Category Archives: Alternative Music

Great Album Retro Review: Great Divide By Semisonic

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Lest you think my musical tastes never advanced past the 1980s, I have a great album from 1996 to discuss. It’s the first full length album by Minneapolis band Semisonic. Formed from the ashes of another influential band from that fabled city of the Upper Midwest, Trip Shakespearse; Semisonic carried on the psychedelic ’60s influenced sound of Trip Shakespeare while giving it a more polished, heavier guitar feel.

The songs of Great Divide are catchy with the warm and welcoming vocals of lead singer and guitarist Dan Wilson. There’s sensuality mixed with bombast on this album. Romantic and grand. The swirling and layered guitars are occasionally accompanied by sound affects to add texture. It’s a pleasure to listen to this one.

The Tracks:

F.N.T. – Standing for Fascinating New Thing, F.N.T. starts of with a great guitar riff and kicks the album off right. It’s a song about that strong attraction one can feel for someone new. It’s an exciting feeling. But the song also take the long view in that this “new thing” will still be fascinating even when no longer new.

If I Run – This is a great road song. It about a guy who feels the need to drive on. It will be alright if he could just leave it all behind. All, that is, except that one person.

Delicious – Seems like this is a bit of a sex song. Dan Wilson’s vocal take on a sensuous nature as he describes the desire he’s feeling for that certain someone. Kinda sexy.

Down In Flames – This song shows that bombastic side of the band. It’s big. It’s grand. It’s pretty good. Starts slow and small, but builds quickly.

Across The Great Divide – Sort of the title track, this is my favorite song on the album. Another love song. This one is about devotion to a loved one despite the distance separating them. It seems autobiographical as Wilson sings of heading far off to a place and a life unknown to him to record this song.

Temptation – Wilson adopts a falsetto for this song about desiring someone that maybe he shouldn’t, but the temptation is too great.

The Prize – Another big song. More bombast. Some nice call and response vocals between Wilson and bassist John Munson. A little plodding in its pace. This is a rerecorded version of a song that appeared on the band’s 1995 EP – Pleasure.

No One Else – Another love song on an album loaded with love songs. This one is low key and quietly played. It’s as if it’s being sung to a lover in bed after a romantic encounter. A bit of pillow talk.

Brand New Baby – Another rerecording of a track from Pleasure, this song is about the brave face one puts on when their ex has a new love interest. They said they wanted their freedom, to be on their own, but there they are with someone else. Hey, that’s great. Good for you. Just keep smiling. Keep smiling.

Falling – Love again. This time the object of Wilson’s desire seems to want to keep things at arm’s length, but something’s brewing. I like the use of the amusement park ride as a metaphor for falling in love.

In Another Life – John Munson takes the lead vocal for this quiet, thoughtful track about a broken relationship that is beyond repairing. Too much time has past. The damage is done. Move on.

I Feel For You – The quietest track on the album closes it out. Guitars, bass, and plenty of whirling and swirling sounds work their way around your head. It’s a trippy lullaby.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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Great Album Retro Review: The Blurred Crusade By The Church

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One of my favorite bands from the 1980s produced this, one of my all-time favorite albums. The album is The Blurred Crusade, released in 1982, and it was recorded by Australia’s guitar-based alt-rock band The Church. It was their second album.

There’s an adage in the music industry that asserts artists have a lifetime to write their first album, but then only a year or two to write their second. The adage is meant to explain why the sophomore efforts of so many recording artists seem to drop off in quality from their freshman work. The adage may have some merit, but not in this case.

The Blurred Crusade is a brilliant album that improves on the band’s first release, Of Skins And Hearts (1981). This album is more focused and cohesive. It’s also more of a full band effort than their first album, which was more influenced by lead singer/bassist/songwriter Steve Kilbey. The guitar work of Peter Koppes and Marty Wilson-Piper is fantastic and flows so well together. And it’s jangly guitar. I love jangly guitar!

This is one of those albums that is best listened to from beginning to end. I strongly suggest that’s how you experience it.

