Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Chills - Secret Box (2001)

This is a big one, folks. As a preface, no, this is not a personal rip; Martin Phillipps--god bless 'im--only pressed 500 copies of this incredible, mindblowingly expansive collection. Naturally, they sold out in advance. I've only just begun to dig in, but this is essential listening for Chills fans (which of course you all are.) Tracklistings are included. Enjoy!

NOTE: For those of you who requested the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience's 'Love Songs' and the Able Tasmans' 'Store in a Cool Place,' fear not! The ever-amazing Gozz will be posting them in a timely fashion; expect both albums--and a lot of other goodies--in the coming weeks.

- Ariel

Spread out over these three discs' 83 selections are B-sides, outtakes, rarities, demos, radio sessions, tribute LP covers, a '60s-revival Coke jingle, soundtracks, and most important of all, 31 live versions of songs never released in any form. These unheard, vintage tracks span disc one and half of disc two, tripling the insight on the 1980-1987 Chills. They're loads more aggressive (aided by the sweaty club environments) than the band's supernatural early singles and EP collected by Kaleidoscope World. It all comes as a bit of a barrage, since Martin Phillipps' prolific pen was never more frenzied, spitting out one keyboard-laced, great post-punk pop track after another. His long-standing contention that the band should have released two, possible three classic LPs before 1987's "debut" Brave Words (nine lineup changes, including the death of a key early member, hurt) is finally, fully supported by this evidence. Even some of the later shimmering tracks, such as the ghostly "House With a Hundred Rooms" and onrushing "Oncoming Day," had their start in this harder, edgier epoch, as the original incarnation of the former as 1982's "After They Told Me She Was Gone" and the 1985 Bucketful of Brains flexi version of the latter exhibit. The demos and radio sessions are as much fun, while only the consummate Chills head will have all the later B-sides and compilation tracks. True, this is specifically for fans, as the merely curious are better off starting with a comprehensive best-of like 1994's Flying Nun double-CD Heavenly Pop Hits. There one encounters the more silvery-burnished, better-recorded, more stable Chills of 1987-1992. But even those who buy Secret Box will discover a greater energy than normally associated with the Chills name, who betray more of their '60s garage and psychedelia and '70s original punk roots here than at any time in the future.

[Jack Rabid, The Big Takeover]

Friday, August 29, 2008

Swell Maps (Singles Edition!) - Read About Seymour (1977) + Dresden Style (1978) + Real Shocks (1979) + Let's Build a Car (1979)

These singles are all culled from the various Swell Maps outtakes/rarities/best-of collections that have been flooding your local record store of late; I decided to collect them in this fashion because there is no one collection that has all of the complete A-sides and B-sides, and additionally, there would just be way too much overlap with the main albums if I posted a complete compilation. I've endeavored to present these tracks in the order that nature intended them to be, with the exception of "Real Shocks" because I can't find its B-sides. But three out of four is not bad! I think I've bored everyone enough with my Maps devotion already, so I'll just let these songs speak for themselves. Loudly. Enjoy!

If you like what you hear, please visit Secretly Canadian and purchase their Swell Maps reissues.

- Ariel

Read About Seymour (7")

- Read About Seymour
- Ripped & Torn
- Black Velvet

Dresden Style (7")

- Dresden Style
- Ammunition Train
- Full Moon

Real Shocks (7")

- Real Shocks

Let's Build a Car (7")

- Let's Build a Car
- Big Maz in the Country
- ...Then Poland

"Let's Build a Car"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Swell Maps - Jane from Occupied Europe (1980)

As promised, here is the Swell Maps' second full-length 'Jane from Occupied Europe,' as gloriously cacophonous a record as its predecessor. While I was writing my last post, I forgot to mention just how successfully evocative the Swell Maps' album artwork was. The sounds within 'Marineville' seem to leap forth from the blazing, barely contained fury of its cover, and with 'Jane' the songs perfectly capture the sense of desolation that accompanies its art, echoing the eerie, quiet aftermath of destruction. But enough about that; to the songs! "Border Country," "Helicopter Spies," and my personal favorite "Cake Shop," would all have fit quite nicely on 'A Trip to Marineville,' sharing that album's sense of reckless, charming naivete and anarchic joy, and the freaked-out, kraut-punk bliss of "Big Maz in the Desert" and "...Vs. the Mangrove Delta Plan" is the stuff of post-punk perfection.

This record hangs together more fluidly than 'A Trip to Marineville,' and while that album's fragmented schizophrenia may be the reason why it's my favorite of the two, I cannot deny the brilliant, unified work that is 'Jane from Occupied Europe.' It is at once a coherent piece and an album on the verge of collapse as sounds drift in and out seemingly at random, creating nightmarish dreamscapes of beautifully dissonant noise. I've gone on enough; simply put, you need this album and the Swell Maps in your life. Coming up next will be most of the singles released by the Maps during their existence, including the immortal "Read About Seymour" and "Let's Build a Car."

