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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Month: August 2018

3WA 2018 #35: Econoline Crush – The Devil You Know

Nine months ago I took a scroll through my music library to select records to write about throughout 2018. Later, when I sorted my choices by release date, some interesting pairings caught my eye. Let’s talk about some late-90s post-grunge angry gloomy whiny alternative stuff, shall we?

Yeah, apparently I was into that for a little while.

Yeah, okay, I remain a fan of it just enough that it’s still in my library and gets a listen every so often.

What is it?

The Devil You Know is the 1997 sophomore release from the Canadian “alternative” band, Econoline Crush. Yeah, “alternative” as a label remains just about the stupidest thing ever applied to a timeline or sound of pop music.

How does it sound?

Sampled the truth, and repackaged the mix…

Why this pick?

I got into this band thanks to a music video. Well: A fan-made music video using visuals from my favorite Miyazaki film, let’s be clear about that. The song from that video is on this album, and it’s a big part of why this is my favorite of the three Econoline Crush albums in my library.

Look, they can’t all have big important reasons to have made the list. Sometimes you just gotta enjoy what it is for what it is.

Which songs are the highlights?

“Surefire” is still one of my favorites, though the album version differs from the mix used in that video. It’s great in any rendition, honestly.

There are a bunch of barn-burners on this record, “Home” definitely the foremost among them. You get good value for money from some of the others, like “Sparkle and Shine” and “Hollowman” and “Elegant” and especially “Burnt.”

Oh hey, the title track isn’t too shabby either.

Honestly, I like nearly the entire album. This one’s another in the “if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll like” category. Let’s hear it for consistent quality.

Which songs don’t work so well?

The mix of “All That You Are” on this album just isn’t that good. There’s a far better rendition elsewhere. Maybe if you’ve never heard the other mix you’ll be fine with this one? I dunno. I really think this one doesn’t gel quite right.

Unfortunately, the semi-obligatory album-closing sad ballad of sadness, “Razorblades and Bandaides,” lands with a dull thud.

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

There wasn’t a contest, here. It was always going to be The Devil You Know. The band’s sound and style don’t change much so if you like this one, you can’t really go too far astray picking up the first album, Affliction, or the 2001 release, Brand New History.

Any final thoughts?

One can look at a band like this as the sort of thing one tends to outgrow over time. How much loud angst-and-woe does one need in their music library, after all? And yet, there are some good and fun tunes in this genre. I can enjoy the sound while generally ignoring the message. (Easier for me than for most folks given my difficulties with lyrics in general, admittedly.)

There’s a “hidden” track on this record, buried a dozen tracks after the last song. I only mention it because it’s properly on a separate track instead of being part of the last track on the CD… I’m looking at you, Filter. Ahem.

Next week: More zombies post-grunge “alternative”!

3WA 2018 #34: Assemblage 23 – Compass

This, right here, is a near-perfect example of an artist who gets better with time, who most assuredly did not peak with their first couple of efforts.

What is it?

Compass is the 2009 album release from Assemblage 23. Its normal, official form consists of ten tracks, with five more (two remixes and three additional discrete songs) available in the digital deluxe or multi-disc edition.

How does it sound?

We mix the sampler but it’s too late, we are engulfed:

Why this pick?

This was something of a coin-toss for me. I went back and forth for hours on whether I should select Compass or the later Bruise. I like the same number of songs on each, they’re both generally good in their own way, and so on. In the end, the fact that Compass includes my absolute favorite “A23” track (“Spark”) tipped the balance in its favor.

What’s amazing is that an A23 record made the cut at all. My first exposure to the act was one of those Last.FM recommendations that didn’t pan out: Based on my VNV Nation and other EBM-ish library picks, I was pointed at the Failure album. It wasn’t a total loss, as I ended up with one good track out of that entire record: “House On Fire.”

The rest of Failure… fails, for me. (Cue the collective closing of browser tabs by every longtime A23 fan who reads this post. Sorry, y’all.)

It took a lot to get me to give the brand another chance but here we are, with an album I have no problem recommending. Lucky me, lucky you!

