Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sound of My Own Voice

Where's Tommy (1990)

Led by guitarist Tom Mitchell and vocalist Jamie Trecker, Sound of My Own Voice (SOMOV) formed in 1988 and released three hard-to-find cassettes and a single before breaking up sometime around 1990. The single, "Where's Tommy," occasionally turns up around New York and is a fine example of the sort of Feelies/REM inspired college rock of the day.  However, the band's repertoire was far deeper than that as evidenced from cassettes such as Greatest Hits, March, and Lunch with Duncan.

Jim Gibson, who runs the aptly named Noiseville Records, discovered the band when Trecker sent him a tape and released 1,000 copies of their sole single. The tapes had sold fairly well in Syracause, and Gibson had plans to release a full-length album, but the band broke up and the album never materialized.

According to Trecker, the band broke up for "lots of reasons. The thing is, I think we felt like not many people really got SOMOV, and we were kind of sick of playing to small crowds and slaving away in our rooms and attic on stuff. Syracuse was really into hair metal then, and it was tough to find bills to play on because of that. We didn't do covers, and you know, we were kinda weird. The irony was when we disbanded, all of sudden, people were into us."

SOMOV recently played a sold-out reunion show in Syracuse and are playing another show on October 14th in Chicago. They are also finally releasing that lost lp on Noiseville. Check SOMOV's Facebook page here for much more info...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Bruce Jenner (1993)
Incense and Peppermints (1993)

Ask any music lover from Pensacola, Florida, about early ‘90s bands, and Honda will inevitably come up. Singer and songwriter Rusty Dungan was older than most of the other kids in bands, and many looked up to him as a father figure—a drunken, occasionally brilliant father figure who often brought entire pitchers of beer on stage.

Along with band mates Ryan Nalley, Mike Kirkpatrick, and Jay Thomas, Dungan aimed to create a sound somewhere between Mudhoney and Syd Barrett.  Honda frequenly played shows at local dives like Sluggo's, the Handlebar, and occasionally the Niteowl, the local heavy metal club. During their short career, Honda self-released two cassettes.  The six song Honda came out in 1992, and Throw Like a Girl appeared in 1993.  They also managed a short East Coast tour in Mike’s mother’s station wagon and saved money by sleeping in the pop-up camper.

Dungan’s residences included a garage and a supposedly haunted basement, but friends mostly remember the time when he lived in a tent.  According to friend Ryan Gensemer, who played with Dungan in Inca Kola, “We would walk out on a bluff and yell, and he’d come crawling out of the woods for practice.”

"Bruce Jenner" is a highlight of Throw Like a Girl, which was recorded with Tommy Hamilton at Georgia Street Studios. (It also appears on my CD series Tiny Idols Vol. 3, which just came out in July.) Another highlight of the album is drummer Jay Thomas' insane, over-the-top cover of "Incense and Peppermints."

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Embarrassing Fruits

Long Distance Breakup Summer (2010)

These three kids from Chapel Hill sound like the last fifteen years hasn't even happened. If you have a soft spot for Archers of Loaf, or miss the kind of records Merge used to put out in the '90s, you can't do much better than this. Good lyrics too!

Trekky Records will release their second album, Frontier Justice, on September 21st. I'll go back to posting about old bands now.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Multiple Cat

Savior in a Plaid Coat (1998)

For all intents and purposes, Davenport, Iowa’s Patrick Stolley was the Multiple Cat.  He wrote or co-wrote all the band’s material, played most of the instruments, sang lead vocals, and recorded the songs in his home studio. Orbiting around Stolley was an amorphous cast of talented friends and musicians. 

Recorded around 1998, “Savior in a Plaid Coat” appeared on The Golden Apple Hits, released by the Plow City label in 2001.  Many of the songs are quieter and more introspective than Stolley's earlier work, especially the slow-building "Savior." According to Stolley, "A lot of folks don't get that one.  'Too light' and 'drum machiney' are comments I've heard.  It's very meaningful to me, though, because it's about when my mom put me into state custody (I was a bad little Robert Smith look-alike) and I had to go to court and all this drama.  I ran away from the state shelter and crossed the river to Illinois, and my girlfriend Nancy picked me up and got me out of town."

