29 February 2008

'The Crossing'

I remember first getting the full album The Crossing on my 14th birthday from Sean Wheeler. Or rather, he gave me $10US to get the album. Months earlier we had both procured his brother's LP but eventually had to give it back. Here were four talented musicians--featuring a rhythm section that was favoured by the likes of Pete Townshend and many others, an ex-member of the seminal Scottish punk band The Skids, and a guitar wunderkind--who wrote and performed unconventional and lush compositions about landscapes and adventure tales in a time when pop music was all about androgyny and power ballads. The album was brilliant, full of amazing epics (The Storm, Porrohman), Scottish melodrama (Chance), and blazing guitars-as-bagpipes, also known as the E-Bow (Fields Of Fire, 1,000 Stars). Also here is one of my all time favourite Big Country tracks, Close Action. Shortly after The Crossing was released, they also released a 4-song EP called Wonderland, and it was every bit as brilliant as the previous album. Wonderland, All Fall Together, Angle Park, and The Crossing. Of course they continued with their plaid and be-sweatered, spiky haired image but the music and lyrics were timeless. No one since dear Robbie Burns wrote with such scenic Highland eloquence. And this all reached it's peak with Stuart Adamson's (may he rest in peace) lyrics to The Crossing, the 7:10 long finale of The Crossing/Wonderland period:

Maps on the back of your hands point to the cross
Scratches on walls in a room draw out your loss
Your islands are conquered and you are returned to the throne
Martyrs take penance and fill up the mattress with stones

Pull straws with holy men, stain all the atlas pink
And let us find a beach where we can cross our hearts

Stand in the wind as the carousels spin, wear out your welcome again
Stand in the silence of mountains and wear out your welcome again

Mornings hit hard with an uncontrollable light
Piercing the senses that click deep in the night
Crouched in a pillow of straw feet on the floor
Creeping a path to the mat that holds back the door

Stand in the wind as the carousels spin, wear out your welcome again
Stand in the silence of mountains and wear out your welcome again

Build up great railways that run through the horns of the moon
Hold up a city with cast-iron museum walls
Explain your machines to the boys feed them with tools
Bring out the skill in your skin polish your hair

Stand in the wind as the carousels spin, wear out your welcome again
Stand in the silence of mountains and wear out your welcome again

Stand in the wind as the carousels spin, wear out your welcome again
Stand on the silence of mountains and take your rib down to the sea...

The following year would see the release of Steeltown which closed with the amazing Just A Shadow, the first of my personal 'New Years Songs':

Just A Shadow

1986 saw the release of The Seer, which was truly the last Big Country album that had that 'Big Country' sound. As did most of the artists of the 1980s, they fell into the trap of over-production and traded in their soaring uniqueness for a too polished sound. It was a great half-album with the rest being just OK. Unfortunately, the rest of the story concludes with Stuart Adamson's disappearing act that resulted in his untimely demise by his own hand alone in a hotel room in Honolulu just before Christmas 2001.

They were amazing at a time when no one would even dare to sound or write the way they did. And no one has even come close since. To this day I still wear my plaid shirts and penny loafers with Scottish pride.


Big Country - The Crossing

"Two Way Action"

Back in the days when Borders books store's late evening hours were still relatively dead, and I had time to hang around for hours, I would monopolize a set of headphones in their music section and listen to as many featured artists as possible. This was long before you could scan any barcode in the CD section and listen to a sample. Only those albums featured on the top display row of the wooden cabinets got play time.

I had a very late exposure to musicians and bands. Though I could easily pick up lyrics of any song I'd heard two or three times, I could never tell you who sang it or from whence it came. Most of the CDs I owned were given to me by well intentioned neighbors, one actually, and a music obsessed father. All this changed when I got to college. Perhaps as a way to be out of the dorm, I spent massive amounts of time at books stores and local restaurants, which eventually lead me to Andrew Bird. Although, I am sure that the Borders recommended listening list was a sponsored by money paying industries, it was here that I found The Swimming Hour album by Andrew Bird's bowl of Fire.

Now, the tricky part about listening to a recommended CD on those headphones at Borders is not getting so bored with the beginning of the song or album that you miss the good bits. This is where "Two Way Action," the first song on the album, won my heart. It is the perfect driving song--as that is what I did the most while listening to it in the subsequent months and years after I bought the CD (and now that it has just popped up through the earphones of my mp3 player--I remember, it also speaks of driving--how funny). Not to knock songs that have a slow and easy beginning, but "Two Way Action" draws you in fast from the very beginning guitar notes.

