Beer and Pavement

That Thing Where We Give Our Take on the Year in Music, AKA 2021 Top 10 (sort of)

Posted in Records, Review by SM on December 29, 2021

I didn’t do a top-10 records of 2021 list. I just wasn’t as connected as I usually am to attempt something like that. However, I will comment on the 10+ records that were significant to me. Are they the best of the year? Likely not – possibly even for me. What’s the over/under on records that also make Pitchfork’s list for the year? 2.5, I believe – possibly the lowest number in the history of my blogging “career.”

Parquet Courts – Sympathy for Life
Parquet Courts are my Pavement. They are my Clash. They are my Replacements. They fulfill these parts of me and for this, I am grateful. This record didn’t hit me like the last one (2018’s Pavement-centric Wide Awake!), but it’s getting there. It played particularly well when I saw them do it live. For this, I am also grateful.

The Courts may be my Pavement/Clash/Replacements, but this is their Talking Heads record. It’s funky and danceable the way most of my 90’s favorites couldn’t completely figure out. There were hints in Wide Awake!, but this is the record where they gave us a beat to dance to. And it translated live. Sadly, I was too nervous to dance as I watched folks remove their masks to take a sip of their drinks and wondering how much COVID was in the air when I saw the band last month. Still, if you like a cross between Talking Heads and Pavement, I found your record.

Snail Mail – Valentine
So, I addressed my issue with Snail Mail in my last post, but that’s selling Lindsey Jordan a bit short. Snail Mail makes lush, beautiful records regardless if she’s trying to channel Sonic Youth or Taylor Swift. This record is moving her in the direction of other indie pop songstresses. It’s polished and and shiny, this record with just a couple of instances of power chords (opener “Valentine” for one) and several singer-songwriter acoustic moments (most notably “Light Blue”). But there is still room for old Snail Mail (“Headlock”). The record fits well with another record on this list…

Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
I found Indigo De Souza this year when her debut (I Love My Mom) was reissued by Saddle Creek – much the same way I discovered Black Belt Eagle Scout. Of course, De Souza’s debut had been out for almost three years, but I’m glad I found her. It’s actually one of the rare moments when my daughter and I have connected on a musician or band. Of course, she’s rediscovering riot grrrl and fully discovering Nirvana at the moment, so connections are easy.

In Any Shape You Take, De Souza demonstrates the songs she crafted over those three years. Some of those rock with increased muscle than previous releases (“Bad Dream”), but it’s the dabbling into pop music that is most striking. Any Shape opens with “17” which is a full-on synth pop hit lost in the 80’s. However, unlike Snail Mail who sticks to her new script throughout, De Souza bounces all over the place with the aesthetic that earned her notice from Saddle Creek coming trough (“Real Pain,” “Way Out,” and “Kill Me). All that said, the standout on this record and all over the music world is probably “Hold U” – a song that captures her depth and talent for making you want to dance through the pain and joy love brings.

Good Morning – Barnyard
I have been mildly obsessed with Australian indie rock since finding Courtney Barnett almost a decade ago. Good Morning was a case of hearing a song (“Country”) months before the album release, waiting patiently for the pre-ordered record to arrive. What I found was a smart, funny indie rock gem that is greatly underrated. Records like Barnyard make you feel not-so-alone in your silo, because these dudes feel like you about the hopelessness of it all. This is why we listen to sad songs, or bleak ones in this case.

Mess Esque – S/T
Sticking with Down Under indie gems brings us to Mess Esque, a project by Helen Franzmann and Mick Turner of Dirty Three fame. This is actually a record I don’t quite have in my possession just yet. I ordered the LP from Milk Records before I knew it would also be released on Drag City. Oh well, I digress. This record reminds me a lot of Cat Power’s Moon Pix, which Turner played on as well. The differences are a more pronounced Dirty Three vibe and vocals more resembling a pixie than a bar maid. If you like Dirty Three Dirges and early Cat Power (throw in a pinch of Life Without Buildings), then this one is up your alley.

