Monday, September 24, 2007

A Good Day for Puffy Envelopes

Seven in one blow! I think that was the phrase in the Brave Little Tailor fairy tale (Mickey Mouse did a version, I recall) and that was today’s mail haul. In celebration, I give you my favorite New York City mailbox…

Adding to the delight is the fact that the majority of CDs that appeared are ones I’d either requested or was happy to hear.
1.CLOUD CULT – The Meaning of 8 (Earthology Records)
I read about this band while I was in Minneapolis (local boys continuing to make good) and bought a few of their tracks online and through Sam Goody’s in-store download service (recounted in a previous blog entry). When I saw their name in a PR firm’s roster, down below the publicist’s name, I shot off an email asking for a copy of the CD. The woman never answered my email, so I figured it was a lost cause, but now here comes the CD, and it’s got all the ambitious, sometimes orchestral indie-licious weirdness I liked about the samplings heard so far. The press materials compare Cloud Cult to “chamber folk-pop” like Of Montreal (I can hear that) and the Decemberists (that I don’t), but I prefer to put them on a spectrum that runs from Spoon to the Flaming Lips, between whom they were scheduled at the recent Monolith Festival. Shame about the album cover, though – 4 panel fold-out that looks like a goth kid’s high school art homework.
Aw, pooh! I just checked the band’s web site and see that the October dates in D.C. and during the CMJ fest in NYC have been cancelled.

But here’s another request…
2. MARAH – Sooner or Later in Spain (Yep Roc)
When you’ve got Stephen King and Nick Hornby singing your praises - and obvious influence Bruce Springsteen singing on your albums - you don’t need this little blog piling on, but I’ll admit to
liking this Philly-based quintet, too. Songwriting brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko share a Kinks-ian brotherly spirit, without the obvious frisson, coming close to their stated goal of wanting to their band to sound like “Bob Dylan leading AC/DC” or “Nick Drake fronting the Dead Milkmen.” This double disc package includes a full show, shot in Spain, and a CD of seven live tracks from various other performances, a great way to rev up for the band’s return to Jammin Java on Friday, October 12th.
BTW, that’s going to be a great weekend at the venue. Art rock diva ISSA (a.k.a. Jane Siberry) is splitting the night on Saturday with an early show, followed by unpretentious pop/rockers Ingram Hill.
3. INGRAM HILL – Cold in California (Hollywood Records)
Sent in promotion of that same October 13th show at Jammin Java.
Sunday night is classic power pop from Marshall Crenshaw. (And then it all goes to hell on Monday in “An Evening with Frank Stallone.”)
And then I opened:
4. DEBORAH HARRY – Necessary Evil (Five Seven Music)
This is the official release version of a CD I got in generic advance form awhile back. At the time, it left little impression, but we’re talking about Debbie G-Damn Harry here, an icon of the Best Old Days, so I’ll be glad to give it another spin.
(Oddly, the accompanying press release ends on a dull note. “I had a really great time work[ing] with Super Buddha and all the musicians on the albums,” she concludes. “I hope people are entertained by my new release.” Snores-ville in Quoteland.)
The three remaining CDs were not from bands I knew, but the first two I listened to left fine first impressions:
5. The A-SIDES – Silver Storms (Vagrant)
Another Philly-based quintet, though of more recent vintage than Marah, this band’s pop chops can make a 6-minute song feel half as long, as intriguing twists and turns and bright hooks keep things moving merrily along. There’s little nuggets of psychedelia, ambitious strings, big guitars, and a sense that more goodies will be revealed in subsequent listens. Always fun to make a new discovery, and they’re coming to the Black Cat Backstage on October 30th with The Velvet Teen and Say Hi (To Your Mom).
6. BLACK TIE – Goodbye, Farewell (Socyermom Records)
Hey, what’s that record label? SoccerMom or SockYourMom? Given the melodic, ambient quality of the tunes here, I doubt there’s an implied threat to the suburban sisterhood here. The PR team offers an RIYD: Mogwai, Galaxie 500, Tortoise, but since I’m not well-versed in those bands, I’ll just say I like it for its own sake.
7. MOROS EROS – Jealous Me Was Killed By Curiosity (Victory)
This is the one I haven’t had a chance to explore yet, but the bio promises “dark, raw guitar rock perfumed with extraordinary pop melody.” We shall see…

And I add one more acquisition today, a ditgital delivery sent (by request) as a YouSendIt download since the publicist was out of hard copies:
8. CHIN UP CHIN UP – This Harness Can’t Ride Anything (Suicide Squeeze)
Fun stuff – bouncy, bright, quirky and complex
So, all in all, a good day’s haul.

