Table of Contents: > For Your Pleasure


Jethro Tull

Jethro_Tull_Oblique_Crtiique_FrontJethro_Tull_Oblique_Critique_BackDOWNLOAD THE COMP HERE

Jethro Tull has been, consistently and ardently, my favorite band for the last 30 years.

Wherever and however far I might drift — across oceans of punk, pop, prog & psychedelia, into sunken caves of dub or swampy lagoons of goth, down pulsing Krautrock channels, upended by typhoons of metal — I always tie back up with Tull.1

My conversion experience occurred in profoundly improbable circumstances. In 1988 I was in high school, peaking with hardcore punk rock fever. Amongst our rag-tag handful of like-minded misfits, Suffer, a new album by Bad Religion (back then a far lesser known band) was gathering some serious killer buzz. Finally, one kid scored it from an older brother and brought it in for me to gym class. I promptly inserted the home recorded tape into my AIWA walkman.

Now, if you recall, the key feature of mid-period Walkmen was “auto reverse” functionality allowing you to play either side of the tape without physically reversing the cassette. Pressing play, then, I entered a singular, un-repeatable fantasia where basically, for about maybe 15 seconds, I thought some random snippet of what turned out to be Jethro Tull was the new Bad Religion. And fucking loving it. A little perplexing, surely, but yea, fucking loving it. Soon enough I regained my bearings and flipped over to the other side, promptly losing myself in the masterwork that was Suffer.2

But in those disorienting seconds the sonic allure of Jethro Tull took hold. Then and there, I managed to grok a concentrated dose of their jam — those sizzling, off-kilter riffs, improbable melodies, all cinched up tight by the singular rough velvet timbre of Ian Anderson’s voice. And the whole flute thing. So, even as I remained the doctrinaire punk, the spell and the die were cast.3

My enthusiasm for Tull has often struck others as a bit incongruous, given my other pleasures and predilections. Over the years, one cat or another has asked me to put together a representative mix of their tunes. While these requests are rooted, I’m sure, in genuine open curiosity, I always detect a flash of a skeptical edge, a pointed demand to justify Tull’s place in my celestial hierarchy. So, in recognition of their 50th year, and my three decades of devoted fan-hood, it feels like high time I take my own measure of their radness.

On Jethro Tull’s “greatest hits” there is a mighty and widely shared consensus. The songs collected on the 1976 best-of LP’s M.U. The Best of Jethro Tull, with the exception of one fan-rewarding rarity, are canonical, enduring FM rock radio staples. However Tull’s stature as classic rock powerhouse draws selectively from a deeply weird, idiosyncratic body of work.4

This particular selection of tunes, first and foremost, is my own rendering of Jethro Tull’s singular sensibility. It is also a personally idiosyncratic selection and arrangement of songs, drawing at times on key rarities, alternate recordings, live performances, and deep album cuts. This is not showboating fan service or willful obscurantism. Rather, it is an effort to make a a broader case for Tull as an absolutely killer psychedelic rock band of particular interest to those inclined (like the reputation enjoyed, let’s say, by Van Der Graf Generator). All the songs are in some way fundamental to the band’s identity, while also being top-grade left-of-the-dial rock and roll.

For me Jethro Tull’s classic period is comprised of four rather distinct phases which flow and feather into one other at the edges.5 By around 1969 Anderson had established nearly complete aesthetic control of the band. He was still working within and inside recognized rock forms, but songs were beginning to be yanked into distinctive shapes (A Time For Everything?, To Cry You A Song, Dr Bogenbroom) or stretched out into ambitious suites (Wondering Aloud, Again). All the while, though, riffs remained the anchor and engine of the songs.6

With 1971’s Aqualung, Anderson’s titanic talent, personal passions and quirks (and, frankly, ego) had utterly subsumed the band. Here begins his epic alchemical experiments with various ratios of rock, English folk, classical, and Elizabethan music. Lyrically he also sets off alone for parts unknown, with his mix of religious allegory, detailed character sketches, verbal dexterity, general inscrutability, and no small dose of Python-esque humor. This era simultaneously produced their biggest popular successes, fiercest critical drubbings, and acres of stunning, exhilarating and challenging music (Cross-Eyed Mary,Lick Your Fingers Clean, No Rehearsal)

Around this time Tull had also cemented its reputation as a crushingly stellar live act (No Lullaby, Passion Play Extract, Thick As A Brick). Impeccable, muscular musicianship, rollercoaster set-lists, all wildly energized by Anderson’s legendary showmanship – a galvanizing, whirling, one-footed, flute brandishing, cod-pieced dervish.

Tull’s massive sales and live success had the additional benefit of inoculating the band, and especially Anderson, against any permanent scarring from what was a turbulent and tumultuous period of peak fame, popularity and exposure. By the mid 70’s Anderson was purposely withdrawing from the show-biz hullaballoo, spending more and more time in various countrysides. In 1978 he bought and moved to an estate out by the Outer Hebrides in remote Scotland. A growing interest in folklore, fantasy tales and British rural traditions began to profoundly shape Anderson’s writing (Hunting Girl). This rural sensibility culminated in a trilogy of folk rock records with which Tull closed out the decade.

This period, much beloved by fans, was memorialized by the double LP live album Bursting Out and came to an abrupt and tragic end with the death in 1979 of Tull’s bassist John Glascock. Disbanding the band indefinitely, Anderson began work on a solo record which reflected his bourgeoning interest in synthesizers.

