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."