And while we’re rolling, let me take care of some of the growing pile of CDs that have fallen through the cracks:
9. AIRIEL – The Battle of Sealand (Highwheel Record)
Out August 14th
Airiel released a series of 4-song EP’s, the latest in June of 2005, and this is their first full-length. They deal in flangers, reverb and distortion and are drawing comparisons to the shoegazing likes of Ride, House of Love, and My Bloody Valentine. Here’s a download of "Thinktank"

10. The FUTURE KINGS of NOWHERE – (307 Knox Records)
11. PAGE FRANCE and the FAMILY TELEPHONE – Suicide Squeeze)
12. PORTUGAL the MAN – Church Mouth (Fearless Records)
13. FRANK BLACK – 93-03 (Cooking Vinyl)
Disc one is a chronological anthology of work from his nine solo albums in those years. Disc two consists of live tracks from last fall’s North American tour. I got only one disc.
14.GUY FORSYTH – Unrepentant Schizophrenic Americans (Small and Nimble Records)
Love the actual discs – one looks like an Indian head and the other the back of a buffalo nickel.
15. STUPOHERO – Last Star Shining (Basement Tape Records)
16.The DERAILERS –Under the Inlfuence of Buck (Palo Duro Records)

YTD O/CD Total: 724

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Some Days are Like Christmas

Once, back in the days of my LA TV adventures, when I was away from home for three weeks at a clip, I came home to a stack of mail that included over 70 albums. Nowadays, with digital downloads, industry downsizing and my more limited list of outlets, the pickings are slimmer, but it's quality, not quantity, that counts. (That sentence had too many commas, didn't it?)

Still, this past summer's travels made for some nice homecomings...

and sometimes all it takes is one puffy envelope to make me feel lucky:
1. ELVIS COSTELLO - My AIm is True DE (Universal)
Lately, UME has bee offering digital downloads of its collection to writers through its UME Promo Only MPE Player web site where, with an account and a password, you can download full albums. I have availed myself of the service for the following:
2. GARBAGE - Absolute Garbage (Geffen)
31 tracks
3. CRYSTAL METHOD – Vegas DE (Geffen)
20 tracks
4. SOUL ASYLUM – Welcome to the Minority: The A&M Years 1988-1991 (Hip-O Select)
43 tracks
5. JIMI HENDRIX – Live at Monterey (Geffen)
10 tracks
Fine albums all, but I knew I wanted this music.
The time and effort it takes to grab material (one download took almost all night, while I slept) means that I haven't done it for many albums that I *might* have liked. (And when it comes to something like "Rob Zombie Live," I needn't think twice to say no, thanks).
That may make me seem lazy, but there's plenty of other material I still get in disc form that I can grab and go to the car with, so that's an easier way to test drive (literally) new material. And I sniffle just a bit to think of the cool photos, info and packaging that probably went into the Soul Asylum set that I'll never see in solid form.
Which is why I squealed like a kid on Christmas morning to get the Costello disc in its actual mini-box Deluxe Edition version. Besides the debut album in all its glory, there are out-takes, demos, and (on a second disc), a full 1977 concert and soundcheck from same. Groovy!

And there are other wonderful perks to this paying hobby of mine (I can't call it a job at the rate I bring in actual cash).
Like last night, when I saw the wonderful Nick Lowe in concert at the Birchmere and - as a guest of the Yep Roc folks, who hosted dinner and drinks for a few print and radio people - had the chance to meet the musical hero backstage after the show. Here I am with the charming Mr. Lowe...

(photo by James Bailey)

and here's a shot of mine from the show:

Ron Sexsmith opened and while he's obviously a sweet, sensitive and talented man with a lovely voice, his solo set had my mind drifting after a few numbers.