Anderson’s label Chrysalis insisted that the record be credited to the band, thus forcibly inaugurating Jethro Tull’s quirky electronic folk era. Although it yielded some choice sides (Black Sunday) and arguably led to one last classic album, 1982’s Broadsword and the Beast,8 this new tack remained divisive among fans, critically thrashed, and profoundly out of sync with general audiences. Anderson mined this sound for one more record with rapidly diminishing returns.9

Meanwhile, all along, weaving and braiding through these wild knotty morphings was Anderson’s steady, almost devotional, composition of exquisite acoustic guitar songs (Only Solitaire, One White Duck / Nothing At All, Nursie). Regularly deployed on every album, taken together they comprise an alternate songbook of consistently remarkable beauty and craft.

The title Oblique Critique is a reversal of “Critique Oblique,” the title of a segment of 1972’s single song-length record A Passion Play. Besides being an apt title, it’s fitting that it’s taken from a record that is nothing less than Tull apotheosis – Majestic, exhilarating, wildly ambitious, overthought, dead serious, ostentatiously clever, in patches profoundly silly, passionately beloved by fans (except by those that passionately dislike it), reviled by the rock “intelligencia,” and utterly impenetrable to the uninitiated. And of course, stateside, it went to #1 on the charts.

Front cover art by Rebecca Caviness
Back cover photo by Dan Shepelavy

> DOWNLOAD THE COMP HERE


Some notes, for those inclined…

1 An island which I imagine to be very much like the the actual Scottish island of Skye, home to the Strathaird Estate which Tull’s Ian Anderson bought and moved to in 1978. Scottish mountaineer William Hutchison Murray described the island as “sixty miles long, but what might be its breadth is beyond the ingenuity of man to state.” There Anderson began his storied adventures in commercial salmon fishing. I always imaged its verdant rolling lands to be patrolled by colonies of Anderson’s beloved Bengal cats — a totally bad-ass domestic house cat developed to look like leopards or tigers.

2 thereby establishing my second favorite band of all time – Bad Religion. The Jethro Tull/Bad Religion connection gets even more uncanny. Prior to Suffer, Bad Religion had released its infamous sophomore LP, Into the Unknown. In bewildering contrast to their rough hardcore debut the new record was a reverb drenched, organ swirled, heady psych record that had, as some critics pointed out, more in common with Hawkwind than any known punk reference points (If that sounds pretty amazing it’s because it is. Into the Unknown is an ace record.) It caused a mighty kerfuffle, helped precipitate the bands’ breakup, and was largely disowned after it’s release and hostile reception. In an later interview Bad Religion’s singer Greg Graffin explained that while he was still immersed in the hardcore scene he had developed an powerful affection for Tull and felt compelled to write a set of like-minded songs. He felt it was the most punk rock thing he could do.

3 1988 was a pretty exciting time to have been introduced to Tull. The year prior had seen the release of Crest of A Knave, seen as something of a comeback after 1984’s listless Under Wraps. Knave’s lead single, the (honestly) atrocious “Steel Monkey,” famously and improbably won the inaugural Heavy Metal Grammy award that year, beating out the third band in my high school era holy trinity: Metallica)

Crest of A Knave  was also the first record made after Anderson’s battle with a significant throat infection that permanently cleaved off the upper registers of his voice. Although he has gamely and often deftly adjusted his new material and live arrangements to compensate, the music has dimmed overall a bit as a result.

What was seismic in 1988 was the release of the massive 5LP box set 20 Years of Jethro Tull. One of the best fan-focused box sets ever released it featured over four hours of largely unreleased material. Fragments of legendarily scrapped albums, enough rare B-sides to turn their parent records into double LP’s, revelatory studio outtakes and alternate versions — with one stroke it presented a massive and fascinating expansion of Tull’s classic oeuvre.

4 A dynamic they share with, for example, Roxy Music, who’s silky hits can be defiantly at odds with their prickly and at times aggressively odd catalog. This is in contrast, I’d argue, with other prog/glam/AOR/stadium superstars like Pink Floyd, the Who, or Yes where the “hits” and the rest of the oeuvre are much more of a piece. Incidentally, Roxy opened for Tull on their 1972 tour – with both bands at the apex of their powers it must have been astonishing.

5 I have a generally strong allergy to the blues, and as a result don’t really much rate or personally enjoy the first two Tull studio LPs. However, for blues-inclined listeners they have much to offer, not the least of which is tracking Anderson’s take on and emergence from the form. And Anderson clearly considers it a legit component of their overall legacy as he has occasionally returned to this period live.

6 In his review of 1970’s Benefit, critic Robert Christgau, by no measure a fan of the band (“I find [their] success very depressing”) allowed that Anderson “does have one undeniable gift, though — he knows how to deploy riffs.”

7 There exists an endearing bonhomie between the classic British metal scene and Tull. In 1968 Sabbath’s Tony Iommi did a split second stint as a Tull member, and remained a pal and supporter ever since. Anderson and Lemmy were longstanding and unlikely chums (Anderson titled a superb recently discovered outtake from Songs From the Wood  “Old Aces Die Hard” in tribute to Lemmy.)  Iron Maiden, particularity, are massive Tull fans. Their barnstorming cover of “Crosseyed Mary” is a glorious toast and fond tribute — and for me, the singular instance of a Tull cover worth listening to.

8 In putting together this compilation I was surprised that Broadsword and the Beast, an album I adore, stubbornly resisted representation. It is a tremendously entertaining record, especially in its expanded nearly double LP form, with many personal favorites (“The Clasp,” “Pussy Willow,” “Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow,” “Down At the End of Your Road”) But the songs withered and wobbled when taken out of context. Ultimately I think Broadsword is a particularly insular record, and one that makes sense only within the context of deep fandom. It is also a profoundly geeky album, with a heavy D&D vibe that may be for converts only.

