Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Good Natured - Free Download and New Video!

The Good Natured are one gal and two guys from England. The sound is somewhere between La Roux and Siouxsie and the Banshees (after the punk edges turned baroque -- think 1982's A Kiss In The Dreamhouse).

The band's EP Skeleton will be out in the US on 25 October. The video is below.

Follow the band via their website:

Or via their Facebook page:

Or on Soundcloud:

Play and download "Wolves" below:

Watch "Skeleton" below:

Comet Gain's Howl Of The Lonely Crowd: A Review

Comet Gain are a bunch of underrated indie rockers from London, roughly.

I've listened to them for a few years but have never been quite so excited about them as I am now and that's due to the new record, Howl Of The Lonely Crowd, already out in the UK but out in the US on 4 October.

The best songs on this record sound like the Go-Betweens and older Primal Scream but, hey, that's a compliment and not an insult.

Let's be honest: the legacy of the Robert Forster-half of The Go-Betweens looms large over this Comet Gain record. It's almost impossible to listen to album opener "Clang Of The Concrete Swans", or hummable and magnificent lead single "An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls", and not hear strains of The Go-Betweens' classic Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (1986). The plaintive vocals on "An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls" lend a great deal of emotion to the track; frankly, there's more urgency here than on some of those post-reformation Go-Betweens records, if one wants to further that Forster comparison.

The sprightly, plucked guitar line recalls The Pale Fountains with the violin riffs recalling those Go-Betweens again. It's really a fantastic song: immediate, personal, and anthemic all at once.

The vocals of Rachel Evans anchor the Pogues-like "The Weekend Dreams" and there's a touch of old Richard and Linda Thompson here as well, but with a buoyancy and liveliness that the Thompsons sometimes lacked.

The influence of early Stereolab -- namely that Switched On-era stuff -- is present in "Working Circle Explosive!" The song surges forward and carries the legacy of Stereolab progenitors McCarthy into the present. It rocks in a way I've not heard Comet Gain rock before.

"Yoona Baines" lives somewhere between McCarthy and a fuzzed-up Raincoats. Again, Rachel Evans' vocals are the glue here, the edge in her voice lending the cut a bit of menace. The woozy organ links the cut up with American garage rock acts of the 1960s. There's swagger here and I like it a lot.

The Hefner-like "Some Of Us Don't Want To Be Saved" is one of my favorite cuts on Howl Of The Lonely Crowd. The acoustic guitar-lead track has a warmth missing from a lot of American indie rock and I'm reminded as a listener why I tend to prefer Brit bands.

Comet Gain jump genres over the course of the album but they still manage to make music that is sometimes simple and direct. This song is a stunning track, really.

"The atheist's glimpse of heaven..."

"Thee Ecstatic Library" recalls the better bands of the C-86 era. There's the hint of a less manic Woodentops here.

As the lyrics intone, "The music will save us..." and you can't but help and believe that.

Good indie rock seems vital and immediate and this is a great indie rock record.

It's not much of an exaggeration to say that Howl Of The Lonely Crowd is probably the best thing Comet Gain has ever released. Whether that's due to the work of producer Edwyn Collins is up for interpretation.

Whatever the reason, this is a record for both new fans and old ones. It's like the fulfillment of the promise that was always there in the music of Comet Gain but now it's much more direct.

And it's direct without sacrificing the bits and quirks that made Comet Gain a decidedly UK indie act.

I liken the effect of Howl Of The Lonely Crowd to Belle and Sebastian's The Boy With The Arab Strap (1998).

The Scottish group displayed a lot more confidence and coherence on a record that seemed to sum up their strengths and influences.

Howl Of The Lonely Crowd works a similar sort of magic. If you're going to own just one Comet Gain record, it should probably be this one.

The album is out on 4 October 2011 on What's Your Rupture? and you can download it for $9.99 from Amazon here.

In the UK the band are on Fortuna Pop.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

You Caught Me Smilin': Waiting For Sly Stone's Comeback (Again)

Today's New York Post has an article about Sly Stone, how he is living out of a van in Los Angeles.

As I posted on Facebook, this sort of thing is more depressing than hearing that a performer has died.