The Multiple Cat got their start when Zero Hour, a well-funded but ultimately mismanaged indie, released the Multiple Cat’s debut in 1996.  Stolley was mowing his lawn when he got the call from Zero Hour with a generous offer.  The label folded soon after the album’s release, forcing Stolley to make the switch to a series of other labels. By the time The Golden Apple Hits came out, the band was no longer active.

After an acrimonious split with his wife, Stolley entered a dormant phase.   “I lost touch with music for a while, and was bitter in general,” Stolley told me. “When my life came back together, I felt like the Multiple Cat was more a part of the past.”  Stolley abandoned the old name for good and started recording with a slightly revamped sound as the Marlboro Chorus.  Since 2001, Stolley has released three albums on Future Appletree under this moniker.

In 2005, Future Appletree also issued a highly recommended collection of the Multiple Cat's best tracks. Get it here.

Monday, July 05, 2010

He's on Drugs Again (1995)

The college town of Bloomington, Indiana, was a breeding ground for countless indie bands in the '90s. (See Jeb Banner's amazing Musical Family Tree site for proof).  Unlike other cities in the Midwest, punk never established a dominant foothold there and many of the area's bands leaned more towards the pop and rock end of the spectrum.  Sardina is no exception, and their sole album Presents is one of the best and most memorable albums from the decade.

On Tiny Idols, Vol. 3, (out today!) I included their great track "I'll Be Around," written by Michelle Marchesseault. However, while putting the compilation together, I emailed back and forth with LonPaul Ellrich, who wrote Sardina’s cult favorite “He’s On Drugs Again.”  He lobbied hard for me to use that song, which is admittedly awesome, but I felt that female songwriters were under-represented on my compilation and wanted to highlight Marchesseault’s song.  Sadly, LonPaul passed away in 2008, leaving a huge hole in the Bloomington music community. He will be missed. Besides Sardina, he played in Marmoset and the United States Three, among many others.

Sardina was formed in 1993 by Marchesseault, Marty Green, Lon Paul Ellrich, and P.J. Christie. All four members wrote and sang, but Marty Green was considered by the others to be the primary force in the band.   In 1995, just before their debut CD appeared, Green quit.  The remaining members auditioned three more guitarists, but none quite lived up to the band’s or the label’s expectations, and the group folded for good in 1996.

Despite Sardina’s brief lifespan (and the fact that they moved to Chicago after forming), Sardina is still remembered by many Indiana residents as one of Bloomington’s best.  In addition to Presents, Sardina also released three singles, one on Favorite Street, one on Egg Records and the other on HitIt.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sam Elwitt
Way Up High (1997)

Sam Elwitt may be Nutley, New Jersey's most prolific musician. His long list of projects includes a lounge band (Nutley Brass), a punk band (Sea Monkeys), an AC/DC cover band (The Dirt Cheap) and an old timey country outfit (the Small Potatoes), to just name a few.  However, my favorite project of his are the psych-pop home recordings that he initally released as the Hazeltones and later under his own name. Elwitt’s brother Jonathan wrote much of the lyrics and Elwitt played all the instrumentation and sang.

Elwitt started recording solo material at home in the early '90s,  releasing the best of these under the Hazeltones moniker on a 7" EP called "Scratch the Surface." Released by a tiny German label, the EP featured four terrific slices of '60s influenced indie pop but the 7" only garnered a few reviews and disappeared quickly. Ian Schlein, one of my favorite vendors at the WFMU record fair turned me on to it, and I recently used the closing track "Delirious" on Tiny Idols, Vol. 3 which comes out in July.

Elwitt dropped the Hazeltones name and continued recording throughout the '90s, hoping to release a full-length CD under his own name. He even created the artwork (seen above) but lost momentum and the project remains unreleased today.