9 In retrospect the run of albums 1988’s Crest of a Knave inaugurated are, under even the most charitable lights, a spotty patch. The muse stirred a bit on two largely acoustic solo records in the early ‘aughts. However, the real “comeback” would have to wait until 2012 when Anderson, now operating solo, unexpectedly released a “sequel” to 1972’s Thick as a Brick.

The only thing more absurd than the idea of a sequel to this famously obtuse prog-rock masterpiece is how decent it actually is. Anderson had assembled a virtuoso band that scrupulously recreated the distinctive sonics of 70’s era Tull and he delivered a set of songs to suit. This led in short order to Anderson’s definitive late career triumph Homo Erraticus, another sprawling throwback prog epic, this time wholly original in topics, themes and tunes. Highly recommended.

For Your Pleasure, 2017

FYP_2017_FRONT FYP_2017_back_2a

Omens. It’s hard not to look for omens these days. Last year began black, pulled through the vacuum of Bowie’s passing and slouched, heavy & low, towards November, when Leonard Cohen’s cloak crumpled to the Death Star floor.

But, as Leonard Nimoy reminds us, the cosmic ballet goes on, and this year began bright and blazing. Cherry Glazzer shot across the January sky like a crackling, wildly erratic comet. There are craftier salvos on the delightful Apocalipstick, sure, but “Trash People” is where it’s at — 19 year old Clementine Creevy’s neon ode to wearing old undies, fueled by Ramen, aiming for the stars. My room smelled like an ashtray once too.

Another portent of radness was Roky Erickson’s gobsmacking live performance this September — sitting in utter serenity like a psychedelic Totoro amidst a cyclone of sizzlin’ fuzz. He opened with the one song I dearly hoped to hear — “Sputnik” — a gift echoed in shows by Al Stewart, who kicked off his Year of the Cat retrospective with “Sirens of Titan” and King Crimson, who opened their stunning reprise of seldom heard 70’s material with a full dress parade of “Lark’s Tongue in Aspic” Old heads were generous this year, and fierce.

The glammy, psychotronic and exquisitely addled Death Valley Girls opened for Roky and were a total gas.

The continued activity by stalwart members of LA’s 80’s punk heyday continues to be a source of profound pleasure and surprise. TSOL and Dream Syndicate released tremendous records this year, both bracingly modern but rooted in beloved earlier classics like Beneath the Shadows and Days of Wine and Roses. Even by those lights, though, the new record by legendary LA paisley punks the Last is something else entirely —  tearing, snarling, breathtakingly melodic, gorgeously arranged, Danger is a full-on, definitive SoCal punk rock classic. (It says something about the obscurity of this achievement that its existence eluded even this super-fan for almost four years; it says something about the stature of this achievement that the record cover is graced with art by Raymond Pettibon.)

I don’t know about you, but my goth fever shows no signs of breaking. This year I was in full swoon for the Sisters of Mercy — proudly 30 years late to this midnight movie. But clearly these dark currents still run deep — one of the most accomplished and moving records I heard this year was the Demonstration by LA’s enigmatic Drab Majesty. Sonically built from readymade darkwave parts, it is a triumph of bracing melodrama and strikingly original songs.

Ladytron’s Helen Marnie’s ongoing project to morph indie electronica into stadium scale dance pop continues to yield irresistible, shimmering, sexy concoctions.

Whiteout Conditions, The New Pornographer’s second exploration of the creative potential of the arrpegiated synthesizer was marred only by the absence of Dan Bejar’s leavening weirdness. With Destroyer’s “In The Morning” here following the stomping “Colosseum,” they are fittingly re-united.

One of the enduring joys of crate digging is stumbling across seminal bands that somehow eluded your attention. Take the masterful Chameleons, for example, who happened to be standing right next to the Psychedelic Furs, Modern English and Bauhaus this whole time.

But then the obscurities can be pretty fucking exhilarating too — like encountering “Worlds in Collision” by Talking Head bassist and ex-Modern Lover Jerry Harrison. A needle in a haystack find, this throbbing, hypnotic rumble was a beautiful oddity I returned to over and over this year.

Un autocollant sur la couverture du premier album éponyme des Limiñanas en 2010 disait: “Nouvelle musique pop française pour le prochain millénaire”. La pop classique parisienne, la psychologie californienne, le garage / surf rock, Serge Gainsbourg et Ennio Morricone étaient alors les points de référence, et ils le restent sur Malamore. C’est une pièce d’ambiance – haut sur la répétition, fuzz et sitar – et leur plus sombre, plus dense pourtant, qui sonnent bien plus Velvet Underground & Nico que Françoise Hardy.

Total time: 51 minutes. Download the comp here

[ ALSO, below: I finally re-created and re-posted the first in this series from 2008. It was a corker of a year for music and the mix remains one of my favorites. Check it out here! ]

For_Your_Pleasure_2008_Front

For Your Pleasure, 2016

fyp_2016_front

fyp_2016_back

Comrades! Ugh. This year. But — yet — always — all year long — the weirdest, wonderful things shot through cracks. Blackstars in a black sky — absence has a pull of it’s own. And in this imploding year the void pulled hard, pulling beauty from random trajectories, shining bright —