The word genius is used too freely -- I'm guilty of overusing the word, I know -- but Sly Stone really was one of the very few musical geniuses of the Sixties and early Seventies.

Even though I had Stevie Wonder records as a kid, and my mom played good disco and soul in the apartment, and my biological father played nothing but old pre-Beatles black music, I think I sometimes took for granted stuff that was current at the time.

But I can recall hearing "Everyday People" on the radio as a small child and loving its Utopian vision.

As a teenager in the Eighties, I got into Prince and quickly looked back and realized how much he owed to Sly Stone.

Not only that but Mr. Sylvester Stewart produced some great music prior to forming The Family Stone.

Need proof? "Laugh, Laugh" by The Beau Brummels -- one of the finest pop records ever made by a bunch of Beatles-loving Americans -- is the work of Sly Stone/Sylvester Stewart as producer.

Go back and listen to Sly Stone's work. There's some good clips of the man on YouTube from "The Mike Douglas Show" and "Midnight Special" and his early Eighties attempted comeback on David Letterman's show.

But rather than post a live clip here, I'm going to post this cut from the monumental There's A Riot Goin' On (1971) record. The sad/beautiful song is a marvel of melody and production.

I hope Sly lives long enough to make music half this good again.

Sly and The Family Stone - "(You Caught Me) Smilin'" from 1971...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

No More R.E.M.

I can't say I'm too surprised.

According to CNN, R.E.M. are no more. The band broke up -- or just faded away in a haze of misunderstood lyrics -- according to Michael Stipe's comments on the band's website.

It's not like I cared much about the band anymore. I can't name one memorable R.E.M. song since 1994, frankly.

And I'm the sort of old crank whose first thought on seeing the "Losing My Religion" video in 1991 was: "Wow, great video. Too bad they are going downhill so fast."

I can remember sitting in my car in the summer of 1987 and hearing Top 40 radio -- yes, Top 40 -- announce the new R.E.M. single and the John Cougar-crash of drums kicked "The One I Love" off. What seemed like a muscular rocker at that moment quickly became one of the most overplayed songs of that year next to most of The Joshua Tree.

The end was near for us early fans.

Still, R.E.M. was the sort of band that was indeed life-changing. Very few things have thrilled me the way "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" did. I probably heard it for the first time on the David Letterman show -- I had read about Murmur (1983) but I didn't get that album until I first got the current Reckoning in the summer of 1984.

That record -- along with some U2, Prince, and Echo and the Bunnymen -- soundtracked my senior year.

R.E.M. had earned the right to coast along. Those first 4 albums and the Chronic Town EP are among some of the best rock music I've ever heard.

Free Wild Beasts B-Side!

Wild Beasts are touring America as we speak. They are playing Sonar in Baltimore tomorrow, 22 September.

If you haven't already, pick up their wonderful new album Smother (2011), and try to see the band on this tour.

Details can be found on the band's Facebook page.

The band is giving away a B-side -- "Thankless Thing" -- and you can play it or download it below. The song is one of the flips to the new "Reach A Bit Further" single.

Wild Beasts - Thankless Thing by DominoRecordCo

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When Did This Turn Into A Music Blog?

It didn't. I still like comics. And movies. Some more than others (see poster above).

Here's what happened: I came back from Hong Kong in late June and had some personal stuff to deal with.

(Don't worry; I still want to live there.)

And then my work schedule this summer became hellish. I knew it was going to be bad so it wasn't a shock. In fact, it ended up being not quite as bad as I feared when I looked at the calendar back in May.

So, on the weekends I was just too tired to watch many movies. And I had even less energy to review the films.

Combine that with the fact that I've been getting more free stuff to download and review and that's why it seems like this site is now a music blog.

On that front: it's worth noting that I've turned away quite a few things. I briefly toyed with the idea of reviewing stuff that I wasn't really interested in.

But then I heard a few things I downright hated and decided that -- as I have intended all along -- this blog will be used to highlight the things I like.

With only the occasional rant.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Adam Leonard Brings Us Nature Recordings: A Review

Following the reissue of the Redlip album, Dan and Headless Bill -- out 26 September on Folkwit Records -- Redlip being Ashley Cooke of Pulco and Derrero teamed with Adam Leonard -- I decided to go back and listen to some more Adam Leonard, starting with 2010's wonderful -- and rare -- Nature Recordings.

