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I Got a New Game, I Got It Good: Dollar Bin Mix CD Game

May 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Like many folks who enjoy musical variety and have a computer, I have created quite a bit of my share of mix CDs.  I believe that my first one was created using my speedy 75 MHz computer and included such gems as “Ice Ice Baby” and “Just a Friend”, both obtained from those early days of Napster.  My brother seemed to like the mix but others I gave it to likely stopped returning e-mails.

Before that I cobbled together tunes for mix tapes, which was always a challenging task.  I had a double tape deck where I would play the game of timing by trying to make sure a recordable track starts during a pause while I ready the Record button for the other tape.  Since I didn’t bother with math much at the time, the most frustrating aspect of making a mix tape is running out of tape!  Getting songs chopped off was the worst.  Nowadays one can at least see the disc space accumulation as each mp3 is added to a mix list, but back in the old days it was a lot more effort.  I will spare you any discussion regarding 8-track mix carts … whew.

(By the way, thanks to this site for the image of the mix I wish I had made.)

So now that I’m inundated with more music than I can listen to on a given day with all of these dollar discs lying around, I was thinking there might be a fun way to combine both of these hobbies of mine in a game format.  I admit, I borrowed a little bit from the idea of a Magic: The Gathering randomized deck competition (yo, don’t hate), but I think this could work.  What you need is a few people who like making mix CDs as well as an interest in experimenting with music.  Oh, and of course, lots of dollar bin discs.

Read more…

Trenchcoat Club – College Radio Won’t Play This, It’s Not On a Major Label

May 16, 2011 4 comments

Caveat Emptor Records, 1995

Back in the nineties I listened to a decent amount of independent music due to being a college radio show disc jockey.  There was some really good stuff to be found off the main market, but much of it was completely forgettable.  When I saw the debut disc from Trenchcoat Club lying amidst a humongous stack of exiled discs at a local record shop it brought back some memories.  Of the few groups I grew particularly acquainted with in those radio days, these guys I remembered fondly.  So despite the budget cover design and the image that could be considered as foreshadowing regarding the music featured within, I quickly scooped this one up to relive a little.

Trenchcoat Club is mainly just two clever guys from Athens, GA.  Since I’m familiar with a few of these songs from back when I first heard the record, I’ll dwell on some of the better ones.  “Save the Ants” is a riff on the usual environment or animal support from the populace, even if it defends those pesky insects that seem to find themselves all over the place.  The main message is “Ants have a place/and it’s not between your toes”, which is debatable.

“Pruneberry Crunch” is a light-hearted ditty about a cereal with the most sugar, crunch, and, er, prunes.  It also introduces the best foul-mouthed mascot in Pitty the Prune, who hates your family but whose “life is a laxative”.  Pitty, I’d watch your commercials anytime.

My favorite track on the disc is “Theme From Knight Rider”, which essentially has the band playing the theme show’s bass riff continuously while a guy provides critical commentary regarding the show.  He delivers it in a ‘too cool for you’ voice, which one could consider to be Michael Knight’s look from the 1982 program.  He spends most of the time discussing the absurdity of some of the car’s abilities as well as characters, only to change the channel mid-song and get into “CHiPs” and “The Love Boat”.  Stream of consciousness is usually a risk in music, but when it comes off as a lark already then it’s amusing all the way.

“Summer of ’63 (I Wanna Be Frozen)” has a peppy sound that could be construed as a song that might be construed as slightly serious.  Woah!  It is primarily driven by a light keyboard that gives it that upbeat feel, and even though the tune came out fifteen years ago it could easily fit on any modern lo-fi record.  I suppose that if any song could step away from sounding like it was made in a basement on a drunken late night in Athens, (sort of like the rest of this record), it’s this one.

If one gets past some of muted sound and quality of some of the tracks, one can hear the members of Trenchcoat Club comment on a few aspects of the time.  “Sellout Song ’89” name drops Julie Brown, Paula Abdul and even Milli Vanilli in its distaste for the commercialism of MTV.  Heck, I’d take that MTV these days anytime.  The Milkmenish “Hello Dahlonega” doesn’t have a lot of grunge era references, but it does cheerily feature a band struggling to be accepted.  They recommend you have a few beers and then go see them open for the headlining crew of “dwarf-tossing midgets”.  I’m there, dudes.

I was shocked that they have a MySpace page, if only because it’s hard to find anything that proves they exist on the internet.

I can’t find these guys on Allmusic.  You can actually get their follow up album “Hitch Your Station Wagon to a Star” for a dime on Amazon.  I don’t even know where you could get this album I’m reviewing … well, if you even wanted to get it.  Admittedly, this whole review is based on a combination of nostalgia, a fondness of They Might Be Giants and the Dead Milkmen, and an appreciation of a band that had some music ability while dishing out a lot of tongue in cheek.  Although you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has heard Trenchcoat Club, never mind owning a copy of an album of theirs, maybe you might find something of theirs when combing a large quantity of dusty music.