- Ariel

Swell Maps - A Trip to Marineville (1979)

Spectacularly beautiful noise courtesy of the dearly departed Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks--not to slight the contributions of Jowe Head, Phones Sportsman, Biggles, and John 'Golden' Cockrill (as listed, honest)--'A Trip to Marineville' is the Swell Maps' first LP after a string of classic singles("Read About Seymour!") This is an album and band I wouldn't want to imagine my life without: a sheer sonic explosion of down 'n dirty experimentalism, minimalist fury, and krautrock-influenced grooves; all performed with a jaggedly raw energy and chaotic, kitchen-sink aesthetic unmatched by any band of its--or perhaps any other--time. "Vertical Slum," "Midget Submarine," and the "Full Moon in My Pocket/Blam!!/Full Moon(reprise)" suite are all bonafide classics to me; do yourself a favor and let the Swell Maps occupy a special slice of your existence if you haven't already. Their second full-length, 'Jane from Occupied Europe' is forthcoming, and I'll probably post a few essential singles too. Stay tuned. Long live the Maps! - Ariel

"Midget Submarine"

Monday, August 25, 2008

Kendra Smith - Five Ways of Disappearing (1995)

By Request:

While an inferior and far more inconsistent album than 'The Guild of Temporal Adventurers,' I'd say that Kendra Smith's first and only full-length is still worth a listen for fans of her uniquely skewed and eclectic brand of songcraft. It's a noteworthy album if only for the fact that it was Smith's final release before her self-imposed retreat from the music industry and, by and large, society as well, presumably still living without electricity in her small cabin in the woods of Northern California. - Ariel

Picking up with real studio effort (Smith co-produced with Uberman), Five Ways of Disappearing is the most ambitious and successful undertaking of Smith's career. Both a strong recapitulation and a brave relaunch, the album has it all: quiet Velvety obsessions ("Get There"), cerebral songdom ("Aurelia," "Space Unadorned"), trancey rock ("Drunken Boat"), trad folk ("Maggots"), Kurt Weill's Berlin ("Bohemian Zebulon"), folk-rock ("Valley of the Morning Sun"), new wavey bubblegum ("In Your Head") and one of the best acoustic Led Zeppelin imitations in recent memory ("Bold Marauder"). No two tracks have much in common beyond Smith's enervated singing; even when she might just be aiming to sound ordinary, the record comes off appealingly offbeat. Though some songs are amiss, precious or overly derivative, as a personal sampler, Five Ways of Disappearing is an impressive — and colorful — achievement.

[Karen Schoemer/Ira Robbins]


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kendra Smith - The Guild of Temporal Adventurers (1992)

Kendra Smith's debut solo outing has far more in common with the subdued, meditative textures of Opal's Early Recordings than the swirling atmospherics of Happy Nightmare Baby, though shades of the latter are present in the dreamlike nature of its soundscapes and, of course, in Smith's characteristically laconic vocals. On this note, especially pertinent with Smith's use of a pump-organ as primary instrument, allusions to Nico are inevitable. Although such comparisons are not entirely unfounded--after all, her previous band the Dream Syndicate followed their Velvets-drenched muse to great success--present in Smith's recordings is a warmth and vitality that are entirely her own. The sense of otherworldliness that permeates 'The Guild of Temporal Adventurers' is a keen reminder of what was missing from the second incarnation of Opal, Mazzy Star, and what was lacking in Smith's replacement, Hope Sandoval.

- Ariel

Friday, August 22, 2008

D.I.Y. Classics - Shoes This High + The Scrotum Poles + Beyond the Implode (Link Removed)

Shoes This High EP (1981)

- The Nose One
- A Mess
- Foot's Dream
- Not Weighting


These are all adjectives that Gary Steel used to describe the "punk funk" of New Zealand's Shoes This High in his liner notes for their 7" self-titled EP. It was the only recording to be released during their brief existence, but its jaggedly raw post-punk stylings combined with Brent Hayward's snarling vocals make for an exhilarating and enlightening listening experience. This is the other side of New Zealand's musical golden age; like their fellow countrymen the Gordons, Shoes This High created aggressive, angular, and classic art-punk for the ages.

The Scrotum Poles - Revelation EP (1980)

- Why Don't You Come Out Tonight
- Night Train
- Pick the Cat's Eyes Out
- Helicopter Honeymoon
- Radio Tay

"DIY! We love the Television Personalities!"