With side B devoted to one long song, Nature Recordings (2010) reads on paper like a concept album but it's nowhere as pretentious as that.

Contemplative, yearning, and never overbearing, Adam Leonard's album is full of lovely stuff.

It takes a deft touch to make serious music that's not pretentious or ponderous and Mr. Leonard has that touch.

With its woozy organ, "The Man Who Invented Himself" opens things with a crash and more than a hint of Syd Barrett and Robyn Hitchcock.

(I hesitate to use those easy reference points but I know that I'm not the first.)

While those two names may bring to mind a certain British whimsy, they were both songwriters capable of moments of surprising poignancy too. That sort of beautiful sadness is here as well.

It's the hint of another era or two and a kind of wistfulness that links Adam Leonard to Mr. Barrett and Mr. Hitchcock.

The rather straightforward "Lillian, I Love You" sounds a bit like the Blue Orchids or something. The song's about Lillian Gish and for that Adam Leonard gets extra points from me as she's one of my favorite silent screen actresses.

As he pines away for a long-lost film diva, the guitar kicks in and buzzes about.

"Dawn Rain/Grissom Aloft" is an instrumental or, rather, two instrumentals-in-one, held together by some interesting and mournful guitar and keyboard work.

The drone of "The Archaeologist" is like "See My Friends" or "Fancy" by The Kinks stretched out of shape into something sinister. It's like Led Zeppelin III mixed with Bill Wyman's "In Another Land" -- drone pulled out and reworked into song.

The 18+ minute "The Eighth Tower" takes up side 2 of the record and it's broken up into four parts.

Part 1 is light and melodic with a touch of the sinister. Part 2 features fantastic acoustic guitar work that recalls Bert Jansch -- the subject of a song on Redlip's album Dan and Headless Bill -- and the eerie vocals hint at something ancient and English; this is folk rock and ambient music, the product of someone familiar with both genres and making them into something new.

Part 3 is largely organ-driven with some nice harmonies here. As Adam Leonard sings, "There is no meat upon my frame to match the ruins which you became...", the organ and keyboard wash over things as a plucked guitar anchors the song.

The sound of seagulls opens the final Part 4 of the song-cycle and this cut recalls classic folk rock from the 1970s like Pentangle.

Nature Recordings (2010) manages to recall both the glories of that British rock past and sound wonderfully unique and fresh.

If you like Espers and Six Organs of Admittance, you will love Adam Leonard's work here.

Adam Leonard is making contemplative rock, somewhere between folk and ambient. This is rock that requires careful listening but it's not heavy stuff.

Follow Adam Leonard on his website: The Message Tapes.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Stream The New Girls Album Here

I liked the first Girls album called -- wait for it -- Album when it came out in 2009 or so. It wasn't exactly original but -- like with The War on Drugs -- there was something pleasant in the way the familiar elements were stitched together.

It reminded me a lot of an American version of Primal Scream in that regard.

The band's second full-length album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, dropped on Tuesday but if you're unsure about spending your hard-earned nickels on it, you can play it first below.

After you're convinced, go to your favorite retailer or online music-seller and get this new record, or download, or CD, or whatever.


Monday, September 12, 2011

The Young Knives Bring Us Ornaments From The Silver Arcade: A Review, Better Late Than Never

When The Young Knives arrived a few years ago, I welcomed their somewhat abrasive whimsy -- "She's Attracted To" walks a fine line between quirky and wildly annoying -- because the band showed remarkable tunefulness on other cuts ("The Decision" and so on).

On their third full-length album, Ornaments From The Silver Arcade, the band have clearly toned down some elements of their presentation in favor of a stronger sense of melody.

Make no mistake, The Young Knives have not become Coldplay but they are now resembling that late 1980s-era Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians where whimsy was still at work but selectively so.

"Love My Name" charms with a hint of XTC's "Making Plans for Nigel", while "Everything Falls Into Place" is straightforward like an old Robbie Williams cut -- I mean that in the best possible way, actually.

"Human Again" is like the thinking man's Kaiser Chiefs while "Running From A Standing Start" is a catchy morning-starter like Blur's "Turn It Up" sung by older men.

