John San Juan Sings “Someone’s Birthday”

Listen to this track by one-time Hushdrops-honcho turned solo artist John San Juan. It’s”Someone’s Birthday”, a cut as taken from his new solo record, Smashed. The new record will be released on June 1, 2017.

That’s an historic date when it comes to album releases, of course; especially this year. Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was released fifty years from that date. Among the celebratory effusions that will no doubt follow the golden anniversary of that venerable musical offering, this release from San Juan is a token of allegiance to the spirit of that work. You’ll certainly find the same optimistic sheen on this new record, even if there are shadows to be found in the corners, too.

As much as there are hints to a summer of love now long past on songs featured on Smashed, the record represents a step forward into a new phase for its creator. Being a Hushdrops fan, it was a treat to chat with John and talk about this track, “Someone’s Birthday”, about the making of the record off of which it comes, and about what comes next for him. Here’s what he had to say.  Read more

Robyn Hitchcock Sings “I Want To Tell You About What I Want”

Listen to this track by neo-psychedelic musical vector and now Nashville-based singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock. It’s “I Want To Tell You About What I Want”, the crunchy, lysergically-oriented lead single off of his latest record, the imaginatively titled Robyn Hitchcock.

The record mines the songwriter’s continuing love for mid-sixties psych and absurdist imagery. He’s backed by a full-band that’s very plugged in, emphasizing the pop-jangle and fizz that characterizes a lot of Hitchcock’s mid-to-late-eighties and early nineties material. This is in part down to the sympathetic ear of producer Brendan Benson, a jangly pop musician in his own right. Helping to fill out the profile on other tracks is singer-songwriter Grant Lee Phillips, and pedal steel player Russ Pahl, who add some unexpectedly essential textures to bring everything into focus, and with extra 1966-67 psychedelic contours.

With all of that in place, the record sounds and feels like Hitchcock is perfectly at home, and yet still manages to avoid complacency. Maybe this is because there are many places on the record that sound very personal in a way that Hitchcock’s music has never really been before, taking those absurdities in which he usually deals into a very palpable social arena.  Read more

Oysterhead Play “Oz Is Ever Floating”

oysterhead_-_the_grand_pecking_orderListen to this track by jam-oriented power trio supergroup Oysterhead. It’s “Oz Is Ever Floating”, a cut off of their sole (to date!) album The Grand Pecking Order from 2001.  The song was a highlight on their associated tour around that time, having played it on their Late Night with Conan O’Brien appearance, among other musical locales.

The band was comprised of some very heavy hitters, instrumentally speaking. On guitar and other (sometimes very bizarre) stringed instruments was Phish head boy Trey Anastasio. On bass was Primus main mover Les Claypool. On drums was Stewart Copeland, sticksman for The Police and well-known film and soundtrack composer by the beginning of the century. His film and TV work was his day job, involving very meticulous processes and meetings with directors in order to satisfy its demands. Not very rock ‘n’ roll.

It would take a brash proposal to get Copeland out of film-and-TV-score land, and to get him behind the kit again, a role he’d virtually ignored for almost a decade.

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Lilys Play “A Nanny In Manhattan”

Lilys Better Cant Make Your Life BetterListen to this track by supremely malleable musical concern from Washington D.C and now based in Massachusetts, Lilys. It’s “A Nanny In Manhattan”, a short and potent blast of out-of-time psychedelic pop as featured on 1996’s Better Can’t Make Your Life Better.

The success of this track was boosted by its use in a Levi’s jeans ad in the UK directed by Roman Coppola of all people. The ad exposed the band’s sound to a pretty big audience once it was re-released in 1998 after the ad had paved the way. The single reached #16 on the UK singles charts, which would be Lilys only top twenty showing. Not bad for a song that was meant to be a fill-in tune for what the advertisers wanted, that being something that sounded like the Small Faces without the royalty payment headaches.

Success in the UK top twenty was a long way away from where the band started. Well, I say band. I should say Lilys’ creative engine in sole principle Kurt Heasley and his rotating line-up of collaborators; over 72 members to date, according to Wikipedia. But, this above average (to say the least!) turnover wasn’t because he couldn’t keep a band together. So if  not that, than what was the deal with Lilys anyway? Read more

Hushdrops Play “Tomorrow”

Hushdrops Tomorrow LP coverListen to this track by Chicagoan power-psych trio and returning pop contenders Hushdrops. It’s “Tomorrow”,  the lead track from their most recent double-album, and long awaited follow-up to 2003’s Volume 1Tomorrow.

This new record is a double, and expands on the band’s well-observed synthesis of ’60s psych, orchestral pop, British Invasion-inspired power pop, and jagged MBV drone-distortion melodicism across a generous 21 tracks. Tomorrow was a long time coming (as it were!), with each member of the band involved in various side projects over the years, touching on other acts including Veruca Salt, Plush, and The Waco Brothers. As mentioned, a wide spectrum of rock music tradition is touched upon here.

This opening and eponymous track reflects an interest in riff-driven rock music from multi-instrumentalist and singer  John San Juan, singer and drummer Joe Camarillo, and bassist Jim Shapiro, and delivering what a listener might expect to hear when catching the band live on the floor. But, since that spectrum is pretty wide, it’s really only a part of the whole story.

I had the chance to talk with John San Juan and Joe Camarillo from Hushdrops via email about their return to the studio, about the creation of a follow-up record with a pretty wide span of time having passed, and about re-engaging and re-inventing what Hushdrops means in 2014. Here’s what they said.