So wrote Dundee, Scotland's finest the Scrotum Poles on the xeroxed sleeve of their 'Revelation' EP. The Poles--like the best D.I.Y. bands--combined fairly shoddy musicianship with an infectious sense of sheer enthusiasm. 'Revelation' begins with a delicious slice of melancholic post-punk in "Why Don't You Come Out Tonight," peaks with the definitive Poles standard "Pick the Cat's Eyes Out," and ends with the punky blast of "Radio Tay." But really, every song present is a D.I.Y. classic. And if you're curious, no animal was harmed in the making of this record: in the UK, "cat's eyes" are the orange reflectors embedded along highways. This, aside from the cassette-only 'Auchmithie Calling' in 1979, was unfortunately the Poles' only release. I spent a bit of time cleaning up the audio on this one the best I could--though in the best D.I.Y. fashion, clicks and crackles are still audible--so please check out the video below for a bit of a teaser and enjoy!

Beyond the Implode - 11th Hour Breakdown EP (1980) + Last Thoughts EP (1979)

- 11th Hour Breakdown
- Look Back and Crash
- Lassitude
- Escape Through Levitation
- Midnight Adventures
- This Atmosphere

UPDATE: I received word from Beyond the Implode's Eddie Smith that we will be seeing a reissue in the very, very near future, and upon his request, the link was taken down. When the album arrives, definitely seek out a copy! I can guarantee, you won't be disappointed: Beyond the Implode is rightfully regarded as having produced some of the most passionate, human, and classic bedroom recordings that its genre has to offer. More information as it is available.

8/31/08 UPDATE: Another update courtesy of the always helpful Eddie Smith: the reissue will be a 7" EP featuring home recordings from 1979 in addition to tracks from the Last Thoughts EP; when it becomes available, you will able to purchase it via the buy-it-now option on Ebay. Stay tuned for more information.

- Ariel

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Kiwi Animal - Music Media (1984)

Here's an interesting curiosity from New Zealand: The Kiwi Animal was the creation of Brent Hayward and Julie Cooper; together they released two full-length LPs in the mid-eighties, 1984's 'Music Media' and the following year's 'Mercy.' 'Music Media' is an ethereally beautiful folk affair, at once sinister and lovely, and possessing of a clear experimental bent. Hayward was previously involved in the fantastic art-punk quartet Shoes This High. Their only release, 1981's self-titled EP, will be posted sometime soon along with a few other choice D.I.Y. gems. Stay tuned!

NOTE: I re-uploaded Human Switchboard's excellent 1981 LP Who's Landing in My Hanger? with cleaned-up audio and added a few videos just for good measure. If you haven't grabbed it yet, now's the time!

- Ariel

"Blue Morning"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Able Tasmans - A Cuppa Tea and a Lie Down (1987)

By Request:
A major work from this New Zealand indie group, A Cuppa Tea and a Lie Down comes highly recommended to those in love with the sophisticated and delicate arrangements of the New Zealand rock scene's Flying Nun label sound. While some of their peers in the productive period of '80s and '90s down under produced edgy, loud guitar music inside the framework of pop, Able Tasmans temper their largely acoustic sound with keyboards and acoustic arrangements in place of corrosive guitars. The songs are built on the delicate threshold of complexity/simplicity, filled out with lush arrangements and dreamy atmospheres that call to mind Fairport Convention. A great album filled with sweet and crafty pop songs that will hold much appeal to fans of intelligent guitar pop; Yo la Tengo, Belle & Sebastian, the Bats, and Television Personalities spring to mind.

[Skip Jansen,]


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Verlaines - Hallelujah All the Way Home (1985)

Since I've been posting the albums that succeeded it, it seems fitting to upload this orchestral gem as well. And really, the Verlaines' entire eighties output is essential listening. This is their first full-length LP, released in 1985, and many of its songs are easily the equal of its successor's, the masterful 'Bird Dog.' The positively epic constructions of "It was Raining," "The Lady and the Lizard," and the intensity of "Lying in State" are among the best work of a band that consistently pushed the boundaries of the conventional pop song throughout their career. As an interesting aside, this album was part of a composition project that Graeme Downes submitted as he pursued his degree in music; he got an "A." - Ariel


Enjoy the videos as well!

"Death and the Maiden"


Monday, August 18, 2008

The Verlaines - Some Disenchanted Evening (1990)

Though living in the shadow of its predecessor's brilliance, 'Some Disenchanted Evening' is a commendable album, continuing the string of artistic successes that began with 'Hallelujah All the Way Home' in 1985. And that's not even mentioning the band's brilliant early singles, all of which are conveniently collected on 'Juvenilia' for your listening pleasure! Less reliant on the classical orchestrations that dominated much of 'Bird Dog,' 'Some Disenchanted Evening,' tends to dwell in more conventional musical avenues than one is normally accustomed to hearing from the Verlaines. But with Graeme Downes at the helm, even the most straightforward tracks on the album take interesting and unexpected turns. Unfortunately, the album was somewhat lost in the shuffle of fantastic kiwi music that was released in 1990, appearing shortly before the Chills' 'Submarine Bells.' - Ariel