For more info and plenty of Elwitt's music, check out his site here.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Shimmer Kids

Whistle While You Weep (1999)

When I think of early '90s San Francisco bands, I tend to imagine music that is overly arty and hard to love--like the city itself. And yet, the scene was big enough to initially include Green Day and Third Eye Blind (both with Top 40 hits) and Thinking Fellers Union Local 242 and Caroliner (easily two of the strangest bands ever to make a mark on the indie scene).

The Shimmer Kids, then, who appeared towards the second half of the decade, seemed to point the way to a friendlier sound more reminiscent of the psychedelic pop that first put the city on the map.  The band never achieved much success, but they perservered. The Shimmer Kids originally formed at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1996, with guitarist and vocalist Josh Babcock presiding over an unruly and sprawling bunch that included a theremin player, and a melodica player.

The band soon began recording at home and self-releasing cassettes which they sold at their shows.  Like their '60s heroes, they made elaborate, trippy fliers, and augmented their stage show with film loops and props. Despite their moderate following at home, the Shimmer Kids unknowingly tapped in to the same energy of the Elephant Six crowd, who were doing many of the same things across the country in Athens, GA.

The Shimmer Kids released their first album Bury My Heart at Makeout Point in 2000 to decent reviews and respectable sales. By 2002, Parasol signed them up for their sophomore release Natural Riot.   Both have their moments, but I think the band may have hit their peak in 1999 with their second single "Strange Signals" which features the slow-burning winner "Whistle While You Weep" on side two.

The Shimmer Kids broke up in 2004, but basically reformed intact as the Society of Rockets.  For tons more music and pics, check the band's site here.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Michelene Cherie

Razor Wind (1990)

"Razor Wind" is a rare find from the '90s four-track scene, a well-produced pop song that actually sounds huge and timeless, almost like Neko Case or something.  I got in touch with Michelene Cherie, who now works as a wardrobe and pop stylist in LA, to find out more about the song which I found on the B-side of her only single "Sincerely."

"[The single] was recorded and produced by Dave Peterson who played all the instruments," Cherie wrote me. "His sisters are Debbie and Vicki Peterson from the Bangles. Since I had a good relationship with the Bangles and I also worked for them, I asked them if I could release my single on their label Down Kiddie Records and they agreed to do it.

"We recorded it on four track in our apartment. 'Sincerely,' the original Dwight Twilley song, was recorded on 48 tracks and produced by Twilley. We knew him peripherally through Susan Cowsill and Vicki Peterson. Both he and Roger Linn (yes, the Linn drum Roger) called us to ask how we did it on only 4 tracks and how we figured out the backwards guitar solo played by Linn. We really tried to do a note-perfect version and according to the original creators and we pulled it off.

"'Razor Wind' was originally recorded by Dave's band The Howling Dogs, from Los Angeles. They were ahead of their time and people didn't really get them, which was a shame, because they had some cool songs. I fell in love with 'Razor Wind' and wanted to cover it.

"I released the single in 1990 and immediately went on tour with L.A's. Redd Kross as a backup singer in support of their Atlantic Records release  Third Eye. We toured the US and Canada supporting Sonic Youth (Goo era) and The Go-Go's first reunion tour. While on this tour, I met the Posies, from Seattle and after leaving Redd Kross I moved to Seattle to hang with my new pals."

After moving to Seattle, Cherie performed as a solo artist and eventually formed Michelene Impossible, who scored some critical notice for their sole release Aquamarine. They disbanded in 1999, but Cherie maintains their myspace page here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Trick and the Heartstrings

Music U Want 2 Dance 2 (2003)

Alexander Gedeon, Leif Young Huckman, and Peter Hale first met at the Experimental Theater Wing at NYU.  There, they chain smoked cigarettes, talked endlessly about their favorite albums by the Police and the Talking Heads, and occasionally jammed.  After graduation, they agreed to form a band.

