Tag Archives: Posies

Under The Radar: Icecream Hands

Although the band name is also a slang term for the aftermath of a self-pleasuring act, here the creamy goodness of Icecream Hands only refers to sweet music. As the title Memory Lane Traffic Jam implies, there’s a wealth of classic powerpop influences wedged together here. The band is okay with that as long as it’s a “B”Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds, Big Star, etc.

I discovered the band around the time of this, their second album, four years after their debut. I was glad to see that these Aussie popsters recently fired up the bus again, releasing a new album in 2007 after a layoff of a few years. From their page:

After laying low for a few years, raising families and pursuing solo projects, the Icecream Hands have recently found a new home in the form of Melbourne label Dust Devil Music and have just released their fifth studio album – The Good China. With songs galore and a new spring in their step, their legion of fans worldwide can expect nothing more than an album full of glittering, guitar soaked, harmony laden rock’n roll jewels; fit to be worn by Australia’s regal kings of power pop.

Sounds good to me; that’s twice now that these guys slippedUnder The Radar. Here was my initial quick take on them from TransAction Magazine…

Formerly The Mad Turks, these Aussie popsters call to mind all the usual suspects like Shoes and Badfinger, but on their slower tunes like “Embarassment Head” and “Early Morning Frost” they are also reminiscent of more commercial pop fare like Semisonic and The Gin Blossoms. I much prefer them when they showcase their harmonies on rocking songs like “Here We Go Round Now” and “Supermarket Scene” where their Posies-like energy can really catch fire.

Those who have Bomp’s Pop On Top collection will recognize “Bye”, an excellent JellyfishQueen moment that is actually track thirteen but was inadvertently left off the liner notes (ironically it’s the best song on that disc by a mile). Three “real” bonus tracks round out a solid effort.

Icecream Hands website

Icecream Hands on MySpace

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Chilton Classics

Not in sales, no - but in impact? Oh, yes.

“Thinking ’bout what to say / and I can’t find the lines…”   

Alex Chilton died the other day, and so did a piece of me. I first heard Alex when his booming gravel voice launched out of my transistor radio with “The Letter”, the brilliant Box Tops single that didn’t waste a second of it’s not quite two minutes. I was still buying singles then, and follow-ups like “Cry Like A Baby” and “Soul Deep” made it all the way from Memphis to my ears. 

From The Box Tops to Big Star

But most singles bands from the 60s had their moment and hit the wall when music turned towards FM radio and longer, more sophisticated album cuts. And although I was getting into progressive rock and glam and the beginnings of heavy metal with Black Sabbath, I retained my passion for short sharp pop songs. I wouldn’t realize until years later that the Box Tops weren’t a group of friends hanging out and writing songs like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were, but rather they were a staunchly controlled vehicle for a group of writers and producers and that a disillusioned sixteen year old was in fact that singer who sounded like he had already lived a hard life. I was half right. 

Thanks to someone’s insight in a rock magazine – I’ll wager that it was Creem – I was tipped that this new band was aces and I was able to grab a copy of the first Big Star album called #1 Record. What an audacious title, I thought, but dropping the needle on that album was an electrifying experience. Here was an album of impeccable chestnuts, from the rocking “Don’t Lie To Me” and “In The Street” to the sweet and fragile “Try Again” and  “Give Me Another Chance” (and when that crescendo of angelic vocals comes crashing in…oh, my God!). The fist fight between the tambourine and ringing guitar chords in “When My Baby’s Beside Me”. And that dagger-through-the-heart, “Thirteen”, which dripped with teenage angst. 

December Boys got it bad

The second album, sans Chris Bell, was almost as good, a little sloppier and esoteric with absolute standouts like “Back of A Car”, “September Gurls” and “O My Soul”. Meanwhile “What’s Going Ahn” and “Daisy Glaze” and “Morpha Too” hinted at the fragility that was to come in Third / Sister Lovers. Despite some genuinely upbeat sounding moments in “Thank You Friends” and “Jesus Christ”, it was painful to listen to “Holocaust” and “Big Black Car”, almost the soundtrack of a man falling apart. 