The Verlaines - Bird Dog (1987)

'Bird Dog' is undoubtedly the apex of the Verlaines' career. Far more assured than their debut full-length, 'Hallelujah All the Way Home,' 'Bird Dog' finds master craftsman Graeme Downes fully in command of these elegant and classically derived compositions. For this listener, the highlights of the album are too many to mention, though special note must be given to the pieces which bookend the album, "Makes No Difference" and "C.D. Jimmy Jazz and Me," and the heart and soul at the center of it, "Slow Sad Love Song." - Ariel

Crafty New Zealand pop group lead by song craftsman Graham Downes that leaned heavily toward Baroque classicism on this exquisite collection of tales from 1987. Their art was in the subtlety of arrangements, and the group was pivotal in defining the complex simplicity of the Flying Nun sound alongside the Clean and the Chills. The Verlaines were certainly the first of the family in the '80s to embrace truly classical modality in their delicate pop sound, and the result is Bird Dog, as a sophisticated and glorious album of Downes' distinct genius, whose only peers would be Robert Forster and Martin Phillips. Although his craft may be fastidious, the Verlaines have mastery of rendering it effortless on Bird Dog. Later their sound may have become a little more stilted, but for a group so ahead of their time, anything is forgivable, although many fans of this character and eccentricity displayed here may believe the edge was lost in the '90s when they pursued a straighter MOR sound. With Hallelujah All the Way Home and Some Disenchanted Evening on either side of this release, it is difficult to think of another group who made three albums of this quality in five years.

[Martin Walters,]


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Opal - Early Recordings (1989)

'Early Recordings' is a collection of songs by David Roback and Kendra Smith that date from 1983-1987; they were released under both the Opal and Clay Allison band monikers. Offering a more subdued, pastoral approach than 'Happy Nightmare Baby,' the dreamlike, often wistful nature of this compilation is just another example of the incredible talents of its two principles. - Ariel

While Opal's Happy Nightmare Baby is more representative of the group's richly textured brand of neo-psychedelia, the stripped-down Early Recordings compilation is an even better example of David Roback and Kendra Smith's remarkable songcraft. Released in the wake of the group's breakup, the album collects the majority of tracks from the Fell From the Sun and Northern Line EPs, along with a handful of outtakes and unreleased cuts, all spotlighting Opal's more subdued, acoustic-folk side. Peeling away the mystical haze which enshrouded Happy Nightmare Baby, the songs are plaintive and stark, exposing the emotional complexity at the band's core — the wistful "Empty Box Blues" and the haunting "Harriet Brown," both previously unissued, are unmatched in their beauty and grace.

[Jason Ankeny,]

Opal - Happy Nightmare Baby (1987)

Opal, originally formed under the name Clay Allison, was the creation of Rain Parade's David Roback--predating his work with Mazzy Star--and the Dream Syndicate's Kendra Smith; this is their only full-length release. Exploring the more sinister side of psychedelia, the claustrophobic eeriness of 'Happy Nightmare Baby' is broken only by Smith's transcendent vocals and mystical delivery. It's an utterly spellbinding record and one that I would unhesitatingly recommend to fans of the Paisley Underground and its associated bands.

If you like this, go to The New Disease and check out their live Opal recordings! If you're interested in the Paisley Underground, you'll also find Rain Parade, the Dream Syndicate, True West, and Green on Red there as well. Go forth and enjoy!

- Ariel

At once drowsy, psychedelic, entrancing, and possessed of a sinuous spark, Happy Nightmare Baby may have been Opal's only album but deserves more attention than merely being a blueprint for Roback's later work in Mazzy Star. For one thing, Opal was very much its own band, with Kendra Smith's particular lyrical visions of mystic power and universe-scaling dreams and nightmares its own entity. As is her singing, though she's got less of Hope Sandoval's wistful drift and more focused control — check out the brief "A Falling Star," where the comparatively stripped-down arrangement places her singing in the foreground, notably without much in the way of echo. Roback's playing certainly won't surprise anyone per se who backtracks to this group from albums like She Hangs Brightly, and the atmosphere of textured, moody power is evident right from the start with the wonderful early T. Rex tribute, "Rocket Machine." The compressed string swirl and steady stomp is pure Marc Bolan-via-Tony Visconti, though Smith avoids Bolan's style of warble for her own cool, something also quite evident on the slow-groove stomp of the great "She's a Diamond" and the concluding "Soul Giver." Meanwhile, other familiar elements Roback would later use are present aplenty — very Ray Manzarek-like organ lines on the mantra-chugs of "Magick Power" and "Siamese Trap," compressed acid rock solos and lots of reverb. The title track itself stands out a bit as being a bit more of a '60s Europop confection in a stripped-down 1968 setting — Roback's electric guitar adds some fire, but it's the slightly jazz-tinged rhythm and easy delivery from Smith that helps establish its own character. It's a release that stood out both in time and place (a 1987 release on SST Records, of all places!), but it stands up to future years and listens darn well.