Courtney Barnett – Things Take Time, Take Time
I told you before that this record speaks to me. There might be no better artist to express a general feeling of morose that goes all of this [violently motions to everything]. And I think this keeps her sane. It doesn’t hurt our own mental health to listen to someone who gets the dread, depression, and helplessness one feels on the daily, much less during a pandemic. Of course, what separates Barnett from the usual gloom and doom of pop/rock music is that it’s always touched with that bit of humanity that gives us hope that this too shall pass. Life generally sucks, but there must be something that keeps us going. Courtney Barnett expresses that feeling in every song she writes and this record is no different.

Horsegirl – “Ballroom Dance Scene”/”Sea Life Sandwich Boy”
The next “big” thing in indie rock is about to be a trio of teenaged women from Chicago. They signed to Matador this year on the strength of a single that makes it sound as if they are the ideal client for the label circa 1994. Their new single “Billy” coming soon on Matador is more of the same, building the anticipation of an album that will somehow be recorded, released, and toured between the band’s freshman and sophomore years of college. Dueling vocals, feedback, walls of sound and tape hiss… It’s all there. It’s doubtful Horsegirl will be household names, but they have all the makings of a Yo La Tengo or Times New Viking. Despite my age (or because of it), I can’t wait for their LP to arrive in my mailbox.

Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine – A Beginner’s Mind
So, Sufjan Stevens hangs out and watches a bunch of movies with a buddy (De Augustine), and they make a bunch of songs. For whatever it’s worth, Stevens needs a theme or topic to focus his music; this time it happens to be film. De Augustine is a perfect partner as this record rivals much of Stevens’ best work over the last decade plus. This record isn’t the revelation Age of Ads was or nearly as beautifully sad as Carry and Lowell, but it’s pretty great on its own.

Kiwi jr. – Cooler Returns
Kiwi jr. grabbed me when I read they ripped off Pavement (who ripped off The Fall) in a review for 2020’s Football Money. This new LP is a little less Pavement, but the formula off off-kilter lyrics and guitar tunings works every single time. The songs on this record are much more pop-influenced, but that just makes them easier to sing along with. The album is loaded with ear worms, too many to name, really. I hope these Canucks continue to make funny, easy-to-enjoy indie rock, taking the Pavement torch until their inevitable demise due to creative differences.

Will Oldham – Superwolves / Blind Date Party
What was Will Oldham doing during the first year of the pandemic? Apparently he was recording two double-LPs with his friends, most notably Matt Sweeney and Bill Callahan. In Superwolves, Oldham and Sweeney return to one of the hidden gems of the Bonnie “Prince” Billy discography: 2005’s Superwolf. That first incarnation pulled Sweeney from the depths of couch-surfing and anonymity. I wonder if this past year’s output partially did the same for Oldham. Who knows? What I do know is that the Superwolf/Superwolves combo is gold. These dudes could trade farts over four-track and I’d probably listen to it and cry from the sheer humanity it contains.

Blind Date Party is a bit different in that it’s Oldham, Callahan, and a bunch of Drag City label mates playing covers. It feels like a party – one where a bunch of accomplished musicians just jam all night, until the sun comes up. The only difference is that they did this jam sesh over Zoom. This double-LP is overloaded with material and every track is nearly as chock full of ideas. No holds barred and musical gluttony rules!

Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
Mdou Moctar is the Tuareg guitar rock band that has taken American indie by storm. Or something like that. It’s on nearly every list for the year and I’ve seen noise fans as well as indie pop fans picking it up. I suspect in the halcyon days of MTV, Mdou Moctar would have been a major breakthrough – maybe not on the level of Nirvana, but maybe a Better than Ezra. I’m admittedly not all that familiar with African music, but this record is produced in a way that appeals to my ears and the forward guitar play is unlike anything I listen to. It’s reminiscent of Stephen Malkmus’ folk record he put out last year. If you’re looking for some “world music” (i.e. not western or even American) to round out your collection, start here.