Gedeon, the band's singer and guitarist recalls, "I was envisioning a name, something silly and explosive and vulnerable. The first thing I said was "Bitch Ass Trick and the Heartstrings". Which would have been a complete joke. But I do have a penchant for long-winded and verbose titles and names, and the somewhat shorter 'Trick and the Heartstrings' stuck."
The trio began playing out in New York, building up a devoted following for their tight playing, choreographed dance moves and an irresistible groove that owed a sizable debt to Prince.  They started out by releasing a 6 song EP on their own label which they sold at shows.  They followed this two years later with "& I Feel" on North Street Records which featured the popular live staple "Joga," a funked cover of the Bjork classic.
In 2006, the band was riding high and played a series of shows in England. NME gushed, calling them a "perfect" band. 679 Records showed interest, but a deal never materialized. According to Gedeon, "The big brass didn't feel like any of our songs would make strong radio singles, so they kept throwing money our way, hoping that we would develop more. But there was too much tension in the band at that point anyway.  We had other options for label support, but it didn't matter by that point. We were over it."

Although they went their separate ways, the old theater buddies remained friends after it was all over and are still on good terms.

Monday, May 17, 2010


This is Not a Test (1989)

Christmas was a true anomaly. With their dadaist sense of humor and restless musical exploration, they never fit into any scene comfortably and were hard to take seriously. And yet, the talent of main members Michael Cudahy and Liz Cox was undeniable, even on the early singles and compilation appearances. As a part of the Boston scene in the mid'80s, Christmas easily stood out from the packs of generic bar bands and REM clones, and Gerald Cosloy helped them secure a spot in history on his influential "Bands That Could Be God" compilation. Christmas seemed to have momentum as they released their debut full-length In Excelsior Day-Glo on Big Time, but the album fell flat and failed to deliver on the buzz.

Christmas fled to IRS for their second album Ultraprophets of Thee Psykick Revolution, a much-improved effort that propped up the band's offbeat lyrics with the catchiest melodies of their career. However, critics hated it and IRS dropped the band soon after the album's release.

Frustrated, Cudahy and Cox broke up Christmas and moved to Las Vegas, where they had more success with their new band Combustible Edison.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Trotsky Icepick

Dante's Flame (1988)

Trotsky Icepick were an interesting band from LA who were probably a little too smart for their own good. They had many of the ingredients for success: a hip label (SST), standout lyrics, and generally excellent songwriting. And yet, revisiting their discography now makes it clear that the band was perhaps too unfocused and odd to achieve anything more than cult appeal.

Formed by Kjehl Johansen (100 Flowers) and Vitus MatarĂ© (the Last), the band released seven albums over a ten year career before moving on. All the albums had highlights, but my personal favorite is "Dante's Flame" from Baby, one of their stronger albums.  Although we tend to forget it now, many indie bands in the '80s toyed with post-punk rhythms well into the latter part of the decade.  "Dante's Flame" almost comes off as a Talking Heads tribute, but succeeds on the merits of its unstoppable exhuberance and killer guitar work.  Love it!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bacon Ray

Bacon Ray was a part of Tallahassee, Florida's incredibly rich indie scene in the late '90s that also included Nel Aspinal, Frankenfinger, Flanders, the New You and bazillions more.   The band's origins start with Merlin Mann, a huge fan of Mike Coleman's prior bands the Singing Spoons and Ultraboy. When the latter broke up in 1994, Mann persuaded him to form Bacon Ray.

According to Mann, "Mike's old band, Ultraboy, was being interviewed on V89 (the FSU college radio station), and drummer Kelly Shane made reference to a notional "bacon ray." I thought it was hilarious and lobbied that it become the name of Mike's next band. (My other idea, "Kung Fu Grippe," became the title of a weblog I did for a couple years)."

Along with bassist Chris Gleasman from Gruel, the trio started crafting a set of original songs.  According to Mann, their sound "borrowed equal parts of Kiss, Big Star, Frank Zappa, and Jonathan Richman."

The lineup changed over the years, but Bacon Ray had a fairly long career for a college band, releasing three cassettes, two singles, two CD's, and numerous compilation tracks before breaking up in 1999.  Their final release was "Diane Court" on The Nervous System, a compilation of mostly Florida bands on AAJ Records.  The song is a fairly explanatory, and extremely catchy, ode to the movie Say Anything.