The Tracks:

Almost With You – Holy smokes! What an outstanding opening track. If I were asked to suggest which song of The Church’s early career best defines their sound, this would be the one. Great guitar interplay, great pace, Kilbey’s deep voice, with plenty of that ethereal feel for which the band was (and still is) known. It’s my favorite track.

When You Were Mine – There’s that big 80s drum sound going on throughout the album and it’s quite noticeable here in Richard Ploog’s drumming. This is one of their rockers!

Field Of Mars – Wilson-Piper takes lead vocal on this trippy, ethereal track. I’m not sure what the lyrics mean, but so what? Most of The Church’s songs are more about the feel of the lyrics than the literal meaning. I’m sure there’s some meaning in here, but why ask why?

An Interlude – Written by the entire band, we once again get plenty of jangly guitars and trippy, albeit few, lyrics as the song builds in intensity, backs off, and builds again. The intermittent use of the hushed female vocals is a nice touch on this mostly instrumental track.

Secret Corners – A brief track that is a nice little breather to cap off the first half of the album.

Just For You – This track opens with a little theatrics. Kilbey is heard strumming away on an acoustic guitar and humming when he is interrupted by a knock on the door. He responds to the knock and opens the door to the beginning of this song. It’s a great love song, but there’s a better one yet to come.

A Fire Burns – Some good buzz to the jangly guitar on this track. Good riff.

To Be In Your Eyes – This is the better love song I was referring to earlier. It’s really good. “I want the person inside me to be someone I’d recognize, if he was in your eyes…” Nice line.

You Took – An epic track that takes the listener on quite a musical journey. Slowly building at first, but then it rocks threw most of its eight minutes, it culminates with the lyric that became the album’s title. This was always a show-stopper when played in their live sets.

Don’t Look Back – A gentle, mostly acoustic, track to wrap up such an excellent album.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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Great Album Retro Review: Suzanne Vega By Suzanne Vega

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Returning to the ’80s, which is where a very sizeable chunk of my favorite music originates, so get used to it, I will once again review what I think is a great album. In this installment, I will tout Suzanne Vega’s first album.

Released in 1985, the album is self-titled and is beautiful and melancholy. Vega’s singing and songwriting are as graceful as they are thoughtful and poignant. The songs are mainly acoustic and have a folksy feel. They are quiet, simple, and straight forward in their production.

I must have discovered this album at a point in my life at which I most needed it, because it really dug its way into my psyche. I love this album. It is in my Top Ten All Time Favorites.

The tracks:

Cracking –  This song opens with my favorite acoustic guitar riff on the album and uses a  lilting synthesizer to fill in the sound as Vega talk sings much of the lyrics. It’s a moody piece that sets up the album very well.

Freeze Tag – There’s a lilt to this song as well, as Vega appears to reminisce on playful times with a flame from her past. And a song that drops a reference to Bogie and Bacall can’t be bad.

Marlene On The Wall – My favorite track on the album, this is a more up tempo song about getting romantic advice from an ever-observing poster of Marlene Dietrich. At least, I think Vega means Dietrich.

Small Blue Thing – This song returns to the moody atmosphere of the first track. To me it seems to be about obsession and being controlled by the object of that obsession. She becomes a small thing being held in her obsession’s hand.

Straight Lines – A little up tempo again, Vega sings of a woman changing herself. Cutting her hair, casting away lovers, simplifying her life until she is finally alone. With that accomplished, I can’t help but to feel some sadness for her.

Undertow – Still on the slightly up tempo side, I’m not entirely certain what this song means. But, like much of the album, there is a feel of melancholy filling every corner.

Some Journey – This song has some nice jangly guitar accents along with a flowing electric violin. Vega sings of what might have been had she met a certain person. Would they have been lovers?

The Queen And The Soldier – This song is a fable of a young queen, isolated, impetuous, and powerful, and a loyal soldier who had finally decided he couldn’t continue to do battle for her. Instead, he offers her a chance to end the constant violence and to find love. To break her out of the trap of her royalty. Does she accept his offer?

