Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Galaga - Winter

Galaga existed for a decade, but barely released anything in that time. They started out promisingly enough, releasing the excellent "Winter" single in 1992 on their own Spider label. The track garnered some radio play in England on the Gary Crowley show and in America on CMJ.

The band formed in 1991 as a four piece with Matt Ayotte on drums, Dave Lampton on Guitar, Peter Park on Bass, and Andre Vogel on Guitar. The latter two sang vocals on "Winter," an excellent, driving slice of early '90s indie rock.

Vogel, like many others at the time, was experimenting with different tunings and setups for his guitar. "I was heavily influenced by Sonic Youth, tweeking tunings," he said. "So for 'Winter' I just doubled the stings in unison. It sounded like a sitar."

Later, in 1997, the band released a single on the Noise Pop label that included "Arilang," a trippy melding of Hendrix and Kevin Shields that is featured on the Tiny Idols, Vol. 2 CD.

Galaga called called it quits in 2000.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blue Sparks - Paint it Gold

Lost in the post-Strokes deluge of NY rock-revivalists was Blue Sparks, an interesting quartet that had the talent but lacked the distinctive voice to get noticed. Of course, the other New York bands that achieved more success at the time--The Witnesses, Elefant, The Flesh, the Fever, Ambulance LTD--are all forgotten now too. Perhaps the band's biggest problem was their outsized expectactions. After the Strokes blew up overnight, every talented New York band thought they could do the same.

The Blue Sparks were actually far less rock-oriented than their press pics suggested. If they were retro-anything, it was more late-'80s college rock in the mold of the Feelies or Yo La Tengo. The quartet, fronted by Phil Aceto and Kerry Kennedy, were long touted as the best unsigned band in the area, but they only managed to release a five song, self-titled EP in 2004 before breaking up the next year.

"Paint it Gold" was written by Kennedy. I wonder what she is up to now...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Big Louise - Angels

Big Louise was less a band than a collision of various talents on their way to other projects. Naming themselves after a Scott Walker tune, the New York band formed in 1990 around the core of Spike Priggen and twin sisters Laura and Leslie Sink. Priggen soon brought in bassist Robert Vickers and drummer Doug Wygal to complete the lineup, but Lisa Jenio and Mark Mulcahy also had brief stints with the band.

Big Louise began building up a set of songs, most of which were written by the Sink sisters, with contributions from Vickers and Priggen. In 1991 they did a short north-east tour opening for Jack Frost and later recorded a live to air performance on the WFMU show "The Water Faucet".

In May of 1991, Big Louise went into the studio and cut two songs for a 7" single that they released on their own label, #1 Records. The A-side featured Leslie’s "Angels" and the B-side was Vickers’s "Morning Glory." The label, named for the Big Star album, also released singles by The Streams, The Caroline Know, The Hello Strangers and Deep Six. The Big Louise single was released that September.

In 1992 the band drifted apart to pursue other agendas, Robert Vickers and Spike Priggen to record with Malcolm Ross (ex-Orange Juice) and the Sinks to return to college. Vickers later formed The Mad Scene with Hamish Kilgour (The Clean), recording two albums for Merge Records.

In August 1993, Rough Trade Record store in London compiled an album of US 7” vinyl singles called Unnecessary Niceness, for release in the UK and included the track "Angels." It was however, too late for a band who had already moved on, leaving only the merest trace of vinyl behind.

Friday, November 27, 2009

New Idea Society - Alibi on the Menu, Weakness on the Menu

Mike Law formed New Idea society with Steve Brodsky in Boston around 2001. By the next year they recorded a self-titled EP with four songs, all of which were written in one day. According to Law, "We borrowed an 8 track that we didn't really know how to use and recorded the songs at my Dad's house, all in a day as well. I remember trying to sing really softly because we didn't know how to stop the microphone from making that popping noise. We didn't know what windscreens or compressors were. Somehow it ended up on CD and New Idea Society became my full time band."

After releasing the EP, Law moved to New York and brought the band name with him. He recruited new bandmembers and the group recorded a full length in 2005 called You Are Awake or Asleep. They followed this with The World is Bright and Lonely in 2007 and have a new album on the way.

"Alibi on the Menu," which comes from the debut EP, is a great slice of lo-fi power pop in the Elephant 6/Guided by Voices mold that I find myself singing any time someone says "Can I get a witness?"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Grit - Where the Red Fern Grows

Anyone looking to peg Grit’s sound need only scan the song titles of their first cassette, Teach Me To Rock, Baby. One song is called "Haley Mills" and another is a cover of a song from Degrassi High. Tony Perkins and Marc Mazique, who met while attending Rutgers university, formed Grit in 1992 after the demise of Mazique’s other band Sponge. The band never played outside of New Jersey, opting instead to play informal shows in dorm halls on campus.