The violin, by the way, is the instrument that Andrew Bird is most associated with. It is not the only instrument he plays however. His experimentation with instruments, voice, whistling and various musical influences is what keeps me buying his albums, many since the first. They are all interesting in their own right, completely different than the last, without straying too much from what his fans have come to know and love.

If you ascribe to the solidity of Wikipedia, then you will see that Andrew Bird has appeared as a guest musician on many other albums besides his own. Quite a few of these albums belong to the Squirrel Nut Zippers, which may be the reason I believed he had originally been part of the band and had broken off. I have been corrected since.

You can sample some of his newest songs and work solo of his Bowl of Fire companions on his web site and on Myspace.


28 February 2008

3 From The .99 Bin

I've spent so many precious hours of my life digging around in the .99 bin at various records stores that I almost feel a twinge of regret. I'm sure vinyl scavengers go through the same thing. Sometimes it goes like this: for every 10 .99 purchases, there is at least one good song buried in there somewhere. And once in a great while, there is not just a good song, but a great album, and just possibly, an amazing band. Here are three bands' CDs I found that are both hits and misses.

The Tom Collins – “One Day Krush”

Did someone just kick me in the face? Wasn’t expecting much from this band’s 1999 self-titled album and I didn’t get it. However, this one track managed to steamroll its way into my mind. “One Day Krush” shows two kinds of promise: good and very bad as this is probably the heaviest and tightest song on the entire CD. I’m glad I took a chance but things got ugly. The band turned into something awful by their 2005 album, Daylight Tonight. Think of Black Crowes meets The Toadies. Ohhhhh!

The Tom Collins Site

The Planet The – “Arty Movie”

The one track on Physical Angel that isn’t a prog/math rock attack is the creepy “Arty Movie”. I remember playing this for LeEtta and she handed the headphones back to me saying that the vocals were making her nauseous. Hmm… I can’t let that stop me, right? There is something amazing about “Arty Movie” and I can’t help but get swept up in its twisting and churning urban horrors. My favorite part:

It makes me nervous at night
It makes me nervous at night
It makes me nervous
So nervous nervous nervous nervous

The Planet The Myspace

Judging by this video, I’d say The Planet The are excellent live:

The Dying Californian - "Springtime Is For Suckers"

“Springtime Is For Suckers” is the kind of song that insidiously reminds me that I haven’t grown up at all. Suddenly, it’s 1998 all over again and I’m driving around West Palm Beach aimlessly to Boys Life or The Van Pelt. The rest of The Dying Californian’s 2002 EP is quite good but none of it gets me like this track. It never really screams “EMO!” but it is enough to get me instantly nostalgic (not like that’s difficult). “Springtime Is For Suckers” sways easily back and forth, building nicely to a somewhat restrained fervor, then pulls back, and is gone.

The Dying Californian Site

And you should...

Grab These 3 Songs


26 February 2008

'Condition Of The Heart'

Suffice it 2 say, in my formative years a good deal of what learned about sex, God, and playing the guitar came from listening to 5'3" man from Minneapolis. And thinking about it have quite a few musical icons that seem to mix the sacred and the carnal.

But that's another discussion 4 another time.

So after the monster hit that was Purple Rain, Prince (pre-symbol-name and with the penultimate appearance of The Revolution) decided 2 go 4 something akin 2 his Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Granted, not so much musically but...erm...spatially. The result was Around The World In A Day, which wasn't the huge success that everyone hoped it would have been in following a 13-million seller. But by no means does that infer that the album is inferior. Quite the contrary--it's got the usual radio-friendly fare (Raspberry Beret), some naughty funk (Tambourine), and some lashings of psychedelia (Paisley Park), all crafted as finely as U would expect a Revolution album 2 be. Every song has a different feel totally, not adhering to one musical style alone or daring 2 repeat itself. And there in the middle of side 1 (yes, still refer 2 'sides' as got this cassette in 9th grade from my friend John Penta) it all comes 2 a satiny halt. ('d say 'screeching halt', but the song isn't very screetchy.) In fact, it barely shows signs of life with the faint piano strokes that start track 3. Welcome 2 Condition Of The Heart.

Placed between the bounce of Paisley Park and the obviously successful Raspberry Beret, Condition Of The Heart is otherworldly. It's nearly 7 minutes of atmosphere, where the vocals don't even start until almost the 3 minute mark. The slow-build of the song brings the anticipation that there will be a huge sonic blast and the up-tempo turn will begin. Well, that never happens. Nope, it maintains a languid pace, chock full o' Prince's overdubbed vocals giving the bulk of the singing an almost gospel feel. Piano crescendos, sparse aquatic-laden synthesizers, and little else. It's beautiful, haunting, and silly. But mostly beautiful. Sometimes this song reminds me of the scene from Creepshow where Ted Danson is buried up to his neck in the sand and the tide is slowly coming in drowning him. Yeah, this song has a definite Danson-slow-drowning-Creepshow vibe 2 it.
But in the most gorgeous of ways.