Knight Moves – I’m not certain if Vega intended this song to be about the same queen in the previous track, but I always thought it was. The melancholy continues as the queen is questioned as whether she loves one, many, any, or me.

Neighborhood Girls – This closing track is the most bouncy of any of the tracks on the album. It almost feels out of place, it’s practically jaunty, but it still works. There are plenty of excellent popping guitar lines throughout this song about neighborhood sex workers.

Packing Peanuts!

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Great Album Retro Review: This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship By Love Tractor

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I’m going a little hipster here by looking at an album by one of the lesser known bands to come out of Athens, GA in the ’80s. Also, as this series continues, you will probably notice quite a few of my picks are from the ’80s. What can I say? I guess I’m stuck.

It was 1987 and my friend John, who was my cohort in the discovery of music that matters, not that crappy pop and hair metal getting all the radio airtime, found out about this band. They’re called Love Tractor. I hadn’t hear of them before John discovered this their fifth album: This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship.

I have to admit, I don’t know much of anything about their other musical output. I will try to remedy that, but I just love this album.

If you need an example of lilting guitars, this is it! Along with the lilting guitars is plenty of excellent melodies and hooks. This album just feels so good.

The tracks:

Cartoon Kiddies – This is my second favorite track on the album which is an ode to TV cartoons, most particularly Top Cat. Now, Top Cat wasn’t one of my favorites, but this song is a great kick off

Small Town – There’s just something about Mark Richmond’s vocals. There’s an ease to them as well as just the merest hint of snarl. Nothing threatening though. And his frequent forays into falsetto really work for me.

Chili Part Two – This song is more of an instrumental, which touches on the band’s roots as they started out an instrumental band, with a few bits of lyrics thrown in. And I find it so effective when the lyrics come rolling in – “Heeeeeere cooomes that feeeeliiing agaaaaiiin!”

Night Club Scene – The lilting guitars glide over the big ’80s drumbeat as this song opens. It’s a slower song that contains the line that gives the album its title. What does the song mean? I dunno.

Outside With Ma – For me, this is the weakest track on the album. That’s not to say it’s a bad song. It has a darker feel than the rest of the album. It also has a funky feel, which doesn’t quite work.

Rudolf Nureyev – Returning to their roots, this is the album’s first of two fully instrumental tracks. Plenty of lilt and I can almost see the dancer after whom it is named dancing gracefully along.

Beatle BootsHands down, my favorite song on the album! It just feels so good. It’s got a great ’80s dance vibe. The lyrics speak of an emotionally complicated woman who is both a hero and a mess. I love this song!

Amusement Park – This song sounds like Summer. It’s about hanging out and seeking thrills. “Meet me here. Meet me there.” Let’s go downtown, to the record store, and, of course, to that amusement park.

Party Train – A fun, rockin’ yet still funky cover of The Gap Band hit. Love Tractor makes it their own. And it’s pretty good.

We All Loved Each Other So Much – On the original vinyl release, this was the last track of the album. It was also the second fully instrumental track. It’s a quiet contemplative tune and, at just over seven minutes, the longest track on the album. Lilting to the very end.

Got To Give It Up – This bonus track is another funky cover song. This time the band covers the great dance party track by Marvin Gaye. Lots of falsetto and lots of fun. It’s a nice bonus.

Wanna give it a listen? Of course, you do! It’s available on iTunes and Spotify. Check it out!

Packing Peanuts!

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This Is XTC! This Is Pop!

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Andy Partridge simply hates rock documentaries. That’s what he tells us in the opening moments of a new rock documentary called XTC: This Is Pop, which began airing on Showtime in January 2018.

Andy Partridge is the leader of a rock/pop band called XTC and he finds himself taking part, a large part, in that very thing he hates: A rock documentary. And XTC fans are so glad he did.