"Vision in Rags" sounds like a Colin Moulding-penned XTC song and the influence of that band's 1990s work looms large over The Young Knives' output.

Ornaments From The Silver Arcade charms with its consistency and tunefulness. It feels like the band have found themselves.

They might not record another "Working Hands" but that's okay when the whole album is this listenable.

Ornaments From The Silver Arcade is out now from the usual retailers, virtual and physical.

Follow here: The Young Knives on Facebook.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sick (In America, This Time)

Despite what some people online think, I don't get sick just in Hong Kong.

In fact, I'd venture to say that I'm sicker now than I've been in 11 years -- since my last trip to England and my grueling flight home.

I didn't think I'd ever feel that bad again. But I do now.

Cough, fever, shakes, and so on. I've got a 10-day supply of some horse pill-like antibiotic, along with a prescription cough medicine with codeine in it.

I go to bed, start getting the shakes and chills as the fever kicks in. I wake up a few hours later covered in sweat.

I wisely got a doctor's note on Friday 'cause I'm gonna be off work for at least another day or two.

The only bright spot has been a two-day "In Living Color" marathon on the Centric cable network. Twelve hours of the genius of David Alan Grier and Tommy Davidson and Damon Wayans makes me feel a tiny bit better.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pterodactyl Offer Up Another MP3

How is something this odd so catchy?

I guess growing up on a steady diet of Throwing Muses, Talking Heads, and Cabaret Voltaire has made me more attuned to the tune in stuff like this.

Like Flaming Lips destroying a kitchen and then using the sound samples of the wanton destruction to make a song, Pterodactyl bring us "Nerds" from their forthcoming album Spills Out, which drops on 15 November on Brah Records.

Download "Nerds" here.

The War On Drugs: Slave Ambient Review and Free MP3

Originality is overrated.

Consistency is underrated.

Slave Ambient (2011) by The War on Drugs has a lot of pieces that sound familiar -- Bob Dylan here, Tom Petty there, a little Spiritualized over there -- but it's the way those bits are stitched together that charms.

There's nothing entirely new here. Despite that, Slave Ambient is one of the most consistently listenable records of the year.

"Best Night" opens the album in a quiet squall of liquid guitar lines -- like Daniel Lanois expanding on an old Tom Petty cut.

When we get to "Brothers" the overriding influence seems to be Bob Dylan -- maybe that Lanois-produced Dylan stuff? -- and there's a hint of the Waterboys here. But where those artists had elements that sometimes rankled this listener, the music of The War on Drugs does not.

This is smooth stuff.

"I Was There" has a hint of mid-period His Name is Alive -- the supple guitar work is quite impressive -- and "Your Love Is Calling My Name" is like Arcade Fire's "Month of May" without that band's bombast.

"Come To The City" -- the free MP3 below -- reminds me of Rattle and Hum (1988)-era U2.

Album closer "Blackwater" betrays a certain Bruce Springsteen influence but it's the Springsteen of 1987's Tunnel of Love where the form was oddly clashing with the slick production to give us a distinctly modern take on folk rock.

The War on Drugs seem to be more interested in mood than Bruce was, and that's why Slave Ambient works so well. It's the rare record that is best enjoyed in full.

It works as an entire piece of art, not just a collection of songs.

It takes a lot of skill to write and produce a great pop single but it takes quite a bit more to make something affecting and consistent.

Slave Ambient is out now on Secretly Canadian.

Follow The War On Drugs on www.thewarondrugs.net.

Download a free MP3 of "Come To The City" from Slave Ambient (2011) here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Yet Another Awesome and Free Comet Gain MP3!

I'll have a review up soon but take my word for it: Howl of the Lonely Crowd is an amazing record -- perhaps the best yet from Comet Gain.

You can play and download "Clang of the Concrete Swans" from Soundcloud while you wait for my (rave) review.

Howl of the Lonely Crowd is out on 4 October in the States on What's Your Rupture?.

01 Clang Of The Concrete Swans by What's Your Rupture?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Triumphant Return of Ladytron: A Review of Gravity The Seducer

Maybe it's the name. Maybe that's why I have sometimes neglected Ladytron?

Naming your band after an early Roxy Music song shows remarkable good taste but it connoted -- for me, at least -- a lack of originality.

