Ocean Air, Fresh-Cut Grass
(Summer music blog, part two!)
Saint Etienne~ Foxbase Alpha
Shimmering, summery dance pop spawned by the early-90's English music scene that gave us Blur, the Charlatans and the Happy Mondays. Sarah Cracknell's voice floats almost transparently over a patchwork of electronica, baggy beats and Phil Spector-esque girl group production. Put this together with One Dove's Morning Dove White (wrote about it in the previous post) and you've got a perfect soundtrack to fuzzy summer nights. Their Eurodisco cover version of Neil Young's "Only Love Will Break Your Heart" alone is enough reason to own this.
King's X~ self-titled
King's X's fourth brilliant album in a row. Not nearly as ambitious as its predecessor Faith Hope Love, this one's a good deal more approachable and I'd recommend it to anyone new to the band as a place to start. It's got everything that makes King's X great: unbelievably great singing (you could call the harmonies "Beatle-esque" but only if the Beatles were a gospel choir), airtight heavy rock riffing, compelling, smart lyrics and top-drawer songwriting. This album, stocked with gems from top to bottom, includes the aching "Big Picture," an irresistible romp called "Lost In Germany" and the absolutely indispensable "Black Flag." It's hard to believe this music was made by mere mortals.
Eminem~ The Slim Shady LP
What pulled me into Eminem's world immediately was the fact that he made me laugh. I hate when rappers burn up all their energy trying to tell me how bad and mean and/or great in bed they are. Yawn.
I suppose Eminem's been talked about enough but his albums have been really important to me and they always seem to come out at the beginning of summer so I have to mention them. This, Mr. Mathers's debut, was an indelible part of my summer of '99, as it was for many of you.
Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks ~ My Charmed Life
I could try to describe this album by throwing around terms like "sophisticated pop," or mention the dizzying array of musical genres employed therein (jazz, klezmer, tango, bossa, ragtime) but the bottom line is My Charmed Life is a fabulously weird, funny and thoroughly enjoyable record distinguished by wonderful songwriting and effortlessly eclectic musicianship. Jack and his posse, who orchestrate their quirky, melodic pop with harmonium, tuba, banjo, upright bass, saxes, electric guitar, accordion, various keyboard instruments and drums, are joined by a slew of guest musicians here as well. But the songs are so damn fun to listen to, you forget how virtuosic the writing and playing is.
I stumbled upon this cd rather by accident while I was working at a music promotion company -- it was one of the records we were working in spring of '97. Most of the discs we were hired to promote didn't rock my boat but this one stuck out like a bar of gold in a trash heap. But don't listen to me talk about it, go find a copy of My Charmed Life on Amazon or half.com, buy it for probably less money than you just spent on cigarettes, and thank me later.
Dio~ Holy Diver
Put on this record when the summer storm rolls in. Nobody sings like Dio and few metal acts have made albums this bracing and vital. It is a perfect album.
Slayer~ Haunting the Chapel EP
I only just got this a couple of years ago (I've been a Slayer fan for 15 years) in the summer of '03, I believe. Although it's not a full-scale album, it is an essential piece of Slayer's catalog for "Chemical Warfare" alone. Plus, it shows the band taking a giant evolutionary step away from the slightly by-the-numbers thrash of their debut toward their true identity, which would be as fully, terrifyingly realized as ever on Reign In Blood.
Motorhead~ Bastards, Sacrifice and Overnight Sensation
I should just write a separate Motorhead blog. I am such a fan of this band. Motorhead's music is hot, dirty, sweaty, delirious heavy rock and perfect for summertime. These are some of the albums I've enjoyed in the past six summers or so; all of them are from the 90's, a particularly rich time for the band in terms of creativity and output. Alot of unfortunate souls don't realize how vital this band continues to be.
Adam Ant ~Antics in the Forbidden Zone
A friend lent me this disc ten years ago in the summer of '96 and it started to dawn on me how uniquely great Adam Ant once was -- yelping and yodeling over thick, African drumbeats with punk/rockabilly guitars and tarted up in some bizarre pirate/American Indian drag, this man had his own thing going on, that's for sure. There's nothing I respect more than that. Granted, the first half of this chronologically-sequenced best-of collection outshines the second half to an embarrassing degree, but the disc is worth having for that early stuff alone. If you're still interested, get Kings of the Wild Frontier, the Ants' best album.
Matthew Sweet~ 100% Fun
Big thanks to Anthony Pops, who correctly assumed I would love this album and mailed me his own personal copy from Texas in the summer of '99. Sweet's flawless powerpop tunes are couched in crunchy postpunk guitars and an effectively dry, in-your-face mix. Contains the timeless "Sick of Myself."