After recording this cassette, Perkins and Mazique went into a studio to cut a few tracks for an upcoming compilation that their schoolmate Mark Gutkowski was putting together for his Jiffy Boy Label. Tony was still tweaking the lyrics to "Where the Red Fern Grows" the night before the session, but the song made the cut and appeared on the comp, Ten Cent Fix.

By 1994 the band broke up, and both went onto to other projects. Marc Mazique lives in Seattle and Tony Perkins lives in Olympia, Washington with his wife Carrie and daughter Imogen.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Love, Execution Style
Custom Made Music

One Song Not About Pain
Commissioned by Brian Weitz for Ruth Fertig's birthday (October 1999)

Wrestling Mayhem Federation Theme Song
Commissioned by Mister Carlo for the WMF television show (July 2000)

Rock and pop have never been immune to grand gestures and high-concepts, but a humble genre like indie pop would seem to be mutually exclusive with anything resembling a press angle or marketing hook. And yet, some of the most outsized ideas sprang forth from bedroom popsters in the '90s. Sufjan Steven concocted the fifty states/fifty albums project, the Magnetic Fields released the self-explanatory 69 Love Songs double CD, and LMP recorded a cover song for every year between 1900 and 2000. The little guys, it seems, like to dream big too.

Love, Execution Style, a one man band based in Tennessee, coined his own unique proposition in 1997: custom made music. The man behind LES has made a half-hearted effort to hide his identity (which I will honor here), although he freely communicated with many of the people who took part in his project, some of which include Dark Beloved Cloud label owner Douglas Wolk, Brian Weitz from the Animal Collective, and many TV producers looking for a cheap theme song.

The deal was that a customer could provide specifications—as few or many as desired—for a song, and LES would write and record an original song and send it to the person, all for only five dollars. From 1997 to 2007, LES recorded nineteen custom made songs for the project. Tracks were commissioned for two television shows, a radio program, and two short films, one of which was broadcast on the Documentary Channel. One track served as the theme song for an Internet service provider; another ("Punk Rock Comedian") was used as runway music for a man in a bachelor charity auction. Other songs were used as love tokens or birthday gifts.

There are a few songs that have a particularly interesting history. "One Song Not about Pain," was requested by Brian Weitz for his friend Ruth, a huge John Cusack fan who later started a film career. Another track, made for a weekly radio show in Chattanooga, changes genres every few seconds as a tribute to "Speedfreaks" by Naked City.

The song commissioned by Wolk is particularly bizarre. It was requested for a friend who had just earned her PhD in mathematics. After discovering that her thesis was about Markov chains, LES used a random number generator and probability matrices based on "Pomp and Circumstance" and "Y.M.C.A." to create the melody. The details are in a paper entitled "Faster than a Calculator—or Using Markov Chains for the Construction of New Wave Music" which may be read here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mustard – Trampoline

Most bands don't take 11 years to release their debut album; then again, most bands don't name themselves after a condiment either. According to Daryle Goldfarb, who formed Mustard with Steve Tousand and Sean Whitley in 1985, the band was christened at Santa Monica Place, a mall in West LA. "We were throwing out names of random items around the mall," he said. "After tossing out things like Fork, Spoon, and Ketchup, 'Mustard' just stuck as a cool, 70's-sounding food name for a band."

The band recorded sporadically for the next few years and one of their projects included scoring a student film at Crossroads High School starring Jack Black. Before they all left for UC Santa Cruz, the band released a 7" single which somehow landed in the lap of a Rolling Stone editor who put the band's picture and bio in a college-music special.

In 1996, the trio finally got around to releasing a proper album, which was recorded between 1994 and 1996. Unfortunately, the trio was not able to capitalize on it at this time because they were all beginning to scatter across California after graduation. Mustard still occasionally gets together to record and Goldfarb is still threatening to release the follow-up.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rex Aquarium - Remember

Rex Aquarium were an LA band that seemed to be poised for success in 2004. They had broken out locally and their song "Alicia" was hotly tipped by the press. The song was indeed one of the highlights of their uneven debut. However, the band's second album sank with barely a trace and the bank broke up a few years later.

Like many LA bands, Rex Aquarium had members with showbiz ties. Guitarist/vocalist Charles Wadhams and his brother Christopher were the children of Bill Wadhams, the singer and songwriter from Animotion. The band bears no traces of a new wave influence, instead sounding more like an unholy fusion of Steely Dan and the Strokes. "Remember" leads off the debut CD and is a sleepy, sly tune that has a way of staying in your head for days.