Which songs are the highlights?

I’ve already mentioned “Spark,” which I consider the quintessential A23 piece in my collection so far. It’s at once dark and grim but also upbeat and hopeful, and it works. It works marvelously.

Before that, we get the opening trio of “Smoke” and “Collapse” and “Impermanence,” while later in the album there’s “Alive” and “Greed.”

Since I have the “deluxe” version of the album, a highlight among the bonus tracks is “Grind.” Yes, that’s two albums in this year’s line-up featuring really good songs called “Grind.” The other one? The Church’s Gold Afternoon Fix. There won’t be a third: That song title only shows up twice in my entire library.

Which songs don’t work so well?

I don’t actually dislike anything on the record. Some tunes just aren’t as compelling as the others. “Leave This All Behind” doesn’t quite gel, for instance. With an industrial-electronica-dance type of record like this, the “your mileage may vary” dictum applies doubly. What gets my toes tapping may leave you fully inert, as it were.

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

Given that it’s where you find the excellent tracks “Crosstalk,” “Over & Out,” “The Noise Inside My Head” (my 2nd-favorite A23 piece), and “Outsider,” the Bruise album very nearly received pride of place in this year’s list. If you dig Compass, go grab that one as well. My only reservation with Bruise is the song “The Last Mistake,” the lyrical content of which is a bit on the ooky side, even for someone as bad at parsing lyrics as I am.

Any final thoughts?

I’m still working my way through the A23 catalog. I may have a new favorite album of theirs by this time next year. Who knows? I’ll definitely be sticking with later rather than newer releases, though. Failure landed with such a dull thud for me that I have basically no interest at all in digging that far back into the catalog. Tom Shear, the one-man-band responsible for the studio work, is definitely getting better with experience and practice. Long may he continue to do so!

(Yeah, this would’ve been a good album to slot after the Vangelis pick a couple of weeks ago for thematic reasons. Oh well. I can’t chase down every gimmick available in this project, can I?)

 

3WA 2018 #33: Rick Springfield – Tao

The names on the sleeves of the albums in my library range from the household names to the dreadfully obscure. As ones skims along the shelf, occasionally, one spots a name which tends to elicit a response along the lines, of, “Him? Seriously?”

What is it?

Tao is the 1985 studio record from the actor-musician hybrid known as Rick Springfield. It’s roughly ten songs in length in compact-disc form: One song gets its own brief “intro” track (which I’m not counting) and another song starts and ends in just under 90 seconds (which I am counting).

How does it sound?

The tao of samplers shines in every mix:

Why this pick?

One reason for choosing Tao is that it’s a genuinely good pop-rock record. Springfield was still at the height of his popularity and decided to try to push his skills in some new directions, and the result is solidly entertaining. And yeah, the whole “pop-rock” thing seems soft and wimpy as compared to a lot of the more intense stuff I listen to nowadays. I know. I know. Sometimes you just want something a bit lighter, though, and this fits the bill nicely. And since this is the darkest and heaviest of Springfield’s hit records, it makes sense that it’s my favorite, doesn’t it?

The other reason is that Tao is basically the end of the chart-topping-success stage of Springfield’s music career. He’s still turning out good songs even now, but the days of being a household-name mega-star are long, long gone. This record marks the pivot point; the next release, Rock Of Life, came and went almost without any fanfare whatsoever.

Which songs are the highlights?

“Dance This World Away” and “Celebrate Youth” kick off the festivities with big stompy energy and are worth the price of admission alone.

Of course the hit single was “State of the Heart,” which holds up just fine considering it’s a sappy ballad.

An odd piece late in the album is “Stranger in the House,” the strongest of Springfield’s “what it’s like to live with someone while the relationship is falling apart” songs. Yes, he has several of them (eg, Rock Of Life‘s “Honeymoon In Beirut”).

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Written In Rock” doesn’t land, “The Power Of Love” is a bit overwrought, and “My Father’s Chair” isn’t bad but it is kind of sad and depressing.

