Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Month: June 2018

3WA 2018 #26: Toy Matinee – Toy Matinee

Yes, I could’ve placed this self-titled release up against a couple of the others. I decided against that in favor of honoring the anniversary of its release.

What is it?

Toy Matinee is a one-off masterwork of pop music released this week, twenty-eight years ago. In its original form it’s only nine songs long, barely past three quarters of an hour.

How does it sound?

I hope that someone saves a seat for me on the sampler mix:

Why this pick?

For all that Kevin Gilbert’s talents are displayed quite well on his later solo records, I get the feeling that he was best suited to a collaborative effort. Which, of course, makes me sad for the might-have-been outcome if he’d auditioned for and gotten the Genesis gig after Phil Collins left, but… c’est la vie.

And what a collaborative effort this is! It’s catchy, it’s clever, it’s poignant, it’s everything you want from an early ’90s pop album. There’s hardly a dull thud to be heard.

(…sorry about that, Gilbert fans. That pun was unintentional.)

High school best friend Steve and I came across the band due to a little side blurb in an issue of Tower Records’ magazine at the time of the album’s release. The two main songwriters were quoted as having influences that added up to most of the core of our individual music libraries. We had to check this album out!

I’m so glad we happened upon that magazine article. Too bad I threw out the stack of magazines years ago…

Which songs are the highlights?

The lead track, one of only two songs to receive much in the way of radio airplay, is “Last Plane Out” and it’s a great advertisement for the record as a whole. “The Toy Matinee” is rather somber for a title track but that’s fine because it’s gorgeous anyway. Seriously, it’s a go-to rainy-day bit of mood music. If you sample the album online (beyond the above 30-second mix), please check out these two songs first and foremost.

And then there’s the song which is presumably about Madonna, “Queen of Misery,” which largely exists because nearly all of the band’s members worked on one of her records. (I didn’t know about that until years and years later.) All of this is firmly in the pop-rock vein, nothing more and nothing less. Still, it’s all superbly crafted stuff.

Along and between those standouts we get the appropriately absurd tribute to the painter Salvador Dali, “Turn It On Salvador,” and the almost anthemic “Remember My Name.” Closing out the original album tracklist there’s “We Always Come Home,” an odd but endearing slice of aw-shucks down-home life-goes-on.

Which songs don’t work so well?

Okay, “The Ballad of Jenny Ledge” is kinda meh. It’s not bad, it’s just not particularly memorable or compelling either. Kind of a foam packing peanut of a song, a state made worse by it being the longest of the songs on offer.

On the flipside, “There Was A Little Boy” is musically compelling and well-written, but the lyrical subject matter is a bit off-putting. “How can you expect a child to understand the sickness of the world / his eyes are blind,” indeed. Your mileage will almost certainly vary.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

It was a coin-toss between this and Thud, Kevin Gilbert’s first solo album. (Hence the pun apology, above.) I decided that Toy Matinee is a better intro to Gilbert than the solo record.

Any final thoughts?

If you do pick up the album, get an edition which includes the bonus tracks. Most of them are just early/reworked versions of songs already on the record but it’s all worth it to get the short, sweet, melancholy “Blank Page.”

I really, really wish that if we hadn’t gotten a Gilbert-fronted Genesis at least we could’ve had a second Toy Matinee release. Sigh.

3WA 2018 #25: Yuki Kajiura – Fiction

That’s right, I’m picking an album from the highly-regarded woman who composes anime soundtracks who isn’t Yoko Kanno. Sorry, Cowboy Bebop fans.

What is it?

Fiction is a 2003 album from Yuki Kajiura, whose initial claim to fame was being involved in the Noir and .hack soundtracks, generally speaking.

How does it sound?

Take me back to the mix where the sampler was born:

Why this pick?