The last time I saw him, at IOTA, he had a full band. I think his quiet, somewhat bittersweet material needs those extra players to keep the energy up and the ear engaged. Lowe, on the other hand, varies his fare from funny to tender, pin-drop quiet to "I Knew the Bride" giddiness. And he sang the one favorite oldie I wasn't sure he'd get to - "Heart" - so I was way happy.
He seemed perfectly pleased to sign both his fine new CD, "At My Age" (I can relate) and a carefully chosen old skool U.K. vinyl picture sleeve for "Cruel to Be Kind" that I had brought along, just in case. So there was whipped cream and a cherry on my sundae, indeed.

YTD O/CD Total: 708

Thursday, September 06, 2007

All 'My Own Cash Money' Edition

Lately, I’ve been missing Tower Records something fierce. There is no substitute for meandering through a big, well-stocked music store, idly flipping though the bins and discovering stuff you didn’t even know you needed. Driving past the empty space in the Tysons Corner strip mall where the big store used to be, I felt a pang.

So I made do with a trip to the Thrift Store in Herndon, primarily to drop off some collected charity goods, but they usually have a pretty good selection of used CDs for a quick fix. And if I had only known that today was 50% off the usual $1.50 price each, I would have indulged even more! (They're open again on Saturday...)

1. NATALIE MACMASTER – In My Hands (Rounder)
Autographed by the Celtic fiddlemeister, no less! “To Fred, In Your Hands, Natalie MacMaster” and she’s not lazy about it, either – you can see almost every letter in her fairly long name.
2. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Disco Nights, Vol. 4: Greatest Disco Groups (Rebound)
I probably have most of these songs already, but it’s worth the 75 cents just to hear “Funkytown” on the ride home.
3. L7 – Bricks are Heavy (Slash Reprise)
There were three L7 CDs in the bins, and I stopped myself from grabbing all of them (if I had known they were a mere 75 cents, I wouldn’t have been hesitant at all) but this is the one I knew I wanted – with “Pretend We’re Dead” and “Shitlist.”
4. BT – Ima (Perfecto/Kinetic/Reprise)
2 discs in a single-size case, so they charged me only for one. (Damn, I should have grabbed that Roni Size set as well!) Includes “Nocturnal Transmission” and “Blue Skies,” with vocals from Tori Amos.
5. JULIE ANDREWS – Christmas with…(Legacy)
Still sealed in plastic wrap from Borders, and purchased as a gift for Mom, but I’ll crack it open and see if there’s anything good for this year’s Cool Yule compilation. Like, what is this song, “Patapan”?
6. The RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO – Sound of Christmas (Chess/MCA)
Another head start for the holidays. Bet they do a good job on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

I don’t usually bother with the thrift store’s cassettes – that way lies madness, all the bins spilling over with the dead medium. And I have boxes myself at home that need to be culled. But then a ROIR label caught my eye. The NYC-based, cassette-only label released some cool rarities Back in the Day, so I allowed myself a quick, cursory browse in that bin. (And yes, I count cassettes in the O/CD total.) The lady behind the counter told me that the tapes were just 25 cents each, so I grabbed a couple in addition to the two ROIRs, but the cashier charged me 50 cents for each. What you lose on the swings, you gain back on the teeter-totter.
7. LOUNGE LIZARDS – Live 79-81 (ROIR)
8. BUSH TETRAS –Better Late Than Never (ROIR)
“Includes all the crucial recordings made from 1980 through 1983. Fifteen songs, including 6 unreleased studio demos, all digitally remastered." And I’m guessing the only one I know well enough to sign along with is “Too Many Creeps.”
9. VARIOUS ARTISTS – I have no effing clue what this is called, nor what the label is!
Japanese language tape still sealed with a yellow tape around it that says “Jin Heng A-V.” Even if I hate the music, the design is so nice, from the J-card and cover wrapper to the label on the tape, I’d be glad to use it for an interview.
This is for the box I call “Other People’s Mixes,” a collection of CDs and tapes created by other music fans, usually for special occasions or for a special friend and then unceremoniously dumped. Each mix has a story, I bet, and I love to guess what it is as I listen. This one is particularly well made (although it is a normal bias tape). The J-card is a watercolor wash with lovely handwriting and the song titles hint at delicious blues and guitar swing. “Merry Christmas, Nick, Susan & Jessica…Love, Jack & Maggie.” Why did Nick or Susan or Jessica give this little gem away?