A resurrected Modern English played the years best show. Embracing their strident, tribal, chanty early sound it was urgent & archival in equal measure. A column on world hardcore I read never led to the submerged sizzle of Barcelona’s Chroma. LA punk legend Alice Bag’s jukebox of received wisdom was pent up & aged for 30 years — every song a shimmy & taken together a shiny suit of armor for bright, headstrong girls everywhere. Angel Olson’s new record was the years most vital — in no way beholden to nostalgia, obscurity, revival, genre, or personal obsessions, not crate dug, not researched, not referenced – just a new, challenging, bracing salvo of ace tunes by a smolderingly gifted woman. Dig, friend, the smudge stick of oddball embroidered heavy boogie of Blood Ceremony & the aching dignity & yearning of the fallen Byrd, Gene Clark. Two unexpected & random reunion records stunned this year / Si Sauvage by Minneapolis’ fauvist sophisticates The Suburbs & SoCal hardcore legends Shattered Faith’s Vol III. The former sports the years best single tune & an gleefully pompous & sexy cover design by Kii Arens. From the latter I feature nothing because no digital form of the record exists. Genius gentlemen! But for LA punk nerds it’s a circa 81 time warp. Aces. Ah! the medicinal power of pure feyness! — swooning power-chorded sashay – teenage swoons unfurled like blazing wings on the roof of a burgundy Camero, lollipop lust, gymnasium passes, Milk n’ Cookies. Ex-Bad Seed Mick Harvey’s translations of Serge Gainsbourg’s songbook provide technicolor details that were once just suggested by his louche croon. And the words are funny & lusty as hell.

Now, about the bookends — David Bowie’s death was the implosion that marked the beginning of the new year. I mourned here, and ruminated on the amazing Blackstar here. I kept coming back, though, to the live unhinged swoon of “Station to Station” from the legendary 1976 Isolar Tour. And Cortez? Well, it came on randomly one wrecked mid-November night, shuddering into focus & this whole aching tide of a song seemed to wash over the years dark closing days. Fade out. You can download the full compilation here.

For Your Pleasure 2015

2015_FYP_front 2015_FYP_back

Live, before every song John Lydon gargles a mouthful of Bushmills then flamboyantly spits it into a large black trashcan. Male Gaze skronks out of the gate like Flipper doing disco. “Disco Flipper” is a pick-to-click shortcut for a win ’round here. Well played, gents. 45rpm LP, 28 minutes total. Brian Eno said his earliest musical inspration came from hearing the Supremes & Ronettes records broadcasting from US Navy bases. I like to think those scratchy transmissions sounded like U.S. Girls. Welcome Back to Milk by Du Blonde began as a nervous breakdown, explodes like an estrogen fuled roman candle every time it’s played and is the best record of the year. So, then this Sparks/Franz Ferdinand record drops out of the sky like some glamtastic piñata. Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks. Dream Lover, I know — Oh shit, here comes the sun. A tame impala is medium-sized African antelope. They are diurnal, most active shortly after dawn & before dusk. They use various kinds of unique visual, olfactory and auditory communication, most notably laying scent-trails and giving loud roars. Did you miss the announcement that Helen Marnie of Ladytron self-released a solo album 2 years ago. Me too. She did. It’s aces. Sugar & spice & everything. The emergence – at last – of a new Chills record should be cause for celebration throughout the galaxy. Girls Names win this year’s Martin Hannett Pennant for Reconstituted Post Punk. It’s like french onion soup with me, this stuff — I have barely any critical distance & each spoonful is fucking delicious. Aparrtly the 16 yer old goth girl is still using my noggin as a hostel given my besotted affection for this years darkwave discovery Xmal Deutschland. Recommended to those who think Siouxie sounds better in the original German. I haven’t sown a rock patch onto a jean jacket in over 30 years. 20 small impalements later — Christian Mistress. Hella! Zombi? Zombi.

14 songs, total time 53 minutes. As ever, download the mix here

For Your Pleasure 2014

2014_FYP_front

2104_FYP_back

The first thing I ever really used Napster for was to hunt down and assemble Brian Eno’s legendary lost vocal album My Squelchy Life, finally given official release this year.

Imagine a crinkled & warped VHS of 80’s 1-900 chat line commercials, porny aerobic videos, low-budget soft core, late night cable talk shows, with crackle on the tape, bad tracking, fuzzy scan lines & brutally oversaturated color and you have the feel of TOBACCO’s broken, cracked electronica. Unremittingly sleezy but yet so gorgeous & sexy I’ve spent the whole year fiddling with the tracking dial and not being able to look away.

All the usual camp trappings of oh-so-Morrissey-ness around the release of World Peace is None of Your Business — cancelled tours, bitter press sniping, a humdinger of a snit with new label Harvest that resulted in the album being withdrawn — obscured what a tremendous record it really was. If you told me this was a late period Smiths record from an alternate universe I’d believe you. If that sounds like heresy I don’t care — make mine Moz.

If you are predisposed, like me, to thinking ELO could use a little ABBA & ABBA use a little Van Der Graf Generator then I give you, again, after five long years — Music Go Music.

Perhaps six people total in the audience, battling a temperamental glitched out key-tar and yet for 30 minutes Scale Model inspired me to forget that I missed Berlin live this year on account of Hurricane Arthur.

Built from a lego box of identikit parts, every element & reference of the Bad Doctors’ synthed punk is obvious. And yet the ingredients never are the dish. I have yet to tire of a single song on this record.

I’ve been searching for the Fashion B-side Sodium Pentathol Negative since high school. How ace to find that the A side is also the nuts.

It never occurred to me that Goth deserved it’s own version of the legendary garage comp Nuggets. It does now. Killed By Deathrock Vol. 1 is a Rubic’s cube of bat-cave sounds — Let Kitchen & The Plastic Spoons charmingly spooky obscurity stand in for a record packed full of them.

