Neverending Randomplay #241-#250
Neverending Randomplay is a weekly Wednesday night/Thursday AM feature in which I let my J-River Media Center choose what we get listen to. My collection currently stands at 9,621 titles. The lion's share are rock of all genres, with a mix of pop, blues, country, pre-rock, jazz, reggae, soul, electronic, avant-garde, hip-hop, rap, bluegrass, trance, Afrobeat, J-Pop, trip-hop, lounge, worldbeat, commercial jingles, etc. filling it out. I don't influence the track selection in any way; whatever comes up, comes up. Jam Tags, 1-5 stars, follow each track. iTunes links, when available, are included for your convenience.
241. Eels: Beautiful Freak **** iTunes
Opening with a harmonium, and a lilting lullabye of a melody that grows sweeter as the song progresses; it's sung with a throaty restraint and grace, and the gentle instrumentation is warm and inviting. Lyrically, it's also a surprisingly tender song from what is essentially a one-man-band-with-help. Eels is/are led by E (Mark Oliver Everett), who escaped a troubled teenagedom through music, which he recorded on 4-track. He released two albums for Polydor, A Man Called E, and Broken Toy Shop, in the early 90's that didn't gain much attention, but with armed with a Dreamworks contract, he delivered the Eel's first album, Beautiful Freak, in 1996 and gained a lot of exposure on MTV, especially the single "Novocaine for the Soul". While the Eels haven't quite cracked the mainstream, their 2005 album, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, cracked the top-100 on the Billboard album charts, the first Eels album to do so.
242. Green on Red: Brave Generation *****
This could have been a great early Generation X anthem if only more people had heard it, but Green on Red never quite managed more than college-cult status. The first thing one notices is the instrumentation, which is jangly and rootsy and features Chris Cacavas' heavily echoed, tinkly upright piano, which may in fact be an organ. Dan Stuart's vocal is laconic but not smartass, and his drawl recalls Sid Griffin of the Long Ryders. The chorus is an instant winner, and the lyrics, as smart a summation of Generation X (before the generation had even been acknowledged) as one could ask for. Green on Red were from the relative nowhere of Tuscon, AZ, but relocated to L.A., where Steve Wynn of Dream Syndicate produced their first album, and where they played many of the regular paisley underground haunts. "Brave Generation" is from their sophomore album (on Slash), Gravity Talks, from 1983. Here, the band dropped most of the psychedelic trappings of the paisley underground and re-invented itself as an Americana roots-rock band. The album is excellent, although some prefer the next one, Gas Food Lodging, which cracked the bottom of the top-200. The band managed to scape by with a small, devoted audience (which was larger in Europe than America) as late as 1992, but gave up. Their first few albums are 80's indie rock classics; Camper Van Beethoven may have borrowed something from them.
243. Kruder and Dorfmeister: Going Under ****
Trip-hop legends Kruder and Dorfmeister's 1998 release, The K&D Sessions, is one of the essential albums of the genre, featuring remixes of Lamb, Roni Size, Bone Thugs 'n' Harmony, Depeche Mode, and others, and push the envelope on each one. "Going Under" is a Rockers Hi-Fi tune, taken through an atmospheric 8 and a half minutes by K&D. The groove is bass-and-snare heavy, with echoey tremeloed guitars, and builds a gradual tension as it moves along underneath a whispery, throaty vocal. It some respects it almost recalls the hypnotic drone of Pink Floyd's "Careful WIth That Axe, Eugene" and "One of These Days", but with some soul in the changes and bassline. It never quite crescendos, more of a dribble-away electronics heavy fade, but it delivers all the essential goods. Alas, there have been no further album releases from the duo, although both remain very active producers.
244. Dream Syndicate: That's What You Always Say *****
Days of Wine and Roses was the debut album from flagship paisley underground band Dream Syndicate in 1982, and it lays the blueprint for the essential sound of the band, which was refined and grew more sophisticated through the decade, but never strayed too far from the template. "That's What You Always Say" demonstrates Steve Wynn's odd vision, which sounds like a marriage of Lou Reed, Neil Young, Gun Club, and maybe The Sonics. The bassline recalls a slowed down rockabilly in places, the guitars jangle and ring and break into a real feedback explosion in the middle, the vocals are restrained but the lyrics are tough and wry. A garage band-like ambience colors the whole thing. It's a fine sample of the band, and the whole album is one of the best releases of the early 80's, by anyone. Like Green on Red, with whom Wynn worked, Dream Syndicate never came close to landing the audience they deserved; they had a faithful cult in Los Angeles, got some attention in Europe, and sold to a handful of college kids elsewhere. The band disbanded after the fine 1989 album Live at Raji's, although Wynn continues to record and produce to this day. "That's What You Always Say" was later covered by dream-pop band Luna.