[Ned Raggett,]


Monday, August 11, 2008

The Embarrassment - Heyday 1979-83

Manic, twitchy brilliance. Highly recommended. - Ariel

Though the band's reunion album God Help Us had happily been available on CD since release, nearly everything from its early-'80s years had long gone out of print or was hard to find, a situation the double-disc Heyday rectified in full a few years later. Right from the start Heyday shows its worth thanks to the inclusion of the quartet's wonderful, rocking debut, the "Sex Drive/Patio Set" single. "Sex Drive" itself almost comes across as a Midwest response to similarly minded landmarks of punk and post-punk like the Buzzcocks' "Orgasm Addict" and the Gun Club's "Sex Beat." The production is thin, perhaps, but the delivery is nervous, wired to the max, jerky riffs, and Giessmann's quick drumming increasing the weird paranoia even as Nichols' singing exudes amusing, boring cool. "Patio Set," meanwhile, sounds only a touch more relaxed, a weird metaphor combining love and outdoor furniture dryly delivered over the exuberant crunch. The remainder of the first disc pulls together the contents of The Embarrassment and Death Travels West albums, plus "Two Cars," which surfaced previously on the odds and ends Retrospective cassette. The second disc, meanwhile, gets stuffed full of treats from Retrospective, various compilations, and otherwise unreleased sessions, split between studio and live recordings both. The live recordings are a particular revelation, confirming what the studio work always suggested — that the four members were barnburners, ripping with precise energy through their work. Two covers pop up, both of which are pretty funny as well as rather well performed: Michael Jackson's disco hit "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and Led Zeppelin's proto-metal stomp "Immigrant Song." It's a pity the version of the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard," originally on a Bomp! compilation, didn't make it, but that's about the only thing missing here. A complete discography, a reprinted essay from 1988 about the group, and fun liner notes from Nichols and Goffrier complete this fantastic, long-overdue compilation.

[Ned Raggett,]

Download Disc 1
Download Disc 2

Great Plains - Length of Growth 1981-89

Two discs of these Seminal 80's Lo-fi Jangly punky garage outfit Great plains, I've only newly discovered these guys and they're fast becoming a favourite, If you love the sounds so far on this blog but are looking for something rougher and punkier but with that perfectly dodgy but awesomely grand lo-fi sound of a band just knocking tunes out left right and center in a weed and booze infested dingy suburban garage late at night DEFFINATELY! look no further than The Great Plains! - Gozz

In case you're totally clueless, Great Plains were a 'seminal' 1980s Columbus, Ohio band led by Ron House, who was also the shirtless leader of Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, and who now leads the Ron House Band. Other former Great Plains include: Mark Wyatt (One Riot One Ranger), Matt Wyatt (Campfire Walkers), Dave Green (Screaming Urge), Don Howland (Gibson Bros, Bassholes), Mike 'Rep' Hummel (Quotas + solo artist), Paul Nini (Log, Peck of Snide, Househearts + solo artist), Bill Bruner (Dark Arts), and Jim Castoe (Men of Leisure). Great Plains releases appeared on the Homestead and Shadowline (NL) labels, and their songs have been covered live and on record by pals such as Yo La Tengo, Nothing Painted Blue, and fellow Ohioans Swearing at Motorists.

Download Disc One

Download Disc Two

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Tactics - Sound of Sound Volume One

Originating from my hometown of Canberra, Australia. Comes this fantastic outsider band. Truly one of a kind, Deffinately in their own league within Australia which left them with no place to fit in, Which in no way was a bother to the band which was exactly the way they wanted it to be. For fans of the Homosexuals and Wire and any Highly energetic frantic post punky band.

Your Comments are and will be greatly appreciated! -Gozz

Wilfully obscure, contrary and difficult to categorise, Tactics were the archetypal inner-city Sydney band of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Originating in Canberra (hardly a hotbed of alternative music – at least not until years later, by which time they were gone), they played a deliberately perverse brand of choppy guitar music. Employing mid-tempo to fast rhythms (often syncopated - in a vaguely reggae way) with tightly-wound, ricocheting guitars strung like a tightrope to be straddled by Dave Studdert’s quavering vocals, the fact they never fitted anywhere undoubtedly suited them to a tee. Horns, organ and an array of soundscapes colour the songs while the lyrical themes (disorientation, displacement and open space) derive from Studdert’s appreciation for indigenous Australia. It sounds like what pigeon-holers would term “post punk”, even though it was going down in the middle of punk. Me, I’ll tag it “anti-rock” in that the songs aren’t classic verse-chorus-verse constructions. “The Sound of the Sound” is a double CD set, compiling the first two Tactics albums (“My Houdini” and “Glebe”) with a whopping 20 bonus cuts culled from live tapes and radio broadcasts. (The Barman,

Download Disc 1
Download Disc 2

The Verlaines - Juvenilia (1987)

"Do you like Paul Verlaine?"

