Monday, June 26, 2006

Starlight Conspiracy - Silver Holler

Starlight Conspiracy were a part of the Burlington, Vermont music scene in the '90s. With the exception of Guppyboy's homespun folk, most Vermont bands preferred the muddier turf of grunge and punk. Looking back, it would seem Starlight Conspiracy were smack in the middle of these two extremes. Instrumentally, Starlight Conspiracy honed their guitars into a fuzzy assault, while vocalist Jen Tofferi floated above the din like an enchanted pixie. This concept has become standard now (see Evanescense), but back then it was original enough to confuse critics into misfiling the band under shoegaze.

Starlight Conspiracy formed in 1994 when guitarist Denny Donovan met drummer Brad Searles while working at an indie record store. After recruiting bassist Shawn Flanigan, the trio auditioned a parade of vocalists, only to eventually opt for Tofferi, a friend of Searles. Searles, who writes the enjoyably informative blog, Bradley's Almanac, still thinks highly of Tofferi, even though the band broke up in 1998 after recording only one album. "I'd loved her voice since the time I'd played with her in my first band, Hover. I wish she was still singing with someone, I'd blog the hell outta that band."

Still, Searles depature from Vermont eventually led to the band's breakup. "We
tried to make it work," Searles said, "even with the multi-hour commute I'd make once a month, but that just wasn't enough practices to keep it going, or to keep everyone interested. Eventually Shawn moved out west, Jan headed to southern Vermont, and Denny came down to Boston, where we eventually started up the Also-Rans together."

Searles is the gatekeeper for the Starlight Conspiracy estate, and you can check out his lovingly curated site here for more mp3's, photos, and more.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

V/A - Thrasher Skate Rock Vol. 5

The Stupids - Born to Built to Grind
Naked Lady Wrestlers - Scrapin'

Around the time this album came out, I was a twelve-year old skate rat with all four walls of my bedroom covered in pictures from Thrasher magazine. All I did was think about skating. If I was doodling at school, I was probably drawing a skate ramp or a guy on a skateboard. If I was swimming, I had the board with me underwater. If I had a girl over (which happenned for the first time in 7th grade), we mostly talked about skateboarding. Thus, picking up this cassette when it came out was a no-brainer for me.

This was the only volume of Skate Rock I bought, but I certainly listened to it a lot. some of the songs scared me, and they still kind of do. I have never had a taste for hardcore, and can really only listen to punk stuff like this: simple, dumb, and catchy. But it was a great soundtrack for being 13 years old. By the time I was 14, I moved on to more sophisitcated fare - goth rock, the Meat Puppets, the Velvet Underground. Suddenly a song about being "born to skate" seemed pretty stupid. I filed this tape away and forgot about it - until now.

When I decided to post these songs, I looked around for some info on the bands that made them. The Stupids, it turns out, actually have a Best-of CD on a British label and a small cult following. I had no idea that "Born to Built to Grind" was a Bruce Springsteen rip-off/cover as a kid, but in hindsight this can be read as an early indicator of my more mainstream leanings, at least when it came to pop song structure. The Naked Lady Wresters, according to this website, were from Northern California and only appeared on this Thrasher comp and an Alternative Tentacles comp released by IRS records. Anybody got the dirt on them? Their contribution is actually something of a nugget. Dig that speed metal guitar solo!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Treewave - May Banners

Most reviews of Treewave's 2004 EP, Cabana+ mention's the band's unusual tools for making music. Whenever a group does such things, they are doomed to read about it for the rest of their lives. (Perhaps this would explain why the singer of Pianosaurus, a band who used all toy instruments, went insane and dissappeared after the release of his group's debut.) Thus, I will let the image above give you a hint, and leave it there. What I like about Treewave isn't necessarily a product of their methodology anyway; I just like the way it sounds.

Before I go, I feel that I must mention the fact that Treewave is from Dallas. For some reason, this city consistently produces quality psychedelic bands. It must be the heat. That and the insanity that surely comes from being land-locked in a place as conservative and dull as Dallas. Either way, the list is as long as the state is wide: 13th Floor Elevators, Golden Dawn, the Moving Sidewalks, Butthole Surfers, Lithium X-Mas, Tripping Daisy. Anybody got any more?