That said, every time I forgot about Ladytron, I'd go back to their current release at the time and get pleasantly surprised all over again.

Putting familiar elements together in a singular fashion, Ladytron have been quiet pioneers outside of easy categorization.

And this time, their newest release -- Gravity The Seducer (2011) out 12 September in the U.K. and 13 September in the States -- is their most consistent yet.

Daniel Hunt, Reuben Wu, Helen Marnie, and Mira Aroyo -- Ladytron -- have produced a near-perfect representation of their craft.

Gravity The Seducer shimmers and captivates over the course of its 12 tracks. That Ladytron sound is here but there's more depth and less dance this go-round.

Oddly, despite all of the electronic tags the band has been saddled with, they've managed to -- once again -- make something organic.

It's like those Pixar films where the characters are more fully realized creations than the work of real flesh-and-blood actors in other films; here, with all the keyboard and sequencer wizardry at work, the result is one of the warmest and most human records of the year, with a layer of cool beauty sadly missing in other indie rock.

I liked Gravity The Seducer (2011) so much that I decided to give my quick-take on each track below:

"White Elephant"

That ascending keyboard figure denotes a lighter touch here. Still, don't worry: Ladytron have not turned into Saint Etienne on this album.

Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo harmonize and the song feels cinematic; as others have already noted, there's a widescreen spaciness to this album.

This is proof that electronic music has heart.


A percolating riff opens the cut and a keyboard line reminds one of mid-1980s New Order here. The lead vocals are lovely even if the song has a sinister edge to it. There's also something vaguely reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux on this cut -- think that second Creatures album from 1990 or so.

A catchy song and surely the second single (?) from Gravity The Seducer.

"White Gold"

Like something out of Radley Metzger's Camille 2000 (1969), this song has a retro-futuristic vibe to it and it's languid and trippy compared to the first two cuts.

It reminds me of Single Gun Theory. Unfortunately, too many people won't get that reference.

"Ace of Hz"

Catchy and -- dare I say it? -- very 1980s-like, this track is peppy and fun. The drums -- or drum machines? -- are louder here and there's a Gary Numan-like production sheen on the rhythm section.


I hate to say it but this instrumental might be my favorite track on the album. Yes, the smooth vocals are missing but it's just a smashingly cool cut.

If Klaatu and Gort were making music in that spaceship as they descended to D.C. to give mankind a warning in The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), it sounded like this.

Play this loud in your car at night as the empty highway opens up before you.

"Moon Palace"

If Sandy Denny had met Eno, they would have made a song like this. There's something decidedly English and folky about the vocals here despite the insistent keyboards, echo-y vocals, and pounding drums.

"Altitude Blues"

Almost a spoken word piece, this cut has organ-like keyboard lines carrying the song upwards.


Serene and soaring vocals here with keyboard figures bringing to mind classic Depeche Mode. There's a mournful vibe here despite the heavy drum bits.

"Melting Ice"

A gnarly riff opens this cut and there's what sounds like a real drum kit on this song. A swirling, bell-like keyboard anchors things in the background.

"Transparent Days"

Did someone say Gary Numan? That bass-like keyboard riff at the beginning of this cut reminds one of that electronic rock pioneer. Another instrumental, this song is lovely and hymn-like.

"90 Degrees"

A downright beautiful song which begs to be a single. The vocals are a bit far back in the mix but that distance from the listener adds to the mood. The lines of this song are smooth and the hook is sublime:

"The night belongs to you."

The serene, uplifting cousin to "Destroy Everything You Touch".

"Aces High"

More or less an instrumental version of "Ace of Hz" and another sprightly cinematic cut on Gravity The Seducer.

Get this album on your format of choice on 12 or 13 September depending on where you live.

Follow Ladytron on their website: Ladytron.com.

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Music From Bronwyn Adams (ex-Crime And The City Solution)

I already knew who Nick Cave was in 1987 but I didn't know anything about Crime and The City Solution. Wings of Desire (1987) gave me a taste of this amazing band. Somewhere between The Waterboys and Mr. Cave, Crime And The City Solution crafted epic and haunting folk-rock unlike very many of their peers.

Bronwyn Adams -- Bronwyn Bonney, wife of Simon Bonney from the band -- has been making music again and I found this awesome recent cut.