Kegger~ dj mix
Who remembers Mother's Click and Drag party? For those who don't, suffice it to say that Click and Drag was one of the last truly great New York freakfests, held weekly in the meat packing district before people like Julia Roberts and Paul McCartney started dancing on the bar for paparazzi at Hogs and Heiffers...
Anyway, in the summer of '99, Click and Drag had its very last party and the dj in the lounge was playing a great Moloko remix. I asked him where he got it and he hauled off and gave me a cd of his entire set from that night. The disc, only labeled "Kegger DJ Set," became one of my favorite discs of the summer. Highlights include the aforementioned remix of Moloko's "Fun for Me," plus Air's absolutely transcendent "Kelly Watch the Stars," the Spice Girls' infectious "Outer Space Girls" plus bits of Bjork, Spiritualized and a hilarious song by what I can only guess is a duo called Tigre and Bunny called "Cars That Go Boom."
L7~ Hungry for Stink
This record came out in summer of 1994, I believe (and I saw L7 twice on that tour) but I didn't actually get a copy of it until just after I moved to New York a couple of years later. I vaguely recall buying Hungry for Stink from a street vendor outside Central Park, along with The Amps (Kim Deal's so-so post-Breeders project) and short-lived Cali-punk band Wax (remember the Spike Jonze-directed video with the man on fire running down the street in slow motion?). Of those three, the L7 disc is the only one I still own. It is a fun, grungy, life-affirming piece of real rock and roll.
Us & Them~ self-titled cassette
I have a certain affection for this Pennsylvania trio. Summer of '95...
B-52's~ Cosmic Thing
A friend of a friend was moving out of the city in summer of '99 and was giving away a bunch of vinyl, so I went to her apartment in the East Village and grabbed more records than I could reasonably carry. Cosmic Thing was one of them. You already know the classics "Love Shack, "Roam" and "Deadbeat Club." But what about the sunny title track, the wistful "Topaz" or the gorgeously melancholy, all-instrumental outro piece, "Follow Your Bliss"? This is music made by angels.
Massive Attack~ Mezzanine
Massive Attack's third album is a cool, streamlined blast of menacing beats and icy electronica that moves quietly through the water with the slow, patient purpose of a killer shark. By far the most focused thing they'd done to date, Mezzanine is dark and heavy across the board, and features unforgettable guest vocals by the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Frazier and returning champion Horace Andy. This album came out at the onset of summer '98, five full years after its predecessor, Protection.
Stevie Ray Vaughan~ Couldn't Stand the Weather
Jackson Browne called Stevie Ray's guitar playing "torrential" and that to me is as good an adjective as any. I have alot of SRV stuff but this one strikes me as a summer album. The notes hammer down relentlessly like raindrops battering your windowpanes in a violent summer thunderstorm.
The Damned~ Phantasmagoria
Most Damned fans don't like the stuff they put out in the 80's (Strawberries, Anything and Phantasmagoria) and admittedly those are the weakest records in this most venerable punk institution's catalog but you can't really deny that Phantasmagoria is a pretty damn well-executed foray into pure goth. And it was only a matter of time, wasn't it? -- Dave Vanian's vampire schtick was always headed inevitably toward this. And besides, how can you argue with songs like "Grimly Fiendish," "Shadow of Love" and "Is It a Dream"? They may not have the bite of "Neat Neat Neat" or "I Feel Alright," but The Damned were a different group by this point. Give bands room to grow, I say.
Big Audio Dynamite~ F Punk
This is not their best album but I've got such a soft spot for B.A.D. that I'll listen to anything they've done. And don't get me wrong, this is NOT bad -- "I Turned Out a Punk," "Vitamin C" and "It's a Jungle Out There" are terrific and the rest is 100% enjoyable as well. I guess it just doesn't gleam quite as brightly as Megatop Phoenix , The Globe or their debut. There's not as much sampling on F-Punk as on previous releases and the guitars are way more upfront but Mick & co. still do manage to successfully weave together the unlikely elements of punk, hip hop, jungle and rave music.
Hopefully history will acknowledge how innovative and ahead-of-the-curve this band was. And for those of you who don't know, that's Mick Jones, formerly of The Clash.