Sleater-Kinney – Path of Wellness
After 2019’s The Center Won’t Hold and the unfortunate departure of Janet Weiss, I thought Sleater-Kinney as I knew was done. Path of Wellness alleviated those fears. Sure, the force that is Janet Weiss is missing and likely won’t return, but Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker put together a record more reminiscent of their triumphant return, No Cities to Love. I am admittedly not a St. Vincent fan. I respect Annie Clark and what she has built, but the results of her production on The Center just didn’t sound like Sleater-Kinney. This new record returns to form, in my opinion, and it’s a welcome return.

(On a personal note, I received maybe the best teacher gift of my 24-year career in education when Carrie and Corine – through a familial connection between Corine and a student’s family – graciously gave me signed copies of this record and two t shirts. What amazing people they are! I am eternally grateful and a fan for the rest of my years on this planet, even if I didn’t love The Center Won’t Hold.)

Wednesday – Twin Plagues
Have I mentioned that I love music from the 90’s? Wednesday touches on a lot of points for me. They connect the dots between My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. There is a twang and some innocence in quieter songs as sung by frontwoman Karly Hartzman. It just sounds like 1992-1995 indie and alternative rock – all of it.

Dinosaur Jr. – Sweep it into Space
I saw Dinosaur twice this year, which doubles the number of times I’ve seen them in my life and is two more than I’ve seen them since moving to their hometown 6.5 years ago. I won’t lie that these facts have something to do with this record getting regular play in my car these days. It’s not my favorite Dino record, but it hits all the feels. It rounds out a Dino live set with solos upon solos. Lou’s contributions are as solid as ever and J snuck in a few gems as well.

Kevin Morby – A Night at the Little Los Angeles (Sundowner 4-Track Demos)
It seems unfair to put this record on this year’s list as last year’s Sundowner was one of my three favorite records of last year. (I’m now realizing that my last hiatus included best of season on the blogosphere. So, there’s little-to-no proof of this assertion. Just trust me.) People either love or hate Kevin Morby. Those folks are cynics and crabs. Kevin Morby makes me smile and Katie Crutchfield likes him, so how bad could he be? Morby is a writer who says a lot with few words. What is left or even suggested is a Dylanesque take on the human condition. Like Dylan, he’s a midwestern storyteller. Morby just doesn’t feel the need to overwhelm you with lengthy description or wordy diatribe.

I included this record as it is basically a completely new thing from the original. The lofi sound echos Nebraska and Morby channels Dylan’s voice, even if not as verbose, as previously mentioned. Of course, different aesthetics aren’t really enough to make a new album. Waxahatchee (Crutchfield) included the demos in an expanded version of her 2017 masterpiece breakup record Out in the Storm and it’s just two versions of the same thing. I appreciate hearing the songs in the rawest form, but what Morby does with this record is a whole new piece. The album has been resequenced (or possibly reverted back to his original vision) and it provides a different take on the stories he tells. The album in this version stands on its own and I may just have to listen to it again (as it plays “Provisions” near the end of side 2).

I guess that was like 15 LP’s and a 7″. I’m not ranking them as I think ranking art is just silly. These 16 releases were significant to me this year. Some will fade; some will hold strong for years; and others will disappear only to return with some experience and context down the road. Whatever the future holds for these records, they are 2021 to me. My silo grows taller and the walls become thicker, but the music plays on. Let’s hope we’re not listening to more records through a pandemic haze again next year.

Things Take Time, Take Time

Posted in Life, Records by SM on November 16, 2021

Courtney Barnett is singing to me. Well, she always has.

I don’t mean this in a creepy way. She just speaks to me, or at least her brand of songwriting does. And that’s never been truer than on her latest release, Things Take Time, Take Time.

From the opening drum machine tinny beats, I’m eased into Barnett’s drowsy depressive state down under. I’ve been listening to “Rae Street” for months, actually. It’s just that I finally heard it this morning when I went for a “run” for the first time in a long time, long time.