This isn’t a “best of” since a lot of the tracks are originals and the rest have been reworked and/or re-recorded for this release. It’s close enough for our purposes, though, and as a jumping-on point for appreciating her work this is a nearly ideal Yuki Kajiura release. It helps that it’s readily available in the USA without having to finagle a copy via CDJapan or something like that. (Though you want the 14-track version originally limited to Japan, because you miss out on “Red Rose” otherwise.)

To suggest that this is just a collection of stuff from anime & game soundtracks is a disservice, though. Fiction is a helluva collection of gorgeous songs, never mind where they came from originally. Absolutely gorgeous.

Which songs are the highlights?

The album kicks off with a rendition of “Key of the Twilight” from the .hack franchise, and there are few better songs ever to arise from the world of anime. A few songs later we get the title track, “Fiction,” which is an outstanding original piece for this album. A few songs after that comes the high-energy instrumental, “Red Rose.”

Along the way we get “Cynical World,” a fine rendition of Noir‘s “Canta Per Me,” and the grand delight that is “Vanity.”

Oh, and just to drive home how marvelous Noir was musically, there’s a great take on “Salva Nos” toward the end of the album as well.

Which songs don’t work so well?

The album starts to run out of top-tier material after the midpoint, with pieces like “Awaking” (despite having the same melodic line as a .hack song she’d done earlier) and “Winter” and “Lullaby” (an oddly-rendered torch song, more or less) not coming together quite as well as the earlier stuff.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

It might’ve been obvious to go with the .hack//SIGN or Noir soundtracks. Too obvious, in fact. I’d probably have picked the Mai-HiME soundtrack instead.

Any final thoughts?

In the process of writing this entry I discovered that Fiction II came out a few years ago. Well hello there, new addition to the wishlist…

3WA 2018 #24: Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe

Look, if you think I was going to type out the band’s name twice just to see how far I could push WordPress’s post title boundary, you’ve got another think coming.

What is it?

Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe is the quite-literally self-titled 1989 release by four guys who might have been called Yes but couldn’t, in this case, due to legal reasons so they named the band after themselves.

If I’d been smart I’d have slotted this one right after the Pink Floyd entry, come to think of it. Missed an opportunity there! Ah, well. At least I managed to get two self-titled records back to back…

How does it sound?

See the sampler mix be the master now:

Why this pick?

There are a bunch of Yes albums, many of which I’ve never listened to. They’re not really my thing. And yet, there’s this bizarre creature that I kind of adore. In a way it’s a backlash to the hit-machine trajectory of the main Yes brand, given the smash success of 90125. Jon Anderson got some of the former band members together and essentially asked, “Remember when we were just screwing around and having fun making music however we wanted?”

This is the result, and it’s a thing.

A very 1980s, very prog-rock, very mixed-bag thing.

A thing where four of the nine tracks are divided into sections with their own titles. (I won’t be detailing all the section/subtitles here. They’re not actually that important.) Oh, and there’s a heavy dose of indulgence in “world music” styling, being the trendy thing to do if you’re a British musical act in the 1980s. Your cringe levels may vary.

Which songs are the highlights?

The core of the album’s strength is in a run of three early songs: The weirdly kind-of-martial “Fist of Fire,” the intricate ten-minutes-plus epic “Brother Of Mine,” and “Birthright,” the politically-charged piece which basically justifies the album’s entire existence.

Near the end of the album we get the other epic, “Order Of The Universe,” and it’s ridiculous in a good way. A nine minute paean to the power of rock-n-roll in complex multi-part arrangements and with very little actually rock-n-roll about it. I adore this track, I really do.

Coming off of that, the album’s closer is “Let’s Pretend,” which sounds the closest to “classic” Yes of the 1970s of anything on the entire record. Sure it’s just some guitars and Jon Anderson singing, but it works well and makes one wonder what might have happened if they’d tried for a simpler, more acoustic approach to this project overall.

Which songs don’t work so well?

It’s a Yes album, for all intents and purposes, so there are experimental excesses galore. Take the lead track, “Themes.” It’s six minutes of what feels like a bunch of ideas that didn’t grow big enough to seed their own songs so they got tossed in the bin with each other and mixed into one rambling ridiculous piece. Several of the bits are kind of interesting, just not crammed in with each other like this.