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Andy Partridge

Placed in the One-Hit Wonder bin in the American music market, I’ve often stated that it is criminal that XTC never got as big as their contemporaries The Police. It’s about time the greater public learn about how good this band really is and this documentary will help. Musician Stewart Copeland of The Police and actor Harry Shearer, along with other musical artists and fans, are there to heap praise on this excellent band from Swindon, England. XTC may not have found a big audience, but they had a far reaching influence on many of the pop bands that followed them.

The documentary is as much about Partridge himself as it is about the band. And that’s a drawback, because we’re not given much of a backstory about the other members of the band: Colin Moulding, Dave Gregory, Terry Chambers, and Barry Andrews. Moulding, Gregory, and Chambers do contribute to the film (and the three of them all have an odd whispered, raspy tone to their voices).

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L to R: Partridge, Colin Moulding, Dave Gregory, Terry Chambers

Andrews is missing from the film. That may be due to the friction between him and Partridge while they were in the band together. Partridge’s attitude was – “This is my band!” Andrews wanted it to be his band. The friction led to Andrews leaving and then co-founding Shriekback. In later years, the two headstrong artists did work together on Partridge’s 2007 album of improvised instrumentals – Monstrance.

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Barry Andrews

As we learn about the band’s formation in the ’70s and growth through the ’80s, ’90s, and into the ’00s; going from glam to punk to rock to lush and beautiful pop, we also learn about Andy growing up an only child having a mother with OCD, his drug-addiction that began to develop when he was 13, and we get a deeper explanation of his crippling stage fright that turned XTC from a touring band into studio artists in 1982. The stage fright was a double-edged sword. It prevented XTC from breaking through just as they were on the verge of a major American tour. But, it gave the musicians a much, much larger “box of paints” to use to create such wonderful music.

It’s a fascinating look at such an intriguing artist and his awesome band. However, clocking in at a mere hour and fifteen minutes, to quote XTC’s song All Of A Sudden, “there’s plenty missing in the middle.” There is barely any mention of XTC’s last two albums: Apple Venus Vol. 1 and Wasp Star: Apple Venus Vol. 2. And I would have liked to learn about the seven year strike the band went on, from 1992 until 1999, against their record label Virgin. But, as it is said in show business, always leave them wanting more.

Give it a watch. Your new favorite band is just waiting for you to find them.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

 

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Pods Looking Back 2: Another List Of My Favorite Nostalgic Podcasts

A year ago I recommended a few podcasts that have a nostalgic theme to them. (Click here to get that list.) Since new podcasts are always popping up, I thought I should list a few more as suggestions for your listening pleasure.

These are podcasts and the rules of terrestrial radio do not apply. These shows may have adult language and themes, so you should check them out first before sharing them with your kids or more sensitive folks.

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The Dollop with Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds The hosts are comedians who dive deep into an historical topic and mine whatever comedy gold can be found. Dave is the “historian” who finds the topics and gives the information to Gareth, who doesn’t know what each show’s topic is until they start recording. The two will then riff to their hearts’ content. Some of the show are absolutely hilarious.

They get very bawdy as they work their way through each show’s topic. The Dollop has over 300 hundred episodes and I’ve just started listening to it, so I have a long way to go to catch up, but I find it very entertaining and informative.

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My Favorite Murder Odds are pretty good that, if you’re familiar with podcasts at all, you’ve heard about this one. Hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are two comedians who discovered that they both really like murder stories. They decided to do a podcast discussing various real life murders. Their first show dropped in January, 2016 and the podcast has taken the world by storm. Combining their regular shows with their “minisodes” Karen and Georgia are closing in on 180 episodes.

It is a comedic show about murder, but the hosts are careful to respect the victims and the families and friends. They also try to give sound advice on preventing oneself from being a victim. It’s a very funny podcast with a big heart that reminds us to “stay sexy and don’t get murdered!”

