Posts Tagged ‘indie’

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.


Shocking Pinks – S/T

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

DFA Records, 2007

A lightly appealing cover of a pencil sketch gives off the air of indie pop, yet the band name may disagree.  I know of a particular personal photo from my younger days where I happened to be wearing a pink Adidas t-shirt and, yes, a pink pair of swim trunks.  I was shockingly pink (but unshockingly lacking style … ah well, what can you do).  Therefore, this band’s moniker had a slight twinge of personal connection, so I had no choice than to pick it up.  I also promised to make a mental note to refrain from accidentally coordinating bright colored clothing concoctions in the future.  I will leave those for an eighties retro party.

Shocking Pinks are not shocking in their volume or their approach, but hey, it’s a fine band name for an indie pop outfit.  With its tone of low fi pop, the third album from the one man band Nick Harte is filled with songs that range from casual pieces of softness to fervent chaos.  I suppose one there’s only one person running the show there’s no reason not to do whatever that person wants.  It’s clear that Harte knows this well.

“Second Hand Girl” is a fantastic pop song that reminds me of some Slanted & Enchanted-era Pavement with its catchy guitar and the unimposing vocals from Nick Harte.  There’s only about eight lines of lyrics, so most of the song is made up of the band going at it and allowing the listener to create the visual story in their heads.  The lengthy “Cutout” instrumental tune is also quite good, if only because its quick and pretty collection of sounds doesn’t include any interruption from lyrics.

“Yes! No!” is at first engaging yet doesn’t execute well.  The brooding synthesizer tones, in conjunction with the consistent drum pattern, gives the tune an ominous feeling early on.  Unfortunately, Harte’s voice comes across as too hurried and whiny when trying to keep up with the song’s pace.  Combined with some uncomfortable sounds between verses makes this tune a “No!” for me.

One tune that struck me as something that Harte could excel at if he stuck with it is “You Could Make Me Feel Bad”, which combines his creative instrumentation as well as a good utilization of his vocals through subdued echos.  Indeed, the track sounds like a Jesus and Mary Chain concoction, but as the last track of the album it leaves a good impression of what Harte is capable of.  Actually, the entire record does.  It would be a matter of finding out which styles he prefers to hang onto from here on out.

Shocking Pinks have a MySpace page and, ah, that’s about it.  Well, maybe websites are passe.

I can appreciate a guy like Harte who is talented enough to play multiple instruments and compose pretty pop songs.  Not all of them are my thing, but I can see where someone who likes his somewhat fey voice and musicianship might like most of the record.  Shocking Pinks actually haven’t put out anything since this record, so it remains to be seen if Harte emerges with the same or a different group.  All I know is that I’m not emerging at any point whatsoever in my shocking pink outfit of old.  Okay, okay, show me the dollars.

Xiu Xiu – Life and Live

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Xeng Records, 2005

Well, where to start.  I will tell you that I have owned this album twice, but I will relate the story of how I picked it up the first time.  If you’ve read enough of the blog beforehand, I tend to pick up music that is on the loud side of the musical spectrum.  To shake things up, I sometimes go for colorful indie pop or solo artist releases.  However, in this case I wanted to pick up a random album from a band that I had heard of in passing as being a somewhat well regarded indie artist.  I didn’t know much about the group but thought that they chose a nice picture for the cover.  There it is, that’s what I went on.  Xiu flippin’ Xiu.

This has to be one of the most sparse, depressing, and agitating albums I’ve ever listened to.  It’s a recording of live Xiu Xiu (pronounced shoe-shoe) songs that mostly consist of a plucked guitar and brooding vocals.  I guess there are a few members in the band, but it sounds as if it’s just Jamie Stewart singing and the rest of them are just standing around looking morose.  It doesn’t sound like he needs any help in bringing the tears.

Since I’m not in the mood right now to listen to this music to such depth so that its crippling sadness could overtake me, I’ll keep it brief.  The track that epitomizes the album is “King Earth, King Earth”.  Stewart sings, which is really just him quivering bits and pieces before hiding for a few moments.  The instrumentation sounds like either a keyboard or a very shaky accordion.  Doing a little research, the lyrics “the dead bury their own dead” and “angel wear your ‘pray hard’ shirt” stand out a little bit.  This song goes on for nearly six minutes.  Folks, this is agony.