Stumbled across Essential Logic at long last and the only word I can think of to describe them is fearless – tunes that owe nothing to anything other than their own self-willed need to exist. Punk not as a received sound & attitude but as a response to a challenge & a dare.

There is a permanent psychedelic transmitter on Mount Davidson in San Francisco. You can see it if you squint through two kaleidoscopes. So say the hippies anyway. I can hear it though, now & then and this year they spun a lot of White Fence.

Jim Roll is an old pal from my rekkid biz days. Over the past decade his restless avant-garde flecked Americana has widened & matured. Big heart, big brains, big star.

Every now and then I find myself thinking about RIOR cassettes, these little nostalgia bombs with those flat flood colors, multi-fold j-cards, and stubborn & doomed allegiance to the cassette format. One of the most coveted was the The Great New York Singles Scene compilation, showcasing debuts by Patti Smith, Television, Richard Hell along with period salvos like US Ape, Theoretical Girls & the Mumps. Came across a digitized copy this year and for all the heavy history it was the ace single by Nervus Rex that rang my bell. Like a fling with an old flame, it reminded me of all the reasons I went gonzo for power pop to begin with.

I treasure Mary Timony’s every mood, cause every mood begets a tune. Her latest, Ex Hex, is, as she put it “…what your babysitters listened to, rumbling from the Kenwood in the basement.” Perfect. Think then, of each song on her new record, Rips, as darts thrown in that very same basement — short, sharp & feathered.

Arriving at last at the intersection of Xanadu & Gerry Rafferty the New Pornographers demonstrate that all you need for a spectacular return to form is an arpeggiator.

The years best show, hand down, was Hawkwind, fronted by 74 year old psychedelic warlord Nik Turner. Flanked by Barbarellas playing vintage synths & violins, with Nicky Garratt from U.K. Subs on guitar, the band didn’t play so much as channel transmissions from beyond the fringe; waves of sax & flute, pyramids & atlantis, sonic attacks & deep space, orgon accumulations & high zonk. I got to sing the chorus of Silver Machine with Turner. I grabbed the set list and when I got home I discovered it had Roky Erickson’s phone number written on the back.

(Front cover photo by Katch Silva, back cover Hawkwind at the Boot & Saddle, September 9, 2014 Etc: This year I kept the running time under the LP limit. It just seems a decent serving size. As a result, some other notables not represented — still in deep dub, lost in Record Store Day’s re-release of Lee Perry’s Super Ape, late this year started really digging Colin Newman’s first post-wire solo record A-ZShellac’s Dude Incredible was a barrel-full of monkeys; Ian Anderson’s Homo Erraticus tour was a highlight, as were shows by Damned & TSOL; More Chrome & Helios CreedThe Chills BBC SessionsSleaford Mods, Cleaners From Venus, Fingerprintz, Palmyra Delran, and when it’s time to clean the fishtank, Exploited.)

DOWNLOAD THE COMP, HERE.

For Your Pleasure 2013

FYP_2013_Cover

FYO_2013_Back_a

This year was ruled by bands & musicians I hold very dear dropping career defining albums out of nowhere. Albums that were reconnections, reminders & remembrances of their fundamental radness — each, though, indelibly colored by an autumnal mood, recognition of age, time & wear.

I thought the best rekkid honors were done & done as early as February with Bad Religion’s exhilarating True North — songs firing like model rocket engines, a compressed crackling burn and then, a minute or so later, lay smoldering. A career capper, a middle age manifesto, and the last classic of mid-80’s SoCal melodic hardcore.

Months later I’m in Toronto at a record shop where I finally scored the long coveted debut EP by Men Without Hats. Can that snigger, bignuts — this bands gifts are substantial & buried, like Wall of Voodoo’s, under the debris of their sky-blotting single hit. You fucking bet you can dance if you want to…

Anyway — this leads me to wonder what they’ve been up to recently. The answer? A stunner of a record, Love in the Age of War, recorded in late 2012 (news about MWOH travels slowly) on their original analog gear. It was originally titled Folk of The 80’s Part IV, thus deliberately planting it in line with the band’s killer run of raw synth records before the more painterly & ambitious Pop Goes the World. Alternately thrilling & poignant, this ruled the headphones for months.

Then Bowie drops The Next Day, the last word on last words as far as Olympian rockers go. Superfan Rick Moody nailed it in a long exegesis for the Rumpus — it’s a particularly tuned masterpiece, functioning as a hall of mirrors & memory palace of Bowies guises, obsessions, and, above all, vocals. For the heaviness of its agenda, it’s a remarkably unlabored listen — a great batch of songs, carefully & secretly handcrafted then released with Bowie’s characteristic savvy. The record cover tells you every single thing you need to know about it, a conceptually brilliant shorthand to a tremendously rich & deep listen.

Weaving amongst these heavies was the year’s big discovery — the Aussie all-lady foursome Beaches. Their second album, She Beats, was a swirly, gauzy, fuzzy, fuzzy, swirly, gauzy pleasure. Melodic swells dove in and out of  the din like dolphins, underpinned by a steady motorik beat (Harmonia’s Michael Rother guests) The grin-goosing “Chase Those Blues Away” was the tune of the year.

Welcome electronic transmissions resumed from the Boards of Canada & Barbara Morgenstern – bleeps and bloops both heavy and light.

Psych alchemist Kelley Stoltz has long completed his apprenticeship — this years Double Exposure, a fusillade of handmade pop-psych bliss, is a killer follow-up to 2010’s equally ace To Dreamers. The spellbinding cover, featuring Stoltz’s mom back in the 70’s drawing a bow in what looks like hockey pads on a shag rug backed by a large op art painting & a hi-fi, was the year’s best.