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

I considered picking one of the newer releases, Venus In Overdrive, as a “hey this guy’s still in the game” selection. I’m not sure it’s a great introduction to his work, though, so I chose otherwise.

Which means the strongest contender for a not-Tao entry would’ve been Rock Of Life, the 1988 album after which Springfield took an entire decade off from the music business. I bet that I’m one of the few people who even remembers, let alone genuinely loves, that record. If you acquire Tao and later want to expand your Rick Springfield collection, I recommend picking that one up as well. (Then head backward in the discography to Living In Oz while you’re at it.)

Any final thoughts?

Every now and then I get a weird look when I mention that I like Rick Springfield’s music. I guess he’s supposed to only be popular with women who grew up in the 80s, or something, which is ridiculous. The dude has a talent for crafting solidly entertaining tunes, and while his mega-star phase was certainly fueled in part by his appeal to the ladies back in the day, there’s genuine songwriting skill behind the pretty face. I don’t think he’s given enough credit for that.

So here we are. Give his stuff a listen, is all I’m sayin’.

Family Togetherness Is A Thing (Sometimes)

We are a family of hermits. We don’t get together much, we don’t chat often, etc, etc. This week, though, my sister (with teenage daughter in tow) is making the grand tour of the western USA to spend time with as many of these hermits as she can.

Wednesday, my son came over to join an expedition to the Tillamook Creamery (aka the “Cheese Factory”). He and I had never been, while Sis and her daughter hadn’t been there since the remodel. It’s quite a display, I’ll give them that. And it’s packing in the crowds! Early afternoon on a weekday and the place was full of people. Very people-y. So, so many people.

We breezed through the exhibit, sampled some cheeses, bought some cheeses, and got the heck back out of there.

Later, Kyla and I took the boy out for a birthday dinner. A lovely time was had, and I feel good about having managed to wrangle a nice day for him out it all. I’m not completely useless!

Last night Sis came by for a couple hours of chit-chat; I’m glad we got more time to hang out before she and her daughter take off for their next destination: Visiting our cousin in Idaho, then off to visit my daughter! (Sis has a care package from us for the kiddo, so she’s providing valuable shipping services as well.)

And hey, we’ve gotten a our family-togetherness time in for the year! Go, us.

3WA 2018 #32: Vangelis – Direct

I have my late great-grandfather George to thank for this one, as he introduced me to the music of Vangelis at a very young age. I kept some of the cassette tapes he made for me until only a few years ago (purged in the last move, as I no longer even own a cassette deck).

Mind you, Grandpa George is also the man who insisted that cassette tape was vastly superior in audio fidelity to compact discs. But never mind that.

What is it?

Direct is the 1988 album release by the musician who (usually) goes by just the one name, Vangelis. He’s the guy responsible for the theme to Chariots of Fire, which is still a visual meme all these years later, referenced by people who’ve never seen that movie but automatically use part of that song set to a slow-motion scene of people running and everyone laughs.

How does it sound?

Like a stack of synthesizers and stuff, really:

Why this pick?

Good question. Direct is not the best known, the most highly regarded, or the most iconic of Vangelis’ works.

In a way, though, this is “my” Vangelis record. It was the first one I came to without Grandpa George’s opinion influencing my reaction to it. It’s definitely much more keyed into my electronica/techno enjoyment mode than Vangelis’ more classic works. It’s accessible in a way that, say, Mask or Opera Sauvage or Spiral or Albedo 0.39 (all excellent albums in their own way, mind you) aren’t.

Think of it as a gateway album. If Direct appeals to you, I can recommend further exploration of the Vangelis catalog.

Which songs are the highlights?

As this is a (mostly) instrumental album, it’s hard to explain why some songs stand out above the rest, so here’s a quick list of my favorites: “The Will of the Wind” certainly, followed by “Metallic Rain.” “Dial Out” as well. “Rotation’s Logic,” too.

I like “The Motion of Stars,” “Elsewhere,” and “The Oracle of Apollo” somewhat less but they’re still notable.

Which songs don’t work so well?

