Saturday, May 31, 2008

that dog. - Retreat From the Sun

Wow, I've been busy. Sorry. I've also been kinda sick, as have a lot of other people I know, some more critically than others. And I can't lie, I've been trying to think of a good solid album to post about and haven't had the time to do so. Anyhow, it came to me last night. Take that as you will.

I'm the type of person who likes to relate my life to songs and no other album tells my life story like that dog.'s Retreat From the Sun. In fact it's like some kind of strange meta-universe existing each inside the other one. How do I explain that? It's like listening to a song about my life while living that life and having my life told to me in the process? Does that make sense? And am I a person that says "like" too much? I've heard that some people love that.

that dog. were from LA and were chock full of Haydens and led by the daughter of a music industry big timer. I suppose you could say that they would've never gotten this music released on a major label if not for their connections, but you could absolutely not say that they wouldn't have gotten it released at all. Which, had they the "indie cred" they might be more revered now. Also, I've had people tell me I look like Anna Waronker, which is just another in a long line of blond-haired, round-faced comparisons. Thanks.

Retreat From the Sun was released in 1997 and you'll never believe who it was recorded by...Brad Wood. I told you...half your record collection.

Interestingly enough, this was to be Waronker's first solo album but she allegedly talked her band mates into recording this with her. And that's probably why it stands out against the rest of that dog.'s catalog. This is some highly refined alternapop and I meant that in the nicest way possible. After all, this was from a time when the term "alternative" was just beginning to lose it's attractiveness. This gets in right under the wire. And I'd also like to say that this perhaps triumphs in creating the alluring and intriguing yet easily digestible pop nuggets that Liz Phair has been failing to fry up ever since Whitechocolatespaceegg.

Or maybe I should just say that this is someone putting my secret diary to music. (How dare you!)

Let's check out some entries:

May 1999 - "I'm Gonna See You" - Hey, I totally like you and our life is totally going to be like this song. For sure! I'm gonna totally like see you in the morning and junk. And "none of the above the waist activity"? I totally know that means boning.

August 2007 - "Never Say Never" - I'm like so totally dumb, for sure. I mean, I totally know you're the one and all. Man, maybe I should like go tell you and stuff.

February 1997 - "Minneapolis" - Oh wow, that dude is like so totally hot. I totally am going to go out with him. Swearsies. He should like be my new best friend and stuff.

September 1998 - "Long Island" - It's so true that "it seems as though our paths were never meant to meet", but wow, you are like so awesome. Let's share cigarettes and wish on stars. That sounds like totally awesome.

May 1998 - "Hawthorne" - This party is so bunk. Maybe I could talk to you. Maybe we could like start a band or some shit. You like that dog.? Me too. I'm totally dying to get a piece of this.

October 1999 - "Did You Ever?" - Hey I'm putting all my shit out on the line here. What have you done for me? Yeah, wouldn't it be great if we could split ourselves in two? Yeah that would like totally be my dream. Geez.

June 2001 - "Cowboy Hat" - My roommate just told me "April! There's a cowboy at the door!" Sure enough, there was. That cowboy talked me out of totally puking. For sure.

May 2008 - "Until the Day I Die" - I'm like gonna quote some shit. "I've never given back to you all the love in the world, to give to a little girl. No matter how hard I try, this will be until the day I die." That's like really heavy.

I would also like to add that that dog. is probably why I usually like to type in all lowercase letters. Just sayin'.

This is on Geffen, it's everywhere. But there's not really a web presence for the band, so here's Anna Waronker's myspace...

Hear it HERE.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Discount - Half Fiction

Music from Florida is kind of like Wooderson from Dazed and Confused, the bands get older but the fans stay the same age. Fortunately, as there always is, there is an exception to this rule. For the purposes of this post that exception is pop-punk outfit Discount. Members of this band have grown up and formed new bands...bands for grown ups.

But in 1999, Discount's unique style of pop-punk was perfect for me. Now, this album came out in 1997 but at that time I was in the middle of a early-adulthood ska crisis, so it took awhile to pick up on this. Eventhough I was late in the game, I got a chance to see them a couple times before they broke up. Those shows fell at a time in my life where I finally had a car and could go to shows all by myself like a big girl, so there are all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings that I get thinking back on seeing Discount live. And this album always wakens those feeling when I listen to it.