Mann is an active blogger today and can be found here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Look Blue Go Purple - Cactus Cat

In 1993, I cut out a review of a Tiger Trap album which I still have today. The review was noteworthy, if only for the role call of comparable bands. They all had such wonderful names and I had never heard a single one: the Shop Assistants, the Flatmates, Girls at Our Best, and Look Blue Go Purple (many of the same bands name-checked when the Vivian Girls started getting press). I did end up checking out all the bands, but I have a particular fondness for Look Blue Go Purple.

Look Blue Go Purple originally formed in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1983. Initially, the five girls in the band didn't really know how to play and rehearsed on borrowed instruments. However, the quintet made good on their potential and by 1985 were able to achieve recognition in the largely male-dominated New Zealand musical community. Influenced by peers like the Clean, Look Blue Go Purple played straight ahead pop with harmonies and an insistent beat.  Their first EP, Bewitched, was solid, but it was their second EP that captivated a wider audience. With the inclusion of the lovable "Cactus Cat," the economically titled LBGPEP2 was able to crack the top 20 in New Zealand.

Look Blue Go Purple broke up in 1987, but some of the members went on to other bands like the 3D's and Cyclops.  What do you say ladies, time for a reunion? Please?

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Cat Heads

When the Cat Heads got their first gig in 1985, three of the four members didn't even know they were in the band. According to guitarist/vocalist Mark Zanandrea, "A manager I knew was booking a show for his band, but he needed an opening act. He asked me if I had a band. I lied and said yes. He gave me the slot, which was in a couple of weeks. I called Sam [Babbitt], Mel[anie Clarin] and Alan [Korn] and told them we had a good show booked, let's learn some songs."

The Cat Heads mostly played covers for their first show, but the eclectic mix of songs in their set was a harbinger of the band's wide stylistic tastes: Prince, Donovan, Howling Wolf, the Monkees. The show went over well, and they decided to continue as a band, slowly building up a dedicated following that included scene luminaries like Camper Van Beethoven's David Lowery and the Rain Parade's Matt Piucci.

Piucci helped get the band signed to Restless Records, who released two albums from the group. Piucci also produced the band's debut album, Hubba, which showed off the band's talent. All members wrote and sang, and the band seemed capable of playing any genre well.

With David Lowery on board to produce the follow-up, the band was able to synthesize it's influences better on the lovable Submarine. The album isn't perfect, and it starts with arguably the album's weakest track, Zanadrea's grunge howler "Little Less of Me." After that however, it is one highlight after another. Chiming pop songs like "Apologize" and "Alice on the Radio" sit alongside the unhinged garage rave-up "Hallelujah Dance" and "Grass," a neat approximation of Tom Petty writing kids' music. However, the band saved the two show stoppers for side two, the moving and folky "Bisho" (co-written by the mysterious P. Stirling) and "Sister Tabitha," Zanandrea's attempt at baroque pop in the Left Banke mold.

According to Zanadrea, "Sister Tabitha Babbitt was a real Shaker woman. I took note of her because her last name was the same as Sam's, and they're both New Englander's, so possibly related. The Shakers didn't believe in having sex, so they died out. They got their ya-ya's out with woodcraft (Their furniture is still highly valued). Sister Tabitha actually invented the circular saw."

Since I couldn't find them anywhere online, here are the official lyrics, provided by Zanandrea himself:

Sister Tabitha (M. Zanandrea/M. Clarin)

For those who were not concerned it seemed another normal day
But for sister Tabitha Babbitt there was a bolt out of the gray
And the tintinnabulations of the bells up in the tower
Sang out in praise of carpentry's second finest hour
And then it came to her - the motion circular

All I need is a leap of faith and I could soon be there
Shaking with the sister out in New England fair
And we'd speak in tongues to everyone as they'd skirt out of our way
And it's sad to think of how they slowly died away

But through the circular saw Sister Tabitha still lives on
And the saw goes round and round and round...