And of course, any song that name-drops Clara Bow is aces in my book. She's also featured on the cover of the album as she appeared in the film Hoopla.

Mainly picked this song out of the ether because it's supposed to rain sometime today and this is the perfect song 4 a stormy afternoon. Barely lucid, overly maudlin, and playing like a drapery. also have found that it segues well into the Screaming Masterpiece soundtrack, but again that's a story 4 another day.


Prince - Condition Of The Heart

*ADDENDUM: After posting this noticed that Prince was in the news twice today. First, there was a story about Lindsay Lohan being verboten from Prince's post-Oscar box social. There is a very humorous mathematical analysis why she was banned. Secondly, and speaking of humerus, or rather closer 2 the ilium, the Purple-and-briefly-peach-and-black 1 will be getting hip replacement surgery. Please insert your own joke about visiting Dr. Fink here. Thank U.

"Silver & Gold"

A rock band? A rock song?! I rescued The Apparitions’ 2003 album, Oxygen Think Tank, from going into the garbage at a record store I used to work at. My boss asked me if I wanted it before he tossed it and I said yes just for the hell of it. Well holy shit, I’m glad I did. It’s funny that even an “independent” record store would let something really, really amazing slip through the cracks.

Anyway, here is a song that I come so close to overplaying for myself that it’s frightening. “Silver & Gold” from The Apparitions is one of those perfect little gems. While I was originally pouring over the album, this song stayed in the periphery. After it finally caught my ear, I couldn’t even imagine how I missed it. With a very strong wind up, “Silver & Gold” begins and it stays pretty obstinate until the almost unimaginably soothing and vastly important conclusion. My favorite line:

Don’t meddle with me, I’m only a child

Okay, now listen to this song about 300 times and you’ll see what I’m getting at. Simple? Good. Now go and get Oxygen Think Tank as soon as you can. There are a whole bunch of really great songs on it. If you dig that then get the band’s most recent album, As This Is Futuristic. They are both fine releases and both become more and more essential with multiple listenings. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to catch this band live one of these days.

“Silver & Gold”

The Apparitions

Their myspace page

And a little bonus (The Apparitions - "Motor Skills"):

25 February 2008

The Coasters' "Poison Ivy"

There are some songs that are special simply because they are intrinsically tied to a certain time period in life. "Poison Ivy" by The Coasters is one such song for me. Early in college, when I was first falling in love with my car and driving downtown every weekend to hang out at clubs, it came on my AM radio with a relentless repetition. Somehow the Dove AM station knew exactly when I'd be hitting that one bend in the interchange and almost every time it would play "Poison Ivy." There was a certain feeling to driving my car back then--a type of wind howling cool metal solitude that wasn't even broken when I had passengers (because my front suspension was shot and they always had to sit in the back).

My memories aren't the only thing going for "Poison Ivy." Just outside the normal realm of doo wop music, The Coasters perfected a career of humorous harmonizing rhythm and blues that they have carried on through today (now only with one original member). Their list of hit singles is long and includes other famous songs like "Yakety Yak," , "Charlie Brown," and "Love Potion Number Nine." Clever and far from slap-stick, "Poison Ivy" is just fun to listen to and to sing along with.

When I hear the song now, playing on a store PA or cropping up on my radio (no longer AM), I can almost hear the wind howling through my driver's side window as it rattles with the uneven cement.


23 February 2008

'Naturally'/'Feetless United'

Ah, Magga Stína. Icelandic chanteuse, music showcase hostess, and overall enigma.

But unless you read Icelandic there's not much information out there about this bewildering entertainer (and precious little even if you do read the language). We do know that she at one time fronted an group called Reptile. We also know that she was the first artist to sign to Björk's One Little Indian label. And we know she released one solo album, 1998's An Album. Oh, and she's blond. Pretty much everything else about her is a mystery.

I first heard about her when she was hosting a show on RUV (the Icelandic Broadcasting Service) and it was where I first heard two of my now top 10 favourite artists of all time, Mugison and Amiina. My first impression was of her sense of style that came across as an beautiful, snowbound peacock of sorts, but even without understanding her language I was won over by her whimsical voice and radiant presence. A Google search provided the information I've already shared and I was able to track down An Album on eBay.