Spelunking in the shops yielded treasures galore this year — Babe Buell’s Covers Girl EP where the fetching groupie (and Arwen Undómiel’s mom) is produced by Rick Derringer, backed by the Cars, and covers Love & Iggy; James Freud’s forgotten mod/synth mashup, bought on the strength of the cover alone; vinyl versions of high-school mix-tape staples interred for decades on cassettes like Flipper’s “Ha Ha Ha,” Vagina Dentata’s legendary Darby Crash penned “Golden Boys”, Frightwig’s careening “Wanque Off Song”, and Hawaiian Pups’ resolutely odd & yet irresistible “Baby Judy.”

Nick Cave played the year’s best show. A few songs into his set at the Keswick Theatre, Cave, exasperated by the staid & respectful audience, demanded a stage rush. As a result I finally got a sustained barrage of legendary close-up Cave — thin, ungainly, tall & lanky, mustachioed, posture lurching & off kilter, reminding me of no-one as much as a demonic Fawlty Tower’s era John Cleese… a gobsmackingly riveting performance.

A few ace re-issues appeared, each a welcome surprise. Dark Entries’ collection of the early recordings by Algebra Suicide is a public service, helping to secure the legacy of the formidably talented Detroit Ukrainian poet & singer Lydia Tomkiw. And then a delightfully random Clothilde collection! Clothilde was weird salvo in the barrage of 60’s French girl pop, or ye ye. The moodiness of Francoise Hardy, the bubbly delivery of France Gall, set to ramshackle fuzz & harpsichord  constructions reminiscent of Joe Meek. Light In The Attic kicked off the Public Image Limited reissue series with a lovingly reproduced 7” of their debut single, complete with foldout faux tabloid. I’ve loved this song for over 25 years – it hasn’t lost a drop of it’s power, originality, venom, or pop and it sounds, as it always has, utterly vital.

I listened to a lot of Reggae on Sunday afternoons. Weird — music just finds you when you are ready for it, I guess.

Then out of the blue ether, the Chills drop Somewhere Beautiful, a rough & crystalline live recording of a small New Years party they played a while back. Prolific, yet sporadically recorded back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, New Zealand’s the Chills were led by the preposterously gifted, big hearted, but troubled Martin Phillipps. Their first singles, and two LPs (especially Submarine Bells) were peerless muscular, shimmering beauties. After a brush with popularity that found them recording with R.E.M. and Van Dyke Parks, Phillipps’ crushing heroin habit subsumed the band. Living hardscrabble, he managed only one more proper LP, a demos release and a home recorded 4 song EP since then — all excellent. Then this miracle. The band has more heft & swing than before, and even with a few lovely embellishment the sound is more garage-y than gossamer. Phillipps’ voice, though, is a revelation. While still melodically supple, a rawness tears through the songs, the edge of his sharp New Zealand accent present as never before. Each song is recast, invested with new energy, and inflected by real pain & directness. It’s a fucking stunner, and hands down the years best record.

DOWNLOAD THE COMP HERE. ENJOY!

cover image: Boucher, François, Allegory of Music (detail) National Gallery, DC

 

For Your Pleasure 2012

The year in music was spent under the vast shadow of Christian Mistress. This colossally awesome band rose up from the waters in early March, unbidden, unknown, and wrapped it’s massive hulk around the turntable, it’s grip unshakeable. It’s like some scruffy metal kids in Portland got a hold of the fax/phone modem contraption that synthesizes Kelly leBrock in Weird Science and shoved in pre-Bruce Dickenson Iron Maiden, Hawkwind, and — most improbably — Sandy Denny era- Fairport Convention. A lean and wooly metal monster, this Mistress, but what defines them are the rough yet transcendent vocals of frontwoman Christine Davis. Possession is thier first full-length, handily the record of the year. Everything they’ve done to date though – the Agony & Opium EP and the debut single — is simply crushing.

The only thing more absurd than the idea of a sequel to Jethro Tull’s beloved 1971 prog-rock masterpiece Thick as a Brick is how absurdly good it actually is.

M83’s Hurry Up We’re Dreaming still goes on the hi-fi just about weekly – this giant pipe organ of 80’s nostalgia remains a pure undiminished pleasure to listen to…

Blanche Blanche Blanche and US Girls beam fuzzy transmissions from deeply quirky imaginations, tuned to personal obsessions and record collections… 70’s AOR radio for the former, girl groups and glam rock for the later.

Wonderful and obscure new music appeared from two wonderful and obscure acts I thought utterly dormant – arch disco provocauter and Roxy Music cover model Amanda Lear (that’s her walking the panther on For Your Pleasure) and muscular 80’s synth band B-Movie (Nowhere Girl, a staple of the savvier 80’s hits comps)

Gobsmacking songwriter and all around American treasure Stew launched another tune into the Negro Problem’s indelible songbook.

2008’s best of included Lissy Trullie which I loved, despite being the kind of too-cool for school hipster new wave they play at photoshoots. She’s gotten a lot of jaded flak for being a singing model, hangin’ with Sevigny blah blah. Nonsense. Her full-length debut album is stunning. The downtown moves are still there, mellowed and matured by Siouxie-esque moody touches.

Speaking of Siouxie, a good portion of the year was spent channeling the summer sountrack of a precocious 16 year old Long Island girl circa 1986…

Winged Victory for the Sullen is a collaboration between Stars Of The Lid member Adam Wiltzie and composer Dustin O’Halloran. It is piano based ambient music in a Satie vien. It is simply gorgeous. Thanks gentlemen.