Link: The Cat Heads website

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Low Numbers - Josef Albers

In 1996, Gerhardt Koerner formed the Low Numbers while in college at the University of Pittsburgh. Along with his sister Karola on bass, girlfriend Kara Crombie on guitar, and Jon Vital on drums, Koerner began putting together a set of new wave influenced art pop and playing out in Pittsburgh. As the band lineup changed over the years, Koerner continued to tinker with the band's sound, writing far more songs than they actually played or recorded.

In 1997, The Low Numbers released their debut single "Telekom" b/w "Josef Albers" on their own Instant Tunes label. The single showed big potential and helped to build anticipation for a full length from the band, but it never came. "I work on something every day," Gerhardt told Philadelphia Weekly at the time. "It's about putting a cohesive set together."

The album never materialized, but the band did put out one more single before disbanding sometime around 2002. The final single, on Roof Rack Records, featured "What Good Are Girls For" and "Sunlight Over Detroit." By now, the band was just calling itself The Numbers.

In 2002, Numbers recorded new material with Phil Manley of Trans Am, but Koerner was beginning to devote more time to the Lilys, who he had joined around that time. He eventually formed a new band called the Hi-Soft who released a great four song EP in 2006.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Majosha - Get that Bug Outta Your System

I sure could have used the Internet in 1990. It was around then that I first heard the song "Get That Bug Outta Your System" by Majosha, a curiously named band that absolutely no one seemed to know about. I had discovered them on the late night Jacksonville radio show "Dangerous Exposure" and immediately went out searching for their cassette. However, every record store clerk I asked gave me the same answer: "Never heard of them." Eventually, I just gave up.

Luckily, I always taped Dangerous Exposure, and I had a rough tape dub of the song. I played it occasionally throughout the years and its charms never wore off. Sometime in 2004, I decided to do an Internet search just to see if anything came up. Much to my surprise, I discovered that Ben Folds (yes, the Ben Folds) was the main man behind Majosha. In addition to playing bass, he also played piano and wrote some of the songs, including "Get That Bug Outta Your System."

Folds formed Majosha in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1988 and their first show was at a Duke Battle of the Bands, which they won. Other band members included guitarist Millard Powers and drummer Dave Rich, one of Folds' friends from UNC-Greensboro.

The band played parties in the area and released a self-produced EP called "Party Night: Five Songs About Jesus". I haven't heard the tape, but according to a Ben Folds fan site, "There were 4 songs, and none were about Jesus. The 4 songs were: Get That Bug (Outta Your System), Kalamazoo, Where's Bohemia and Cool Whip."

The band started to get more popular in the area and eventually put out Shut Up and Listen to Majosha on vinyl and cassette. Many of the songs from the earlier cassette were re-recorded, including "Get That Bug Outta Your System." About fifteen years later after my initial search began, I finally found that album on the internet. Actual copies of the cassette and lp are extremely rare, with the vinyl fetching between $200 and $300, so this is probably all I'm ever gonna get.

Majosha broke up in 1990 and Folds went on to a few other short-lived projects before founding Ben Folds Five.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Weeping in Fits and Starts - You Do Everything But Heal Me

Although times have changed now, indie-rockers tended to shun self-promotion in the '90s. In hindsight, this can partially be seen as a reaction against the overt commercialism of the '80s, but it was also ingrained into the ethos of DIY. Wanting it too badly was a faux pas; the music was supposed to stand on its own.

Greg Jacobs, the main songwriter behind Boston band Weeping in Fits and Starts, is a classic example of a talented musician who put enormous thought and creativity to writing and recording music but not nearly enough into getting it heard. Like many others, Jacobs opted to release his music himself.

"Rhubarb Records was my own half-assed attempt to have a record label," Jacobs says. "I quickly discovered I shouldn't be running a record label. I couldn't get any distribution or get any kind of foothold or leeway into the music scene at all. No one could buy it unless they bought one at a show or read a review somewhere and took the effort to write to us and buy one directly."