Thanks to a site that at one time sold her album (but no longer did) I was able to find one track for download, her single Naturally. The first time I played that track I was smitten. The best way I can describe it as if she takes you flying over the face of the waters at high speed and you becoming quite seasick and lovesick at the same time. Such a beautiful thing, and her broken English and occasional Icelandic phrasing make the song nearly perfect. I had such high hopes for the CD that was by then in the post from the UK. Unfortunately, the actual album failed to live up to the single. I found it much too beat-laden and relied mainly on electronica. It missed the mark completely and should have relied more on her voice and delivery. Granted, there is a lot of bad grammatical English in the album which are definite points of endearment (such as the ending lines of Phoning, directly from the lyric insert):
We're going biking all around
Popcorns in the evening
Sailing on our boat
Get off!
Unfortunately, that was not enough to carry the album.

Or so I thought.

About an hour ago when I was considering all the song possibilities for this entry I decided to check in on Magga Stína and see if I could find anything new. I stumbled upon her MySpace page and of course gave Naturally a listen (really, it is a song I will not tire of for a long, long time). Afterwards, another track played, called Feetless United. I hadn't remembered ever hearing it and I let it play. It was Magga Stína infatuation all over again. From it's looped discordant opening that segues into a deep drum and toy keyboard riff I was transfixed. Then she hit me with her singing that rings with such sparseness and deceptive innocence (Inclouding timings of my eating, timings of my sleeping...) that it makes me forget how fevered and desperate the music really is. Then she harmonizes with herself and I am completely swallowed up. It all comes careening to a string and tympani glacier that comes from nowhere. I sat for nearly 4 minutes listening, loving this music coming from my speakers, so happy that Magga Stína had created new music.

(Here's where Dorothy clicks her heels.) Much to my embarrassment did I come to find out I had this song all along.

I ran to find An Album in my CD collection, and lo and behold track 8: Feetless United. D'OH! Needless to say, I am revisiting this decade-old album and now wondering what I didn't hear in it before. She was massively ahead of the curve with her production and execution. Yeah, it's pretty dang amazing. OK, there are some overly processed dance tracks, but nowhere near as many as I remember. The album just descends into madness, beautiful madness. Be like me--hunt down this CD, bury it for a couple years, and then return to it with all the regret for losing that time you could have been listening to it. That's the only way you'll fully appreciate it.

Magga, I will never indoubting your timings again.


Magga Stína - Naturally
Magga Stína - Feetless United

22 February 2008


Well, so much for avoiding 7 minute songs! Frankenixon’s CD jumped out at me in the .99 bin a while back. The cardboard packaging and (for lack of a better term) eclectic cover design forced me to snatch it up. I like to call these types of finds “College Radio Runoff” but that in no way negatively reflects on the music on the band’s 2002 album, Depth Perception. As Nafa said only moments ago, this album has that every other song thing going for it where skipping to the next track is often very, very rewarding.

My favorite track off the album, “Posers”, has a haunting quality to it with lyrics that are so dead on, it’s frightening. They tell a tale of wrecked people with nowhere else to turn to but each other. Evelyn Finch’s voice is sweet, taunting, and as ethereal as an undead siren (more graveyard-bound, less oceany). Her fine piano playing is distant, oppressive, and creeps up on me.

Take this ghostly quality and mix it with a bombastic pop/prog assault that taps into the part of my brain that forces me to clench my fists and sway awkwardly until I run into something solid enough to stop me. The fantastic rhythm section of this band drags me up to the top of a flight of stairs for the song’s finale and then leaves me teetering there. Luckily, Finch returns to carry me back down gently with only the slight chance that she might smother me gracefully.


Check out Bi-Fi Records.


The Country I love

I've always been geared towards songs with great and/or inventive lyrics. Maybe its because I write, but I just can't latch on to instrumentals or songs with a whole lot of repetition and endless doo wahs. If the rhymes make me laugh--you can bet the song will end up on my mp3 player. This also leads me to accumulate a varied selection of music genres.

That said, I've noticed among my friends and acquaintences that country music is either loved or hated. And given some of the bubblegum country that most people identify with the genre, I can't really blame a lot of them for hating it. Robbie Fulks is a completely different animal. In my mind, his music is the way country music should be--dealing with sin, misfortune, depravity, and earth the way few other genres would dare.

I was first exposed to Robbie Fulks while watching PBS, sitting on the floor of my grandmother's den when my mom and I were living with her for awhile. Out of the bowels of public programming came "She took a lot of pills and died" in concert, a song that seemed completely impossible at the time: to be hearing it on PBS, and to be hearing it at all in my grandmother's house. Not that the song is explicit, it just so happily spins the tale of a young starlet's fall from fame into depression and suicide, I imagine that it would've greatly disturbed my grandmother (and many watchers of PBS) if she had had her hearing aid turned up.