It seems Barnett was as depressed as the rest of us the last two years or whatever it’s been since COVID 19 ruined everything. Every track speaks to me, urging me to ease back into life. Cheering me on to not give up and maybe give this world another chance.

TBF, I’ve been getting back into the real world again. Slowly. But these things take time, at least that’s what Courtney says.

I started this pandemic off running daily. I hadn’t run in forever and suddenly I was running every day. I lost a bunch of weight in a short time until the rest of the world had to start up. Sort of.

Work wanted more of my time and the running suffered. My drinking didn’t. My sitting on my ass didn’t suffer. My aging body didn’t stop aging, deteriorating. And it wasn’t like my mood was going to just flip. These things still take time, but how much time?

Anyway, Courtney Barnett’s new record is out. I don’t have the physical vinyl copy just yet, but it’s streaming on my phone right now. She figured out how to make the drum machine work and it somehow added to her sparse and basic arrangements without losing the stoned nonchalance they always held. And somehow, I think the drumming (the real drumming) sound better on this record.

It’s a good record and, like I said, it speaks to me. I’ll hobble out the door tomorrow just after 5 am tomorrow morning with Things Take Time… playing in my ear. I’ll struggle through the first few tracks until the up tempo of “Before You Gotta Go” and “Turning Green” move my feet a bit faster. Well, I mean, I’ll run faster until my upper leg starts hurting again. Then I’ll wish I hadn’t given up on running back at the beginning of the pandemic.

The rest of the album is pretty rad as well. It tells me what I’m feeling and I’ll go on feeling it. I’m okay with that, mostly because songwriters like Courtney Barnett feel the same things, telling me I’m not alone in this. Eventually, I’ll come out of this. Eventually, I won’t hurt so much when I run. Eventually, well, you know… Things take time, or so I’m told.

Going Dutch

Posted in Records by SM on June 30, 2020
My cliched pic of Amsterdam

The mid-90’s, like most of my generation, was when my obsession with indie rock started. One aspect of the scene that attracted me was how certain labels could lead you down rabbit holes to one cool band after another, sort of the way YouTube or Spotify might do for you today. Of course, in those days, information was mostly found in zines or label mailings.

Matador was an especially excellent source for weird or interesting music featuring guitars – so many guitars – and intellectually curious lyrics sung by college dropouts in thrift store t shirts. I remember working in my college’s mail room and getting extra excited when one of Matador’s newsletters would come through. I discovered some pretty memorable bands, many of which I’m still exploring to this day.

One such band was Bettie Serveert. I read that they featured some guitars(!) and a female singer, Carol van Dijk, whom I was convinced was just the Dutch version of Liz Phair. There was some backstory about a famous Dutch tennis player. The name translates to “Bettie Serves” or something. Whatever. They were Dutch and very exotic to me.

So, as I did in those days, I sought a used CD of their excellent 1992 release, Palomine. Standouts like the title track and “Kids Allright” hooked me right away. The band played micro-arena anthems akin to label mates Guided By Voices, but the guitar play stood out and challenged like a Dinosaur Jr. lite. This was soon followed by Lamprey which was full of more anthems, guitars, and van Dijk’s familiar, slacker drawl. I really loved “Totally Freaked Out” from that sophomore release.

My copy of Lamprey

The summer I graduated from college and left for the Pacific Northwest, Dust Bunnies was released. Opener “Geek” still floats around in my memory from time to time. That summer, I was able to catch them opening for Matador alum Teenage Fanclub at the Crocodile in Seattle.

But this isn’t really a post just about Bettie Serveert, forgotten indie legends that they are. I recently discovered that there are a few other bands of interest from the Netherlands, bands who have put some material out in the last few years unbeknownst to me. Where are my Matador newsletters and zines for these bands?