Check out Treewave's fast-loading website here and buy their CD.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wide Boy Awake - Slang Teacher

If you go to hip parties in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, chances are you've danced to music played by the Crazy Rhythms DJ's, Dan Selzer and Mike Simonetti. The duo cover a wide range of styles, but their core set is drawn from disco, post-punk, and new wave. Selzer, who runs the email list NY Happenings, as well as the reissue label Acute, is a big proponent of Italo-disco, and has been instrumental in bringing this hip subgenre to hipster prominence. Simonetti isn't exactly sitting on his ass either. In 1994, Simonetti started Troubleman Records, a diverse and prolific label best known for unleashing Erase Errata on the world.

On a recently released mix CD, Rvng Prsnts MX4, Selzer and Simonetti show off their DJ skills by assembling a compilation of some of their staples ("Slang Teacher" being one of them), as well as their coveted Italo-disco obscurities ("Massimo Barsotti's "Whole Lotta Love"). After starting off with some low-key disco moves, the DJ team gradually quickens the pulse to a monotonous house thump, only to settle back down to classic disco tracks and some post-punk dance workouts.

As for Wide Boy Awake, little information is available on them. According to Trouser Press, they were formed by Ex-Adam and the Ants bassist Kevin Mooney in the early '80s. "Slang Teacher" was released as a 7" single, and also appeared on a five song EP released by RCA in 1983. The band dissappeared not long after.

Click here to order.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Academy - Magic

Everyone I've played this song for thinks that it's an '80s song, and that they've heard it before. The truth is that it was actually recorded last year by a group of dudes from Bloomington, Indiana who used to be in a low-fi indie rock band called Smart Milk. I don't know exactly who to compare it to, but my fingers itch to type names like Mr. Mister, Christopher Cross, or maybe even that guy who sang "Walking in Memphis." Cringe all you want, but there's no ignoring the fact that this ultra-slick lullabye is put together with enough melody and finesse to convince you, if only for a few minutes, that making music this sanitized is actually justified.

The song "Magic" comes from an album with the same name, that has yet to be released on CD. The rest of the album flirts with similiar ideas, but doesn't quite match the melodic insistance of this track. A short bio and more songs can be found here. The band's website, which offers almost no information about the band's motive or history, is here.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Kelley Stoltz - Memory Collector

It's taken me a long time to figure this out, but I think I'm getting it. In mainstream pop, and to some degree rock, familiarity is the ticket to record sales and success. Elvis took black R&B and put a white face on it, and wha-la, instant fame and recognition. Other examples spring to mind: Vanilla Ice bleached the ghetto out of rap; Billy Idol made spiked hair and a sneer a Top 40 commodity; the Stone Temple Pilots took Nirvana's angst to the bank.

And yet, the same does not hold true with indie rock -- originality is prized over all else. Bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Beirut, and Fiery Furnaces seem to have little in common on the surface, yet a closer look reveals bands with a stubbornly original identity. This comes as no surprise in a genre that thrives on unsettling the mainstream and must therefore take a contradictory stance. And yet, it leaves much great music undetected and underappreciated on what I feel are flimsy ideals. It is a world where the next big thing is only cherished before it is big. Indie rock, it would seem, lives cautiously in the future, with one eye fixated on an ever-shifting past.

In other words, if Stotlz had released this pastiche of Beach Boys harmonies and ELO tunesmithery in 1990, perhaps he'd be declared a genius. At the time, power-pop bands like Teenage Fanclub and the Replacements actually had a chance. Sixteen years later, merely mentioning the Beatles in a review puts the reader to sleep. This attitude, while probably inevitable, is detrimental to well-crafted music because it emphasizes context over content, fashion over form.

Don't get me wrong, Stoltz is no genius. A talented songwriter, yes, but certainly not a visionary of any kind. Songs jump from one touchstone to the next, as if Stoltz were playing the listener records from his collection. And yet, that same informal, derivative quality lends the album a levity that makes it easy to enjoy. It expects little of you, and you expect little of it. Why, after all, do many psych and garage fans prefer the imitators of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles to the actual legends themselves? Well, duh. It's because the copy cats were ten times more fun, and in their own way, more listenable.