There's a bit of Mute label-mate Anita Lane here.

Listen to and download "Gun Li The Liberator" below.

Gun Li The Liberator by Bronwyn Adams

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Mermaid (1965) with Li Ching

Ivy Ling-Po plays a male scholar in this oft-filmed tale. The scholar is betrothed to Peony Jin (a young Li Ching) but the father (familiar Shaw veteran Yeung Chi-Hing) stalls.

Meanwhile, a carp spirit (also Li Ching) plans to seduce the scholar.

As the film was made in 1964, it's more than a stage-y Chinese opera; there's an inventive use of the sets and some striking camera work early in the picture.

And it's worth noting that the script was by Chang Cheh.

When Li Ching's carp spirit glides across the water at night, it's a more interesting presentation of this sort of material than what was previously seen in some Shaw Brothers' productions. The effect is impressive for the time and the moment seems at once beautiful and a little eerie.

The carp spirit takes the form of Peony Jin and the hijinks begin.

There's some confusion and soon the scholar is in dutch with the family and the carp spirit-as-Peony is causing mischief.

The second half of the film concerns the trouble the case of mistaken identity is causing the court. Ouyang Sha-Fei as the matriarch of the family gets a few choice moments. And look fast for a very young Lily Li as one of the handmaidens of the court.

Some split-screen effects are used when both Peony and the carp spirit have to plead their case before the family.

The second half of The Mermaid (1965) is full of special effects, though they might appear a bit rickety to our eyes now. Still, it's clear from the production values on display here that the Shaw Brothers studios were actively trying to take this familiar tale and present it in a bolder fashion, presumably for overseas audiences as well.

Li Ching is quite good in this role, especially when a viewer considers her age at the time. Her presence makes the film feel less static and more filmic -- if that makes any sense. Watching this film, a viewer can sense the difference in styles from Ivy Ling-Po and Li Ching and see -- quite clearly -- how things were changing in the Chinese cinema world of the mid-1960s.

In a few years, the Shaw Brothers studios would pump even more time and money into the equally familiar Journey to the West series.

You can order The Mermaid (1965) on DVD here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Throwing Muses Release Career-Spanning Anthology: A Review And A Look Back

To mark 25 years (!) since the release of their self-titled debut album, Throwing Muses have decided to put out a career-spanning anthology, called -- appropriately enough -- Anthology and it's out on 5 September on 4AD (13 September here in the States).


It is impossible for me to write objectively about Throwing Muses. I just can't do it.

I've written a bit about my breakdown in 1987 and subsequent hospitalization but I don't know if I can stress just how important the first Muses LP was to my recovery.

I got the import cassette at the University of Maryland Record Co-Op in June of 1987 -- they had it on vinyl too -- the assistant manager played it a bit when I was in there -- but I had already made the switch to tapes and I didn't have a CD player yet.

I got The Fat Skier (1987) mini-album on cassette there later that summer.

And by late 1988, I would be "night manager" at that same store, playing the same vinyl copy of Throwing Muses that Don, the assistant manager and my new friend, had played for me as a customer a year earlier.

And in April of 1989, my job at that store got me backstage to meet Kristin Hersh and the Muses at the old 9:30 Club on the Hunkpapa tour.

But that first record sounded like what I felt like when I was falling apart in the spring of 1987.

Before I cut myself up a bit, I would write frantic poetry in an attempt to channel the turmoil in my head.

When I played Throwing Muses on tape, it sounded familiar. But it sounded like Kristin and her crew were harnessing the chaos, whipping it like a team of horses.

In love with the sound of words, Kristin -- and sometimes Tanya Donelly -- purred/growled/roared/shouted/screamed the lyrics on that record.

As I played that Throwing Muses import cassette, I saw the title "Delicate Cutters" and -- without hearing the song yet -- knew that whoever had written this album's lyrics had experienced some mental health issues.

This wasn't an important album with a message about mental health. Nor was it an exercise in lovable eccentricity, like Robyn Hitchcock pretending to be the new Syd Barrett.

Without being precious about it, Kristin Hersh was creating art out of her inner pain.

And for me and many others of my generation, it was a relief to finally recognize a voice that you almost didn't know you needed to hear.