Here is a link to the video for "Alicia."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Henrietta's Lovers - Monkey Barrs

Led by charismatic frontman and trumpet player Alexander Davidowski, Henrietta's Lovers was formed at the University of Florida in 1990. The band didn't fit into any particular scene, as their sound was an odd collision of Joy Division moodiness, jazz-funk, and Davidowski's warbling croon.

Guitarist Matt Herrero coined the band name after a short story he wrote based on a family member.  The band remained coy about the exact nature of the story, and apparently Herrero's family wasn't all too keen on the name. Herrero also came up with the title of the band's only release, The Pagoda Woman, which was recorded in August 1990 at Mirror Image studios in Gainesville. According to Davidowski, the cassette sold a hundred copies or so. The band didn't really tour outside of Florida and after recording one last song "Crystal Castles," the band broke up.

Although uneven and amateurish at times, The Pagoda Woman is an engaging and unique album that gets by on the band's enthusiasm and wealth of ideas. Side one leans towards atmospheric jazz-funk and quirky pop while side two features a live set that veers from carnival barker trippiness ("Cat's Eye") to goofy garage punk ("Itomni"). The album closes with a minor-key, new wave dirge.

"Monkey Barrs," named after the slap-pop-happy bass player Ceb Barrs, is the quintessential Henrietta's Lovers track, showcasing Davidowski's unhinged vocal antics and the band's eclectic range of ideas. It appeared on their lone cassette, as well as a compilation of local bands called Gainesville Can't Dance.

(Corrected 4/4/11)

Bonus link to an old article on the band:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Billy Crosbys - Ashtray

Inspired by DIY label Shrimper, John Gleason formed the Billy Crosbys in Metuchen, New Jersey in 1992. By the late '90s the band's ranks swelled to include two female singers and a violin player, but the core always remained John Gleason and Jeremy Benson.

Like Shrimper, the Billy Crosbys primarily released handmade cassettes, issuing five of them on their own imprint Gugliano Family Picnic Records. They also released a string of singles, a cassette on Brassland Records and appeared on numerous compilations.

According to Gleason, "Ashtray" was inspired by the film Gorillas in the Mist. "I had seen it when I was younger and never forgot the image of an ape's hand being used as an ashtray. So, ‘that makes for a hell of an ashtray’ is actually a disapproving statement."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Russell Hoke - Someday Among Flowers

In 2003, Chris King of Eleanor Roosevelt passed me an odd, mysterious CD-R by Russell Hoke called Magic of My Youth. It has a xeroxed cover and very little information beyond the song titles and dates. I later posted a song by Hoke on this blog, lamenting the fact that he never released anything on vinyl. Hoke soon got in touch to let me know that he did in fact do a tiny vinyl edition of another collection called Cosmic Outlaw. Pressed in an edition of 100 copies with handwritten song titles, the album is now hopelessly rare.

In 2009, Hoke belatedly released Magic of My Youth on vinyl, again in an edition of 100. The only place to buy copies is directly so contact him at at for for more info.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Kurt Vile: The Early Years

2003: "Me and Work"
2004: "Ocean City"

2009 is looking to be Kurt Vile's breakout year. He just released God is Saying This to You (Mexican Summer) and word of mouth has been mostly of the drool variety. This April, Woodsist is rereleasing Constant Hitmaker, Vile's sleeper disc from last year, and there is also a big label deal in the works.

I have been listening to Kurt Vile's homemade cd-r's for the past few years and it's been a pleasure to see him grow. Of course, that growth isn't always apparent to recent converts. Both God and Constant Hitmaker are actually compilations, handpicked from Vile's vast catalog of bedroom recordings. So what the new listeners don't get is the wider palette and occasionally rough edges of Vile's earlier work. "Detoxanne," from Kurt's 2003 debut Ten Songs, features clanging percussion and a vaguely klezmer feel. Rarities and Rejects, also from 2003, features a very indie cover of Pavement's "Zurich is Stained."

Still, these were diversions. Many of Vile's key songs from the early period (many of which have now been compiled) were his acoustic ones. At the time, Vile was most comfortable in Fahey mode, casting lonesome and haunting melodies over fingerpicked guitarlines. He also tended to write more direct lyrics. "Me and Work," from Ten Songs is a classic example, with Vile articulating a sense of purpose out of passivity.

Vile continued to broaden his sound on 2004's 9 Recordings with the Syd Barret-like "Ocean City" and the droning, sample-based "Best Love." By 2005's Trial and Error, Vile began experimenting with ambient and electronic elements and tightening his compositions. A prime weakness on his first two albums were overlong songs.