Growing up in Rochester, NY, Jacobs cut his teeth in the music scene playing drums for the Lynchbugs and later the Lotus Eaters. He started playing guitar in college and eventually began writing his own music with a rotating band of players. He had suggested Weeping in Fits and Starts as an album title for the Lotus Eaters, but ended up using it for his side project when they rejected the name. During the last half of the '90s, Weeping in Fits and Starts released two 45's, an EP, and two LP's. The final album, Blue Funnel World did garner some positive press notices, but sold very poorly.

"My friend Pete Weiss, who ran Zippah Studios where Blue Funnel World was recorded, had a joke that his last album went paper. Meaning that if selling one million is Platinum, and 500K Gold, if you followed that down to selling about 20 records, then hey, you can say it went paper! I have no idea how many sold, but not many at all."

"You Do Everything But Heal Me," possibly Jacobs' finest song, was originally released on an EP in 1998, and also included on the Blue Funnel World CD. Weeping in Fits and Starts dissolved in 2000 as the band members and Jacobs moved on to other projects. However, Jacobs recently decided to do a one-off reunion show in May.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

LMP - Graduation Angel

Only LMP, a duo with more ambition than Brian Wilson at his zaniest, could conceive and actually follow through with Century of Song (2004), a six-CD set of cover songs from every year since 1900. But LMP's strange story doesn't start there. In 1992, Ryan Bessler and Eric Haugen formed the band in Champaign, Illinois, naming themselves Lorenzo Music after a voice-over artist with the same name. Two years later, the group landed on Conan O’Brien's College Band Contest with the goofy, but catchy, "Where's the Zamboni?" By that time, they had changed their name to Le Musique Populaire, commonly shortened as LMP.

After this much-needed publicity boost, the duo developed aspirations that seemed to know no bounds. After building their own studio and hiring twenty guest musicians, LMP were beginning to look like the Emerson, Lake, and Palmer of indie pop. The duo kicked off their recording career with Aunt Canada, an extravagant album that often showed a band painfully out of their league. However, LMP more than made up for the album’s faults with ingenious arrangements and an endearingly loopy sense of humor.

The group encountered problems recording the follow-up LP. More than two hundred songs were attempted, but none were finished. Perhaps the duo just couldn't multitask; they were, after all, still in the midst of the Century of Song project at the time.

LMP finally released their first new original songs in 2001 on the EP The New Body Language. The five tracks showed a newfound maturity and a greater grasp of song craft surely absorbed from their two year affair with the American Songbook. "Graduation Angel," the EP's highlight, shows a terrific sense of melody coupled with thematic songwriting straight out of the Brill Building. "Nosferatu" is also a delight, showcasing the conceptual humor that LMP is known for.

The band released their final album in 2003, Love Conquers Alda, and slowly faded away. Sadly, the band appears to be on extended hiatus and there are no immediate plans for new material.

For an extended interview with the band that I wrote five years ago, click here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cerebral Corps - Pam's Purple Spyrograph

Even in this age of hyper awareness and overnight hype, Jeff Saltzman’s story is a rare tale of a humble artist finding an audience solely on the merit of his music. With only a handful of live shows and no self-promotion, Saltzman was able to land a record deal in 1990 with Alias, one of the biggest indie labels at the time. However, by the time his debut came out two years later, all was not right. Despite overwhelming praise from critics, Saltzman was dissatisfied and hampered by self-doubt. He would never release another song again.

A middle-class kid from the suburbs of San Jose, California, Saltzman bought his first four track in 1985 at the age of eighteen. Inspired by Dukes of Stratosphear and British psychedelia, Saltzman coined the name Cerebral Corps and recorded “Pam’s Purple Spyrograph” in 1986. The song stood in stark contrast to the jangly college rock of its day with its overt ‘60s influence, sinister vocals, and driving tambourine rhythm. Saltzman’s friend, Gary Lucy, was impressed with the song and borrowed the tape so he could play it on KSJS, the local college station. To everyone’s surprise, listeners latched on to the song and made it one of the most requested songs of the summer.