*** Read more

Current Swell Play “Keys To The Kingdom”

Listen to this track by Victoria BC beach-urchins and roots, blues, and psych indie-rock stylists Current Swell. It’s “Keys To The Kingdom”, the second track from their newest record Ulysses, released last week.  This is their fifth record, laid down in very short order in Vancouver at Greenhouse studios with producer Nathan Sabatino at the boards.

Current Swell UlyssesThis song represents an airy, more psychedelic end of the spectrum on this new disc, and in a career of four previous releases as well. The slide guitar driven neo-blues jam sound they’ve established is still very well represented on several tracks here, including the first single “Rollin'”.

But here, the muscular blues-rock vibe is tempered a bit with hazier textures and dreamier atmospheres. This song represents an expansion of their sound, even as the rest of the record shores up their strengths as a band who can wail in a live context.

And speaking of an on-the-floor live sound, that’s another thing about this track, and the record as a whole … Read more

Ray LaMontagne Sings “Supernova”

Listen to this track by gravelly-voiced roots rock paragon with a wandering stylistic ear Ray LaMontagne.  It’s “Supernova”, the title track and lead single to his newest record (his fifth), which as you may guess is called Supernova. The record was produced by the Black Keys’ guitarist and singer Dan Auerbach.

Ray LaMontagne SupernovaThis song is a reflection of LaMontagne’s love of mid-to-late ’60s guitar pop with a touch of lysergic, echoey production, woozy organ, and plinky-plonky saloon piano that suggests a lot of late nights listening to the Kinks in “See My Friends” mode, post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, Fifth Dimension-era Byrds, and Odessey and Oracle Zombies.

Maybe this is unexpected from a guy known for his exploration of more country-soul-folk-rock oriented material. But it’s not like this song and the record off of which it comes isn’t connected to all of that even through all of the orange sunshine. It’s got a strong connection to the craft of songwriting well above the ins and outs of genre.

The acoustic guitar and impassioned vocal style with R&B undertones that he’s known for are still in place, too. It’s just that on this track, and on the rest of the album, the stylistic room he’s singing in has paisley wallpaper instead of the rustic wood paneling of his earlier work. No biggie, everyone. But, what’s the motivation? Read more

Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians Play “Madonna Of The Wasps”

Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians Queen ElvisListen to this track by formerly monikered Soft Boys and ’80s neo-psychedeliaists Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians. It’s “Madonna Of The Wasps”, the lead track on their 1989 record Queen Elvis. In addition to former Soft Boys members Hitchcock, plus bassist Andy Metcalfe, and drummer Morris Windsor, this song features the distinctive lines of another key player worth mentioning; R.E.M’s Peter Buck.

Buck, and his band, were formed by following the example of what Hitchcock had laid down with the Soft Boys, particularly their Underwater Moonlight album. And here, Hitchcock reinforces that influence on one of his most enduring pop songs. A recurring theme in his work seems to revolve around insects, from cans of bees as forming the title of the first Soft Boys record, to references to Antwomen later on, and even with a documentary about him called Sex, Food, Death … And Insects, with all of those other things referenced being recurring themes in his work as well.

Hitchcock’s particular parallel is to draw a comparison between our six-legged friends and a form of idealized womanhood. And no song does this better than this one. And it shows something else too beyond Hitchcock’s affinity for writing songs about our winged, stingie-tailed pals.

Read more

The Soft Boys Play “I Wanna Destroy You”

The Soft Boys Underwater MoonlightListen to this track by neo-psychedelic janglers and left-of-center pop song crafters The Soft Boys. It’s “I Wanna Destroy You” as taken from their 1980 album Underwater Moonlight, their second.

The record would prove to be a slow burn when it came to success in the mainstream. But, in the meantime this song and the rest of the album would be a touchstone to inspire a number of bands coming up behind them in the new decade, including REM, Yo La Tengo, the Replacements, and the Pixies.

The Soft Boys was creatively driven by songwriter, singer and guitarist Robyn Hitchcock, a musician who would distinguish himself as a songwriter of unique lyrical perspectives and in no half-measures during the rest of the 1980s and up until the present as a solo artist.

And like Hitchcock would demonstrate in his solo career, the Soft Boys would pull from some of those same influences that must have seemed out of date at the time this song came out; The Byrds, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Revolver-era Beatles, and vintage Bob Dylan. By the end of the 1970s, new wave was the thing, and old wave was out.

But, the retro sound of the record was matched with the hostile sentiments laid down by punk rock, aligning the Soft Boys in both camps, yet in neither, too. Read more

XTC Perform “Chalkhills and Children”

XTC Oranges and LemonsListen to this track by superlative Swindonian pop trio XTC. It’s “Chalkhills and Children”, the closing track as taken from their 1989 record Oranges & Lemons, which was their official follow-up to the high-watermark Skylarking album, and their ninth overall not counting the Dukes of Stratosphear releases, their alter-ego band.

The new record was to be released after a stunning Stateside success with the “Dear God” single, which had been added to US versions of Skylarking. It was crunch time for the band to come up with the next big thing. That’s the deal for the not-quite-widely-accepted band. It’s not much of a draw for someone like singer-guitarist and songwriter Andy Partridge who writes great songs, but isn’t interested in getting caught up in the gears of the star-maker machinery.

“Chalkhills and Children” catches Partridge right in the middle of this situation. Partridge and the rest of the band were on a journey further upward toward the next echelon of fame after a successful single in “Dear God”. All the while, they were still on tenterhooks when it came to being secure in the world of showbiz commerce.

So, how does this song reflect all of that? And what does it deliver outside of the life of its writer? Read more