I should have known about Canshaker Pi. They play guitars and write smart-ass lyrics. Somehow, P4k or someone should have posted something that crossed my feed. This blog’s patron saint, Stephen Malkmus, produced their debut and had the following to say about them:

Canshaker Pi will blow the world away with their sound. They are loud, young and not too snotty. They play guitar rock. They don’t sound like anything in the Portland Oregon high school system I can tell u that — confident, frustrated tunes beyond their years. Get in the way of these lads and sparks will fly for sure.

http://www.canshakerpi.nl/

The Canshaker boys’ latest, Okay Decay, is a cool, steady punch to the face. Like Pavement and Malkmus, the lyrics and vocals are aloof and disinterested. The band is on time but acerbic guitar solos interrupt the pop sensibilities just enough to not trick you into thinking they actually like Radiohead more than Pavement. I’m still waiting for my copy of their LP on vinyl as it’s been stuck in customs for about a month.

Lucky for you, you don’t have to keep reading me try to do this band justice. Watch these three songs off Okay and tell me I’m wrong about these Amsterdammers.

Lewsberg is a different sort of band altogether. Hailing from Rotterdam, this foursome sound like the Velvet Underground. I know that’s lazy, but that’s just what they sound like. It’s not as derivative as it sounds, but they sound like the Velvets in a really, really good way. I don’t want to belabor the point, but they do sound like the Velvet Underground. And I’m not the only one to say it. But that’s half-assed to say, something I’m not entirely ashamed of, but this band probably deserves more.

I guess I should attempt to describe what I mean. At the heart of their songs is that driving rhythm, that repetitive groove that could just go and go. Then, over the top are dry, emotionless vocals with lyrics that seem just as distant. However, there’s humanity in the observations or sentiment despite the deadpan delivery. One way they resemble Canshaker Pi is through the lead guitar work that is angry, precise, but certainly won’t ever be confused for anything conventional.

If you want to hear it for yourself, the two singles from their new release, In This House, can be found at their website or the entire album is on their Bandcamp page. In the meantime, check this performance which in the same studio as the Canshaker video above. Again, it’s three perfect songs to digest. The third song is from the new LP (which is also in transit overseas). You can thank me later.

As you can see, there’s more to the Netherlands than weed and windmills. I know it’s got me looking for what I’ve missed. I’ve been to the country twice, separated by about 20 years. The first time, I saw Sleater-Kinney play. The last time, I bought a Great Plains record. So, I haven’t really given the country’s scene a chance. Maybe that has to change.

Archers of Loafing, Amirite?

Posted in Records by SM on June 28, 2020

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I kid. I kid. Or as we used to say, JK.

After reuniting and then sorta not doing anything a few years ago, Archers of Loaf announced earlier this year that they had new music in the works. It seems they weren’t lying.

“Raleigh Days” is a fucking tour de force or something. It demonstrates the Loaf’s power and angular guitar play while just being a regular banger. Eric Bachman’s growl is a bit toned down, reflecting his longing to be able to sing or just speak well into the future. His performance reminds me of some of his rockier tracks in Crooked Fingers. The guitars, though, that’s pure Loaf, balls to the walls and all that. The real surprise might be the call-to-arms Rolling Stones anthem “Street Fighting Man.” Fuck. Who knew the Stones were political?

I don’t have this track on vinyl yet. It seems the pandemic has delayed Record Store Day, AKA middle-aged male xmas. Still, I’ll grab it once Record Store Day releases a vaccine. In the meantime, I preordered Loaf’s followup, “Talking Over Talk,” which might as well be about Zoom meetings.

And that’s not all Rona has delayed. I was supposed Archers of Loaf a week or two before everything shut down in Boston. However, the rising number of cases scared everyone enough to shut down every rock show though the rest of the winter and spring. I was supposed to see Loaf, Waxahatchee, Liz Phair, Parquet Courts, and Big Thief, but they’ve all been cancelled or postponed. Archers of Loaf cancelled their shows completely.