And even more of my own cash money…
Later in the day, while Grace took her Japanese lesson (I’ll ask her to translate the cassette cover), I took a bag of CDs I didn’t want anymore to the CD Cellar and came home with two major purchases – the first season of “30 Rock” of DVD and…
11. NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE – Live at the Fillmore East 1970 (Reprise)
Grace did not appreciate hearing the long guitar solo on “Cowgirl In the Sand” on the ride home, but I loved it! This was my most expensive music purchase of the day - $10 – but it was still sealed and it’s an album I’ve been hoping to hear.

Plus a whole lot of cheapies:
12. COUNTING CROWS – A Long December CD single (Geffen)
Three tracks (two of them live) for two bucks, on what appears to be an import single –the price sticker on the back seems to be…12.99 in Deutsch marks?
13. A FINE FRENZY – One Cell in the Sea (Virgin)
$5.99 and I don’t know if I've heard a single song on it, but the name’s been buzzing in my head, probably from “Morning Becomes Eclectic, “ so I’ll take a chance. The same goes for…
14. AU REVOIR SIMONE – The Bird of Music (self-released?)
This one I know I’ve heard promoted on KCRW, but I can’t give you the label info, ‘cause it’s a simple cardboard cover with minimal graphics, a sheet of paper tucked inside with song titles, and the disc itself is a CD-R with hand-writing. I’m listening as I’m typing and I’m liking what I hear – sweet, upbeat female vocals and bouncy, simple melodies. Crisp like a fall apple. This disc, and all the ones that follow here were just a buck each!
15. TOBIAS FROBERG – Somewhere in the City (FireEgg Recordings)
I have this one already, but I hate to see a disc I like in the $1 section. I feel like these musical orphans need to be adopted and sent to a good home. I just played the disc again as I considered what pal to send it to. Some it is a bit twee, but the song “Love and Misery, a duet with Ane Brun” (that’s how it’s titled) brings me close to tears each time I hear it.
16. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Torch: A Six Degrees Collection of Modern Torch Songs (Six Degrees)
The title says it all, and though I recognize only a few artists – Cassandra Wilson, David Holmes, Roy Nathanson with featured guest Elvis Costello - this 2003 sampler will offer some nice surprises, I have no doubt.
17. MY BRIGHEST DIAMOND – Disappear CD single (Asthmatic Kitty Records)
I saw this act open for the Decemberists earlier this year and was mightily impressed. Four versions of the title track – including a string quartet take! – and the song “The Lace Handkerchief.”
18. SARAH BLASKO – What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have (Low Altitude Records)
This really is Night of the Pretty Female Voices! Another bare-bones package – clear plastic sleeve, Xeroxed paper sheet, and another performer I know zilch about, but the name rings a bell. Buying a handful of dollar discs to sample is better than radio ‘cause I get to keep anything I hear and like!
19. ANNIE STELA – There is a Story Here CD single (Capitol)
Stela’s full-length was sent to me earlier this year and I recall liking it, so a 4-track single with demo track is a good investment.
20. SHIT DISCO – Kingdom of Fear (Fierce Panda U.K.)
The guy behind the counter chuckled as he rang this one up – “some name, eh?” he said, probably surprised that the older woman was buying this generic cardboard with the rude stamped title. But as I explained to him, the band is opening for Klaxons at the 930 Club (on October 8th) and I’m thinking of going, so it’s worth the buck to see if I like ‘em.
And finally, a freebie, on the free promo counter with the stickers and postcards and such.
21. VARIOUS ARTISTS – ABH (A Bitter Hello) Summer Sampler (self-released)
Homemade CD-R with 10 tracks from what I’m guessing are local artists, all but one of which list a myspace page on the paper insert. Funny coincidence – one of these bands, the Ruckus, features kids who go to my daughter’s high school!”
Go Hornets!

And Ciao, Luciano. Your voice makes my husband cry. In a good way.

YTD O/CD Total: 703