Listen to this track by super-studenty Scottish pop band with a fey streak a mile-wide Belle And Sebastian. It’s “If You’re Feeling Sinister”, the title track to their 1996 sophomore record of the same name.
When I say “studenty”, I’m referring to a common, totally made-up sounding adjective often used by the British music press that describes bands who could otherwise be described as bookish, a bit earnest, full of musical loose ends, or in fact formed while in university. Sometimes, it’s just that last one, which certainly describes this band. Belle And Sebastian not only formed in university, but they submitted their first demos to the school’s label!
Needless to say, groupies, blow, and throwing T.Vs out of hotel room windows would not be in this band’s future (that we know of!). So, where were they heading? Well, for one thing they were headed to critical acclaim. (more…)
Listen to this track by Anglo-Gallic drone-rock analogue synthesists with a flair for retro-pop texture Stereolab. It’s “Three Women” as taken from their 2008 debut record on the 4AD label, Chemical Chords. The record hooked into principles Tim Gane’s and Laetitia Sadier’s interest in pop music of all kinds, including ’60s soul-pop, as it dovetails with krautrock, The Velvets, lounge music, and various retro-futurist sources.
And apart from the aforementioned analogue synth textures and their patented detached melodicism, In this song, we get to hear something of the band’s playful side. Yet, in their way, they’ve always been playful, taking discarded textures and set pieces from time’s past, and blending them together just to see what happens. An artistic environment in the ’90s when they debuted helped to encourage this kind of approach. That was a decade when sonic materials hitherto looked upon as being uncool seemed to be just old enough to be new again. By the 21st century, this approach is de rigeur across the board where experimental pop and indie music in general goes.
So, some things have stayed the same. But, what has changed? (more…)
Listen to this track by progressive rock collective Traffic. It’s ” The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys”, the title track to their self-same 1971 album. It would be one of their career highlights of the second phase of their career, coming back from a break-up in 1969 that turned out only to have been temporary.
This phase of the life of the band featured an expanded line up that included Ghanaian percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah who had previously played on Nick Drake’s “Three Hours”, former Family/Blind Faith bassist Ric Grech, and Derek & The Dominos drummer Jim Gordon. After a comeback record in John Barleycorn Must Die, scoring critical acclaim, this record that followed it up was a million seller as well as being critically praised. It reached platinum status by the middle of the decade. With those new members added to the talents of core members guitarist-keyboardist-vocalist Steve Winwood, woodwind player Chris Wood, and percussionist-vocalist-lyricist Jim Capaldi, the band were able to explore the deeper territories where rock, jazz, and soul connect.
But this particular track owed something not only to those musical threads, but to another medium entirely – cinema. (more…)
Listen to this track by autumnally inclined indie folk concern from Melbourne Australia, The Paper Kites. It’s “Bloom”, a single that would later appear on their initial EP, also called Bloom released in 2010.
The band started the year before that, slowly building up an audience through old-fashioned word of mouth. In the meantime, the band made the EPs themselves making them very limited editions. But this was not before band members Sam Bentley and Christina Lacy met during high school, playing as a duo initially at local venues, weddings, and festival shows in and around Melbourne.
The band have since filled out into a quintet with Bentley and Lacy each singing and playing guitar, bolstered by, Josh Bentley on drums, Sam Rasmussen on bass, and multi-instrumentalist Dave Powys playing guitars, banjo, and lap steel.
Actually, this “make your own EP by hand” gambit was tried and true for this band on a number of occasions since their birth as a band. They eschewed the making of a full length record at one point, opting for another EP and more touring before putting out 2013’s States. So with all of this local word of mouth traction in Australia, how did they move the needle to being heard on CBC Radio One by me recently? (more…)
Listen to this track by stylistically diverse and under-the-radar-influential trio from Phoenix, Arizona Meat Puppets. It’s “Swimming Ground”, a single released in advance of their 1985 album Up On The Sun, and eventually appearing on that record, too.
The band originally started out as a Southwestern representative of the west coast hardcore scene. But, their interests in roots music and in psychedelia helped them to forge a style of their own beyond that. Yet, even if they weren’t really a punk band in the end, they certainly took some very important notes from the punk ethos.
One of those things is singing about what’s around, writing about subjects that are perhaps not the most tried and true when it comes to popular songwriting, and using what’s on hand to do it, including the limitations of one’s own voice. This song is a good example of that, exemplifying a DIY, make your own rules approach with which punk is associated.
But, in this case, it was seen to be in opposition to the aesthetics of punk at the same time. (more…)
Listen to this track by wise beyond his years Canadian singer-songwriter and eventual radio broadcaster Murray McLauchlan. It’s “Child’s Song” as taken from his 1971 record Song From The Street, his debut album. The song was famously covered by fellow folk performer Tom Rush the year before on Rush’s 1970 eponymous record, where it tends to be better known outside of Canada.
As for McLauchlan, he would be among the first signees to True North, a label based in Toronto that is loosely the equivalent of Asylum in that it was meant to be a place for singer-songwriters. In this case, it was the artists coming out of the Yorkville folk scene there in Toronto in the late 1960s, songwriters with emotive and introspective points of view and with roots-oriented sound and arrangements that would characterize the True North stable for many years afterwards. Murray McLauchlan was certainly among the finest early examples, along with fellow signee Bruce Cockburn who was the first artist on the True North roster before McLauchlan joined him.
By the time McLauchlan wrote and recorded this song, he was a tender 23 years old seemingly with something of an old-soul and keen sense lyrical detail and emotional undercurrents. It seems to tell a very personal story about outgrowing the place where one grew up. But this song distinguishes itself in a way that standard “I wanna be free” songs written around this time do not. (more…)
Listen to this track by one-time Orange Juice frontman and second-wind Brit-pop singer songwriter Edwyn Collins. It’s “Losing Sleep” the title track to his 2010 record of the same name, and its first single. The song and its accompanying album represents an important phase in Collins’ career. It was a comeback. But, the term takes on additional layers of meaning when one considers the road that led to its creation.
In 2005, Edwyn Collins suffered two brain hemorrhages that left him severely debilitated. He couldn’t walk, write, or read. He lost strength in the right side of his body, and suffered aphasia, which is a loss of connection between thought and speech. At one point, the only things he could say was “yes”, “no”, “Grace Maxwell” who is his wife and manager, and finally and very tellingly, “the possibilities are endless.” For Collins, that last statement seemed to be pretty unrealistic given his condition. But, he went to prove that assumption wrong.
How did he do that? Well, for one he lived through it. But for another, he went back to work. (more…)