So, I sit at home, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the Loaf to unleash something more than a few singles. I mean, the songs are good, but those of us who have been loyal Loafers (sorry) have waited a long time for this. Ever since they teased us with a sparse littering of shows a few years back, I’ve been waiting in grand anticipation of what they had in store for us.

I guess I’ll wait a bit longer. Now, put your masks back on, assholes, so I can back to live shows again.

(BTW, Archers of Loaf are not loafing nor are they loafers. I needed click bait. It’s been a minute since I’ve posted here.)

Image: It’s from my IG and it’s of a poster in my basement. The poster was given to me by Bob Hartzell at Augratin Press back in my COMO daze.

The Matador 100 Project: Unrest & Teenbeat 50 (Olé 024-025)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on August 17, 2017

A whole lotta Teenbeat up in this post…

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Unrest, the legendary DC experimental act issued a compilation of material through Matador and their label Teenbeat. The early tracks intended for this release were primarily of the b-side and rarity variety, including the band’s first album. They are rough and uneven, but one can find some cool moments in many of the tracks. The title of this comp is Fuck Pussy Galore (& All Her Friends). Pussy Galore, of course, was a James Bond character Unrest seemingly didn’t care for. Anyway, the bass lines are insanely schizophrenic, setting up the band’s signature sound as carried out by Bridget Cross in later releases. The covers included also provide a little bit of nostalgia for all the fucking Boomer bullshit were force-fed in the 80’s.

The vinyl fails to list about ten tracks included in the CD and cassette versions, according to the Teenbeat site. In fact, Teenbeat states that the vinyl version included just the tracks from the first album, no extras. According to the site, there were master tapes missing, some re-mixed.

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Teenbeat 50 is a compilation of some highlights from Teenbeat’s first 50 releases. Unrest’s Mark Robinson, Phil Krauth, and Tim Moran started the label in Arlington, Virginia in 1984. Teenbeat was able to release so many recordings since they made only one copy of each early release to be loaned out to high school classmates. Much of the early material was Unrest practice session recordings. Teenbeat played an important part in the indie scene in and around DC (along with Dischord, of course). Their roster is a who’s who of the underground-turned-indie darlings.

The vinyl version of this comp included 16 tracks, two from Unrest. Highlights of the roster included Autoclave (Mary Timony!), Velocity Girl (a favorite during their Sub Pop days), and Courtney Love (the band, not the other one). It’s a much more polished collection than the record mentioned above. Some of the tracks sound downright professionally recorded (Hello, Bells Of…! Where have you been my entire life?) Plus, there are two(!) theme songs – one from 1991 and the other from 1985.

Putting out these two comps to what I can only assume was a wider distribution network for Teenbeat, Matador was able to not only promote one of the great underground labels of the era, but they were also able to place themselves among those early fledgling indies. The Unrest comp demonstrates a cacophonous creativity alive in the DC scene (and beyond). The Teenbeat 50 might still sit on a shelf, waiting for release had Matador not given it a nudge (or possibly funding/support). I don’t know this for sure, but Teenbeat’s site suggests the comp was supposed to be released the fall of 1990 and wasn’t issued until three years later. Either way, I’m glad it saw the light of day and found its way into Matador’s first 100 releases.

(Admittedly, this was not my best effort, but you were due a post. Hopefully, I can get another out much quicker.)

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The Matador 100 Project: Railroad Jerk & Teenage Fanclub (Olé 022-023)

Posted in Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on August 5, 2017

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The next two releases in the Matador 100 come from what are two of the better-known acts of the early Matador roster. Railroad Jerk released “Younger than You” in the middle of 1991, while Teenage Fanclub released “God Knows It’s True.”

“Younger than You,” Railroad Jerk’s first 7″, is a raucous romp directed at ridiculing olds attending shows or something like that. The track feels messy and warbled, but a close listen reveals something more precise and on time. Railroad Jerk yell and twist their guitars, but it somehow comes together in a great cacophony. The b-side is the equally wild “Ballad of Jim White.”

