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