Other songs that raise an eyebrow are “Thanks Japan!”, which sounds like one of the band members left a recorder on while walking through a Japanese airport.  “Sad Pony Guerrilla Girl” contains some yelping by Stewart.  Actually, there’s also a part where it sounds like he’s being strangled but the strangler gets interrupted. He or she must have sensed that my eyes were hurting from rolling so much and attacked.  I do not condone violence, strangler dude … but yeah, it was getting annoying.  “Jennifer Lopez” does have an introduction that sounds like the Doctor Who theme, which is kinda cool.  Oh enough of this!

You wanna listen to Xiu Xiu?  Fine.  YOU listen.  Maybe reading is more your thing.

On “I Broke Up” someone actually tells Stewart to sing slower.  That adviser should be slapped.  To think that I’ve actually owned this album twice in my travels makes me feel a little sad in of itself.  Truth is, I’ve been able to trade this album to someone else who was interested.  Someone wanted to hear Xiu Xiu.  Whew … I gotta say they can’t be all that fun at parties.  Though I have tried a few times to get caught up with some of the more name acts in the modern indie world, this group I want no further part of.  In a slow arc filled with irony and self-resentment, I shoot Xiu Xiu into the Golden Trash Can of woe.

Super Furry Animals – Rings Around the World

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Epic Records, 2001

If you’ve read a few of my reviews, I may seem very hip.  In fact, you may even think I was part of an outlandish hard rock cover band in 2001 with a one hit wonder and now I’m writing all of these reviews with my experience in the music business in mind.  But no, I am not that hip.  I was not a member of Alien Ant Farm either.  In fact, I’m so unhip I hadn’t really heard much of the music by the Super Furry Animals before I picked up this double disc edition of their fifth album.  I know, who hasn’t immersed themselves in hairy mammal music by now?  This guy.  I was too busy listening to show tunes back around 2001 … I know, spare me!  I wear a leather jacket though, so I hope that gets me back in the cool for as long as you read this review.

If one is not familiar with these guys like, er, myself, then one might believe they’re a spacey, soft pop band as the opening track “Alternate Route to Vulcan Street” might suggest.  A very pretty piano intro and a soft cloud of a tune welcome the listener to this record and immediately sets a tone of relaxation.  I have never gotten achieved such a level of comfort since Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place”, so I think this one would certainly go on a cool out mix that I have yet to create.  The quiet peace gets eradicated quickly, however, with a very enjoyable “Sidewalk Serfer Girl” that has some strong pop effects.

The rest of the beginning of this record is really quite good, for “It’s Not the End of the World?” reminds me of a soft pop track that the Beatles could have developed in their later stages.  “Receptacle for the Respectable” continues the pop celebration that Super Furry Animals are obviously trying to build up within the listener.  However, Super Furry Animals decide at this point that enough is enough with the usual.  The catchy yet moody instrumental of “(A) Touch Sensitive” features a catchy build up of what sounds like edited clips of a female enjoying herself during, ah, a close relationship with a partner.  It’s got a smooth groove and doesn’t stick around too long, but it definitely sticks out as something dissimilar from the earlier tracks.  The best track on the record in my opinion is “Juxtaposed With U”, which has a seventies pop feel and is exceptionally catchy with its chorus.  Great, great tune.

The rest of the record sounds fine but it really shuts down in its energy overall, which is too bad.  As a whole the main record is an excellent pop collection that is a fine introduction to the band.  If you happen to score the bonus disc version of this record then be prepared for an eclectic b-side time with some louder and diversified songs like “Happiness is a Warm Pun”.  This particular version of the album is worth seeking out if you particularly like the band, which I’m still deciding on.

“Rings Around the World” is considered one of the bands better records that isn’t named “Radiator”, so I feel lucky that I happened to have found it available.  Since they are still a bit popular I feel that Super Furry Animals records won’t be found in many dollar bins, but if you happen to find them affordable somewhere you probably won’t be disappointed in picking one up.  And by the way, yes, I do feel that much closer to hip right now.  As a matter of fact, I’m going to slot this record in my CD tower right next to the B-52s.  Hot Lava!