When you’re dealing with an instrumentalist, you get the occasional snoozer. Sometimes when you’re dealing with an instrumentalist, that snoozer shows up when they decide to involve a vocalist. “Glorianna (Hymn a la Femme)” with its pseudo-operatic style really, really doesn’t work.

“Message” mostly works but it’s bookended by the murmurings of a small child, which comes off as more “creepypasta” than it does “endearing” or “adorable.” The closing track, “Intergalactic Radio Station,” mostly works but there’s a spoken voiceover bit toward the end which is distracting and annoying.

“First Approach” is just dull, sadly.

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

The other record I considered is the 1977 release, Spiral. It’s only five tracks long but given that “Dervish D.” is by far the shortest of the songs at just over five minutes, the 40-minute total run time isn’t that much of a ripoff. The problem with Spiral, as with most Vangelis records of the time, is that they don’t really support the format of this project. I use bits of five songs on a record to make the sampler mix. That’s all of Spiral! That, and it’s hard to talk about one track on a lot of Vangelis records separate from the rest, as they tend to be of a type and theme.

It’s very artsy stuff, is what I’m saying.

Any final thoughts?

It’s almost certainly due to my early introduction to Vangelis that I ended up getting into several “one man in a studio with a lot of toys” artists, such as Jan Hammer’s soundtrack work and BT’s artsier stuff. (I won’t repeat my father’s alliterative verdict on Vangelis here as it’s a bit crass; suffice to say that he believes music should be made by bands in a proper studio, not by guys in small rooms of electronic toys all by themselves.)

3WA 2018 #31: Until the End of the World: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack

Just to really, really break the formula, I threw in one of those “soundtracks” which are really just an excuse to package a bunch of songs from various artists into one presumably-appealing market-friendly slice of the current state of the pop music industry. The movie could have been a blockbuster, but more likely it was utterly forgettable and the resulting music bundle is far more memorable than the film whose existence led to its assembly.

What is it?

Until the End of the World: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack is, as the title suggests, a collection of songs used in the 1991 movie. (This isn’t always the case with such projects; you get a lot of “inspired by” with this sort of thing usually.)

How does it sound?

It was a miracle I got the sampler mix out alive:

Why this pick?

I wanted to represent a type of album release which is present enough in my collection to warrant notice, the “music from or inspired by” cash grab movie-tie-in album. What’s funny about this one is that it’s one of the more genuine of its kind, as this music actually is all in the movie (however briefly, in some cases). And a lot of the music is really good!

I’m doing you a favor, basically. You should be grateful.

Which songs are the highlights?

There are two songs here titled something along the lines of “Until the End of the World,” one by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and the other by U2. Both are good, albeit very different from one another.

Can’s “Last Night’s Sleep” is delightful. The Jane Siberry & k.d. lang duet, “Calling All Angels,” is fantastic. T-Bone Burnett’s “Humans From Earth” is a hoot. Talking Heads’ “Sax and Violins” is fun, too.

Which songs don’t work so well?

The thing about a “various artists” set is, how much you enjoy a given artist will probably determine how much you like a given song.

I don’t really like R.E.M. or Elvis Costello, so “Fretless” and “Days” (respectively) are a big NOPE.

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

It was so tempting to pick the tie-in album for When The Wind Blows, you have no idea. Just… let me Google that for you. Maybe the one for the Spawn movie instead? Were it not for Until the End of the World I’d have a lot of bog-standard movie-adjacent records to choose from but nothing nearly as good or iconic.

Any final thoughts?

In case you’re thinking of watching the movie after listening to this quite-nice collection of songs… no, don’t, really. Trust me. It’s a long boring weird-assed slog of a film. Not even William Hurt and Sam Neill can save it. Not even this nice collection of songs can save it. Save yourself a couple of hours: Watch anything else, do anything else.

You’ll notice that the music here is more artsy and more relaxed than my usual fare. It’s true, in the early 1990s I was into artsy movies and artsy music, at least for a little while.

I got better. Or worse, depending on your point of view.

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