio way.

Wynn’s song writing is fantastic. I think it’s unfortunate that his type of voice doesn’t really appear in contemporary music. “Halloween”, the only track written by guitarist Karl Precoda, clocks in at six and a half minutes. It’s a really eerie and haunting tune, and not only because of the guitar solos. The lyrics are some of the more unusual and sinister-feeling to come out of the Paisley Underground era.

Bassist Kendra Smith’s name may be familiar a one. She and guitarist David Roback (formerly of fantastic Rain Parade) would later form the band Opal after the Dream Syndicate’s demise. Smith would later be replaced in Opal by Hope Sandoval, and the band changed their name to Mazzy Star. Opal’s only studio album, Happy Nightmare Baby, is well-worth a listen. Smith’s voice is great. She sings the lead vocals on “Too Little, Too Late”.

When reading about the band, I always see the Velvet Underground influence being mentioned. The feedback and manic feeling might be behind the reasoning. Maybe it’s because everyone needs to mention it, but I really hate that comparison. It bores me to tears. While I’m sure it’s very flattering to be compared to Reed and co, the band remind me much more of Television and their intelligence and complexity or the way that Jonathan Richman sort of sing-tells his songs. Either way, this band was something really special. I suppose that’s why so many have gone back to reassess what they were.

This is one of those albums that I didn’t know if I would ever find used somewhere. I bought this baby brand new at the Exclusive Company in Milwaukee when it was re-issued in 2011. Turns out that the original pressings aren’t very difficult to come by. It’s a shame I didn’t put two minutes of research into this before purchasing, but as soon as I saw this album in the shop, I knew I had to have it.

The Exclusive in Milwaukee is a pretty nice little shop. I would always drag my unloved albums there to sell to buy an upgrade. Admittedly, there was a lot of shit in my collection, but thankfully I was willing to sell albums that were in high demand. The money I made off selling the unloved jokes allowed me to buy this. Not the most interesting of stories, but this is by no means the most interesting of records (music aside).

I’m always surprised that there aren’t more people obsessed with this band or this album. The Days of Wine and Roses fits in perfectly with the Paisley Underground while also succeeding in doing something entirely different. This is the magnum opus of The Dream Syndicate, but they have a body work work so worthy of the time and effort to listen to. If you haven’t listened to it yet, what the hell are you doing reading this? Get a move on.

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Vinyl Friday #19: “Dudes: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album”

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I’ve watched all of Penelope Spheeris’ films time and time again. I love her early documentaries (The Decline of Western Civilization, of course), her sense of humour in films like Wayne’s World and her attention to music as seen in Suburbia. I love most of the things she does… besides Dudes. Now I have to say there is nothing wrong with this 1987 film, but it is unusual in a not-always-great way. I mostly watched this movie because I was dead-obsessed with Jon Cryer and The Vandals at that moment in time. This film combined both of those loves, but it was such a bizarre (and slightly boring) film that I never bothered to watch it again.

The soundtrack is pretty hit-and-miss. Highlights are, of course, “Urban Struggle” and an early version of Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song”. But personally I was never into metal that much, and that’s what dominates this album. Bands like W.A.S.P. and Megadeth are fine enough, but I think I was a misled child believing that like many of Spheeris’ films, there would be a lot of early-80’s punk music. Though I never stopped to consider the fact that this movie was released in 87 – much too late for a soundtrack to be similar to Suburbia. I have to admit, I grabbed this soundtrack merely because I loved the cover and vaguely remembered watching the movie (of which I only could recall the opening scenes).

Yes, this was definitely an impulse buy. Sorry, Penelope, but I probably have only listened to this only twice in its entirety, mostly praying for the next bearable track to come along.

I’m always surprised about what shows up in the strangest of places. This album came from Oshkosh, where my best friends used to go to university. Oshkosh is pretty much a nondescript city filled with mostly students and chain restaurants. But there’s an antique mall there that’s fantastic (or it was, as it’s mostly shabby-chic business now). There is a stall I always made sure to check when I made the trip. For the most part the seller had the usual knick-knacks. But there was always plenty of surprising albums there to dig through. Of all places, this is where I found this soundtrack, and Fear’s The Record. Clearly someone was a  big Lee Ving fan (the man makes an appearance in Dudes).

I grew up hating living in Northern Wisconsin, but clearly there were plenty of people around that I needed to meet. Only I suppose they were at least twenty years older than me if they were buying Fear records. Another pain of being born too late.