I haven’t a ton to add to Railroad Jerk. I love rediscovering their material as I missed them the first time around. There wasn’t a lot of indie rock available in West-Central Ohio (where I grew up) in the early 90’s, especially Railroad Jerk’s brand of sloppy blues punk rawk.

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Teenage Fanclub’s “God Knows It’s True” is a 1991 Matador 7″ previously released as an EP in the UK by Paperhouse in 1990. Don Fleming produced the record which is a cool bit of trivia, I suppose. The covers for the two releases differed in artwork and length. I have the US release by Matador with its illustration of swamp creatures. The UK version is created from some multi-exposure camera trickmulti-exposure camera trick. I assume it’s one of the band members.

The 7″/EP is the link between Teenage Fanclub’s Matador debut Catholic Education and their classic Bandwagonesque. The title track is one of unrequited love. “So Far Gone” continues the louder, grungier Fanclub as they began to insert the melodies they would be better known for in later releases. The EP version features two other tracks in “Weedbreak” and “Ghetto Blaster” as filler instrumentals.

A Note about the Discography:
If you’re paying attention, I’ve skipped some numbers. Matador numbered releases before they made it to market, which some did not. I’ve addressed this before, but it seems that old discography with all the non-releases has been taken down. Now worries. I’m only writing about actual Matador releases.

 

The Matador 100 Project: Mark Eitzel & Circle X (Olé 016-017)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on July 25, 2017

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Mark Eitzel is a legend few know. You may have heard of American Music Club and it’s doubtful you knew about Toiling Midgets. Still, Eitzel’s been around even if most are unaware. He’s the kind of poetic genius who won’t be remembered until he gets Nick Drake-like attention with a Volkswagen ad and smartly-released greatest hits comp sometime in the future.

That said, Mark Eitzel released an often ignored single on Matador called Take Courage. It’s so misplaced that Wikipedia thinks it’s a big Christian radio hit, not a key part of Eitzel’s discography. But I know it exists as I own a copy and am glad I do.

The first side features “On the Emblematic Use of Jewelry as a Metaphor for the Dissolution of Our Hopes and Dreams,” a simple track of nothing more than acoustic guitar and voice. This would the “Pink Moon” track for that hypothetical VW ad. The guitar picking is clear and true as a keyboard fills some space 2/3 the way through the track. The existential lyrics make this track a hidden gem a songwriter like Eitzel specializes in. Jason Ankeny’s AllMusic review describes it succinctly, stating, “…its lyrics traffic in stream-of-consciousness wordplay that nevertheless resonates on a profoundly emotional level.”

The reverse side features the similarly loquaciously-titled “The Ecstatic Epiphany: A Celebration of Youth and Beauty Past, Present and Future.” Side 2 is a slow, quiet, stream-of-consciousness track that demonstrates restraint and grandeur simultaneously. In a whisper-y drawl similar to Evan Dando or Tim Kasher, Eitzel delivers his continuous thoughts over some impressive instrumentation that climbs just beneath his low murmur. It’s hard for such a somber, quiet song to soar and comfort the listener, but for a master like Eitzel, it’s just another forgotten b-side.

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Circle X were Louisville, Kentucky’s contribution to the No Wave scene of New York City just before and after 1980. The band bounced around a bit before releasing three singles with three different labels, “Compression of the Species” being the 7″ released by Matador.

On what appears to be the first non-black vinyl release by the label, “Compression…” is perfectly described as “menacing, sample-driven sludge” on their Louisville Hardcore page. The “other side” features similar pulsating drumming and shredding guitar riffs, but the vocals spoken much in the same way Slint delivers the words on “Good Morning, Captain.” Both tracks are challenging mind fucks that fit somewhere in the progression of No Wave’s never-ending story.