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Friendly Fire In my first podcast suggestions blog I recommended The Greatest Generation podcast. It’s a podcast about the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, they have gone through all that classic sci-fi program’s episodes and they have since moved on to discussing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (I still recommend it!) Well, the hosts of The Greatest Generation, Adam Pranica and Benjamin Harrison, have teamed up with John Roderick to examine war movies.

Each week they examine a different war movie (and who doesn’t like war movies?) for its accuracy and cinematic value, and they manage to get some laughs along the way. Although, so far, most of their reviewed films have been WWII-based, they will cover other wars. They’ve talked about Saving Private Ryan, of course, but they’ve also reviewed Master & Commander: From The Far Side Of The World, First Blood (yes, they considered that a war movie), and they will be watching Braveheart for an upcoming installment.

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Du You Remember? A Podcast About Husker Du And, finally, I’m recommending this podcast to anyone who is a fan of alternative music. It’s just five installments (with two extras, one a short introduction to the series, the other a tribute to drummer/singer/songwriter Grant Hart) and it is a fascinating look at one of alternative rock’s founding bands.

Husker Du came from St. Paul, MN in the late 70s and created their own tremendous presence in the 80s hardcore/punk/underground music scene. The podcast has interviews with all three members (Hart, Bob Mould, and Greg Norton) done just prior to Hart’s untimely death in September, 2017. The band members and others who worked with them or were fans and friends tell the story of the music scene in the 80s, how Husker Du was formed, how they embraced the “do it yourself” ethic, their rise and abrupt fall, and how very important they were to the music world. Without Husker Du, there would have been no Pixies, no Nirvana, no Green Day.

It’s all good stuff!

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Pat DiNizio 1955-2017

Guest blogger Michael Noble returns with a memory of The Smithereens and patient persistence as a tribute to lead singer Pat DiNizio, who the world lost to cancer earlier this week.

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It was naturally sad to hear of the passing Pat Dinizio this week, lead singer for the moderately successful power pop band The Smithereens. I was a fan of their brand of music: Crunching, driving guitars, catchy, hook-laden singles with the occasional melancholy tear-jerker thrown in for good measure. And, oh…what a voice DiNizio possessed. Instantly identifiable every time…at least to my ears.

He will be missed.

Shortly after hearing the news, my mind went a couple places. First, I knew what my work night music menu consisted of – a healthy helping of The Smithereens’ catalog. And then my nostalgia kicked in and I remembered one of the times I went to see them live.

It was 30-some odd years ago. It was a friend’s birthday and it was just the two of us for a night on the town. I knew The Smithereens were playing the world famous Roxy in Hollywood and that, I’d decided, was our destination. I heard the show was sold out, but that never stopped me for going anywhere. Somehow, I would get us into the show.

We arrived and were promptly told by the box office the place was filled to capacity with no tickets left. We hung out anyway, my friend firing questions at me. Yes, we were going to wait it out; someone was bound to come by with extra tickets or some such so we could go inside. He was doubtful, commenting it was not the manner in which he thought his birthday evening would go. Me? I was my usual cheery happy-go-lucky and confident self.

20 minutes into the opening act, a staffer came out for a smoke. He saw us saunter our way over. “Waiting for someone he asked?” he asked. I told him yes, someone with a couple tickets to spare. He chuckled and walked off, puffing away.

Half an hour more passed. I could hear the opening act firing up their final tune of the night and, afterward, out came that same staffer for another smoke. “Still no one with tickets, huh?”

I shrugged.

“The place is packed. Matter of fact, the fire marshal came by earlier to check us out, make sure we weren’t violating any fire codes by having too many people in the place. And we were right on cue, not a person more in the joint than we’re allowed. I hate that damned fire marshal, always coming around and checking on us…”

He took a drag of his cigarette.

“You know what? Screw him and his fire codes. You want in? Follow me…”

And that is how we got into the show, on a lark.

At some point into The Smithereens’ set, I turned and noted to my friend, “Not a bad birthday after all, huh?”

Thanks for the memory, Pat and comrades. Rest in peace.

Thank you, Michael. You can read more of his writing at hotchka.com.

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