Tag Archives: XTC

T.G.I.F. – Ten For Todd Rundgren

Might get the chance to see Todd Rundgren again this weekend; he usually breezes through town every eighteen months or so with a different show every time. Being in a secondary market, we don’t always get the premium themed shows. Last time through he bookended a run-through of his Liars album with some classic hits, but bigger cities got a walk-thru of A Wizard A True Star.

This time I was excited to see him because he’s playing the Healing and Todd albums in their entirety…but then found out that our show is called Todd Rundgren’s Greatest Hits. That’s not exactly chopped liver, mind you, but I was looking forward to being part of a cheering throng singing the chorus of “Sons of 1984” and trying to keep up with “Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song” (never could, never will). But he’ll dazzle regardless; no doubt alternating ballads and rockers (as I did below).

Regardless, Rundgren is a true rock icon. He turned sixty-three last week and shows no signs of slowing down, let alone stopping. Always a great song interpreter, his upcoming album re:Production will feature covers of songs he produced for other bands. Considering that list includes Meatloaf, The New York Dolls, XTC, Grand Funk, Rick Derringer, The Tubes and The Psychedelic Furs, this could be a lot of fun.

Yet another reason The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is a sham – one of the most prolific artists, producers and innovators of the last four decades has yet to get an invite.

But he’s in mine, so this week’s TGIF offers Ten For Todd Rundgren

(01) – I Saw The Light

(02) – The Very Last Time

(03) – Can We Still Be Friends?

(04) – Initiation

(05) – Hello It’s Me

(06) – Black Maria

(07) – We Gotta Get You A Woman

(08) – Sons of 1984

(09) – A Dream Goes On Forever

(10) – Utopia Theme

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #4

I first came across The 88 when I heard one of their songs and thought a band was channeling The Kinks. Little did I realize that a few short years later, this band would be backing Ray Davies on tour, essentially standing in for my favorite band of all time. And although you might not know the band nor the names of anyone in the group, you’ve no doubt heard their music peppering the soundtracks of many television shows and films.

Video: “Theme from “Community

Their knack for hooks and melody exudes an inescapable charm, and lead singer Keith Slettedahl darts around the scale with the ease of Fred Astaire on a dance floor. The current lineup (with keyboard player Adam Merrin,  bassist  Todd O’Keefe and drummer Anthony Zimmitti) is a tight-knit unit, and their sound is as strong on a delicate ballad as a full blown rave-up. I really like the way the keyboards are used on this album, adding flavors from garage rock to piano pop to the music hall DNA The Kinks mined in the early 70s.  

Video: “All ‘Cause of You” (live)

I felt they were on quite a roll from album to album but thought the last one (This Must Be Love) was a bit of a dip. A solid record, it just was more sedate than the other efforts; I think they’re at their best when playing more uptempo fare. So this eponymous album, their fifth, was a return to form in my book and one of the best listens of the year.

Fans of Fountains of Wayne, The Zombies, XTC, The Kinks…hell, anyone with a pop heart will eat this stuff up. Great vocals, great songwriting – go buy their records so you won’t have to sit through tripe like Gossip Girl.

Video: “They Ought To See You Now

Listen to tracks at Amazon – on sale for $5 today!

The 88 homepage

The 88 on MySpace

 

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T.G.I.F. – Ten 2010 Bridesmaids

Putting together a “best of” list is hard for me, because there’s so much out there to enjoy every year and many albums appeal to me in different ways. Lists are subjective, of course (despite what Rolling Stone may insist) and try as I might I can’t put six pounds of stuff into a five pound bag. So while I consider the Top Ten an honor, the near misses – Bridesmaids, as I’ve been calling them – are no slouches either.

To beat the tired drum again, anyone who is claiming that there is no great music being made simply isn’t trying hard enough to find it. I’m out there beating the bushes constantly and I can’t keep up with it; certainly even a cursory attempt to widen one’s horizons would be richly rewarded (there’s a bunch of links at right for starters). And as always I welcome the emails from readers that start “have you heard…” as they often open new doors for me as well.