The band hasn’t put out anything since 2002 and, given that it has been quite awhile, it is doubtful there will be a resurgence of output from the duo.  I imagine if one wants to hear their humor in the form of music they can pick up the usual TMBG or Ween disc.  However, if anyone is thinking of starting a band that focuses more on the laughs than the music then they should know that there’s certainly a willing listening audience out there.

A Band of Bees – Free the Bees

May 13, 2011 Leave a comment

4AD Records, 2005

Oh boy.  It’s one thing to pick a band up at random out of a bin and hoping for the best.  The mystery is part of the excitement of picking up dollar discs, for you could wind up with something that is spectacular or completely awful.  Unlike those situations, I already knew about A Band of Bees due to a previous review I’ve written of them on this blog.  Therefore, by buying this record I was willing to take the chance that they were actually better than what I had heard before.  Some bands you hear once and just need to stay away from, but A Band of Bees weren’t that bad, so I figured I’d cough up some more dough on them.

This Bees record wastes no time in redeeming itself from its predecessor with the absolutely catchy “These are the Ghosts”.  I think the layered vocals, combined with the consistently brash drumming, make the straight forward indie rock jam a fine introduction.  Thankfully it truly is a good case of foreshadowing regarding the quality of the rest of the record.

Since I was expecting another one of those mildly interesting, decent indie pop albums I thought my hour’s worth of listening was going to be tolerably standard.  However, “Chicken Payback” showed to me that A Band of Bees are not just going to lie around and deliver the usual.  It is such a dance number, this “Chicken Payback”, due to many factors.  First, the light rhythm guitar riff and drum rhythm sound like a 50s throwback rock setup.  The lead guitar also screams 50s if not surf, but it’s vocalist Paul Butler’s excited delivery of the nonsensical lyrics that add wonderfully to the song.  This song definitely was the watershed moment of thinking these guys were a little more than the typical output from a modern band.

Another impressively strong track is the slow doo wop sound of “I Love You”.  The pleading in Butler’s voice, the collective crooning from the rest of the band, and that distant trumpet during the chorus remind me a little of that melancholic Motown vibe.  Dudes who are reading this should thinking about finding this song to score some romance points.   Without gushing over too much else on this disc, (even if it’s quite good throughout), I’ll mention a few more great tunes.  “Go Karts” has a tone that reminds me of a quirky Beatles tune fronted by Paul McCartney, while “This is the Land” comes across as a flower-waving seventies pop jam.  “The Russian” is an excellent five minute instrumental with its mixture of jazz and funk. “This is the Land” is another song of many that reference a sixties sound, which when mixed with some modern styles of composition, sounds quite good.

A Band of Bees can be heard online in a few places, such as here, here and here.  They’re still around so a live show could be in order as well.

Unlike my review of their debut record, this one by A Band of Bees sounded absolutely great.  I think Butler’s voice has that quality that won’t drag on the ears from too much exposure.  In other words, it blends well with the music without trying to step in front of everything to make itself noticed.  The band also seems to be a lot more interesting in its variety of approach, making each song enjoyably unique.  I have to say that my opinion of the group has changed and I’ll be looking forward to hearing their subsequent records.  Here guys, have a Golden Dollar for this one.

The Headhunters – Return of the Headhunters

May 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Polygram Records, 1998

As you may already know I’m a lover of good cover art, so this record stole my eyes immediately.  Science fiction, aliens, and retro style makes this cover one of the better ones I’ve seen in my cheap digging travels.  If you take a closer look, the alien in the middle of the group is sporting a keyboard!  It is also obvious that the alien shouted out “Any requests, earthlings?!” and the guys at the fore front shot their hands up to request “Axel F”.   Really, everyone should be prepared if aliens beam down and ask for song requests.  Otherwise you’ll get stuck with a sleep-inducing rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Space Saucer”.

Even though the cover art could make for a fantastic punk record splash, the Headhunters unfortunately are not anywhere near the land of punk.  They go for the smooth jazz take instead.  Herbie Hancock, labeling himself as a special guest on the record, assists with his keyboard expertise to get the regular quartet rolling.  Unfortunately, this regular quartet is not the traditional jazz of old where they perform music that has some empty space and crisp sounds that make you feel you’re in the room with the performer.  This is the new jazz flair … and it’s a little too much.

Perhaps there is a fan base out there that likes the peppy jazz funk that the Headhunters prefer to deliver.  There may be folks out there that enjoy the snappy drums and well-produced saxophone licks that permeate all over “6/8 – 7/8”, which is arguably the best track on the record.  It helps that the tune blends all instruments together in a cohesive, energizing composition that dips and speeds up at times.  If there is any track on the disc that could harken back to the earlier days it’s this one.