This isn’t my favourite sountrack ever, but it’s still something I’m glad of owning. Even though it’s not very unusual, it looks nice. Mostly because Jon Cryer looks pretty damn good in that cowboy outfit. Just saying.

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Vinyl Friday #18: A Flock of Seagulls “Listen”

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If you’ve read my blog for any length of time now, you’ll know that I have a massive soft spot for A Flock of Seagulls. I’ve had my rant about “one-hit wonder” bands (which is what they are considered in America, but not in their home country of the UK), so I probably don’t need to go back down that road because I’ll never come back. They were a much disliked band at the time, understandably,but I am a woman of the modern era and I will like what I please.

Listen was released in 1983 off the back of a pretty successful first album. Though nothing they ever did would ever compete with “I Ran (So Far Away)”. It is a shame, but writing one of the most successful and iconic singles of the 80’s is nothing to sniff at.

As continued with the first album, A Flock of Seagulls continue with their spacey vibe. The songs literally have zooms and twinges from synths that are really fun to listen to in Stereo. The rumbling in the beginning of “2:30” always delights my ears because of how unusual it is. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough variation in sound that lets down the album a bit.

Now I don’t think Listen is superior to their self-titled debut, but I am particularly fond of the dream-like quality of this album. “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph)” is seriously one of my favourite songs ever. When I lived in Milwaukee I would always walk in the fog listening to this song. It touches a strange part of my heart that often makes me cry. It is a bit wasted, though, as the first song of Side A. It would have been so nice placed later as either the closing track or as a surprise tucked away in the track listing. The fourth single off the album, “(It’s Not Me) Talking” that does the closing. A cool song but the energy off that single really should have been placed elsewhere.

This copy of Listen was found in my favourite antique shop. Of course it was in my favourite booth with the mannequin lady (she’ll pop up in more stories, to be sure). This lonely soul resided in my favourite New Wave bin. A Flock of Seagulls are hardly the best in the bunch, but I could never pass up the opportunity to listen to “Wishing” on vinyl. In my searches, I’ve rarely found A Flock of Seagulls’ albums while searching in Wisconsin. I’m not sure what it’s like in the UK, but I imagine it would be a much more successful hunt.

I do love the sound of this album on vinyl. There is so much to be added by listening to it with the pops and hollowness of humming speakers. Especially the synth bits in tracks like “What Am I Supposed To Do”. This is very much a lonely album. I love crawling up to it and listening to it. I suppose the uber-80’s-ness of the album won’t be to too many people’s taste, but I will keep championing the album.

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The highs and lows of Spotify’s discover weekly

Plenty of people hate Spotify, and for good reasons. But pay disputes aside, the streaming service can be helpful in many ways. When I wrote more about music, there’s no way I could have afforded to buy all the music I had to listen to. Paying my premium gave me access to a world of music that I couldn’t have dreamed of finding on my own.

Now Spotify have added at feature a few weeks ago called “Discover Weekly”. After nearly three weeks, I can safely say that nothing about these playlists help me “discover” much of anything, but I am enjoying seeing what random shit some computer thinks I want to listen to.

The Good:

  • Remembering what was forgotten
  • Lots and lots of soul

Occasional I tire of my incessant 80’s binge and delve into other realms of music. As of late I have been  attempting to understand the world of soul music. It can be a bit daunting when you have no clue where to start. This is when Spotify is actually helpful. I couldn’t find half of these gems without a computer telling me so. Thanks, whatever does this!

But other than the nice discovery aspect, there’s a lot of non-discovery. I would say over 75% of the songs on these playlists are already songs I know, but it’s pretty fun revisiting things you might have forgotten about otherwise. Most of these for me are in the vein of 70’s Rock because the more I miss home the more I turn into a man in faded jeans and a moustache (basically my dad).

The Bad:

  • Abba
  • “Afternoon Delight”
  • Kenny Loggins/every bland 80’s song you couldn’t even dream were real

It’s obvious that Spotify enjoys making me suffer because of my “questionable” tastes. I listen to lots of disco at times, but never ever ever ever EVER Abba. There’s something really bad about disco without any soul or rhythm. Gaaaah. Those Swedes are everything I hate about music. So glad “Waterloo” could make a special appearance in the first week.