And now back to New Zealand for an album from one of my most treasured Flying Nun bands--and, by extension, a favorite of the entire decade--the magnificently moody Verlaines. This is a collection of their early EPs and singles, including the fabulous kiwi classics "Death and the Maiden," "Doomsday," and "Pyromaniac." Enjoy these elegant, classical, and always literate compositions courtesy of Dr. Graeme Downes, now the senior lecturer of contemporary rock music at the University of Otago in Dunedin.
- Ariel


Friday, August 8, 2008

The Individuals - Fields (1982) / Aquamarine (1981)

Back to the Northern Hemisphere for a bit with the Individuals, veterans of the '80s Hoboken scene which included the previously posted--and fantastic--Human Switchboard; their entire back-catalogue was recently reissued on CD, a welcome end which has bizzarely eluded some of the greater luminaries of the scene. The Feelies, I'm looking at you. Still, the Individuals' music remains as hooky and clever as ever; it's definitely worth a revist for fans of intelligent pop music. - Ariel

In the early '80s, when Hoboken, NJ, was briefly the capital of the underground rock universe, the Individuals were one of the most important bands on the scene, and while they didn't last long enough to have the same impact as such peers as the dB's, the Bongos, and the Feelies, the group's music was bracing and memorable stuff, at once a clear product of its time and place but revealing a clearly distinct approach that allowed them to stand out from the crowd. Jon Klages and Glenn Morrow's guitars careened back and forth between kinetic rhythm patterns and leads that suggested Roger McGuinn trapped within a pinball machine, while bassist Janet Wygal and drummer Doug Wygal provided a propulsive bottom end that was curiously funky but bracingly arch and intelligent. The Individuals released an album and a five-song EP during their 1979-1983 lifespan, and both appear in their entirety on this CD from Bar/None Records, along with four bonus tunes.
Released in 1981, the Aquamarine EP is clever and tuneful stuff, but it's dwarfed by 1982's Fields, the band's one and only LP, which benefits from stronger songwriting and a more sympathetic studio partner in Mitch Easter, who engineered the sessions at his Drive-In Studio in Athens, GA, not long before R.E.M. would help usurp Hoboken's cool quotient and move it down South. This disc stacks the deck a bit by leading off with Fields, leaving the second half of the disc seeming slightly pale by comparison, but even the relatively weaker material is well worth hearing, and longtime fans will be glad to know a previously unreleased dance mix of "Dancing with My Eighty Wives" makes the cut, as does both sides of the "Our World" 7" and the hidden track from Aquamarine. These 21 tracks are a reminder of an important and innovative rock scene that gave East Coast music a much-needed shot in the arm, and remains challenging, invigorating, and fun stuff more than a quarter-century on.

[Mark Deming,]


Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Bats - Daddy's Highway (1987)

The Bats' first full album continues the early promise of their EPs and, with only the slightest deviations and changes since, established their sound for just about everything that followed. Scott and company may not be the most willfully experimental of musicians, but when they're on — more often the case than not — their lovely, melancholic songs simply hit the spot. Woodward forms the perfect singing partner for Scott, while guest violinist Alastair Galbraith brings his talent to the fore as he has for so many other New Zealand bands. "Treason" makes for a good start to the album, but the real standout on Daddy's Highway is the surging "North by North." Featuring a fantastic Galbraith violin solo, it gives the band the opportunity to show its sometime hidden strengths for more energetic, nervous material. Scott's vocal performance is one of his best, and the quick, on-edge pace seems to get even more so as the song continues. Quieter songs unsurprisingly abound as well, from the understated sweetness of "Sir Queen" to the gentle keyboard-touched "Candidate." "Tragedy" is one of the best in this vein, ending in a disturbing low drone (or at least as much of a drone as the generally quick-length songs by the Bats allow for). Though Daddy's Highway suffers a touch from the same problem that affects all Bats releases — an increasing sameness, especially towards album's end — it's still a great full album debut.