Like I said, Discount were from Florida. They formed in 1995 and broke up in 2000. The singer, Alison Mosshart, went on to become VV, one half of The Kills. There was a period of time in the late 90's-early 2000's that Florida was a big deal and they were one of the bands that was worthy of the hype. Sauconys were big then, too. Remember that? And Alison was wearing a pair one time when I saw them.

Half Fiction was released in 1997 and re-released in 1999. It was recorded by Steve Heritage who most notably recorded a whole mess of Hot Water Music albums, along with Coalesce and Reggie and the Full Effect. And if those names mean anything to you, then this album will definitely be in your ballpark.

This is the sound of being a big girl.

I'm not really sure which songs to single out here. Each one is as urgent as the last. Mosshart's rapidfire delivery is so atypical for a pop-punk band. Honestly, it's often too goofy for me, but her inflection is definitely in a class of it's own. It's as though the vocals are dancing in and out of the lead guitar lines. And on top of all this, each song is an anthem! This is start-to-finish great.

You can definitely find this over the internet but there are a couple links to mail order on their historical artifact of a website.

Hear it HERE.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Lemonheads - It's a Shame About Ray

It's time for a Sassy Cute Band Alert! If you were a girl in 1992 you might have chosen to love Marky Mark and his Calvin Klein underwear, but if you were anything like me, Evan Dando was a real life forerunner to Jordan Cantalano. I was only 13, but damn if I didn't want to be part of Generation-X. The scruffy slackers with their unwashed hair and smoky flannel shirts made me want to drink coffee and sing about how I was just too jaded to love them. And what about Juliana Hatfield? How much did I want to be her?

The Lemonheads formed in Boston in 1986. I trust you've heard of them.

It's a Shame About Ray was originally released in 1992 without the ubiquitous cover of "Mrs. Robinson" which was unfairly synonymous with the band's name. It seems justified that when the band reformed to perform this album in its entirety at the 2005 All Tomorrow's Party festival, the song was left out of the setlist.

Prior to this release, The Lemonheads played a more aggressive and raw form of punk rock. Their choice to incorporate more jangle and pop really paid off in this engaging set of songs. It seems that they found that they could cushion their lyrical angst and irony with sweet melodies and sugary vocals.

This album was me turning off the radio in favor of listening to albums as a whole.

While the songs themselves are nothing new or particularly groundbreaking, there is an instant familiarity that just makes you feel good. And the lyrics are instantly relatable as well. "Confetti" is my first favorite on here. It's the story of the early 90's, a world where apathy saturated every aspect of young American life. At first listen it's a great little sing-a-long until you realize it's about a guy who couldn't love a girl that kind of deserved it, then it all becomes bittersweet.

"It's a Shame About Ray" feels like a eulogy. The acceptance that things must change and that includes losing people close to us. It also advocates the hardening of your heart in an increasingly crueler world. This same loss of feeling (and feeling of loss?) carries over into "Rudderless", another one of my favorites. You can try to find meaning in this life, but perhaps things should only be taken at face value. You go down to the lake and you find out that the lake was wet. And eventually you'll get tired of getting high. Perhaps you're just not meant to go anywhere if you're rudderless.

"Bit Part" continues that search for some sort of significance. That perhaps if you can't be meaningful in your own life, you can have a bit part in someone else's. The first moment of clarity and happiness is "Alison's Starting to Happen". It's the story of a girl finding herself and finding her way into Dando's heart. Suddenly, there is something worth really living for. This enthusiasm is also found in "Kitchen" which finds Dando "thrilled to be in the same post code as you".

I haven't talked much about the more drug-centered songs on this album, and while good, I just don't have as strong a connection with them.

The original edition of the album ends with "Frank Mills" a cover from the musical Hair. It's a much better ender than the overplayed cover of "Mrs. Robinson" that later re-issues included.

There's a brand new re-issue with demos and b-sides and a DVD so if you're interested there's that for you.

Hear it HERE.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Get Up Kids - Four Minute Mile

I had a busy week last week and didn't get a chance to post anything, so I'm glad I have a chance to get back to this!

Today's choice is The Get Up Kids' Four Minute Mile, another one of those landmarks in my early adulthood (which I suppose I am still in). This album came into my life shortly after a break-up and right as I was figuring out how much fun it was (is?) to be a single girl (seriously, the world belongs to single girls). It's the sound of one-time make outs and going to shows alone. I was in love with the world through the eyes of this album. Unfortunately, TGUK moved away from the purer form of "emo-pop" they embodied toward the soggy "indie/pop" that mutated into the horror that is contemporary emo. So, it suffices to say that the love affair faded away as they released more albums.

