The Go-Betweens Play “The Streets Of Your Town”

The Go-Betweens 16 LoversLaneListen to this track by Brisbanite post-punk jangle-poppers The Go-Betweens. It’s “The Streets Of Your Town”, a single as taken from their much-lauded 1988 album 16 Lovers Lane, their sixth album, and their most high-profile and commercially successful, too.

By the time they’d recorded this song, they had made the move back to Australia from London where they had been based for many years, having followed contemporaries The Birthday Party to seek their fortunes in the UK. Ironically, it was their return to their homeland that yielded their best results of the decade, with this song making modest waves on the British charts as well as on the Australian ones, even if those results were respectable rather than the breakthrough success they hoped for.

Despite the lack of commercial traction, the return to Australia had an effect on how the writing came out. From the grey melancholy of London and into the 10-minutes-from-the-beach lifestyle presented by relocating to Sydney, the atmosphere of the album took on a decidedly summery feel. As such, songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forster experienced a burst of energy, which can certainly be felt in this song and is the core reason why this album would make such a long-lasting impact. Yet some of the dark clouds that had been so pervasive in London had followed them, mingling with the Australian sunshine, reminding them that time had moved on and perhaps so had they. Read more

Advertisements

The Pernice Brothers Play “Working Girls”

Listen to this track by Dorchester Massachusetts indie-pop concern The Pernice Brothers. It’s “Working Girls”, the lead track off of their 2001 album World Won’t End, their second full-length record.

The record was released on their own label after a brief hiatus between this one and their debut, plus side projects from principle songwriter Joe Pernice. Previous to this band, Pernice and his brother Bob had been in alt-country band The Scud Mountain Boys. With this new fraternally monikered band formed in 1997, it’s the jangly sunshine of a mid-to-late sixties strain West Coast pop that is the primary set of colours to be heard.

With that sound established, the lyrical content of the tunes is less of the hopeful variety, and more in line with themes of quiet desperation. This song is one of the best examples of that tension between sunshiny music, and distinctly cloud-covered words. Who is the central character here, and what does this song have to say about her? Well, that she’s a dreamer in a dead end job, unable to remove herself from her course. How many people do we know like that? Perhaps none that will confide in us about their situations, or even admit it to themselves. Maybe we can relate to her more directly than we’d like to ourselves.

As such, maybe it’s not just this one person being sung about in this tune. And maybe too this isn’t just about being frustrated in one’s job, either. Read more

Kirsty MacColl Sings “A New England”

Kirsty MacColl A New EnglandListen to this track by self-motivated pop song interpreter and songwriter Kirsty MacColl. It’s “A New England”, her 1984 single of Billy Bragg’s original song that would get her to the top ten in Britain.

By the time this single was recorded, MacColl was a latter-day signee to Stiff records. While there, she’d record a few singles. But,  it would be this one that would make the most impact during her tenure there, with a tale of a young person suddenly confronting the end of a relationship, corresponding with the end of innocence, too. It also talks about love and its complexities, and its power to create as much disappointment as it does to create joy.

Besides filling out the song in an arrangement full of jangly guitars and spacious production, it’s MacColl’s ability to carry the material off which separated it from it’s original context, and created a new one in its place. And the song’s author would help with that process. Read more

10 000 Maniacs Play “These Are Days”

Here’s a clip featuring college rock jangle-merchants 10,000 Maniacs. It’s “These Are Days”, a defiantly anthemic, dancing-on-a-gargoyle optimistic tune, the studio version of which to be found on the band’s 1992 disc Our Time in Eden,. That record would be the last one of which to feature founding singer, now solo-artist, Natalie Merchant.

Another version of the song would appear on their  MTV Unplugged live album the following year just before Merchant struck out on her own.  As such, it’s really the perfect end-of-an-era tune for a band who began in 1981, fronted by a seventeen-year-old Merchant, who eventually became a full blown songwriter in her own right, and a very deft one even with this tune alone. She co-wrote this with guitarist Robert Buck, hitting #1 on Billboard’s “Modern Rock” chart.