In June of 1987, I sat in my shitty car after dropping out of college a few times, with no job prospects on the horizon, and I played that tape and thought about writing.

Through line-up changes and the vicissitudes of the music industry, Kristin Hersh has used Throwing Muses to translate the intensely personal into something communal.

If most of the other 4AD bands at the time were ethereal and almost Gothic, Throwing Muses were a bunch of Anne Sextons rocking out with a guy on skins who sounded like a high school marching band drummer on uppers.

"With a loud noise, everything breaks. Everything falls."

That line, that moment at the start of "Finished" -- those drums!!! -- seems to capture the beauty and chaos -- beauty-in-chaos -- aesthetic of Throwing Muses.

A lot of bands tried to copy parts of The Replacements' template -- Goo Goo Dolls, I'm calling you! -- but no one sounds like this. No other band could have written something like "Mania", right? No other band was crazy enough to try.

In an interview Kristin said that she was never sure "if the music was disease or therapy" but for many fans, it was the latter.

And as I grew older and felt better, I still went back to the Muses.


I could bitch about what's not here -- "Delicate Cutters", "Dizzy", and "Solardip" are the ones I'm missing -- but I'm happy with this non-chronologically ordered compilation; this is an interesting mix, and one that provides a pretty good introduction to the band.

Additionally, the sequencing allows a listener to see how consistent Kristin Hersh and crew have been over the years. The first album doesn't sound so shockingly raw when the cuts are sandwiched between other, latter songs.

For the benefit of other longtime fans, here's a breakdown of what's on the half of the Anthology that serves as a Best Of...:

From Throwing Muses (1986):
"Hate My Way" and "Vicky's Box"

From The Fat Skier (1987):
"Garoux Des Larmes", "A Feeling", and "You Cage"

From Chains Changed (1987):
"Finished" and "Cry Baby Cry"

From those sessions and the Lonely Is An Eyesore (1987) compilation:

From House Tornado (1988):
"Marriage Tree" and "Colder"

From Hunkpapa (1989):

From The Real Ramona (1991):
"Two Step"

From Red Heaven (1992):
"Summer St." and "Furious"

From University (1995): -- (Incorrectly listed as 1996 in the notes)
"Bright Yellow Gun" and "No Way In Hell"

From Limbo (1996): -- (Incorrectly listed as 1998 in the notes)
"Tar Kissers", "Mr. Bones", and "Limbo"

From Throwing Muses (2003):
"Pretty Or Not" and "Flying"

21 great songs!

I always wanted "A Feeling" to be a big hit single on college radio. I think it was on some Sire comp. in the States and I wondered how many college students heard and the loved the song only to buy The Fat Skier and get pleasantly assaulted by the band's joyous rawk.

Nearly 25 years later, it still ranks as one of Kristin's best vocal performances. And Tanya's backing vocals are lovely as well.

"Marriage Tree", like most of that House Tornado album, has some fantastic lyrics -- "Treat me like a 12-year-old man..." -- but it's really a showcase for David Narcizo's drumming and the marriage to Hersh's lyrics. The rhythm shifts and changes in weird ways but the song surges forward thanks to those drums. Listening now, I can hear a touch of Bill Berry from R.E.M. here -- think "The One I Love" only jazzier.

What more can one say about "Fish"? The song was the earthly counterpart to the wispy and atmospheric bits on the Lonely Is An Eyesore (1987) compilation; not for nothing do I recall quite a few 4AD fans complaining about the cut and how it jarred the mood of the album. Little did they know that in a few short months The Pixies would further jar the ethereal vibe of that 4AD sound.

Narcizo's precise and fevered drumming is a human parodying the Cocteaus' drum machine with that lead guitar -- Kristin or Tanya? -- swirling like "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" by The Yardbirds. And the lyrics -- Kafka, fish, men, hips, numbers -- are at once gibberish and genius, stream of consciousness-stuff and careful poetry.

As for "Hate My Way": I don't think I can write about it without getting too sentimental (again) but the song still serves as a sort of model for the Muses: the time signature changes, the vocal ups-and-downs, the funky bass, the fusion-y drumming -- all those things define Throwing Muses in ways that my words can't. As some critic at the time mentioned, the song is vaguely reminiscent of Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" and, like that Heads cut, the song is sort of the perfect encapsulation of its creator(s). There are Muses songs with more rage, more joy -- and ones more languid and chill as well -- but when you say the name of the band, the ear in my brain hears this.

