A brief break from writing about 40-year-old records, then, to tell you what else is in my ears these days.
I do most of my music listening during the trip to and from work, and the music I play in my car plays an important role in my life. In the morning, it keeps me from fixating on all the stuff waiting undone at work. And in the afternoon it helps wash it all away, unless I am too frustrated or furious to find any escape.
Here’s what’s on my passenger seat right now …
The Sunday League: At my last newspaper job, I worked with a guy who covered Pennsylvania state government in Harrisburg. He was (and is) smart, canny, well-spoken, irreverent, a snappy dresser, an Anglophile, and not cowed by the poses and absurdities of the Keystone State’s elected representatives.
If that weren’t enough to have on his CV, he’s also a veteran power-pop musician who’s put out a couple of professional-quality releases. (He plays ska sometimes too; you knew there had to be a chink in his armor someplace.)
Anyway, on this EP, he enlists several like-minded central Pennsylvania musicians, cranks up his Rickenbacker and pours out the hooks, singing along in a distinctive McGuinnish/Pettyish voice.
I haven’t had this one long, but results from the early precincts say it’s a winner.
Moncton Isn’t So Bad: Jumping wildly from the shores of the Susquehanna River to the Canadian Maritimes, we come across this compilation of local New Brunswick musicians. The songs range wildly from minimalist acoustic to raging punk, and from bedroom lo-fi “productions” to thumping professional mixes.
Unfortunately, it really isn’t all that good. I really wish I could say I liked it, and that it was a jewel waiting to be discovered (like this Moncton band I stumbled across — and stumbled is the right word — a while ago). But, no.
Truth be told, I’ll probably chuck the home-burned CD after another spin or two. But who knows? Maybe some night, as I drive home from the nine-to-five, something here will reach out and speak to me.
The Jean Jackets, Jean Jacques; also, Bay Kee, The Man With Red Eyes, and Grey Visions, The Grey Tape: An old college buddy of mine plays in a band over in New Jersey. A while ago, I was reading about them on some Jersey indie-rock website when I read about the Jean Jackets, four youngsters from Old Tappan who play in a band when they’re not off at college.
I downloaded their first album, Jean Jacques, and for about two weeks I hated it.
The chiming indie-pop music didn’t grab me; I didn’t like their lyrics, those I could understand; and most of all, I hated their predilection for wordless scat-sung vocal hooks. (I think every song on this record has a la-la-la section in it somewhere, and some have more than one. It gets to feeling gimmicky.)
Slowly they grew on me. The songs of Christine Spilka, who shares singing and guitar duties with Jackson Phinney, won me over first. Then Spilka and Phinney’s otherworldly duet on the record’s one cover version, Elliot Smith’s “Angel In The Snow,” grabbed me. Then Phinney’s songs started seeming catchier, less obnoxious, more relatable.
And just last night, I had to drive 70 minutes to Wilkes-Barre and back again, and Jean Jacques was the only music I listened to, the entire time, through the whole record and back to the start again.
Goddamned if I know how, but they’ve won me over. So much so that I’ve gone and downloaded the first EP by Bay Kee (Spilka’s solo project) and an album of material by Grey Visions (Phinney’s nom de guerre.)
The Bay Kee record is enjoyable, stylistically in line with Spilka’s contributions to the full band. I’ve only just started The Grey Tape, but the first song holds together pretty solidly, given the downplayed description Phinney gives the material. (If I understand him right, he characterizes several of his Grey Visions releases as demos-and-experiments-that-are-just-finished-enough-to-share-with-other-people.)
Mint 400 Records Presents 1967: Remember my college buddy from a few grafs ago? His band is one of 11 artists appearing on this Jersey indie-rock compilation, featuring 14 covers of songs originally released in 1967 — everything from “I’ll Be Your Mirror” to “Let’s Spend The Night Together.”
I’m still getting to know this comp. Most of the covers I’ve heard don’t take me anywhere the originals didn’t … and a few covers don’t take me anywhere at all, which is worse. But I haven’t spun it enough times to really make up my mind, so there’s still potential here.
(The cuts all seem to be professionally recorded, which puts 1967 head and shoulders above Moncton Isn’t So Bad. I’m not against rank homemade amateurism — hell, I engage in it regularly — but when it rubs shoulders with studio mixes, everything suffers.)
The pick hit for me so far is a version of “To Love Somebody” by a band called Fairmont, which owes its success in part to its humid, compressed, crunchy vibe, and in part to the fact that it’s “To Love Somebody.”
And one more bonus from the time I spend on the computer nights:
Tom Moulton: The Sandpiper, Fire Island, New York, USA 1974: Ostensibly this is a mix of dance tunes assembled by disco super-mixer Tom Moulton for a gay hangout on Fire Island way back when. If it isn’t, it should have been, because it has the Seventies pop-soul hooks-and-groove thang going on in spades.
This is not downloadable as far as I know, and Soundcloud stuff doesn’t hang around forever, so I’ll enjoy this until it disappears. If you appreciate the work of Moulton, Gamble and Huff, Barry White and other such luminaries, I suggest you do the same.
Now, if only I could play it in the car…