Waxahatchee – American Weekend

ARTIST: Waxahatchee              220px-American_Weekend_cover_art

TITLE: American Weekend

YEAR RELEASED: 2012

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Be Good

LINEUP: Katie Crutchfield

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut solo album was recorded in a bedroom and was noticed by NPR, kick starting a career.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I’m not against lo-fi, but at times it seems like a big effort to listen to the tracks. Also, I’m not against bedroom recordings, as the intimacy. But again, the fidelity can be a challenge.

Katie Crutchfield’s solo project (as Waxahatchee ), overcomes those challenges by writing some damn fine tunes. The recording has quite a bit of treble, and is mastered pretty hot, but Crutchfield’s songs carry the day.

Just a guitar and a voice can make a powerful statement.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Crutchfield was a leader in the band P.S. Eliot, with her twin sister.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A: It’s the songs, excuse the fidelity.

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Veruca Salt – Eight Arms to Hold You

ARTIST: Veruca Salt                            VerucaSalt-EightArmsToHoldYou

TITLE: Eight Arms to Hold You

YEAR RELEASED: 1997

CHART ACTION: #55

SINGLES: Volcano Girls (#8 Alternative, #9 Mainstream), Shutterbug (#39 Mainstream), Straight (#38 Mainstream)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nah, it kinda tanked

LINEUP: Nina Gordon, Louise Post, Jim Shapiro, Steve Lack

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The second album curse? Nah, they did just as well as their first album, but didn’t have that breakout track.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s not like Veruca Salt tried to rewrite “Seether” 14 times, but at times that monster alternative radio smash colors this album fairly or unfairly. Nina Gordon and Louise Post, both writers and singers, didn’t really write a bad track here…

…but nothing made you sit up and go wow. Post’s vocals on her songs can get a little unhinged at times, for good and bad. Both Gordon and Post infuse each track with their harmonies and hooks. But nothing really had that monster something-or-other to make a great impact.

“Shutterbug” may be their best track here but it was an unusual choice for a single and a (very expensive) video with a definite soft / loud component and not very commercial compared to the other ‘alternative’ cuts in 1997 (but it’s a dang good track).

Track for track, it’s better than their debut, but it doesn’t have that high point, so you’re left with a record that’s just as good as their first. That’s not bad, not at all, but it ground them to a halt due to lack of sales and support.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They got to play “Shutterbug” on SNL, but since Sting was the host, he had the other musical slot so they only played one song 220px-Blow_It_Out_Your_Ass_It's_Veruca_Salt

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but they released an EP between albums called Blow It Out Your Ass, It’s Veruca Salt that’s better than both their full length albums, and has a cut (“Shimmer Like a Girl”) that should have been a huge thing (well, if people could deal with feedback, and they should). Sadly, it’s out of print and not even bonus tracked. Find it on the You Tube. 

GRADE: B: Maybe they should have kept back those four EP tracks…maybe. Anyway, it’s not that bad, really, because I know you’ve heard different.

Drivin N Cryin – Scarred but Smarter

ARTIST: Drivin N Cryin           scarred

TITLE: Scarred but Smarter

YEAR RELEASED: 1986

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Scarred but Smarter, Count the Flowers

LINEUP: Kevin Kinney, Tim Nielsen, Paul Lenz

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album from the neo-Southern rocker / folker band shows promise, but is hit and miss.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Kevin Kinney’s songs were either driving rockers, or crying folkie tunes, which is how the band got their name. Kinney formed this Atlanta band soon after arriving in the city from Milwaukee and soon after got this album released after a lot of local buzz.

There’s some definite ace material here, like the title track, but Kinney’s rapid fire vocals dilute the songs power – they make it seem that the tracks blur by and they don’t sit with you since they rush onward. The sound is tinny as well – without the sonic depth the songs seem flat.

There’s enough good stuff here for fans to enjoy it, and for novices to pick and choose. After this album, they’d sign to Island and start on their road to kinda-sorta fame.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Kinney worked at a futon company and sewage treatment plant while working on his songs and forming the band.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B-: If he’d have slown down is delivery a bit, then this album would be better. Still, not bad.

 

Urge Overkill – Americruiser

ARTIST: Urge Overkill                  Urge_Overkill_-_Americruiser

TITLE: Americruiser

YEAR RELEASED: 1990

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Ticket to LA

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Uh, huh

LINEUP: Eddie “King” Roeser, Nash Kato, Jack Watt

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second record from Chicago alternative trio improves the sound a bit, the songs a bit, but still kind of blurs together.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After a drummer change, Urge Overkill recorded their second album with Butch Vig in controls, and he and the band cleaned up their sound and corralled their influences a bit, which was sorely needed.