The band became known for a jangly, Smiths-style guitar sound by the end of the ’80s, when they were beginning to get out of their college rock musical neighbourhood to explore the outer reaches of the mainstream. But, along the way they revealed their subtleties, too. Read more

The dBs Perform ‘Feel Alright’

the-sound-of-music-the-dbsListen to this track by power-pop freedom fighters the dBs (stands for decibels, kids).  It’s ‘Feel Alright’, a latter day gem , from the band’s 1987’s The Sound of Music album. This was the band working at less than full steam without founding member and key songwriter Chris Stamey. Yet, the joy in this song cuts through the trouble this band was in at the time.

Losing a member for most bands is like losing a limb.  And losing a songwriter is like losing an organ.  By 1987, The dBs had lost both when Chris Stamey left the band by 1984.  Also around this time, the band’s record label went out of business, which killed what little momentum they had of promoting their  Like This record, their first as a trio.

So, with co-songwriter Peter Holsapple now defacto leader, the dBs had their work cut out for them.  The success they’d had by the early 80s with their best known record, Stands For Decibels in 1981, was still not enough to get them to mainstream radio.

In some ways, the band plays it safe with this song, and in a wider degree on the album on which it appears.  And yet, to me that power pop sound has a certain universal appeal that would have been a path worth pursuing. Even without Stamey’s influence, this song shines with pop optimism and rock attack.

Yet, power pop’s a tough row to hoe, there being so many examples of great bands taking their cues from early ones like The Raspberries, Badfinger, and Big Star (Stamey actually played bass with Alex Chilton in 1977), who in many ways shared those older bands’ fates.  This of course means that they were championed by the critics (like Robert Christgau in the dBs case), and largely ignored by the record-buying public.  This record was their last ditch attempt, which ended with the band fragmented, and two albums of unreleased material (Ride The Wild Tom Tom in 1993, and Paris Avenue in 1994) being the last under the dBs name.

The members each had solo pursuits, mostly as session men with sporadic solo and duo outings (Stamey and Holsapple’s Mavericks record in 1991, for instance), with Stamey being the most high profile as a record producer (Whiskeytown, Le Tigre). But, in 2005 at the time of Hurricane Katrina, the band reunited, releasing a version of ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ as a fundraiser for the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund.

Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple released a record hERE and nOW in 2009.

For more information about the dBs, check out thedbsonline.net

And also, check out holsapplestamey.com for Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple news and releases, too.

Enjoy!

Let’s Active Perform “Every Word Means No”

Here’s a clip of 80s alternative jangle-pop trio Let’s Active with their should-have-been hit record  “Every Word Means No” as taken from their 1983 EP Afoot.  The band was a going concern for leader Mitch Easter, who also had a hand in producing some early EPs and albums with fellow southern jangle poppers, a little band you may have heard of called REM.

Let's Active AfootI may have said it before, but I don’t think it can be said enough, so here it is again.  The ’80s get a bad rap when it comes to pop singles, and perhaps music in general.  A lot of the best music of the era could be found regionally.  And Let’s Active certainly proves it.  It’s really a shame that they didn’t hit bigger, given the calibre of the songwriting.

But, their music stands as a bit of a throwback in many ways to the early psychedelic era, and even to bands who followed the same trail as Britain’s the Soft Boys, who largely ignored the trends and played Syd Barrett-meets-the-Beatles inspired sounds instead.  In the burgeoning landscape of digitally driven, and homogeniac pop music of the time, Let’s Active picked the wrong decade to try to get play on commercial radio.

Yet, much like their peers in REM, college radio was good to them and helped to drive the sales of their EP and their first album Cypress. And that’s where the group focused energy, although over the years, members fell away leaving Easter to steer the ship on his own.  After touring college campuses after a final (to date) album in 1988, Easter switched his attention to production, leaving the band in stasis.

Where not many of the psych-revivalists and jangle pop bands came out of the 80s intact, some great music was made, which rather disproves the rule that the 80s was a bit of a let down for guitar pop.   It seems that the Rickenbacker guitar was just as important a totem of the time as the DX7 synthesizer.  This is a testament of the times, that  the 80s was perhaps the first decade since the 50s where half the fun of finding great music was the search beyond the obvious.

For more information and music, check out the Let’s Active All Music entry.

Enjoy!

[August 28th, 2014 – Let’s Active recently re-united and performed together for the first time in 24 years, although sadly without original bassist Faye Hunter who died in 2013. You can read about it here.]