My least favorite piece is “The Meeting,” just a piano and Jon Anderson’s voice and lyrics about love or something and it’s a snooze is what I’m saying. “Quartet” comes up next and is somewhat better, being four love songs smushed together in one track but at least there’s a full band playing to make it less dreary. It’s still dreary, though.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I was highly, highly tempted to go with Union, which is basically a compilation of songs from both camps of past-and-present Yes musicians into one hodge-podge of a record. It’s both more uneven and more generally listenable than ABWH, which I must admit is a helluva trick.

But in the end, I had to go with this crazy last-gasp attempt to see what a “pure” not-quite-as-commercialized Yes record might sound like.

Any final thoughts?

The only time I saw Yes in concert was in support of Union. It was an “in the round” presentation, rotating stage and everything. My best friend Steve and I were in the nosebleed section in whatever sportsball auditorium in Los Angeles it was, I can’t remember and it’s probably changed names ten times since. The only other thing I really remember, other than the “in the round” thing? So many potheads. SO. MANY.

All I can think of now, looking back on it, other than SO MANY POTHEADS of course, is… each and every one of those eight guys on stage must’ve wanted to wring the neck of at least two of the other guys on stage during that entire tour.

The power of the paycheck, y’all.


3WA 2018 #23: Dada – Dada

In the grand scheme of things, some bands are simply destined to be remembered for that one hit song from their first record.

In this particular case that’s a damned shame.

What is it?

dada is the third studio album by the band dada (lowercase intentional, for artsy-fartsy reasons), released in late 1998 to almost no fanfare whatsoever, though a couple of songs were played on the radio a few times.

How does it sound?

Like a beautiful sampler mix machine:

Why this pick?

Good question, actually. If you already know about the band then you probably share the common opinion that their debut, Puzzle, is in many ways their strongest work. Whether that’s because or in spite of the hit single, “Dizz Knee Land,” is variable from fan to fan. (I think we can all agree that “Dorina” alone justifies the band’s existence, though.)

But you should know by now how I feel about leaning on laurels earned via debut albums.

dada (the album) sounds to me like the product of a band really trying to figure out what they want to do next, and also figure out how they’re going to make a living at it. Is there more of a commercial sound on this record? Oh, definitely. Did that mean the songs are diminished in quality? I declare, absolutely not.

What I’m really getting at is: In a just and proper world, “Beautiful Turnback Time Machine” would be at least as well known as “Dizz Knee Land.”

Which songs are the highlights?

“Information Undertow” is even more relevant in 2018 than it was in 1998, which is a neat trick.

After the mid-album slump we get three of the finest songs the band ever produced: The delightfully ridiculous “Beautiful Turnback Time Machine,” the gorgeous and bittersweet “Baby Really Loves Me,” and arguably the best mopey-angst anthem of all time, “Spinning My Wheels.”

Which songs don’t work so well?

I can take or leave “California Gold,” actually. It’s the lead-off single, it’s got some catchiness to it, but… it wears out its welcome a bit too early. Somehow it’s the longest track on the album; had they edited it down by a minute or so I think it would’ve held up better.

“Sweet Dark Angel” and “Goodbye” represent the saggy middle stretch of the record.

I’m sure that “Outside” is probably a fine song for most folks but since it’s one of those “a dude and his acoustic guitar moping over a girl” tunes, I have to give it a pass. The tail end of the album is, in fact, where they stuck most of the weakest material. “Agent’s Got No Secret” is a bit of a dull thud to finish on.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

Definitely Puzzle. I listened to that thing through, over and over, for months after I got it. (It was another of the prizes when KGON went “all classic rock” and ditched anything made after the mid-1980s from their library. Man, that job was a goldmine.) Admittedly, artsy California stoner-rock isn’t my usual thing but damn, Puzzle was good enough to win me over anyway.

Any final thoughts?