The one-two punch of “Ticket to LA” and “Blow Chopper” gives one hope, and those songs definitely are keepers for the band, but then the next six tracks don’t build or diversify, or are kind of half-assed (like “Empire Builder”). It’s also short, too, with eight songs that aren’t that long. King Roeser sings most of the cuts, so that also may be a change for later fans.

They’re on their way to where they’d land, but this isn’t where to start with them.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Jack Watt was known as “Jaguar”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: C+: There’s enough good stuff here to make you wish there was more, and more diversity.

Rose Hill Drive – Rose Hill Drive

ARTIST: Rose Hill Drive                                                 220px-Rose_hill_drive_self-titled_album

TITLE: Rose Hill Drive

YEAR RELEASED: 2006

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None, but three of the songs were on an EP

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Maybe not, at least not here.

LINEUP: Jacob Sproul, Daniel Spoul, Nathan Barnes

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Good old-fashioned power trio’s debut is a good old-fashioned power trio record.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: To some bands, retro is just adding an old keyboard sound or the gated reverb drums. To Rose Hill Drive, their whole first album is retro, harkening back to the heady days of the Grand Funk Railroad power trio, but with a crisper, fresher sound.

Their sound was recognizable to classic rock lovers, though not many stations played them, of course. Though most of these songs could fit seamlessly on that format. Daniel Sproul’s guitar has a definite 70’s tone to it, while brother Jacob’s vocals carry the melody through, allowing Daniel’s guitars to set the color and riffs.

They sometimes fall into the same traps as the older power trios, with a bit too much jamming on a few tracks, a song about a guru, and an acoustic group of songs in the middle of the record which can provide relief but aren’t as well thought out as the more rocking numbers.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Rose Hill Drive was the street the brothers grew up on in Boulder.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B+: You don’t find many power trios running around now, but they do a good job with the group format.

Muse – Showbiz

ARTIST: Muse                                 220px-Museshowbizalbumcover

TITLE: Showbix

YEAR RELEASED: 1999

CHART ACTION: #29 UK

SINGLES: Uno (#73 UK), Cave (#52 UK), Muscle Museum (#25 UK), Sunburn (#22 UK), Unintended (#20 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Maybe not, at least not here.

LINEUP: Matthew Bellamy, Christopher Wolstenholme, Dominic Howard

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut from the grandiose, semi-progressive UK group establishes their sound and their air of pomposity, all while being mostly listenable.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Sure, they’ve got some Radiohead in them (a less obtuse and strange Radiohead). Yeah, they’ve got a streak of pretention and gratuitous grandiosity. But darn, if this record doesn’t hook you in for the most part.

The second track, “Muscle Museum” is the album highlight. There’s a definite hook and melody that makes it radio friendly, but the complexity and the production means that it’s not just garden variety radio fare, and the hooks make it a lot more than just a new proggy track by a prog-wanna-be band.

The trio don’t always succeed at what they’re doing. Some of the deeper cuts don’t have the same drive or energy, and it does seem a bit long-ish (hey it was the late 90’s, no edits needed), but this basically established Muse’s base sound, one they’d build on later.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band chose these tracks from 50 or so, with some of the other songs destined for B-sides.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, various versions for digital download, Japan, and the Benelux area. 

GRADE: A-: Sometimes over-wrought, but enough good-to-great tracks to keep you listenting.

Metric – Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?

ARTIST: Metric                                 220px-Old_World_Underground,_Where_Are_You_Now-_Cover

TITLE: Old World Underground, Where Are You Know?

YEAR RELEASED: 2003

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Combat Baby, Dead Disco

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Were you in Canada in 2003? No. Well, no then.

LINEUP: Emily Haines, James Shaw, Joshua Winstead, Joules Scott-Key

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First album release by Canadian new-ish wave (a throwback, kinda) rock band mixes electronics, indie rock, and a new wave sensibility.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: At times, this release could fit in nicely in 1981 or so with the new wave era of synths and guitars, but there’s a modern twist and polish to Metric. Led by Emily Haines’ vocals and keyboards and James Shaw’s guitar work, Metric is definitely both old school and part of the 2000’s indie scene.

It’s an enjoyable romp through both old and new. Haines’ vocals, at times semi-spoken, are the forefront, and the music and arrangements complement her stylings. The synths played by Haines add some unique coloring to a few songs, and Shaw’s guitar hooks and riffs make the tracks very radio friendly while not being generic.