This year saw the US release of the legendary Des Jeunes Gens Moderns compilation documenting France’s 1978-1983 postpunk and cold wave scene – sort of a Euro-Nuggets for new wavers. Poking around the blogosphere I happened upon the swinging soundtracks of Gallic meatro Guy Peterson. A fizzy sonic tonic.

The new OFF! record sounds exactly the same as the lst four EP that preceded it, which were, collectively, my favorite record of 2010. Keith Morris continues to prove how hard and elusive it is to create pure vintage American hardcore – and how exhilarating its rush still is. Thier church basement show with the Spits was the years second best live show. Surf monsters Daikaiju’s show at tiny Kung Fu Necktie was hands down the years best. Played mostly from within the small audeince the show culmiated with the entire drum kit stacked into a giant heap over a delighted fan who drummed it from underneath. Aces. Worship psycho-surf band Daikaiju daily for good luck and health!

When my wife would go out for drinks I listened to a lot of Chrome.

[Download the comp, here.]

For Your Pleasure, 2011

His trailblazing adventures in the wilds between punk & glam & into the then-uncharted waters of minimal synth behind him, exUltravox frontman John Foxx seemingly faded into genteel retirement. He tended to small scale sonic experimentation and lovely ambient soundscapes, like an old general fussing over orchids in a greenhouse. His encounter a few years ago with vintage synthesizer archivist Benge awoke a wanderlust in Foxx. Their collaboration, Interplay, credited to John Foxx and the Maths, is an exhilarating listen – ace tunes rigorously constructed from the essential sounds of vintage synths, played and sung with great muscle and presence. Anchored in the past, with explicit nods to the early, still astonishing, Ultravox, but squarely facing the future. The year’s best record.

If you think about it too hard, Ladytron’s gauzy, languid Gravity the Seducer seems kind of obvious. Though when you think about most sexy, seductive things too hard they seem kind of obvious. So don’t think about it too hard.

in which Sahara Hotnights reveal that, far from the worshiping at the crowded shrine of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, all long they’ve been walking in the shoes of Quarterflash. Amen, sisters.

So, this “Genius” feature in iTunes… Color me fogey, but when it comes to music, for me – feh on algorithmic suggestion engines. Except this once, right? –  I had just highlighted a track by Music Go Music, a beloved, rather obscure band who sound at times like ABBA crossed with Van Der Graf Generator. And “Genius” pipes up with this Sons and Daughters. And I think, what on earth does this algorithm think might appeal to fans of Scandinavian pop and arch British prog? The answer turns out to be careening, slashing, lipstick smeared Scottish melodrama. Genius.

Amidst my notes the night after seeing Wild Flag on their inaugural tour: Glass Tambourines = Hawkwind!!!!

Cement Slippers….  the chorus of the year.

Two years ago I wrote that Dan Bejar’s Destroyer had checked into some magical Baroque hotel of blissed out self indulgence, across the hall from Jimmy Webb and a drunk Richard Harris. The song that sparked this observation was the 12” single “Bay of Pigs,” his “MacArthur Park” – ridiculous, sublime, and drunk. This year’s album, Kaputt, was the morning after – drawling, sleepy, hungover and acerbic. Still sublime though… even more so – a true work of art, and almost the years best album….

Sheesh, that Fujiya & Miyagi song is sinister. But what a song…

This year’s best-of is all synth on synth with synth shavings in a synth sauce with a side of synth. Even this year’s favorite punk rock discovery, Portland’s now defunct Epoxies, is goopy with synth. Hell, the song’s called fucking Synthesized. Song of the year, though.

Age of Confusion by DADA is one of the best new wave songs ever. Recorded in New York City in 1987 it has since fallen off the face of the earth. That it now drifts on the edges of the web and in the backwaters of eBay, waiting to be found, matters. It’s a reminder that the treasures of the past are never exhausted; it also underscores how much that darn fool internet has revolutionized cultural archeology. It’s also a bitchin’ dance song.

These guys really did land the plane after all. Well done, REM… cheers and thanks.

Tim Monger is an old pal, a deeply gifted songwriter I’ve known and worked with since the mid 90’s. It was an honor designing the artwork for his beautiful, stirring new solo record The New Britton Sound. When I had praised Mining Accident Tim told me he felt it was perhaps a bit slight, and he almost left it off the album. The power of this stunning little sketch speaks volumes about how good the rest of the record is. “You’ll be mine when the government falls” – lyric of the year.

This years revelatory remastering of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung just confirms what I think every time I listen to it – if this came out now it would be hailed today as the independent rock masterpiece it was 40 years ago. A towering achievement, now expanded by a second disc of recordings every bit as good as the album itself.

Sea and Cake, as dependable as the tides…

As regards Zombi – remember – they say that every generation gets the Tangerine Dream it deserves.

DOWNLOAD THE COMP, HEREHappy New Year!

For Your Pleasure, 2010

OFF!, in which the Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris, 55, records the de facto sequel to Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown EP 32 years later – proving just how elusive pure punk is, creating a flat-out total work of art, and this year’s best record. The irrepressible egghead’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea has this year’s best title and a suite of exquisite ambient constructions, of which “2 Forms of Anger” is the “loud one.”

Of Montreal’s False Priest was a flamboyant mess sloshing around the precision glam of Coquet Coquette – my favorite song of the year. “Silver Jenny Dollar” is a cat’s cradle of baroque obliqueness from Dan Bejar, this time with loungy doo-wop whoah whoahs – the high point of the otherwise okie doke New Pornographers disc, Together.  (Thanks as well, New Pornos, for the tip-offs on Outrageous Cherry and Circle C – the northern lands do hold obscure and wonderful mysteries.)