A note about the series and this blog…

I am going to do my best to keep both this series and the blog going. I don’t want to start over someplace else, because who starts a blog in 2017? However, I committed to the first 100 releases and it seems weak to stop without even making it a fourth of the way. So, with this post, I should get out three posts this week and/or next week that will cover about six releases. The next covers two 7″ records followed by an LP post. After that, we’ll see. I believe I may have to start buying some expensive records. So, stay tuned.

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The Matador 100 Project: El Chain Gang (Olé 015, note about Olé 019)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on July 26, 2016

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El Chain Gang is something else. I didn’t see this one coming in the discography. A punk band formed in the 70’s putting out a 7″ EP on Matador in 1991. Of course, El Chain Gang had a long history in the NYC underground and just happened to be unlucky enough to get noticed in that time. There were some brushes with fame in the form of a minor hit on the British charts (“Son of Sam”) and the soundtrack for Mondo Manhattan.

“Kill for Your” is a double 7″ set with a fold-out flyer tucked inside the plastic jacket. The artwork is as gritty and old-school punk as the music contained on the four discs. Despite this being a rather raucous punk band, one can tell right away how “polished” they are in comparison to many of the other bands released to this point on Matador. Additionally, their slow-to-mid-tempo stomps help explain why they didn’t catch on in the New Wave and Hardcore scenes of the 80’s. This release is a bit of a tribute to the mileage they put on the NYC punk scene during that time.

A note about Olé 019: El Chain Gang also released a CD-onlyt EP on Matador 2 years later. However, since I am focusing this series on the first 100 vinyl releases by Matador, it won’t be included. Which fine by me as this isn’t really my thing, but I appreciate where this band sits in NYC punk rock history and am happy to own an artifact from that history.

A note on the Matador 100: My hope is to churn out a bunch of these short takes on early Matador releases. I have a pile of them to consume which gives me time to acquire releases by Shams, Bullet Lavolta, Toiling Midgets, and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 among other bands I haven’t really explored. We’re really just getting started here.

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The Matador 100 Project: Dustdevils’ Struggling, Electric, & Chemical (Olé 014)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Pavement, Records, Review by SM on June 30, 2016

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Jointly released by Teen Beat in 1991, Dustdevils’ second Matador release was the Wharton Tiers produced Struggling, Electric, & Chemical. The Sonic Youth comparisons remain, but there’s a separation into something that sounds much more like future releases from Pavement. Of course, it doesn’t hurt Mark Ibold is the string between all these bands, but even he would admit he had little to do with any aesthetic any of the three groups produced.

The opening track was best described by Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot, who for all I know just listened to said track:

The Devils’ 10-minute cover of the Fall’s “Hip Priest” is a mind-blowing masterpiece of corrosion and decay: A female voice clings desperately to a thread of melody; huge, ghostly edifices of sound emerge from the sparest guitar chords; drums and bass collide, fall back and collide again as if auditioning for a Cecil Taylor session. More noise and disruption follow, even a wretched blues, all reportedly recorded in a single bleary day.

It is a case of the cover being just as good or better than the original and the original was pretty damned good.

The second track screams of a Sonic Youth onslaught. Again, where other bands’ influence is apparent, Dustdevils certainly hold their own. With this record, Dustdevils firmly plant themselves in the annals of noise rock. From there, Dustdevils rarely let up. And when they do, it’s for fits of noise and distortion. This record sounds like it was from the 90’s but somehow remains fresh 25 years later.

A quick note about Ole-013: Toys Went Berserk’s last LP was set to be released by Matador but it never came to fruition.  The Australian outfit put out the album on Aussie imprint Aberrant Records despite recording here in the States with Pixies’ producer Gary Smith. It seems unclear as to why Toys Went Berserk never released on Matador. I suppose it was in talks and Matador moved on with other releases and it just never happened.

On a side note, I am still doing this project. I gathered a few records to review but just haven’t had the time. I need to figure out where I am with the discography and get back to collecting so that I can continue putting out these posts. It’s not that I’m adding anything to the discography. I just wanted something to do and to find some way to honor my favorite record label.

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