The Get Up Kids came together in 1994 and broke up after much success in 2005. They were one of those bands that felt good when they were "yours" and kind of made you sick after they became popular. A lot like Patrick Dempsey's character in Can't Buy Me Love, they were lovable as outsiders and a bit too much when they were opening for Green Day (he did that in the movie, right?).

Four Minute Mile was recorded with Shellac's Bob Weston and was released in the fall of 1997, just in time to save me from becoming an over-grown ska geek.

The Get Up Kids added an "indie rock" flavor to the preexisting "post-hardcore" genre emo, which proved to be a volatile combination. How long could they have made music that was influenced by post-hardcore, yet was sweet and melodic? It was a thin wire they walked, which ironically they had fallen off of by the time they released their 3rd album On a Wire. They appealed to the lower common denominator, the pop-punk-mislabeled-as-emo hungry masses.

But for me, this album will always be about change and discovery. Or more accurately, discovering that what you know about yourself will change.

The tracks that really stand out to me are: "Coming Clean", with it's Jawbreaker-esque riffage, "Don't Hate Me", is as poppy as it gets here, "Stay Gold Ponyboy" with it's quick-change breakdown provides the fleeting catchiness of the lyric "anything at all you want to be, run around the world with me" (it's my favorite song on here), and "No Love", with it's hopeful daydreaming; but everything here is solid and gives you all the heartfelt longing for a perfect life you could possibly ask for.

You can get this anywhere and everywhere, so get to it.

Hear it HERE.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Isaac Green & The Skalars - Skoolin' With The Skalars

For me, the summer of '97 was ska summer. It was everywhere. It was on the radio, it was in the clubs. You couldn't escape. Now, I had been going down that path for a bit, but it was the road alone that I strode. That is until the phenomenon of ska shows at least once a week. I met other rude dudes who became my closest friends. And if we had to pick a favorite band, it was Isaac Green & The Skalars. In fact, one of our greatest triumphs happened the night they finally came to town. I had shortly before this gone through a particularly nasty break up. Not only did he totally dis me, but he dissed us all. We saw him for the pseudo-intellectual snob he was. Anyhow, he had been the one to turn us on to this band. That night I rolled friends-deep, while he came alone. Before the show we met one of the Skalars and he was super nice and we met a couple of the others. And during their set they dedicated a song to us. The look on my ex-boyfriend's face was priceless. Immediately after the set, a couple of the band members came down and talked to us. Evan, the trombone player/co-vocalist needed a ride to the airport either late that night or early that morning depending how you looked at it. Within earshot of my ex-boyfriend I excitedly offered to help him out. Hanging out with him until we dropped him off was a blast and it was the first time I had stayed out all night.

The Skalars were from St. Louis and released two albums through Moon Ska and a couple of 7"s on their own. They were among the handful of ska bands that actually had talent as both musicians and songwriters. Importantly, they were NOT ska-punk.

Skoolin' With the Skalars was their debut album. Evan Shaw was the main male vocalist, while there were three female vocalists of whom only saxophonist Jessica Butler (by far the superior voice) remained by their intensely soulful second album.

As I mentioned, these guys were not ska-punk, they draw from the originators, mixing big band and R&B into a sweet sweet 3rd wave sound.

For me, this the sound of leaving high school behind. (Finally!)

Each of these songs have such specific memories attached to them. "Spoiled Brat" reminded us of a rich girl who was in our social circle that just didn't get how easy she had it. Their cover of The Marvelettes "Beechwood 4-589" was the definitive dance party jam.

Both "Don't Count" and "High School" were later made available in newer versions focusing on Jessica Butler's lone vocals. And these songs are the heavy hitters of this album. I so deeply related to these realizations that the world is a tough place. You don't always win and you can never go back. That is the post-high school graduate condition.

"Sitting" reminded us of a hapless friend constantly pining for the most unavailable of didn't hurt that he shared his name with the song's protagonist. And though I never shared it with my friends, "Junbok" was emblematic of my broadening horizons. After 13 years of school with the same handful of people, I was going out into the world where I would be meeting people that I might never see again and making connections that might never be revisited. Shit's deep, yo.

The hidden track "Ike's Ride" (which was the song they dedicated to us) was our anthem. We had mistaken the lyrics for "I Try!" which developed into more than a mere catchphrase, it was a codeword.

With the demise of Moon Ska in America, it seems that there's not a direct way to get new copies of this album, but there's plenty available on Amazon. I checked.

Hear it HERE.