Saltzman continued to record for the next few years, eventually releasing Oxide Sox, a homemade tape featuring more of his distinctive four track recordings. Local stores routinely sold out of it, and Saltzman estimates he sold close to 300 copies over the years. By 1989, one of the tapes made its way to the Alias office in San Francisco and quickly became a favorite there. It wasn’t long before they offered him a contract to record an album.

Alias fronted Saltzman enough money to upgrade to a 16-track recorder and plenty of new gear but he took over a year to acquaint himself with the new equipment. The label started to get antsy, especially when Saltzman's recording partner, Robert Vickers, left. Alias finally sent in Bruce Kaphan from American Music Club to make sure Saltzman delivered the album.

In the liner notes, Saltzman claimed that the songs were recorded in one evening. “It was a joke, mostly for the label, since it took so long to record,” Saltzman said. “If it was true, it would be quite impressive. And it certainly would have made my life a lot easier.” Still, the misinformation was often taken as fact and repeated in the press. It still persists today on the Internet.

The album, released under the name Cerebral Corps and titled Attributed to… had many factors working against it. Just before the release date, Alias’ San Francisco office closed. The other office, located in LA, knew little about the album or its reclusive creator. Saltzman didn’t exactly help his cause by refusing to play live or tour in support of the album. At the time, he thought it was a fair request, but looking back now he says, “I was kind of a jerk.” Furthermore, the artwork was high-concept and probably confusing to many people. Saltzman, who was studying art in college at the time, arranged all the graphics to look like an Art History catalog. There was an even a portrait inside of him and Vickers, nude.

Despite ample critical praise, Saltzman was unhappy. He refused to read reviews, even when friends shoved the glowing notices in his face. Saltzman went into what he calls “a sort of post-partum depression” and was unable to begin recording a new album. Eventually, he and Alias parted ways.

Saltzman spent the rest of decade engineering and producing for other bands, and later moved to Portland, Oregon where he still lives and works today. He has worked with Menomena, Sleater Kinney, the Decemberists and many more. However, he has little time for his own projects and says that it would be difficult to do it all himself, especially since it would feel like his day job. But, he adds, “Knowing what I know now, I could still make a great record. I probably should.”

For more, be on Jeff Saltzman, be sure to check out Art into Dust.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mills and Nebraska - The Marlon

Named after an intersection in Orlando, Mills and Nebraska was formed by two high school friends in 1991 as an acoustic duo. The two friends, Gabe Fowler and Brian Salmons, recorded hundreds of songs in their parents basement,but only managed to play one live show in their five year existence. They released nothing. In 2001, Fowler put together Technological Abomination, a CD-R retrospective culled from the band's enormous catalog. "The Marlon," a joyful instrumental, is included on that compilation.

After Fowler left Orlando for college, the duo played less frequently, and eventually called it quits in 1996. Fowler later played in a series of bands and now runs a comic shop in Brooklyn called Desert Island. Salmons is now a family man and a collector of business cards.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

King of Prussia - I Work for Ryder

Philadelphia's Sam Henderson had been recording for nearly ten years before his first album came out in 2002 under the King of Prussia moniker. The album was compiled from close to 400 tracks recorded at home on a four track or DDclip. Henderson's friend Ben Warfield released the album Blood Rains Down on my Hometown on his Best Friend label and it slowly got passed around the Philly scene.

According to Henderson, "people started coming over to the house we lived in and listening to me record, which I just did all the time. That's how the band happened: people would hear the record and want to be in the band. It sounds dumb, but that's actually how it happened. There ended up being about 15 different people in the band, and we played around Pennsylvania and New York and Chicago about 25 times at the most."

Warfield folded his label in 2003 and Henderson moved to New York, effectively ending the band. After a year spent touring with Man Man, Henderson formed Whales & Cops in 2006. That band released an EP called Great Bouncing Icebergs which is Henderson's only other recording to date. However, he is currently working on new material.

"I Work For Ryder" was recorded in 2002, right before the final mix of Blood Rains Down.