So this week, in no particular order, let me present Ten 2010 Bridesmaids – albums that didn’t make the Top Ten but weren’t far off. When I post the full “best of” lists in January these will certainly be there, so give a listen and be rewarded! (Amazon links included – many on sale right now!)

And on this TGIF Friday I’m especially thankful.

01) Peter Wolf – Midnight Souveniers…Like fine wine, Wolf just gets better and better with age. A far cry from his kinetic J. Geils frontman image, Pete has quietly entered the small plateau of artists perpetuating organic, honest music for the ages. A musical archivist flexing his talents.

02) Smash Palace – 7…If the cover art’s nod to Revolver doesn’t tip you off, let me. Smash Palace is in the upper tier of powerpop bands with traces of Cheap Trick, The Beatles, Tom Petty and Badfinger in its mix but a fresh and original sound. Solid songwriting, incredible vocals, songs that are pure ear candy. Radio’s loss; your gain.

03) Paul Thorn – Pimps and Preachers…”If I could be a tear/rolling down your cheek/and died on your lips/my life would be complete”. Holy shit. I’m new to Thorn’s world, but this is a gritty brew of John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, Bob Seger and Alejandro Escovedo. I am on board now.

04) The Master Plan – Maximum Respect…You were so sure that you didn’t get a record from The Del Lords, The Fleshtones or The Dictators in 2010. Well, you were wrong! The collaborative side project is back for a second album and as you might expect, it kicks ass! If “BBQ” doesn’t get you hopping, you are a zombie.

05) Teenage Fanclub – Shadows…Back after a five-year break and sounding like it was a day. Fannies know what to expect, for the uninitiated, think a sophisticated pop blend of XTC, Big Star and some classic California sunny pop (Beach Boys, CSN). A little subdued for some, I prefer to call it atmospheric.

06) New Pornographers – Together…The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” sets the bar very high when talking about this collaborative unit, but damned if I don’t find every one of their albums irresistible. Any band that can make whistling as cool as a snapping snare drum is okay by me.

07) Graham Parker – Imaginary Television…Another guy who just defies the calendar and continues to pump out great songs; he’s a better singer, songwriter and guitar player now than in his popular prime. Also be sure to pick up his live set with The Figgs.

08) Deadstring Brothers – Sao Paulo…Imagine the Gram Parsons / Keith Richards sessions in the Stones’ golden era were invaded by Ronnie Wood from The Faces. Wine flowed. Tape rolled. Absolute gospel – rock – country blues bliss.

09) The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever…Just missed…I thought the personnel change would impair their urgency and their passion but they are as good as ever. The first five songs are absolutely perfect and the album would be worth it if it ended there.

10) Nick Curran – Reform School Girl…I wasn’t a follower of Curran but damned if he isn’t channeling Little Richard, Phil Spector, Fats Domino, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Sonics on this album. This is a party whittled down and stuffed in a jewel case; besides – how can you not buy an album with a title like this one?

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Under The Radar: Pseudonym

A rose by any other name is…well, whatever that other name is.

Paul Desjarlais understands the “sounds like” game, it’s a necessary tool to try to describe an aural experience with the written word. He describes his sound as a mix of Elvis Costello, David Bowie, XTC, Beatles, Big Star, Pixies, Matthew Sweet, Flaming Lips, mid-60’s top 40, late-60’s psychedelia, early 70’s pop, late-70’s punk rock…and Billy Joel.

I don’t know if it’s that widely accessible, but it is worth a listen. Here’s an old review…

Maybe Paul Desjarlais got tired of people butchering his last name, or maybe he’s a closet PIL fan. Regardless, Pseudonym’s Pig Tail World is an intriguing record full of certified indie pop and obtuse lyrics. “Accident Prone” won me over immediately with layers of great vocals and a huge hook; it wasn’t until I paid closer attention to the lyrics that I realized what a dark song it really is. Ditto “Kill Me In The Rain” (although John Gage wrote the words here, you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart from Paul’s lyrics).

