Neats – Red and Grey

October 25, 2009

Available once again on “Neats: 1981-84 The Ace of Hearts Years,” Ace of Hearts Records.

agsAppletown Gun Shop have a new 5-song ep out, called “Ghosts of Green.”

Excellent mix of rock, folk, psychedelic, and blues — a little bit of everything’s in there, it seems.

Kind of like Califone, but maybe even better.

Like the title and the picture on the cover say: perfect songs for the fall.

Listen to two of the best tracks, “Orange Leaves” and “Dirty Days” on the band’s Myspace page.

Atlas Sound – Logos

October 22, 2009

atlas01Bradford Cox is kind of turning into the Picasso of our time: everything the guy does turns out to be a masterpiece. No less than three full-length cds last year: Deerhunter’s “Microcastle” and “Weird Era Cont.” and Atlas Sound’s “Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel.” Then the Deerhunter “Rainwater Cassette Exchange” ep from earlier this year. And now “Logos,” probably the greatest of them all.

One thing I’ve always admired by Cox is how he makes no attempt to hide his love and enthusiasm for the work of other artists; another, related to the first, is how he lets diverse influences creep into his own work. On “Logos,” he takes these admirable tendencies to their logical conclusion through full-fledged collaborations with Noah Lennox of Animal Collective and Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab. But, while “Walkabout” does sound like an Animal Collective song and while “Quick Canal” does sound like something from Stereolab, it’s also true to say that both of those tracks sound even more like they belong here, on an Atlas Sound record, proving that Cox can do what few others can: giving others the space to make their own unique contributions, while somehow incorporating those contributions into something identifiably his own.

In a widely-quoted letter from last July, Cox claimed that “Logos” is “not about me … the lyrics are not autobiographical.” What, then is this all about? Well, if we accept that the album’s title has some special significance, then it somehow pays homage to the presence of order and reason in the universe — and maybe even in human actions as well. An audacious stance to make, at a time when order and reason seem sorely lacking. But Bradford Cox has earned the right, by creating an album this good.

Blondie – Fan Mail

October 20, 2009

Beat on my Fender through my Gemini two/Play to the posters on the wall of my room/Thought I was crazy when I’d think about you/And the bells in my ears keep ringing

Hallelujah the Hills - Colonial Drones (Misra Records 2009)

Hallelujah the Hills - Colonial Drones (Misra Records 2009)

Hallelujah the Hills have a new lp out, called “Colonial Drones.” It’s their second full-length, following “Collective Psychosis Begone” from 2007 and the “Prepare to Qualify” ep from last year (which, by the way, you can still download for free, making it without a doubt the biggest and best bargainĀ in all of Boston rock, 2008).

No real surprises, here, stylistically speaking. Still the same great rock and roll, lots of instruments going at once, sing-along/shout-along vocals, intelligent and often funny lyrics. Same as on the previous releases. But this new release is the band’s best yet, precisely because of its consistency: 13 tracks, running for nearly an hour, all of them really good, quite a few of them really great.

And, guess what? You can download two of the best, “Blank Passports” and “Classic Tapes,” for free, right from the band’s website.

neatsNeats – 1981-84 The Ace of Hearts Years. This cd compilation collects everything or at least almost everything the band recorded from 1981 through 1984. That includes “Six,” a 7″ released by Propeller Records in 1981, “The Monkey’s Head in the Corner of the Room” ep put out on Ace of Hearts Records in 1982, the self-titled lp also released by Ace of Hearts in 1983, and some additional recordings done at Radiobeat Studios in 1984.

The 1981-84 period is important, as far as the Neats are concerned, for a couple of related reasons.

One reason is that the Neats released a two more albums in the late 1980s that were quite different in style to the recordings featured here. Nothing really against those later releases, but in my opinion the work featured here is by far the band’s best. Thanks to the DIY Mass Ave Boston Scene (1975-83) collection, it’s always been easy to hear how great “Six” is, but when you load up this cd and on comes track 1, “Red and Grey,” you immediately remember why that “Monkey’s Head” record tied for 4th place in the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop listings for the best eps of 1982.

Another reason is that by hearing all of these songs together on one cd, you can really see how the band helped bridge the gap between late-1970s/early-1980s new wave, “Six” being the best example of that type of thing, and early-to-mid-1980s jangling-guitar indie rock a la “Red and Grey.” As again those Village Voice poll results make clear, the Neats were part of the same stylistic milieu that gave us REM, the Feelies, and the Dream Syndicate. Note, in particular, that “Chronic Town” places just two small notches above “Monkey’s Head,” and remember that, though again I have nothing against their later work, “Chronic Town” still stands as the best thing that REM ever did (and if you don’t remember that then go put it on and see for yourself).