A perfect album title; he could have used it twice.

The post-Big Star years were a mixed bag; there were moments of pure joy and fun and others of witnessing painfully inept performances. I remember being in a club with my friend Bill waiting for a band to come onstage, and the most horrific atonal version of “The Letter” came over the sound system. As we cringed, the bartender informed us that it was a tape of a recent Alex Chilton performance; I remember thinking that he sounded like he would die mid-set. 

But in the coming years he regrouped and rebounded, issuing some solid EPs before getting talked into reforming Big Star with Jody Stephens and a pair of Posies in Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. When The Replacements blasted out the dynamic single “Alex Chilton” the legend was reborn; more indie bands started to admit the influence and at long last Chilton was getting the popular response to match the critical hurrahs. 

 

But Alex took it full circle and reunited The Box Tops, for as esoteric and varied as his playlists had been over the years – from soul to powerpop to MOR standards – the New Orleans via Memphis vibe never left. He seemed to enjoy the Box Tops shows more than the Big Star ones, and perhaps that’s why their reunion album In Space was a disappointment – his heart wasn’t in it anymore. 

But his soul and his heart and his pen and his voice came together often enough to leave behind an incredible legacy. So here are ten tunes that are a huge part of my life, songs that hit me like a ton of bricks or dovetailed with the emotions I was going through when I first heard them. They are fresh and timeless and will resonate with me no matter how old I am. I’m in love…with that song. 

And now the show for SXSW will go on as a tribute.

Icewater

 * September Gurls. December boys got it bad, I know, Alex, I know. Me too. 

* Cry Like A Baby. “Today we passed on the street/and you just walked on by/my heart just fell to my feet…” 

* The Ballad of El Goodo. “I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds” 

* Take Me Home and Make Me Like It. Is that the best pick up line ever? Hilarious and sloppy. 

* Soul Deep. Pop Soul Perfection. Neil Diamond shat himself when he heard this. 

* I’m In Love With A Girl. I can’t help but smile every time I hear this simple, fragile love song. There’s so much angst and pain in Alex’s catalogue; this is a nice exception. 

* No Sex. More for the fact that the EP signaled his return than the song itself. 

* Back of a Car. Thinking about what to say, and I can’t find the lines

* The Letter. The two minutes that started it all. 

* Thirteen Maybe the most poignant song about fumbling adolescence ever written. This one went through my heart like a spear, even though I was eighteen when I heard it. 

Rest In Peace, Alex.

All Music Guide tribute from Steven Thomas Erlewine 

Memphis Commercial Appeal says goodbye 

Some thoughts from pop critic Mike Bennett

Alex Chilton wiki with links to multiple discographies

The tribute at Popdose

Auditeer and music columnist John Micek remembers

Ed Ward from NPR chimes in

Anthony Lombardi talked to John Fry about Alex.

Others pay tribute from SXSW.

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Blast From The Past: The Wondermints

Fortunately for us, the profile and accessibility of The Wondermints has increased in leaps and bounds over the past decade. Their association with Brian Wilson has not only paid great dividends for them individually and collectively, but they’re done the impossible by getting Brian out of the sandbox and back onto the stage, and later the recording studio. Wilson and Beach Boy fans should have an altar with Wondermints items on it.

Here’s my original review of their self-titled album issued on (the sorely missed) Big Deal Records.

Tasty Treats!

Tasty Treats!

Years ago, a struggling guitarist named Jimi Hendrix had to break in England before his own homeland would recognize and support his talents. Thirty years later, a Los Angeles band is making ends meet by recording for a Japanese label. Fortunately, Big Deal, a New York label, has licensed the debut record and made it available and affordable for American audiences.

Anyone who has the Hollies tribute Sing Hollies In Reverse (eggBert Records, and if you don’t, stop reading and go buy it now. I’ll wait!) was no doubt enthralled with the version of “You Need Love” – picture perfect pop, the kind that allows you to plunk for a full CD without a moment’s hesitation. I did, and although this is not a pop album with “hit singles” busting out of it, most of it is jaw-dropping great. (Okay, maybe there’s a single – the Posies meet Rubinoos sound of “In A Haze” just kills me.)