Although he sometimes gets close to what one might consider a mainstream pop song, the lyrics usually give it away. Consider “Ray Gun”, which could fit easily on any Lets Active record, and even features one of the few guitar solos on the album. “Ice And Snow” is presented as sparse but bouncy pop, and later, as the hidden track, in a fuller, more Brian Wilson-ish version. “Crashing” is one of my favorites; I enjoy the way he slaps the words against the grain of the melody to challenge the song’s pulse, yet effortlessly draws it all together in the chorus before unfurling it again.

And he does play with you a little; “Half Eyes” is a seventy-nine second track recorded backwards, and “Broccoli Blues” cannot be taken seriously when “tennis shoes” and the song’s title anchor the rhyme of a verse. Recorded “in a living room, an attic and a basement“, Pig Tail World may not be for every casual listener but will bring great pleasure with those for a taste for something a little different.

Hear some clips from Pig Tail World at CD BABY

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Mixtape: I’ll Be You

 

Back when I had that kind of time, I participated in a monthly tape swap, and for a time I had to dub these puppies in real speed. When we finally got to the CD stage and I could burn a disc at 2x I thought I was in heaven. What used to be a serious committment – the group was usually 35-40 people, so imagine the time and money involved – now can be done dirt cheap and at lightning speed. (I still participate in one of these groups twelve years running, although we’re down to one or two trades a year.) 

I used to make the cassette art by hand; sometimes a drawing and other times a cut-and-paste job, then type and shrink the set list to fit on the inside flap and print them off on colored paper…cut them along the outline…fold and insert into the J-Card slot on every one. Like I said, I had that kind of time. If I find the original art for this one I’ll upload it someday, but I remember it was a variation on a Powerpoint silhouette image of a man holding a mirror. 

I love tribute records, so this mixtape (from March 1997) was a tribute to tributes. It’s a great set and these covers are well worth seeking out. Now I have to find the actual tape, because just reading these names has me jazzed. 

And I still miss Material Issue.

  