The point is that the Neats were right up there, and more than anything else this cd drives home that, as awesome as singles like “Six” and “Caraboo” were and still are, that ep from 1982 and the lp that followed were chock full of consistently great stuff.

Fans of Boston rock will always be indebted to the Neats for the wonderful songs and the memories that go along with them. And, once again, we’re indebted to Rick Harte of Ace of Hearts records, for bringing it to us the first time and bringing it back to us again today.

For me, the sublime moment on the new Mission of Burma lp, “The Sound, The Speed, The Light,” comes when the fury that builds over tracks 1 through 3, culminating in the excellent “Blunder,” segues into the even better “Forget Yourself,” a stunning slow-burner in the tradition of “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” and “Trem Two” that reminded me of that commencement talk by David Foster Wallace, both for what it said and for what happened after that.
But, the truth is, there’s not a weak track on this album.
Amazing that even after 30 years, we can listen to a new Mission of Burma lp; that even after 30 years, it would stand tall with their very best; that even after 30 years, we’d need it more than ever.

ole-878For me, the sublime moment on the new Mission of Burma lp, “The Sound, The Speed, The Light,” comes when the fury that builds over tracks 1 through 3, culminating in the excellent “Blunder,” segues into the even better “Forget Yourself,” a stunning slow-burner in the tradition of “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” and “Trem Two” that reminded me of that commencement talk by David Foster Wallace, both for what it said and for what happened after that.

But the truth is, there’s not a weak track on this album.

Amazing that even after 30 years, we can listen to a new Mission of Burma lp; that even after 30 years, it would stand tall with their very best; that even after 30 years, we’d need it more than ever.

bigstarboxGenerally, you could say, I really don’t approve of re-releases or box sets. For starters, I resent the idea of having to buy the same record twice, just for the sake of getting one or two “previously unreleased” tracks that were previously unreleased, often, for very good reason. And a lot of times I just don’t like the changes that get made. Like when “Rubber Soul” came out on cd without “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “It’s Only Love” on it. Some might say, well, that’s how it should be because the original UK release was that way. But that really changes the record, I think, and it’s not the same. So then you have to go out and buy “Help” too, and use iTunes or something to recreate the familiar experience.

Big Star, however, present an unusual case. For one thing, their original catalog never has gotten the treatment it really deserves (no pun intended). There’s that odd two-for-one cd with both “#1 Record” and “Radio City” on it. I guess that’s ok, and I have to admit that yes the consumer does win for once with that one, but still that’s not the lps in their original format. Then there’s “Third/Sister Lovers,” which has been difficult if not impossible to find at various points in time since it was first recorded and seems to change around every time it does get re-released.

Then there’s the more important fact that this new 4-cd box set “Keep an Eye on the Sky” is put together so wonderfully. Disk 1 starts out with a few early recordings by Chris Bell and Alex Chilton that presage what would happen next with Big Star, great for historical reasons and to understand where the band is coming from, then goes on to present all of the tracks from “#1 Record,” many of which are listed as “Alternate Mixes” that, to me, actually do sound better than the ones on the two-for-one cd. A special highlight there, for me, is a version of “The Ballad of El Goodo” with different and even more powerful lyrics.

Disk 2 includes all of “Radio City,” some interesting demo versions including a great one of “What’s Going Ahn,” plus two of the best tracks from Chris Bell’s album “I Am the Cosmos.” “September Gurls” is presented in its original format; but even that is as it should be, because that song is absolute perfection and who can improve on perfection?

Disk 3 moves into “Third/Sister Lovers,” with all of its emotion and despair. Listening to those songs again today, it’s easy to hear how their influence lives on, to cite just one prominent example, in some of Deerhunter/Atlas Sound’s more melancholic work.

Finally, disk 4 presents tracks recorded live in Memphis in January 1973, following the release of “#1 Record” and after Bell had left the band. There are two amazing things about those live tracks. One is that the sound is terrific; these are absolutely superb live recordings. The other is that the audience remains almost entirely indifferent throughout. There’s almost total silence during “The Ballad of El Goodo,” when I would have been up in front of the stage singing along at the top of my lungs about how “ain’t no one goin’ to turn me around.” But then, later, you can hear audience members talking during “Thirteen.” Talking during a performance of one of the greatest poems set to music of the 20th century!

But that just proves the point. This box set really does tell the “Big Star Story” in a complete, effective, and moving way. Very, very nice.

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