Unfortunately, most tracks on the record really grind on you as, for a lack of a better word, cheesy.  It’s just so, so smoothed out that it is not that enjoyable.  “Funk Hunter” is too artificially funky with the keyboard overload and slick saxophone that it’s grating on the ears.  I would rather listen to real funk than this re-animated corpse of a song.  “Watch Your Back” has a rap in it that might work for a smoky bar somewhere late at night, but it comes across as too trite.  It also features this soulful female singer that tries to convince the listener that the Headhunters are some kind of innovative force.  If they are sounding like early eighties easy listening music, I think the singer got herself brainwashed.  The band as a whole permeates a feeling of “please hold on the line, all representatives are busy” music.  (shudder)

“Frankie and Kevin” slows things down to a crawl with a drum beat that, yeeeeuch, is such a weather channel sound.  Piano is nice to hear but is not enough to save this grab at smooth saturation.  Although the track eventually picks up with a driving sax solo it is too late.  Skipping a few tracks to “Tip Toe” one runs into that soulful female singer again.  Man, I don’t know if it’s her or the band but I find nothing vocally attractive about her.  She sings inoffensively enough even if her freestyle moments get a touch obnoxious, so perhaps it’s that Hancock keyboard that is driving me over the edge.  I just don’t like it.

Perhaps you enjoy jazz fusion with some funk in it.  Maybe you like your jazz really smooth.  In that case, listen to a few tunes at the Headhunter’s Myspace page.

So yeah, even though someone like Herbie Hancock is involved this album just couldn’t get anything going for me.  Perhaps I’m too stuck on the styles of Coltrane, Davis, and Ellington to appreciate the record, I don’t know.  It just had way too many instances that made me feel it was completely overdone and uninteresting.  Like I mentioned earlier, the music on this Headhunters record severely comes across as hotel lobby music.  This could be elevator music in a chic hotel perhaps, or maybe a lounge on a cruise ship.  Honestly, it’s background music for exciting weather forecasts that pump you up when a robot voice declares “And now, your forecast.”  Oh yeah!

I think part of the letdown was that the group had a killer cover that looked to stand out as a real rousing listening experience.  Oh well, no go on that.  Maybe they should think about going punk.

Sugar – Beaster EP

May 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Rykodisc, 1993

This review is going to complete my trifecta of Sugar releases that I’ve obtained for a buck or less.  As a Husker Du fan I’ve had a fondness for Bob Mould’s Sugar outfit if only for the heavy, enveloping guitar he likes to inflict.  I’ve also grown to like his vocals even if they always seem to be in the background and recorded lowly.  But there’s only so much Sugar you guys may want to read about, so though I’ve already written about them here and here, I’ll finish up with “Beaster”.

It’s a short release and compiles a few of the extra songs from the “Copper Blue” time period.  Truth is, I believe that I heard this record before I heard anything else by Sugar, so my impression was that Sugar was going to be an extension of Husker Du.  That, ah, is not entirely true.  Instead, Sugar is a rock band that has more of an interest in pop and soft stuff.  Although most of their songs seem to never get really going, “Beaster” has a few numbers that really ramp up the energy.

In my opinion the best song, and I mean the BEST song by Sugar, is “Tilted”.  This song lays you out.  The song’s immediate urgency with the rapid drum intro, as well as its follow through on verse guitar noise, clearly makes it one of the best rockers I’ve ever heard from these guys.  It didn’t even make the album of “Copper Blue”!  I can’t believe it.  You should go find it and listen.

The other songs on the EP are a mixed bag.  “Come Around” is a bit meandering and, unless you like the sound of Mould’s repeated smeared take on the title, may or may not be an enjoyable song for you.  I think it ranks a few tiers below “Tilted” for me, which gives you a little foresight of how the rest of the songs go.  Well okay, “JC Auto” and “Feeling Better” are more typical Sugar songs in that they have a bouncy chorus and an impression of upbeat subject matter.  They don’t really stand out if you’ve listened to a lot of Sugar.  Finally, “Walking Away” is a prettier track that primarily features a synthesizer and really fuzzed out vocals by Mould.  It definitely sounds like an album ender, but with “Man on the Moon” as a well regarded conclusion to “Copper Blue”, this tune didn’t stand a chance.  So here it lies.

A fault that Sugar has with most these songs is that they are much too long.  Except for “Walking Away”, all songs are more than four minutes in length.  “Feeling Better”, which is the longest at 6:22, feels like it is ten minutes long.  Oof.  The worst thing a band could do is assume that their song is so good and catchy that it could just be repeated at length.  “Feeling Better”, as well as the other six minute epics of “Judas Cradle” and “JC Auto”, should have been shaved down to at most four minutes to keep the interest level.  Wasn’t Sugar aiming for more of a pop sound?  Well, they gotta go pop length too.

I’m telling you, you need to hear this song.  Found a pretty good video of it.

Although I could probably find “Copper Blue” at an affordable price these days, as well as maybe write up something else about another one of their countless EPs, I think this is it.  So I want to thank Sugar in a special way.  They have affordably given me a lot of enjoyment and I believe will do so for anyone willing to take a chance on them out of a dollar bin.  I also feel that they should get some sort of prize for their records’ glorious low prices but high rewards.

Therefore, to Sugar, I bestow the first ever Dollar Bin Lifetime Achievement Award.  You guys have fifteen seconds to make a speech.