“Shine”‘s shuffling beat, bongos and psychedelic guitar will appeal to anyone who enjoyed the deeper side of 60’s records, the meat behind the hit singles (indeed, one could sing Joe South’s “Hush” over this melody and not be far off). “Fleur-de-lis” has all that 1980’s Britpop bounce that will make even cynical heads spin (the piano is straight out of “Oliver’s Army”), but in place of the gruff vocal of an Elvis or Nick there’s the candy-sweet harmonies fans of this band have come to love. Yet it’s not all retrospective – slip “Thought Back” onto Jason Falkner‘s recent release and no one would know the difference – and that’s a compliment!

Brian Wilson supposedly claimed that if he had the Wondermints back in 1967, he “would have taken Smile out on the road”. While post-sandbox Brian has to be taken with a grain of salt (he recently called “Grumpier Old Men” one of the three best movies ever made), one listen to the stunning “Tracy Hide” will confirm that this was said on a day when all the sand grains aligned properly. Hypnotic and haunting, “Tracy Hide” blends the effortless falsetto choruses, harpsichord rhythms, kettle drums and other studio nuances that instantly transport the listener to The Golden Age Of Brian. If this had been the flip side of “Good Vibrations”, no one would have complained.

Besides this record, the band has a couple of (now out of print) singles, and “Carnival Of Souls”, here as the record’s closer, is featured on Yellow Pills #2. The band has also released a CD of cover songs, which – you guessed it – is only available as a Japanese import. Some things never change.

The Wondermints on MySpace

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Thirteen Again

Didn’t we just do this a month ago?

And do you really want to tempt fate with superstition when you are here? Many teams had their bad luck earlier this week, so what will the 13th bring? Syracuse had one of the most heartbreaking almost-buzzer-beaters I’ve ever seen, but it was (rightfully) dismissed by a millisecond. Little did they know that the game of the yearmaybe the best game ever – would continue into SIX overtime periods!! Years from now, fifty thousand people will claim they were at Madison Square Garden to witness the event.

People always claim they were “there” for the seminal events, don’t they? If everyone who claims to have bought Big Star albums in the early 70s actually did, Big Star wouldn’t be a cult band.

But enough suffering…let’s put a good light on this day, shall we? How about one of the best pop songs ever written?

Maybe Friday I can / get tickets for the dance

Maybe Friday I can / get tickets for the dance

The studio version of “Thirteen” is absolute pop perfection; bottling that teenage lust/angst, the “no one understands us” mentality that we all go through at some point. Hearing this song for the first time when you’re in that zone…wow. You probably have the album(s), but if not…don’t deny yourself any longer. Just playing those clips should seal the deal if that 2-for-1 price doesn’t.

What Big Star threw out on that landscape in the early 70s was like a torch in the musical darkness. I read the review of #1 Record in Creem, hit the record store circuit until I found a copy, and I haven’t stopped playing it since. Frankly, I don’t know may people who have. Radio City is Chilton taking charge, and although bolder and different it’s about neck-and-neck with the first one. I’ve got two different CDs that combine the first two on one disc; one in order, one scrambled, and the sequencing on both seems logical. Hard to screw up two dozen great songs on a disc.

I wasn’t a big fan of the third album; I preferred the melody to the chaos. And I was pretty let down by the recent “new” album, although it had its moments. Similarly I really like the two live albums recorded in the 70s much more than the more recent one from the 90s. Although the Posies/Chilton version of the band looks great on paper, the innocent fearlessness of the original band trumps them hands down. (But let’s be fair, thirty-five years plus wears on anyone). The history of the band is a fascinating story, captured in book length by Rob Jovanovic. For those with a gnat-like McNugget attention span, this might be more your speed. (I’m sure most people landing here are well-versed on the band, but I must post that last link on the slim chance that I’m popping someone’s Big Star cherry.)

So screw you, Jason Vorhees. This Friday belongs to “Thirteen”.

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