you be me for awhile and….I’LL BE YOU

SIDE ONE
Dance Dance Dance Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom (Handsome Dick and a couple of Dictators) pay homage to Brian Wilson
Pictures Of Lily The ‘oo, done with great passion by that great sideman Ian McLagan and the Bump Band
She’s Got Everything The Droogs, Aussies yet, service Mr.Davies’ classic well. Can’t believe there aren’t more great Kinks covers.
Time Has Come Today Willy (Mink) DeVille from last years fab “Loup Garou” record. This Chambers Brothers song still rules!
Pictures Of Matchstick Men Status Quo song covered by the pre-Cracker Lowery in the late, great Camper Van Beethoven. Respectful yet cool!
Charlot Choogle Would have picked a better T-Rex cover if I could have but Sky Blue nailed the Bolanisms better than anyone else did.
Sweet Hitchhiker The fabulous DM3 (wow, I’ve already been to Australia twice in seven songs!) absolutely rip this one up! Go Don!
Mr. Spaceman Miracle Legion from another spotty tribute disc. For all you who remember the Byrds as electric Dylan, try this instead.
I Can’t Let Go Still the best tribute disc ever made, eggBert’s “Sing Hollies In Reverse” featured wall to wall greatness like this Continental Drifters cut.
My Minds Eye Ah, the Small Faces. Northern Uproar did yeoman service on last year’s tribute. A must-have for all true pop fans!
S-L-U-T The Woods, America’s Rockpile, nail this Todd tune. I will not rest until the name Jack Cornell is known far and wide.
Handyman True Story: Frank thought they were cutting “Candyman” for a Sammy Davis tribute. Nah…he loves Otis Blackwell too!
Sweets For My Sweet Doc Pomus gets the Brian Wilson post-sandbox/Landry treatment. And Mike Love is an asshole.
Love Is All Around Christine Ohlman is recording again! If you remember Big Sound Records or Dusty Springfield, Trogg out with this!
And Your Bird Can Sing Weller and company grew tired of “The Jam is just aping The Who” rumors. So they aped the Beatles instead.
SIDE TWO
I’m Not In Love Chrissie and the Pretenders snapped out two covers for movies/TV – this 10cc track and “Angel In The Morning”
Town Without Pity Gene Pitney covered by Steppenwolf’s John Kay on heroin. Naah..it’s the wonderful Thin White Rope from “Spoor”
Daydream Believer The Monkees tribute is way cool, including this John Stewart song ably harmonized by Man Size Job? Who? Me neither.
Run To Me If there were any doubts that Material Issue could do it all, this will silence them. Haunting BeeGeeutiful song. RIP Jim.
Hard Luck Woman The Kiss tribute is pretty funny, and I gotta admit that when I realized this was THE Garth Brooks I almost had a seizure.
It’s The Little Things And you thought Sonny Bono couldn’t write hooks. He did work with Spector, y’know, so bow down for The Skeletons.
Listen To Her Heart Tom Petty as seen through the eyes of Truck Stop Love, produced at Ardent by some guy named Jody Stephens.
Don’t Want To Say Goodbye Last year the Raspberries tribute came out, chock full of great versions, few better than this homage by The Flashcubes.
Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, … Wow that’s a long title! Believe it or not, this is The Records from a free EP that came with the first run of their LP.
Build Me Up Buttercup David Johansen, post-Dolls and pre-Buster P. David always kicked ass live and paid props to great 60’s soul music.
When Something Is Wrong With My Baby Wow – Sam and Dave voiced by the immortal Herman Brood, who truly is a rock and roll junkie. Live track.
Back Of A Car When you hear this song now you wonder how Big Star wasn’t huge then. This is The Loud Family – same comment.
Earn Enough For Us Freedy Johnston does XTC (who appeared on their own tribute record in disguise!). Love the pedal steel!
No Matter What Closing the set with a song by “the next Beatles” (Badfinger) done by “the next Beatles” (The Knack). Oasis my ass.

As always, play loud, play often.

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Under The Radar: Anton Barbeau

Is it really possible to be a cult superstar?

When I say “under the radar” about Anton Barbeau, I don’t mean to slight him by insinuating that he’s unknown. The Sacramento based artist has enjoyed a long career splitting his time between the US and Europe, much to the delight of a loyal and growing audience of fans. But mainstream he’s not, so I implore you to dip your toe in the River Barbeau and check him out.

(He’s amazing, and he would never resort to a cheesy rhyme like that.)

What first knocked me out was his second album, Waterbugs and Beetles. It’s an odd phrase for an album name until you compare it to song titles like “Beautiful Bacon Dream” and “Slimy Cello Piece”. But behind that strange choice of words is a master song craftsman who is creative, versatile and anything but ordinary. Anton continues to record and release new albums, and I continue to enjoy them – but this one holds a special place for me.

Here’s my original review of Waterbugs and Beetles for Amplifier Magazine. (Note – this was a review of the original 1995 album; it was re-released in 2006 on Pink Hedgehog).

“Allyson 23” kicks off the record with a lurch–voice, guitar and drums all start together as if you dropped the needle in the middle of the record. And you might as well, because Anton’s Wild Ride will take you on a roller-coaster through his head, turning and twisting at the most unexpected moments while you know that at any given moment, anything can happen. And it does!

Anton (or “AntBar”, as he is affectionately known) will at times remind you of Robyn Hitchcock, XTC, The Loud Family and other less conventional artists because he, like them, has a vision that’s anything but “cookie cutter” music. His voice can be a sad whimper (the beautiful “Untitled But Sad”) or a tool of conviction (“I Want You Not Around”) and everything in between. Musically he uses a crack band augmented by cello, flute, percussion and sometimes even sound effects to get his point across.

