Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

What's the Point of Holding on to What Never Gets Used? (Or: Why Negative Reviewing Does Not Belong Here)

While I am unsurprised that my least acknowledged post continues to be my confused and rambling "mission statement" (I mean, it has no pictures or music!), there's something to the whole idea. If I had to stop the rambling and confusion and take it to a single sentence: I want to talk about the good, the peculiar and the interesting in music.

I thought of this as I was listening to limbo band (somewhere between independent and 'mainstream,' and with derision and praise arriving from either end) the Whigs. I was attempting to decipher a word here or there in the song "So Lonely,"¹ and I couldn't actually find the lyrics posted anywhere, which is relatively unusual for a band on ATO Records (a division of RCA) and all. They've released two albums, no less, both even distributed on vinyl (indeed, because it was a ridiculously good deal for including the actual CD, I have the vinyl of Mission Control), meaning there's some force behind them.

What I did find were a bunch of dismissive reviews, quoting the lyrics I was attempting to filter by as means to decry the band as "cliché-ridden" or derivative (though I did also find a brief entry on one blog from someone who stumbled into the song after liking their first album and losing track). The two foremost reviews--which quote the chorus of "So Lonely"--are from PopMatters and SputnikMusic, sites I've run across in the past, though I admit that I really don't read reviews too much, unless I'm feeling anxious about a new album from a band I already like.

Now, just to give us a frame of reference before I launch into the whole point of this entry, here's that song and its accompanying video:

Friday, March 30, 2012

That Make a Small Portion of the World Cry -- B-Sides

There are, I don't know four or five major types of bonus tracks included on reissues and special versions of albums: studio out-takes and "alternate" versions, live tracks, b-sides, BBC sessions (which are occasionally live), and non-album singles. Similarly, there are about four major types of compilation: the best of or greatest hits, which typically collects singles with an occasional popular deep cut;the live album, which may contain a concert or two, or tracks excised from a variety of performances, either on a single tour or throughout a band's career; rarities albums that contain a mix of the "bonus tracks" I've just listed, and occasionally focusing exclusively or almost exclusively on one of them like b-sides or BBC sessions; and "comprehensive" (sometimes!) anthologies of a band's entire career that typically contain all of the above, though they're sometimes just pretentiously named "best of" compilations.

Now, there's debate, concern, wariness, and about every negative (and probably every positive) attitude you can think of when it comes to these "extra" or "bonus" tracks. Some people are annoyed when they interrupt the repeat flow of an album, when playing it numerous times in succession on a CD player or the like. Others think it's a cheap gimmick to gouge people for money. Some people just find them extraneous junk and trim them away in digital form or just eject the CD when the album proper ends. Some artists or labels acknowledge this and program in an extra bit of silence to separate the album from its errata, often using the "negative space" that CD technology allows (I'll talk more about this some other time, as it's actually quite interesting), or doing like Rhino did with their 2008 Replacements reissues, and sticking in an audio cue, which, in that case, was the sound of someone walking to a door and locking up to leave (which I appreciated at the end of "Here Comes a Regular," but was disheartening to find on every other album, including the far more raucous Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash or Stink, where it was less appropriate to the song it followed). They're a mixed bag in "anthologies" and the like, too, being seen in the same light as "valueless filler" to some, and the entire point to others.

Me? I love them.

Indeed, for whatever it says about me, there's little I love more than dissecting these extra tracks--or, better yet, whole compilations of them!--and discovering where they came from, the context they originally appeared in, and how they were originally presented, if at all. My digital music database is filled to the brim with excessive information, like replacing an album title with the name and location of a studio for "unreleased" tracks, which I arrange by their recording dates. It's interesting to find a studio appear in common between seemingly disparate artists, or to find a studio that has seen a huge chunk of a genre come through it. Trident Studios in London, for instance, saw Harry Nilsson recording for Son of Schmilsson, David Bowie recording for many of his earlier albums--and the Buzzcocks, recording demos shortly after Howard DeVoto left to form Magazine.

But let's pare me down here, and for now, let's talk about my favourite of these options: The B-Side.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What Do You Call That Noise That You Put On? -- XTC and Obsession

This is pop?

Right now I'm listening to the Replacements and dipping into some early 90s hits for my own entertainment. I've been listening to Paul Westerberg's (of the Replacements) solo material for a lot of the day, spent last night listening to Ryan Adams and the rest of today listening to early Bee Gees, Dinosaur Jr, Meat Puppets, and Badfinger.

Despite all that, though, I went out to Charlotte's Manifest Discs and Tapes, which I last visited about eight years ago, yesterday, and though I walked out with some of the Ryan Adams and Meat Puppets I just mentioned (as well as some long-desired Thin Lizzy and Church reissues), the find of the night was an object that's been in my peripheral vision for a while, then suddenly went out of print. I'd seen a copy at my old friends CD Alley but it had even left there--and they often have box sets that just hang out until they go out of print and one of us stumbles in and goes, "Hey, waitasec..."

Somehow, this thing was sitting there with that TWEC-style sticker¹ denoting their online usage of TWEC's (not worth linking to, I'm afraid) and consigning many of their prices to absolute weirdness (see: unusually long footnote). Sometimes a great deal, sometimes a horrendous one not worth touching. Indeed, this particular item is out of print, as I noted, so that makes the price a huge gamble. The list price, when in print, was around $60, and that's become the starting used price for most of the year. This one, though, was marked $37.99. So, screw anything else I was going to find--this was coming home with me.

So, what was "this"? Well, here, of course, is a picture:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Now It's...Parking Lots. -- Pere Ubu in Their Pop Phase

I've let this blog sit for various reasons, partly as a result of moving and shaking back in the real world, partly to try and get myself situated for a few discussions that are more in line with the underlying motivation, which is to talk about current and recent musical explorations more than older ones I want to bring to the light, as I've been doing recently. There are some flaws with that plan, mostly stemming from the fact that I'm generally headed in one direction musically of late. I don't think even many people I know, let alone a ton of people in general, are looking to read about this or that post-punk band or strange, unique 80s alternative band of even other stripes. At the same time, I'm treading familiar ground for many people, which can be a nice confirmation boost for some (including myself when I read similar things), but isn't news and becomes disposable.

I don't know who you know, or who he knows, or she knows, or they know, and sometimes I don't even know who my best friends or family know. I've had nothing but bemused pleasure at sitting my father down for bands he'd discarded in the avalanche of music in the 70s in particular and was surprised to find himself appreciating more. But that's an unusual instance, and most people I know either don't pay attention to music or already know all the underground-popular bands I do.

Today I'm going to talk about one that I'm not sure of anyone's familiarity with, beyond one friend. Brian and I shift bands back and forth, and he will nudge me toward the odd one established in the last two decades, and I will nudge him usually with the force of more years of musical exposure from the father and friends I've had. Of late, there's been a willing trade of post punk and alternative bands, where I hit some first and he hits a lot of others first. His willingness to dive in to digital formats makes his access to them a lot more rapid, so he got through The Cure far faster than I did, for instance, but my bull-headed insistence on "getting" a band I cross my fingers and literally buy into, physically, and get chunks of side-story on via both text and "bonus" tracks gives me a different point of view on them.

Or, sometimes, we just attack a band from different periods in their career. To sort of amusingly illustrate the band I'm going to talk about, here is David Thomas, vocalist for Pere Ubu, answering the bizarre question, "Do you think you've improved with age?" by comparing his band to...a cup.

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