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.