Subject Matter? Nothing is sacred. AntBar’s world is a raw nerve of rejection, acceptance, happiness, fear, pain, love and thousands of other impulses that throb in his songs. That means that along with your moments of poetic imagery (“…your sand, oceanless and dry”) you’ll observe girls peeing or share fifty seconds with “Vomit Song”. But Anton tempers this diverse no-holds-barred approach with wit and a lifetime’s worth of musical influence; the result is rich and rewarding.

There are several strong tunes that simply demand to be heard. “MTV Song” (every musician’s nightmare) and the hilarious “Tad Song” (which skewers a Sacramento music writer) are certainly upbeat and punchy enough, and the Crowded House Aussie-Brit-funk of “Bible Beater” is a real treat. “A Proper Cup Of Tea”, led by ringing guitar, would delight any Paul Kelly fan. Slower, haunting tunes like “Jelly” and especially the hypnotic “Come To Me (Made Of Metal)” are pure delight.

With nineteen songs, expect to go off the tracks a few times. Anton sometimes bridges the gap with tape loops or answering machine messages as short “songs”. I would have been much happier without “Complicated Umbrella Piece” or “Long John”, thank you, and could have easily put together a ten or eleven song record without losing a beat. But it’s his muse, and a small price to pay to be able to hear the gems within.

I want to hear more from Anton, even if I have to weed through the idiosyncrasies to get to the true keepers. So what if the batting average isn’t 1.000–the extra base hits are worth the trade off. This is true adventure pop. Invest the time in AntBar’s wonderful world and be rewarded.

Order albums from Anton’s website

“The MTV Song” live in 2004

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Blast From The Past – Beachwood Sparks

beachwood_sparks

The great thing about revisiting albums years later – especially ones that not everyone is talking about – is that you hear them differently and pick up new wavelengths. It’s almost ten years since Beachwood Sparks released their eponymous album, and while I still enjoy it I’m able to discover other subtleties in the music beyond the major touchstones I identified the first time around. From legacy bands like the Grateful Dead to more recent purveyors Apples In Stereo, it’s all about texture.

Here’s what I wrote for Cosmik Debris back in 2000…

Gram Parsons described his style as “Cosmic American Music”, and I suppose that if he were around to hear Beachwood Sparks, he’d let the quartet on his bus without a second thought.

A quick look at the graphics and titles would have you trot out Buffalo Springfield or The Flying Burrito Brothers as a touchstone, but the production and arrangements owe as much to inventive popmeisters like Brian Wilson and Mitch Easter. In fact, I imagine that if Easter or master knob-twiddler Brad Jones were sent back in time to produce Parsons, this would be the result. Except “Something I Don’t Recognize”, where he would need the Nesmith-led Monkees. Or “Old Sea Miner”, where only XTC would do.

Aw hell, Parsons would have gotten around, he was that kind of guy. And the fact that Beachwood Sparks pulls all of this off without painting themselves into a corner is a hell of a compliment.

The overall sound is psychedelic, dreamy introspection, with interludes like “Singing Butterfly” leading into more uptempo Byrds/Poco moments like “Sister Rose”. Of course, just when you’re safely in that mood, they toss in an aggressive fuzzbox guitar solo over a go-go beat just to throw you for a loop. “See On Three” recalls Wilco’s experimentation, but the dizzying signature changes are probably even outside of Tweedy’s methods.

“This Is What It Feels Like” is another time-travel song, sounding like a pop track that somehow leaked into the future from 1967 California. “The Reminder” eerily and beautifully recalls the innocence of Neil Young’s first records with its delicate guitar and lilting vocals. Individually, these are wonderfully realized moments; as an album, it’s a mental watercolor painting that will dance with your imagination.

I had mixed feelings about their follow-up album, but I love the debut as much today as I did ten years ago. So if you haven’t savored this one yet, please do. And keep your eyes open – supposedly they will release a new album soon (it’s been an eight year drought!)

Beachwood Sparks on Amazon.

Beachwood Sparks on MySpace

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