Vile really turned the corner in 2006 with the remarkable Accidents EP, which featured his strongest songs to date. By now he'd replaced the loner folk vibe with warped, cryptic pop and it fit him well. On "Don't Get Cute," he sang "I wanna be a success, give me my style." He emphasized the word "suck" as he sang "success," as if to make a point of the inevitable dilution of talent that comes with the territory. Perhaps he'd grown bitter, or maybe he could feel it coming. Either way, it was here that Vile finally synthesized his influences into a refined, cohesive aesthetic.

It will be interesting to see Vile move beyond his bedroom recordings. As the appetite for his work grows, Vile will have to create new material on cue, a challenge that often stumps emerging artists who have had so much time to tinker with their initial batch of compositions. When he does, I'll be the first in line to buy whatever this fascinating artist delivers.


Full Lengths:
2003 - 10 Songs (Self-released)
2003 - Rarities and Rejects (Self-released)
2004 - 9 Home Recordings (Self-released)
2007 - Constant Hitmaker (Gulcher)

2005 - Trial and Error (Self-released)
2006 - Accidents (Self-released)
2009 - God Is Saying This To You (Mexican Summer)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Love Child - He's So Sensitive

In February 1990, Lovechild recorded Okay?, their debut LP for Homestead. Too schizophrenic and intellectual to ever capture a large audience, the band nevertheless predated many prevailing trends of the decade: riot-grrl, lo-fi, noise and angular guitar rock. The album barely holds together, but the band's wealth of ideas is inspiring and invigorating. An easy standout is bassist/singer Rebecca Odes' "He's So Sensitive," a song that seems tailor made for the Kill Rock Stars label.

Comprised of guitar-wizard Alan Licht, Odes, and Will Baum, Lovechild only managed to release one more album before falling apart in 1992. Licht went on to record one of the most baffling noise records of the '90s, Sink the Aging Process on Siltbreeze. According to Licht, the album deeply disturbed Mike Watt and Ron House, and Bob Fay reported that after listening to the first side, there was an earthquake.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Vinylstar - Rays

Most of Vinylstar’s members were still in highschool in Valparaiso, Indiana when they recorded their first batch of songs in 1994. Perhaps Vinylstar never got the memo about the DIY revolution because none of their early material was released until much later. When it came to playing live however, the quintet was quite resourceful, often renting out the American Legion hall to play shows with other local bands.

After highschool, Paul Foreman left Valpairso to attend college at Indiana University in Bloomington. His band mates eventually followed him there, and Vinylstar slowly worked their way up the indie rock food chain. Although, as Foreman says, the band may have made this more difficult than it needed to be. "I know that we rubbed a lot of people the wrong way when we moved to Bloomington. We were kinda cocky jerks for a while."

Vinylstar finally got a chance to release their music when Clark Giles saw them at a big outdoor festival called Culture Shock. Although his label largely focused on hardcore and screamo bands, he liked Vinylstar enough to release all three of their albums. The final album I Like Today, appeared in 2003 and was produced by Vess Ruhtenberg of United States 3.

"Rays" comes from a posthumous, three-CD collection of Vinylstar's early, unreleased material.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

NDolphin - Red Town

My first post on NDolphin seemed to be popular, so I thought I'd upload a track from their second cassette, Wail. I spoke to Joshua McKay recently and he gave me a little more info on the band. He said the first cassette sold almost 5,000 copies. Quite a number for a band that barely toured outside of their hometown of Gainesville!

McKay was never really an official member, but he produced the first EP. The band produced Wail themselves, and at times it shows. Overall the songs aren't as strong as on the debut and the production work is a bit unfocused and muddy. However, "Red Town" is still an enjoyable track, and one that recalls the best of Jefferson Airplane's vocal interplay.

Click here to read my first NDolphin post. I finally got around to re-uploading that track. Sorry for the two year delay!

Minerva Strain - Strum
Recorded 1991, Released 1992

Formed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1990, Minerva Strain maintained a consistent line up for all six years of the band’s existence. Pat Johnson, Nick Lingg, Andy Shull, and Jason Summers all met while working at UNC student radio station WXYC. Shull was the primary songwriter, but Summers and Lingg also wrote. Ted Goss, who ran Jettison records, attended the band’s first show and agreed to release a single. "Fissure," backed with REM-ish "Strum," appeared in 1992. Minerva Strain followed their debut single with two more singles and eventually Blue Tarantella, a 73-minute album that appeared in 1995.

An early song called "Anushka Babar" appeared on Cognitive Mapping II (Cognitive Mapping I was cassette-only), which is an excellent introduction to the ‘90s Chapel Hill scene.

According to Shull, "Things just wound down sometime during 1996, as our futures pulled us all in diverging directions. There was no official farewell performance, so under band law, we are still a band."