But the inspiration for this post is not that first and dear song I heard of Fulk's, it is the "Scrapple" song. Not only did it win my heart for being a tribute to a loaf of discarded pig parts, but what other poet could successfully put together the story so well? An example:

"Well, way down yonder by the port cocher
Billy's got his hands in Betty-Sue's share
Shakin and a screamin(?) at the Roadmaster
We can see him but we can't see her
Well, mama's in the kitchen and she might see
'Billy better leave your sister be'
But he jumps from the Buick to the dinin' room
When he gets a whiff of that pig perfume."

How can you not love a song that talks about pig perfume? Now, seriously, if this doesn't convince you that Robbie Fulks is something special, head on over to his Myspace page and have a listen to some of the songs there.


21 February 2008


I was trying to figure which way to go with my first contribution. Like everyone else on this planet there are songs that are so deeply a part of my being, like smoke in my veins. Songs that I wear closer than clothing, swimming in a locus just above my skin. Songs that are lovers and mothers, breath and fire, bread and water. Songs that are belief and God, the Devil and damnation, a heart on the sleeve expressed so much better than with words. I had fully intended on baring the deepest recesses of my soul with this first entry and have a bit of an introductory communion ('This is my blood, this is my body, this is my music...'). Then the temptation was also there to be self-serving and start off with the new Missiles track for a bit of free promotion. However, I just closed my eyes and listened to the dominant song in my head. And I chose a song from a band that Richard introduced me to a few months ago--a song that quite simply makes me 'happy'. Very.

The song is called Hitten and it's by a Stockholm quintet called Those Dancing Days. Those Dancing Days are singer Linnea, drummer Cissi, bassist Mimmi, keyboardist Lisa, and guitarist Rebecka, and their median age appears to be about 18. (Though the name brings a Led Zepplin reference to mind that is, thankfully, the last comparison between the two.) The song itself is a solidly crafted ditty, full of all the right ingredients to make this one of those few timeless feel-good pop songs that comes around every few years or so (see also Wreckless Eric's 1978 hit (I'd Go The) Whole Wide World or Outkast's Hey Ya from 2003). All the elements are there--the jangly chord-driven guitar riffs, a rooted but gliding bass line, perfectly intuitive drums, a keyboard melody which hearkens back to the days when the Cure were still relevant, and a voice so big that it belies the singer's 17 years on this planet. This song is just three-and-a-half minutes of aural Swedish happy. And the accompanying video is just as effervescent and joyful--simple and fun, silly and wonderful.

To me one thing that makes this band so endearing and perfect is this imperfect performance that took place on Swedish television. Even though the guitar is out of tune, the bass and keyboards are a bit off, and there seems to be some giggling going on, musicianship aside, what stands out about this clip is their camaraderie:
Sometimes technical skill takes a back seat to spirit for good reason.

I recently spent a week up in Tallahassee, exploring all the lovely things that town has to offer. When I was getting lost in the capitol building, wandering around the floor of the Senate, the office of the governor, taking in the 360-degree vista from the 27th floor observation deck, and dining in the employee only dining room, Hitten was the soundtrack to my misadventures and the only other thing to share the experience with me. So few songs lately can put someone in a just purely happy place, but thankfully this is one of them.

And I was happy. Very.


Those Dancing Days - Hitten

20 February 2008

"Six Year Ballet"

The temptation to go epic for my first entry was very strong. In fact, my first choice was “Ice Cream Cheater” by Radio Flyer which clocks in at over 7 minutes. But common sense took hold at the last minute and I found another track from the band’s only album, In Their Strange White Armor. Instead, I decided to go for something shorter and prettier. I settled on “Six Year Ballet” instead and although it isn’t a 3 minute pop song by any means, there is beauty to be found here.

The song works as a wave machine for my blood. The urge to pull over to the side of the road and hide in my backseat during the first two minutes of “Six Year Ballet” is a strong one. It’s such a comforting little number that I can’t even move during it. However, somewhere near the halfway point, the song gets dirty and I’m left wondering just what happened to my gorgeous quartet. The guitar riffs during this distinctly heavier second half threaten to unhinge my jaw and wreck me forever.

The song ends abruptly and it feels like the ceiling of the recording studio just caved in. It’s funny how my musical imagination is so limited that I can’t picture anything more than the musicians furiously at work on this track. Radio Flyer was a short-lived project in 1997 that featured members of Hoover, Gauge, Abilene, Sweater Weather, and Traluma. I have been listening to this gorgeous and dense 30 minute album for over a decade and it never gets old. Find Radio Flyer’s In Their Strange White Armor as soon as you can.

Not too subtle