Crystal Skulls – Blocked Numbers

March 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Suicide Squeeze Records, 2005

Sometimes I surprise myself and pick up something out of a dollar bin that just screams indie rock.  You can’t even think of anything else in what this band might be about.  Pink sky?  Fluffy, upside down clouds?  This is all coded to say “I am indie and approachable, so heart me.”  (shudder)  The contents are also quite apparent if one takes a look at the record label, which is absolutely known for its indie output with bands like Minus the Bear, Modest Mouse, and Pedro the Lion.  Granted, they also have Russian Circles and the Unicorns, so I suppose one could expect something a bit more crushing if one gets an nervous feeling that the cutesy art cover is just a smokescreen.  Turns out Crystal Skulls aren’t into trickery, though.

Made up of four guys who have done this kind of thing before, Crystal Skulls deliver a pleasantly light yet well-crafted inoffensive sound.  Christian Wargo’s lackadaisical singing style is consistent throughout the record and never tries to reach a level it shouldn’t.  I suppose that feature of his vocals could be considered too safe or unimpressive, yet I have heard many modern singers try too hard to hit certain notes or affect their voices so much to make one twinge in discomfort.  Wargo has a tempered delivery and the band follows suit with a steady but not necessarily predictable musicianship.  They do sound a little like the sometimes quirky songs by Minus the Bear, but unlike that band Crystal Skulls never stray into the terribly interesting or lapse into the utterly dull with the music.  Like I said, these guys define the inoffensive sound.

And you know, some people just like that.  I found that “Hussy” was very listenable to and resembled a more sedated Strokes kind of fare.  The intro riffs of “Count Your Gold” sound as if they carry a warning, and despite the lowering of Wargo’s voice the song still carries a positive feeling by the end of it.  The band really doesn’t want to upset you, though perhaps there is weight in the lyrics somewhere.   One would really have to delve into that factor, though, to walk away from all of this with a poor attitude.  Crystal Skulls even try a more aggressive pop number in “Hard Party” which does get the listener to bob along a little faster, but no matter what slight alteration in tempo the band creates they still only come across as a good background band for busy activities.

Check out the poppy goodness on their MySpace or page.

Crystal Skulls are a nice band but I didn’t really feel they stood out a whole lot in this record.  Most songs, although enjoyable, induced comfort but did little else for one to take much notice.  However, I do kinda want to retract my earlier blanket statement that declares Crystal Skulls typically indie.  They aren’t so much indie as they are just an easy listening pop band that happens to be modern and a bit lukewarm.  The band did manage to get out another record in 2006 before possibly disappearing for good.  I hope they’re just on a somewhat long hiatus, though, because their generally appealing sound could probably make a few more jaded music listeners give pastels a chance.

A Band of Bees – Sunshine Hit Me

October 14, 2009 1 comment

We Love You Records, 2002bandOfBees

I should’ve known what to expect from a band that resides on a label called We Love You.  However, like all unique band names, this one lingered on the mind due to my being familiar with the fact that these guys have joined up on a few festivals around the country.  They were always in the fourth or fifth line of acts, sure, but they stuck out as a band for me to look into further.  Well, turns out I was able to check this band out for a very affordable dollar.

The good thing about this disc is that for a dollar bin disc it’s something you would not have much luck running into again anytime soon.  The band’s sound holds up well after seven years because, guess what, bands are still doing this type of music.  The music, if you couldn’t tell by the pink album cover with a somewhat childish, rainbow-jerseyed wrestler, is indie pop at its kindest.  Light tapestries of instruments flow in and out of every tune so that you fall into a relaxed, grinny state because its all just a happy blanket around the ears.  It’s light enough to fit into anyone’s collection as a decent background music choice for an easy get together, but I didn’t really feel that this one could be a favorite listen to anyone.

I couldn’t find too much to listen to on this record via the usual places, but I did find a live version of “A Minha Menina” on YouTube that sizes these guys up well.  You can also check out what they sound like on their nifty-looking website as well MySpace.

It all ends up as a cute record but nothing to get excited about unless you’ve been searching for that low vibe, stay loose record for years now.  If you do end up truly appreciating this album the group goes by ‘the Bees’ in the United Kingdom and they are still around as far as I know.  So are a lot of these indie poppers …

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