Right, I have a ever-growing playlist of 80’s songs where I like to compile singles and other bits that are likely to escape my brain if I don’t store them somewhere. It’s filled with plenty of questionable choices (we Wisconsinites have questionable taste), but nothing I have ever listened to makes me deserve Kenny Loggins.

There is a lot of shit on these playlists, to say the least. And there’s no way to express your hatred of what they put on them. So Spotify, if you are reading this, I DON’T FUCKING LIKE ABBA.

The Questionable:

  • William Shatner “Common People”
  • Boys Don’t Cry “I Wanna Be a Cowboy”
  • The Promise/When in Rome

I can’t be the only one who can never remember if When in Rome is the band or the song (it’s the band…right?). This song isn’t bad or good by any means, but I absolutely cannot listen to this song anymore without thinking about Napoleon Dynamite – a movie I haven’t seen in over a decade.

But I’ve gotten so many weird 80’s one-hit wonders like “The Promise”. The most astounding would have to be William Shatner’s cover of “Common People”. My husband thought it was incredible. I was horrified that anything in the world thought I could ever possibly enjoy this.

Now that I have a full-time job again for the first time in almost two years, I can finally return to buying more music than I should be allowed. I’ll definitely be using Spotify less, but features like Discover Weekly still make this a pretty fun experiment to look at.

 

Vinyl Friday #17: Simple Minds “Once Upon a Time”

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I always get the feeling that it’s pretty uncool to like Simple Minds. I’m not sure why, though. Of course “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is an absolute classic tune, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with genuinely liking them as a band.  Anyway, despite its terrible album name, Once Upon a Time is a decently good album with some solidly composed songs mixed in with fantastic singles. “All the Things She Said” isn’t pretty good for some rocking 80s snapping dance moves (you know what I’m talking about), but “Alive and Kicking” is the golden song. It’s one of my favourite songs ever.

And yes, I will willingly admit this, I do listen to that song many times when I’m trying to tell myself “I can do it!” The song is pretty much my equvilant to those bad motivational posters that everyone’s mom’s post on Facebook. Now that I think about it, the music video – which was filmed in New York state – is set in a place that looks perfect for a nice motivational saying:

I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday! I’m going to make the rest of my life the best of my life!

Or something. I just did a quick search for motivational quotes because apparently my mind is too full of other useless information. But this whole album just sounds of early-Sunday light sounds. It’s easy to pass it off as fluff, but as I’m re-listening to it while I write, this is actually better than I remember. Certainly a great seventh album. Better than a lot of other bands’ seventh albums.

It’s pretty apparent from the photos that this album is a pretty weird copy. For one, this is apparently from the Beloit Public Library. I don’t even know where Beloit is, but thanks to a quick Google search, it’s apparently in the very south central part of Wisconsin – a couple hundred miles away from where I picked this up. I found this baby in the back of this really weird thrift store my friends and I would frequent in high school.

This isn’t like a nice Goodwill-type thrift shop, but one of those religiously-based ones that sometimes has great vintage blouses, but is mostly full of scarf belts and overly-worn terrycloth bathrobes. Their media section in the back is a literal hell. Full of tapes, N*Sync compilation CDs and the scariest record section. People scoff at the album selection at most thrift stores, but this is literally the worst of the worst. Everything there goes for 15 cents because the selection usually consists of albums that not even Lawrence Welk would want.

Thankfully the collective ignorance of the people in Northern Wisconsin meant that this actually good album found its way into the mix. Once Upon a Time for 15 cents, literally the cheapest find in my collection. Since it was at one point a prisoner of a library (imagine borrowing albums from a library now-a-days), the sleeve has been torn up completely to fit into its special little plastic case. I like to think this casing keeps the sleeve protected, you know, despite the fact that some horrible person completely deconstructed this album like a savage. But bonus points because there is still the old school envelope in the front full of stamps from the dates checked-in and checked-out. I can confirm that this was a pretty popular with the kids in Beloit.

This is the grand joy of buying second-hand albums. Who was the little devil that owned this before? Did he rob the Beloit Library of their 80s new wave selection? Did the Beloit Library finally have enough of the burden and cast their albums to the wind to scatter and spread across the state? Oh I’ll never know, but I like to think whoever had this was cheeky enough to kick it off a library and never ever return it.

On a completely unrelated note, I always forget that Simple Minds are Scottish. That just makes then that much better.

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