[Ned Raggett,]

[Link Removed]

The Mad Scene - Sealight (1995)

By request, here is the Mad Scene's 'Sealight', a very dreamy affair from a host of talented musicians; fans of Hamish Kilgour/the Clean or the Go-Betweens take note. - Ariel

Recorded in New York but a pure slice of lovely New Zealand pop/rock heaven, Sealight is further proof that the Mad Scene have an ear for instantly appealing music. In comparison to, say, the equally talented but admittedly repetitive Bats, Hamish Kilgour's crew lets the variety really flow forth, especially given that everyone but drummer Bill Gerstel splits the songwriting in numerous combinations. Kilgour's light, quietly passionate voice balances against Lisa Seagul's slightly more withdrawn but not buried performances very well, and both have excellent knacks for wonderful guitar melodies and often sharp lyrical turns. Collectively, the Mad Scene create music that on the one hand is instantly identifiable indie rock and on the other finds its own particular way; it's certainly a product of New Zealand's wonderful traditions, though — sweetness mixed with a definite melancholy and slow-burn intensity.
One of Kilgour's best moments along these lines is "Gotta Get Back (To Something)," starting with a stripped-down, slightly tense arrangement that vaguely hints at Middle Eastern melodies via surf here and there, alternating with just gentler enough sections in a give and take that's subtle instead of forced and obvious. "Marching Song," a beautifully hushed number that builds to a sudden climax before sudden calming down, is another standout, John Sluggett's guest turn on piano worthy of note. Seagul's winners include "Birthday Party," a quietly majestic vision of a hesitant romance not really happening (her lead guitar here is particularly grand, swooping sadly in the background) and the slow, semi-waltz-time lope of "Hoping." On Seagul's wonderful, near-solo "Silhouette," the mix of instruments used by the band and various guests — clarinet, trumpet, Casio keyboards, and even African slit drum at one point — gives Sealight a lushness without being overbearing.

[Ned Raggett,]


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Chills - Submarine Bells (1990)

Since people seem to be enjoying 'Brave Words', I decided to post this pop gem of an album, the last Chills' release to be featured on this blog. Everything one expects from a Chills album is here: delicately complex arrangements, Phillipps' endearingly fragile vocals, evocative lyrics; an atmospheric carnival of sounds that form the band's definitive mature statement. - Ariel

On a major label for the first time, Phillipps crafted a lovely record indeed, a mere thirty-six minutes and not a second wasted. Lead-off track and single "Heavenly Pop Hit" remains the most famous track and deservedly so — over a rapturous keyboard/rhythm combination, Phillipps sings just that, an inspiring lyric with a soaring chorus, aided by additional backing vocals from guest Donna Savage. From there it's one high point after another, never losing the sense of elegance and drive that characterizes the band's work. Phillipps' at-once strong and amiably regular-guy vocals and astonishingly intelligent but never overly obtuse lyrics are both wonders, while Andrew Todd's excellent keyboard work provides both energy and lovely shading. Add to that a fine rhythm section in bassist Justin Harwood and drummer James Stephenson, and it's no wonder this version of the Chills succeeds as it does. One fantastic example of their work together is "Singing In My Sleep," with Phillipps giving heavy tremolo treatment to his guitar as everyone else creates something that's not too far from Neu!'s motorik throb, in a gentler pop vein. More such Krautrock-inspired chug has plenty of echoes on Bells, following in the same vein as "I Love My Leather Jacket" — check out the brisk delivery on "The Oncoming Day" or the skipping intensity of "Dead Web." Otherwise, there're hints of the gentle folky/medieval touches they enjoy on "I SOAR" and "Don't Be—Memory" and more straightforward rocking out on the sharp "Familiarity Breeds Contempt," where Phillipps' New Zealand burr comes through with intensity. The title track, with serene orchestration filling out the grand arrangement, is a note-perfect way to conclude such a fantastic release.

[Ned Raggett,]

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The Chills - Brave Words (1987)

This debut full-length from the Chills was produced by Red Krayola's Mayo Thompson; if you haven't picked up his 'Corky's Debt to His Father' yet, get it here! Murkier than the songs of 'Kaleidoscope World', 'Brave Words' is more embracing of the melancholic darkness that was at the heart of much of Martin Phillipps' classic music.
- Ariel

The first proper album from the Chills, following a several-years'-long string of classic indie pop singles, is the culmination of the band's early promise. Produced by Texas art rock weirdo Mayo Thompson, the sound is thick and echoey, adding a layer of foreboding even to relatively bright tunes like the manic opener "Push" and turning songs like the brilliant "16 Heart-throbs" (a creepy, anguished memorial to Jayne Mansfield) into dark, throbbing epics. Andrew Todd's organ work is unusually prominent in the mix, overshadowing even Martin Phillipps' lead vocals on several tracks. The effect tends to treat Phillipps' voice as another instrument, which when combined with the tumbling logorrhea of his lyrics gives the sound an odd, unsettling urgency. Brave Words doesn't have the simplicity and directness of the Chills' early singles (collected on the Kaleidoscope World LP), which caused some longtime fans to dismiss the album upon its release; listened to at some remove, the merits of songs as graceful as "Night of Chill Blue" and the endearing "Look for the Good in Others and They'll See the Good in You" are obvious. Brave Words may well be the Chills' finest album.

