The Lost and Found
CDs break hearts daily. Bands struggle to get signed, struggle to put their CDs out, pin their hopes and dreams on their CDs’ success, and then little or nothing changes. Life’s funny.
Okay, fortunes changed for Flaming Lips with 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, but the band released its first album in 1985. This song from the upcoming Flaming Lips’ album, At War With the Mystics, is a little cluttered. With a big, fuzzy guitar riff, busy drums, phased backing vocals and scratched/strobed voices clipping in and out, it’s hard to focus on Wayne Coyne’s vocal. Coyne’s affection for ascending melodies gives the song the uplifting quality that has characterized recent Flaming Lips — even when meditating on mortality — but the psychedelic washes mutes the effect.
That Striped Sunshine Sound
Australia’s Go-Betweens released their first single in 1978, and they wrote one of the great pop songs in “Streets of Your Town” from 1988’s 16 Lovers Lane. Still, they’re remained a critic’s darling in America for reasons that have nothing to do with their music. They recorded one of last year’s best albums in Oceans Apart. The songs on it are smart, subtle and catchy. Here they follow it up with a DVD/CD set, and on the DVD, they look like the guys who make smart, subtle, catchy music. That is, they look like English professors. The DVD is filmed live in Brisbane, and onstage they move like people who love smart, subtle, catchy songs; that is, they stand there. Disc two is the audio of the performance, and the spare, predominantly acoustic versions of songs throughout the band’s lengthy career suggest that singers/songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan value smart and subtle over catchy. Some people need others to do their thinking for them.
Warren Zevon’s career worked a little differently. Rather than toiling in semi-obscurity, he had a smash with “Werewolves of London” on his second album, and then spent the rest of his career as the “Werewolves of London” guy.
Who would have thought that Zevon, once the poster boy for bad behavior in Los Angeles, would become so beloved a figure when dying? Perhaps it was the way he made art from everything, even dying, and none of it was predicated on pretending another phase of his career didn’t exist. Reconsider Me isn’t a greatest hits album; it’s a collection of love songs, though many are apologizing to loved ones for, well, his bad behavior. The title cut and “Keep Me in Your Heart” remain moving, and the latter works as well said to a lover as to those he was leaving behind when he died in 2003.
Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3
…tick …tick …tick
As founder of the Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn had a good American indie/underground career, but the people who followed him since 1982’s electrifying The Days of Wine and Roses now are adults with kids, jobs, and less time for live music and cash for CDs. If anything, Wynn’s art has tightened up and become more precise and insightful; the only thing that has changed is his audience.
Anyone who was at last year’s TapeOp Conference is more than familiar with “Cindy” from this album. The conference for professional and amateur music producers installed a recording studio in one of the Fairmont Hotel’s ballrooms, and Steve Wynn was the guinea pig, with guest producers recording and mixing Wynn and the Miracle 3’s “Cindy.” The version here isn’t that one, but the song’s melody is sufficiently durable that even after repeated listenings that weekend, it’s still fun to hear. The song also features a verse that encapsulates Wynn’s gift for writing about complex, difficult relationships with quick strokes. In it, he sings to Cindy, “There were times I had Leora / I was giving her my best / It was her I blew up into / It was you I kissed.” He doesn’t always sound as on edge as he once did, but there’s an unease in these tracks that is his calling card. In some tracks, it’s coded into nervous, rushing arrangements; in others, it’s in a vocal that hints the singer knows a lot more than he’s saying.
Country International Records
No one knows Sugarplum Fairies because Country International Records is the band’s first album, and there’s a reasonably good chance no one will hear much about them. Not because there’s anything wrong with the music, but because pretty music doesn’t seem to be much in demand these days. It is, however, a relief sometimes, even when it comes as wispily as Country International Records does. Produced by former Wilco member Ken Coomer and Charlie Brocco, Sugarplum Fairies vaguely recall Mazzy Star in their airiness, but the mood is more delicate, less obsessive. Instead of the deep murk from which Mazzy Star’s melodies emerged, Ben Bohm unassuming guitar provides an emo-ish don’t-notice-me backdrop for Silvia Ryder’s melodies. Hushed female vocals are almost a cliché, but when Ryder’s melodies surprise as they do on “I’m Just Fine,” they stand out as if they were shouted.
The Rogers Sisters
The Invisible Deck
(Too Pure/Beggars Group)
No one outside of the Northeast knows the Rogers Sisters, and there’s a reasonably good chance no one will hear much about them. Not because there’s anything wrong with the music, but they cross genres higgledy-piggledy, and used CD stores are full of genre-crossing CDs. No one knows what to do with them. No one knows if they want them. Sadly, a lot of good bands get overlooked for that reason.
This three-woman New York dance band isn’t overly concerned with vocal niceties, which is why they’re compared to the B-52s. That and “The Clock,” the best, purest B-52s song not recorded by the B-52s. Laura and Miyuki share Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson’s spirit more than their ability to be affecting, which is why they also recall garage rock. They project persona, and the guitar riffs are psychedelic from the heavy reverb. Then again, “Your Littlest World” has a slow, haunted Doors-like quality. Or is it a slice of Public Image Ltd.’s Second Edition? Like good thrift store shoppers, the Rogers Sisters draw from across so many genres that The Invisible Deck doesn’t feel quite like any one, but it feels comfortable nonetheless.
The Burnside Project
The Finest Example is You
No one outside of the Northeast knows the Burnside Project, and there’s a reasonably good chance no one will hear much about them. Not because there’s anything wrong with the music, but there’s nothing special about it, either. Match indie rock’s unassuming quality with New Order’s reserve and you get The Finest Example is You, an album of sweet, semi-electronic dance rock with melodies and songs you’ll forget moments after you heard them. While the songs are playing, though, they’re charming.