The band kind of fizzled out after this record, which is a damned shame.

A funny thing happened while doing the listen-through for this week’s post. I’d previously set ratings tags on all the tracks, with a few 4s and a couple of 5s, the rest 3s or less. Basically I was highlighting which songs I absolutely wanted to have come up in random playlist scenarios and marking down the rest. After I’d done that, years ago, I stopped listening to the album all the way through, ever.

This time through I found myself reevaluating almost every star rating I’d set back then. I’d not considered back when I chose “one album per week” as this year’s project concept that making myself fully revisit these albums would result in falling in love with some of them all over again. And yet, here we are. Hot damn.

…no, I don’t know why “damn(ed)” is my word of choice this week, I really don’t. I don’t even have an album by The Damned in this year’s list!

3WA 2018 #22: Apoptygma Berserk – You and Me Against the World

The overwhelming majority of the music in my library came to me via other media (movies, TV shows, fan-made videos) or recommendations from friends & acquaintances. Occasionally I dabble in letting online services suggest things, and nearly always I’m disappointed.

And then there’s this oddball thing.

What is it?

You and Me Against the World is the 14-tracks-long 2006 studio album from the band often referred to as “APOP” because Apoptygma Berserk is just shy of being a champion-level tongue twister.

How does it sound?

Is the sampler mix to blame?

Why this pick?

This album is pitched directly into my strike zone, if you’ll forgive the sportsball analogy. It’s basically a pop-rock record with a lot of Euro-styled electronica underpinnings. It features a lot of great hooks and some clever turns of phrase. None of the songs are long enough to wear out their welcome. The overall sound is just a bit off-kilter from the norm, but not to the point of becoming too weird to enjoy. And, there are no really bad songs here. Not all of them are great but none are too grating, as it were.

Which songs are the highlights?

The first full song on the album is “In This Together,” which functions as the title track. It’s a great anthemic piece that I never tire of.

One song was so nice they mixed it twice. The first is called “Love To Blame,” while the other shows up at the end of the album as a more techno-ish variant called “Is Electronic Love To Blame?” and I prefer the latter by a tiny margin but each is marvelous in its own right.

“Cambodia” is a really weird little barn-burner of a ballad, and I can’t figure out what kind of story it’s really trying to tell. Mind you, I’m terrible at parsing lyrical meaning so that may be a failing on my part rather than the songwriter’s. I enjoy the song anyway. Speaking of barn-burners, “Maze” is a great three-and-a-half-minutes of high-intensity rock-n-roll.

Which songs don’t work so well?

This is another album with one of those minute-long lead-in teaser tracks, named “Tuning In Again” in this case, which can be skipped or ignored as you see fit.

“Faceless Fear” doesn’t entirely come together quite right, and “Tuning To The Frequency Of Your Soul” needed either more added to it or some of what’s in it taken away, I’m not sure which.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

The band is (in)famous for not making quite the same style of record from album to album. After YaMAtW came Rocket Science, which I like a few songs from but the rest don’t work for me hardly at all, so if I’d not chosen this album it would’ve been something from another artist entirely.

Any final thoughts?

Apparently the only lasting value I received from Last.FM was pointing me in the direction of this band.

No, seriously. Nearly everything in my library came to me via direct recommendation from friends, or because of a song used in some other medium (fan-made video, movie soundtrack, etc) caught my attention and I did some research. I spent a few years feeding everything I listened to into Last.FM in order to train its suggestion algorithm.

Nearly everything suggested to me by Last.FM fell into one of three categories:

  1. Stuff already in my library. (Great algorithm there, guys.)
  2. Stuff that’s super-popular but entirely unrelated. (People who listen to stuff I like also listen to big-name stuff I don’t like? Big wow.)
  3. Examplars of a given genre. (As I listen to rock music, it follows that I should listen to, say, The Eagles. NO.)

Fail, fail, fail. And yet… at one point the site suggested I listen to this specific album. There you go, guys. It was all worth it! Really!


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