[Stewart Mason,]

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Ghost Club - Suicide Train (2005)

Formed during 1996, Ghost Club was originally an offshoot of the popular Flying Nun band, the 3Ds. Former 3Ds David Mitchell and Denise Roughan moved from Dunedin, New Zealand to London in 1997, & have continued making music as the Ghost Club adding Jim Abbott to the line-up.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Wild Poppies - Heroine (1987)

A Band I know practically nothing at all about other than the fact they were from New zealand and released this Jangly little gem of an lp sometime in 1987. Sounds similar to The Bats, Clean, Verlaines, Feelies, Sneaky feelings and The Chills but with their own slightly experimental tendencies in areas, Very good stuff deffinitely worth checking out if you're a fan of those mentioned bands. - Gozz


Great Unwashed - Collection

The Complete studio recordings of post Clean band The Great unwashed. Definitely recommended for Fans of The Clean and similar Goofy, Melancholy tinged, bedroom recorded jangly goodness.

In the wake of the 1982 breakup of the legendary Clean, brothers David and Hamish Kilgour continued writing songs together; adopting the tongue-in-cheek name Great Unwashed, they released the 1983 LP Clean Out of Our Minds, a collection of primitive home recordings with a slightly experimental bent. The record was well received by steadfast Clean fans, and with bassist Peter Gutteridge in tow, the Kilgour brothers played a handful of live dates. A five-track double single subsequently appeared, and in mid-1984 the Great Unwashed swelled to a quartet with the addition of Ross Humphries; however, by the end of the year, the group disbanded.-

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tall Dwarfs - Hello Cruel World (1987) + 3 EPs (1994)


Pioneers of the lo-fi aesthetic and towering figures of the New Zealand pop music scene, the Tall Dwarfs were formed in 1979 by singers/songwriters Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate following the demise of their previous band, the legendary Toy Love. Recording on Knox's four-track machine, the duo debuted with the 1981 EP Three Songs, highlighted by the classic "Nothing's Going to Happen." The record was a hit, although it left many Toy Love fans baffled by the pair's new musical direction: Tall Dwarfs' releases were deliberately primitive, the D.I.Y. ethic at its purest — songs were all recorded at home (performed in bedrooms, hallways and the like) and defiantly experimental in nature, presaging the rise of what was ultimately dubbed "lo-fi" as the sound began to grow in prominence and influence over the course of the decades to follow.

[Jason Ankeny,]


Leaving the bulk of their catalog to the Flying Nun label, Tall Dwarfs have found another friend in the Homestead imprint for releasing this excellent collection of tracks from a handful of the group's rare EP's. The New Zealand lo-fi innovators are certainly well-represented with these 22 varied and top-notch sides from the first half of the '80s. With plenty of deft guitar, organ, and handclapping work to go around, fans new to Hello Cruel World will soon understand why it gave the Dwarfs their widest audience after being released in the late '80s.

[Stephen Cook,]

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The Hello Cruel World compilation is the best way to get acquainted with Tall Dwarfs, but if you want just one of their other albums, this is probably the best choice. Recorded in 1992 and 1993, it has just as much variety as any other disc (compilation or otherwise) by the group, but doesn't wear out its welcome as much over the course of the merry-go-round. Some of their most spaced-out stuff is here: the fogged-over hurdy-gurdy waltz of "Bob's Yer Uncle," the stoner psychedelia of "Two Dozen Lousy Hours" (complete with warp-simulation sound effects), the white blues satire (how long has it been since you heard one of those?) "Postmodern Deconstructivist Blues." They can't resist succumbing to numbing repetitive lo-fi fuzz riffs from time to time (as on "Self-Deluded Dreamboy (In a Mess)"), but after a dozen years it seems unreasonable to expect that they'll grow up in this regard.

[Richie Unterberger,]

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"The Brain That Wouldn't Die"
"All My Hollowness to You" (Live)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Chills - Kaleidoscope World (1986)

Consider this album (featuring the blog's namesake!) and the Clean Anthology the beginnings of a Flying Nun primer; later this week we'll hopefully be posting some lesser-known FN for your listening pleasure. Until then, enjoy this slice of pop perfection courtesy of Martin Phillipps and whoever he decided was in his band that week. Essential listening. - Ariel

Kaleidoscope World is the Chills' essential document, although it's not an album but a collection of tracks from early- and mid-'80s EPs, singles, and compilation cuts. Perhaps that's not surprising: the Chills are more skilled at crafting interesting odds and sods than sustaining interest over the course of an album, where their somewhat monochromatic approach tends to drag things down. The influence of Syd Barrett/early Pink Floyd is stronger on these early tracks than it would be on subsequent releases, both on the easygoing sing-along numbers and the more experimental outings. The highlight (of both the album and the Chills' career) is their New Zealand hit single, the haunting "Pink Frost."

[Richie Unterberger,]

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"I Love My Leather Jacket"