The Cure~ Fascination Street ep
Being a massive Cure fan and completist, I've collected not just all the band's albums but as many of the maxi-singles as I've been able to find. The Cure have always had great B-sides (well, up til 1992 or so, anyway) and the Fascination Street cd single contains two of their best: the frenzied, cacophonous "Babble" (which is oddly reminiscent of Faith No More's "From Out of nowhere," which was released right around the same time) and the somewhat psychedelic "Out of Mind," both culled from the legendary Disintegration sessions.
And the "Fascination Street" remixes have always been spectacular as well; this EP features the one that starts out just with a cymbal splash and solo bass. God, that bass sound! I've heard this track cut up so many different ways and it's fucking chilling and unforgettable every time. One of the greatest rock songs ever.
There was a used CD store in PA that I used to frequent, called Young Ones. I bought alot of stuff there in the summer of 1995: B.A.D.'s F-Punk, Prince's Purple Rain, Anthrax's Attack of the Killer B's, Bad Religion's Suffer and this Cure EP come to mind (I think I may have bought all of them in the same trip). I really loved that summer and listened to alot of great music.
PiL~ Public Image Limited
He's obviously an obtuse, arrogant prick, but I love John Lydon. I've read his autobiography several times over and have listened almost obsessively to all of his records with PiL, the good and the bad.
PiL's debut was a splash of ice-cold water in the face of anyone expecting the former Johnny Rotten to put out Sex Pistols Mach II. Indeed, the album's lurching, seasick opener "Theme" quickly puts paid to any notions that ol' Johnny cares about keeping his Pistols fans. Most of the album consists of long, repetitive vamps, anchored by Jah Wobble's tubby dub bass foundations and topped off with Keith Levine's jagged shards of trebly post-punk noise guitar and of course, Lydon's vituperative rants. Only the quasi-title track, "Public Image," bears a traditional song structure and it turns out to be an anthemic punk rock classic without even trying.
New Order~ Republic
I had just discovered this band when they released Republic in 1993. I snatched it up immediately, on the strength of its winning first single "Regret." I have to say, there's something about New Order that doesn't translate after the 80's, in the same way that, say, Steely Dan seems to belong firmly in the 70's. I'm not sure why...
But having said that, I do really enjoy Republic. It is interesting to see New Order trying to absorb and incorporate some of the innovations in dance music (namely, "Madchester" beats, trip hop and rave culture in general) that had sprung to life during the band's four-year hiatus (their last album, 1989's Technique, had come out in 1989). Interesting because the younger acts who were responsible for these new dance sounds were probably influenced by New Order in the first place.
The Glove~ Blue Sunshine
Robert Smith has called this, his one-time collaboration with Banshees bassist Steve Severin, a "summer album." Blue Sunshine is in fact is a lurid carousel of giddy psychedelic pop, morbid instrumentals, and cut-and-paste found sounds, the warped product of an apparently all-nocturnal, hallucinogen-and-slasher-flick-fueled studio residency in the delirious summer months of 1984. The remastered deluxe edition comes out this summer -- I can't wait!!
Faith No More~ Angel Dust and Album of the Year
FNM were one of the most unlikely and popular new acts of 1989; I guess alot of mainstream music consumers were unwittingly lured into Faith No More's demented world by the disarmingly catchy "Epic" and its generally accessible parent album The Real Thing. Then, the band proceeded to completely alienate most of those nice people with their follow-up, the unrepentantly ugly Angel Dust.
Hah!! Boy oh boy, does Mike Patton vent his spleen on this one. Claustrophobic ditties like "Malpractice," "Smaller and Smaller" and the white trash thumbnail sketch "RV" give the ingenious Mr. Patton, employing a truly Mel Blanc-like array of disturbing voices, ample opportunity to cut his opponents into mincemeat. What a wonderfully difficult piece of discordant heavy art rock music this is.
Fast forward two albums. In 1997, the venerable FNM decided to call it quits and delivered Album of the Year as a souvenir of the event, a parting shot to remind everyone -- particularly Korn, Rage Against the Machine, and especially shameless sound-alikes Incubus -- who their daddy is. Album of the Year is a titanic piece of work that proves why Faith No More were so uncategorizeable and an impossible act to follow; they somehow blend full-scale heavy metal thunder (album opener "Collision") with creepy electronic atmospherics ("Stripsearch") twisted carnival camp ("Mouth to Mouth"), blue-eyed soul ("She Loves Me Not") and startling delicacy, on one of the most beautiful and haunting album closers you'll ever hear ("Pristina").
Ok I just went to Half.com and found Angel Dust and Album of the Year for under five bucks each. Don't have these albums yet? Go get 'em! And don't say I haven't been lookin' out for ya.
Have a great summer, everybody and let's be careful out there.