The 40 years that separate the hand crafted psych of Kelley Stoltz and Big Boy Pete mean little – fitting then that these two consummate craftsmen have found each other. Their co-recording of Pete’s “Baby I’ve Got News For You” anchors Kelley’s uniformly excellent To Dreamers.

Bless you, whoever finally digitized “Magnetic Shoes,” a one and a half minute spray of power pop silly string that ruled my Walkman in high school. “The Day the Earth Stalled” and “Diego Garcia” are ace sides from old heads… The Psychedelic Furs played the best show I saw this year; honorable, too, going out like they came in, playing blistering sets in smaller halls, rather than jiving for tourists at casinos.

You are a talented man Mr. Murphy. Good to have you back Mr. Foxx.

Music Go Music? Melodramatic Scandinavian pop, shot through with heavy doses of prog, and alternating between pulsing euro disco and lush orchestrated pop – recorded in 2008, released in 2009, discovered in 2010, and my most favorite new band in ages…

I developed a weakness this year for what Robert Christgau, in a helplessly admiring review of Quarterflash’s 1981 debut, called “music for stewardesses.” “Goodbye To You” is a prime example of the form and its enduring awesomeness needs no further annotation.

Thank you Roky, for returning, and Captain, for being.

DOWNLOAD THE COMP, HERE. Happy New Year!

For Your Pleasure, 2009

cover2sm

cover1sm1

I discovered Mew the day after they played a show for the ages in Philly. Argh. If the dragon on the cover of the Asia record and the aardvark tank on the cover of ELP’s Tarkus had a band they would sound like Mew. Fantasies, by Metric, was a grower. At first I thought it was hazy and unfocused, now I think it’s hazy and sexy, which is better. Lissy Trullie is the kind of rock they play at photoshoots, and by all rights I should hate it on it’s too-cool for school-ness alone. Nope. Love it. Lissy gets the flannel and leather CBGBs merit ribbon.

LaRoux’s retro synth pop confection shuts off the noggin and cues the shimmy. There is chrome cheese all over Invisible Limits, a hopelessly obscure 80’s German dark synth band, but it rules my late night headphoning when my resolve is weak. Rheingold are also German, but sharper and smarter and can be played proudly in the sober light of morning. The Photos were supposed to be Britain’s answer to Blondie. Oh well. Clothidle is a brilliantly odd side of old French pop – France Gall aboard Joe Meek’s Telstar.

Silver Jews, Algebra Suicide, the Wipers, and Giant Sand – weird that we should only meet now. God Help the Girl – thanks for introducing me to the Divine Comedy of Neil Hannon. Tortoise! Tortoise! Tortoise! Welcome back!

Some slivers of nostalgia. The home digitized 7″ of “All Ages Show” by Dag Nasty smells of clove cigarettes and VFW halls. The Dead Kennedys mature over time as well as Iron Maiden – from my fogy vantage Frankenchrist has become a deeply arty pleasure. And a ripping hardcore record. DI’s 2007 resurgence is a bitchin‘ validation of the awesomeness of OC punk.

At this point Dan Bejar’s Destroyer dwells in some magical Baroque hotel of blissed out self indulgence, across the hall from Jimmy Webb and drunk thespian Richard Harris. “Bay of Pigs” is his “MacArthur Park” – ridiculous, sublime, and, yes, drunk.

Morrissey released this year’s best record, Years of Refusal.

[Download the comp, here.]

Front cover image: William Merritt Chase, The Tenth Street Studio, c. 1880
Back cover image: Wingate Paine, from Mirror of Venus, 1964-65

For Your Pleasure 2008

For_Your_Pleasure_2008_Front FYP_2008a_back

So, here, below, please find a recreated, reposted version of the first in the For Your Pleasure series, from 2008.

It was originally posted at my old ad agency’s then-obligatory “weblog.” That post, along with this, marked the beginning of a good four/five years of committed blogging and writing. I set things up over here at shepelavy.com shortly after, and, well, here we are, still transmitting in the wilderness.

Looking back I can see why I wanted to commemorate that year in music. So much boss tunage! Stew’s remarkable musical Passing Strange opened on Broadway that year. Embedded deep in its soulful heart was “Arlington Hill” – a gorgeous benediction to ardent, addled, questing oddballs everywhere – “Yes, suddenly there is a meaning… and everything’s alright”

It was a banner year for swinging psych — I had finally tracked down the erotically volcanic “Mundo Colorido” by Brazilian jazz chanteuse Vanusa; gotten turned onto the Cambodian rock melange of Dengue Fever; lost it for the hi-gloss epic 60’s revivalism of the Last Shadow Puppets.

Neon Neon remains an enduring one-off treasure – the gonzo synth soaked tribute to the life of 80’s avatar John Delorean.

There were comebacks & old head hits galore: Stereolab and REM released their most vital work in years; the long abandoned second album by Sandy Denny’s Fotheringay was finally, lovingly cobbled together; a delightful egghead pop record by Byrne/Eno; and the Psychedelic Furs played one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen, playing with genuine punk passion to a small motley crowd in a now shuttered, forgotten West Philly niteclub.

Can’t remember where I happened upon the spellbinding, spooky spoken-word charms of Meanwhile, Back in Communist Russia – as evocative, singular, wordy and weird as their name.  The apocalyptic synth-punk of Lost Sounds sizzled and Amanda Palmer’s barrelhouse melodramas were still well inside their sell-by freshness date.

And, as welcome and pleasant then, as now, and ever, ladies and gentlemen — the seasonal zephyr we like to call the Sea and Cake.

Total time: 53 minutes. Download the comp here. Thanks for listening. Cheers.