Metric’s gotten a lot of praise for their later work, but this is just as strong and should be on the list for any fan of the band, and of any new wave fan who wants something to remind them of the old days.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Their US record company delayed their 2001 debut album until it was really too late, and it was finally released in 2007 (and that’s where I’ll cover it).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A-: A pleasant retro-but-not-really indie rock record that deserves more attention.

Graham Parker – Squeezing Out Sparks

ARTIST: Graham Parker       Squeezing_out_sparks_cover

TITLE: Squeezing Out Sparks

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #40 US, #18 UK

SINGLES: Protection, Local Girls, Nobody Hurts You

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: You Can’t Be Too Strong

LINEUP: Graham Parker, Brinsley Schwarz, Martin Belmont, Bob Andrews, Steve Goulding, Andrew Bodnar

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Free from his first record contract, Parker releases his master stroke, full of bile, and surprising tenderness.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After three good-to-great studio albums, followed by a mess of a live record for a contractual obligation (The Parkerilla, not available now and don’t bother), Graham Parker and his backing band The Rumour come out swinging with the best, most complete record of his career.

Parker’s songs have their typical bite, and his energy pulls the band along so that they’re equally urgent on most of the cuts. Only on the tender “You Can’t Be Too Strong”, which many thought of as an anti-abortion song (when Parker said it’s more of a questioning song than anything, and is from the point of view of the man who isn’t strong to face his responsibilities), does Parker let his guard down.

Else, Parker’s still the angry young (ish) man of the UK scene at this time, even madder than Elvis Costello. This is the record to have by him; it’s a great time piece and stands up now.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: National Review named “You Can’t Be Too Strong” as one of its top Conservative songs – which Parker roundly disputed and showed that the NR is horrible at understanding pop culture.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Oh, yes. Live Sparks is the album played live (which makes me sad that I didn’t see him at this time), with a cover of “I Want You Back”, and his all-time bilious single “Mercury Poisoning” 

GRADE: A: It smokes, to this day.

 

 

U2 – October

ARTIST: U2                                     220px-U2_October

TITLE: October

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

CHART ACTION: #104 US, #11 UK

SINGLES: Fire (#35 UK), Gloria (#55 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: With a Shout

LINEUP: Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Disappointing second album sounds rushed and unfocused. Narrator: It was.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After getting acclaim for Boy, it seemed nothing went right for U2 when recording their second album. Famously, Bono’s lyric ideas were stolen, and he had to come up with lyrics basically on the spot without his ideas and notes. They came right from a tour to the sessions, and didn’t have many ideas.

They’re lucky some songs sounded as good as they did. “With a Shout”, “Gloria”, and “I Threw a Brick Through a Window” are just as good as anything on their first record, with the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. all contributing new ideas and sounds into their sonic palette.

Yet, as a whole, it’s unsatisfying. The lyrics and music sometimes don’t meld very well (understandable), and had they had more time, they may have turned out something as good as their debut. They didn’t have the time, and it showed.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Also, there was an existential crisis in the band. Bono, the Edge, and Mullen were involved in a group called The Shalom Fellowship, and began to question rock-and-roll and its lifestyle.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Singles, b-sides, BBC sessions, live cuts. You know the drill. 

GRADE: C+-: Three great cuts save this album, and probably saved the group.

Accept – Playlist: The Very Best of Accept

ARTIST: Accept                      accept

TITLE: Playlist: The Very Best of Accept

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Restless and Wild, Balls to the Wall, Fast as a Shark, Midnight Mover, TV War

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Neon Nights, Metal Heart

LINEUP: Udo Dirkschneider, Wolf Hoffman, Peter Baltes, Jorg Fisher, Stefan Kaufmann. Herman Frank was in for Fischer at times during this era.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: More seminal than popular, this German metal band was a bridge from the UK metal scene to the speed / thrash metal era.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Fast as a Shark” has a frenetic pace and a intense double kick drum, and is definitely the bridge between the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to the speed / thrash metal that would define the ‘real’ (sorry Poison) metal of the mid-to-late 80’s. For that, Accept should be remembered.

It’s not like they didn’t have any other tracks worth mentioning. “Balls to the Wall” is a hell of an anthem (except it’s about a minute too long), “Restless and Wild” is a track that almost out Priests Judas Priest.

Vocalist Udo Dirkschneider was the face of the band. His gruff vocals, with a surprising high range, is the highlight amongst a lot of generally generic metal. Wolf Hoffman can spin a good riff or three, but without Udo they’d be just another metal band.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Stefan Kaufmann left in 1982, but after an album with Herman Frank, they asked Kaufmann back.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 

GRADE: B: Solid metal for the most part.