The drums nearly drop to gentle taps and Kristin asks:

"How do they kill children?"

Somehow, she makes the moment less precious and more achingly precise, less heart-on-the-sleeve stuff and more urgent worry.

And, weirdly, Kristin's hate is energy. The nihilism of Punk is here refined into something sustaining and pure. Like Lydon sang, "Anger is an energy" and this is the song that proves it.

The twang of "No Way in Hell" -- like the dying squalls of Billy Gibbons' guitar -- gives way to the slow burn of "Colder". There's that R.E.M.-like guitar spiral over the waltz-time beat as Kristin's voice trills those great lyrics of the House Tornado opener. The vocals echo from far back in the sonic mix and that gives the cut an interesting flavor.

"There's only darkness upstairs..."

"Bright Yellow Gun" recalls the glory days of American indie rock. Thanks to Throwing Muses, The Pixies had a chance to get popular on 4AD. Thanks to The Pixies' quiet/loud template, Nirvana were able to escape the sonic shackles of the Sub Pop ethos of the very late 1980s.

And thanks to Nirvana, stuff like "Bright Yellow Gun" still got released on a major label and actively played on college and alternative radio stations in the mid-1990s.

(Though it's worth noting that that album was the last for the Muses on a major label in the States; getting dropped by Sire oddly gave Kristin more control over subsequent releases on other labels. And that lead to her forming CASH Music.)

Not only that, but -- again -- the drums are ferocious. Bernard Georges on bass doesn't disappoint either -- there's a muscular rhythm here that is a bit heavy and almost malevolent.

"And I think I need a little poison...."

"Flying", with its Bonham-like drums and buzzsaw guitar, still charms. Frankly, that 2003 self-titled Muses LP is looking more and more like an unheralded masterpiece of modern indie rock. "Pretty or Not" starts like something off of House Tornado and then kicks into the roar of the title phrase. Seriously, if this Anthology is the first Muses record you buy, and their first album the second, let the third purchase be that 2003 album.


I'm not going to spoil the hidden gems of this second disc of rarities and B-sides. Just let me say that there's nearly 80-minutes of great stuff here. "Cottonmouth", that B-side to "Counting Backwards" (1991), seems like one of Kristin's best overall compositions; frankly, I like it better than most of what's on The Real Ramona (1991) album.

There are different versions of "Snailhead" and "Finished" here -- most of the Chains Changed (1987) release is represented in some way on this collection -- as well as a psuedo-remix of "Limbo".

Also of note are the covers, with my 3 faves being "Amazing Grace", The Beatles' "Cry Baby Cry" -- the Muses' song of the same name is on Disc 1 -- and the instrumental version of Hendrix's "Manic Depression" with Hersh, Narcizo and Georges whipping up one wholly unholy racket.

To think that I once was so impressed with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' cover of Jimi's "Fire"? This rocks just as hard.

If you, like me, bought the A Matter Of Degrees (1990) album mainly for that Throwing Muses cut -- (the soundtrack has a lot of great stuff, actually) -- then rest assured that the song is here in an even better version: "Matter of Degrees (Back Road Remix)" is a heavier and catchier version of the song and it's one of the treasures on this second disc.

Forget that Shins shit in Garden State (2004); that first Throwing Muses record will change your life.

It changed mine.

Follow the history of Throwing Muses on 4AD

Follow Kristin Hersh and all her various incarnations here on Throwing Music.com and on the CASH Music site.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Free MP3 From The Young Knives

England's The Young Knives are an odd lot: twitchy and self-aware but also intent on delivering solid melodies amid the weird bits.

Check out this free MP3 from the band's latest album, Ornaments From The Silver Arcade. On "Woman" there are traces of Marc Almond on the vocals, horns from mid-1980s-era Peter Gabriel, and a touch of Frankie Goes To Hollywood in the melody.

That sounds like an unholy mess but it works. You can download the song below.

Follow The Young Knives:

Young Knives - Woman by PIAS Entertainment