245. Blondie: Dreaming ***** iTunes
"Dreaming" kicked off Blondie's 1979 album, Eat to the Beat, which represents the peak of their artistry, although their commercial peak was Autoamerican, from 1981. There always were a lot of misperceptions about Blondie. They weren't all about Debbie Harry; the band could really play. On "Dreamin'", drummer Clem Burke plays like a punk Keith Moon, Chris Stein's guitar is distinctive, even as it borrows a tone here or there from Robert Fripp. Jimmy Destri's keyboards propel the tune. But Debbie Harry does provide the vocal, which is one of the very best of her career. While most critics prefer the previous Parallel Lines, I've always liked the more ambitious and manic Eat to the Beat. Blondie would score with Gergio Moroder's "Call Me" in 1980, and Autoamerican spawned two #1 hits, but by the time The Hunter was released in 1983, they were washed up. They released a reunion album, No Exit, in 1999; in 2004, The Curse of Blondie wasn't even released in the U.S. until months after its European release.
246. The Who: Another Tricky Day **** iTunes
The Who were nearing the end of the road with the 1981 release of Face Dances. It was their first post-Keith Moon release, Moon having died just after the 1978 Who Are You sessions. While the band was in the public eye, thanks to the 1979 film The Kids Are Alright, a major success, they had been in decline for years. The loss of Moon isn't the real problem; the addition of Kenney Jones (ex-Small Faces, Faces), while no Keith Moon, was a fine choice as a replacement. An ever-deepening reliance on keyboards helped flesh out the sound in ways that suggested new directions, although it also helped burnish off the band's great edges. What was the real problem, aside from in-fighting, was Pete Townshend's gradual decline as a songwriter. Face Dances wasn't a bad album, it recalled what was best about Townshend's good 1980 solo album Empty Glass (itself a Who-like record in many places). But it also reflected what was worst about it; the songs are insular, cryptic, overly serious, and the instrumentation is solid, but unexceptional. "Another Tricky Day" was the closest the album came to a classic crunchy Who song and while it succeeds, it pales next to their 60's singles. One more album and tour followed in 1982, but the Who broke up "for good" in 1983. Townshend-Daltrey-Entwistle reunited for tours again, but never released another studio album together; Entwistle died in 2002.
247. Supergrass: Lenny ***** iTunes
For a trio barely out of their teens, I Should Coco was a remarkably mature offering. They can really play, in a revved up garage punk-pop sort of way, which they undercut with a far reaching range of influences, from power pop to Buzzcocks-style punk, to Led Zeppelin riffs, to glam-rock. "Lenny" is every bit the garage-rock classic of any authentic 60's garage band you can think of, except that Supergrass never sounded very retro; despite its crunchy guitars, propulsive bass, harmonic vocals, all stolen from the 60's and 70's, they sound like a 90's band. For all this, they've gone fairly unnoticed in America (I Should Coco, from 1995, debuted in the top-10 in the U.K.). The band is five albums deep into their career, which is well-regarded; Road to Rouen appeared in 2005.
248. moe.: Rebubula ****
moe., from Buffalo, spent the early 1990's developing from a colorful bar-band to one of the best jam bands during the jam band renaissance of the mid-90's. "Rebubula", from No Doy, features new addition Chris Mazur on guitar and demonstrates the band's prowess in an 11-and-a-half minute quasi-improv. The guitars fall somewhere between the Allman Brothers and worldbeat, Rob Derhak contributes a taut, springy bass, and Chuck Garvey's vocals are good, if a little slight next to the instrumentation. At this song's length, it does meander a little, but the rhythm section keeps a fairly tight rein, to the track's benefit. No Doy, released in 1996, didn't sell in large numbers, although it did okay among the jam-band faithful, who tend to value live shows over albums anyway. moe.'s commerical fortunes picked up a little with their next release, Tin Cans and Car Tires, from 1997, but they remain a cult act to this day. Phish fans would dig them, if they've somehow not crossed paths with them before, which is unlikely. Allmans fans looking for something newer might like them, too.
249. Johnny Cash: Don't Think Twice It's All Right **** iTunes
One of the first country artists to acknowledge the existence of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash included no less than three Dylan covers on his 1965 album Orange Blossom Special. This proved to be a milestone of sorts in Cash's career, as he spent the rest of the 60's dipping into the folk world repeatedly, and even guested on Dylan's Nashville Skyline album in 1969. Orange Blossom Special is, in fact, one of Cash's best albums from the mid-60's; his version of "Don't Think It's Twice It's All Right" is given a rockabilly touch, and Cash gives the vocal an offhand treatment that conveys a lot of personality. As the 60's wound down, there'd be more country-folk-rock crossover, but in 1965 it was still a rarity. The album charted at #3 on the country charts and #49 on the pop charts, one of his best pop-chart showings since the 1950's, and his best showing until Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, in 1968.
250. Mouse on Mars: Send Me Shivers **** iTunes
German experimental, post-techno electronica outfit Mouse on Mars turns in a chilly piece of ambient electronica with "Send Me Shivers" from the 2004 album Radical Connector. Wholly synthetic, the hooks are the vocoder-ized distorted female vocal (from guest vocalist Niobe), and the beats, which are unconventional enough to keep things interesting. It's a shimmering but icy piece of alien soundscpe, a little too muted for dancing, but a little too sprightly for chillout. Still the ambient washes and electronic beeps, blips, and squawks give it an agreeable otherworldliness. Modest Mouse has been making music like this since Vulvaland in 1994; fans of postrock experimental trailblazers Tortoise would like these guys.
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