All posts by Greg Bueno

Rewind: Longwave, The Strangest Things

[Longwave - The Strangest Things]

Rewind takes a look at past Musicwhore.org reviews to see how they hold up today. The albums featured on Rewind were part of my collection, then sold for cash only to be reacquired later.

My first reaction to reading this old review of Longwave’s The Strangest Things was: Who’s the douchebag who wrote that crap?

Boy is that writing terrible. As much I roll my eyes at some of Pitchfork’s writing, my attempts to sound remotely worldly fell horrendously flat.

Around that time, I was going through a Dave Fridmann phase. He was the producer behind some of my favorite albums: SAPPUKEI by NUMBER GIRL, Dance, Dense and Denso by Molotov and Cuatros Caminos by Café Tacvba. I picked up Hate by the Delgados and The Strangest Things by Longwave because of his involvement.

Interpol ushered an era where labels signed up bands rehashing Joy Division. This era also included the garage rock revival spearheaded by the White Stripes, while other bands borrowed more than generously from Gang of Four. Franz Ferdinand, I’m looking at you.

My exasperation in the Longwave review was a result of this ’80s gold rush. These bands did a great job of sounding like their influences. I just didn’t get the sense they knew how to sound like themselves.

Now that we’re a decade and some change away from that context, I’m impressed by how well The Strangest Things endures. Longwave injected enough of a personality into their sound to differentiate themselves from similar bands.

I tried to listen to Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol but couldn’t get through it. I don’t even remember what the Stills sounded like.

I let the album go in one of my collection purges because my appreciation for Dave Fridmann’s production work wasn’t enough to overcome my ambivalence to American indie rock of that era. In 2003, I was still enamored of Shiina Ringo, ACO and Hatakeyama Miyuki.

I like the album enough now to have picked up a used copy on vinyl, but only after finding the CD for $1 at the Lifelong Thrift Shop.

 

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My neighborhood thrift shop usually beats an autogenerated playlist for discovery

[Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Store]

Every last weekend in June, the main thoroughfare in my neighborhood closes down for a street festival celebrating gay pride. I usually spend about 10 minutes walking up and down the street to watch people, but I seldom stop at a booth.

That ended in 2016 when the newly-relocated Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Shop set out a bunch of used CDs and vinyl for sale at $0.10 each. Of course, I had to stop and browse. I ended up with Juice Newton, Kim Carnes and Glenn Gould on vinyl, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, k.d. lang and This Mortal Coil on CD.

I had to go into the store to pay with a card, and that’s when I discovered the store’s basement. From street level, all I saw were vintage clothes. I didn’t know about the home furnishings and media down below.

Since that encounter, roughly 130 new titles in my collection come from the Lifelong Thrift Store. I visit the store twice a week, and it’s rare when I don’t leave with a disc or two. It’s tough to beat the $1 price point, but discount days netted me some real bargains. New York Dolls for $0.10? Pink Floyd’s The Wall for $0.75? Sure, OK.

I’ve also started visiting the Goodwill in my neighborhood, but that store’s stock isn’t as extensive as Lifelong’s. The Friends of the Seattle Public Library Annual Big Book Sale is another source of discounted discs.

All these thrift store visits have resulted in some nice discoveries: Thought for Food by the Books, Pinkerton by Weezer, Strange Kind of Love by Love and Money. I also reconnected with some albums I had let go.

Of course, many of the bargains I’m plundering could be heard through my Google Play Music subscription. How have visits to the thrift store introduced me to more new artists than automated suggestions based on my listening habits?

Simply put, recommendation engines can’t account for the research I’ve already done on my own. Yes, I know that fans of Perfume may also like Utada Hikaru and ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION. I probably fed the engine with the data to make that conclusion.

The engines also don’t seem to encourage much serendipity. I listen to Ty Herndon and Jason Isbell. The autogenerated recommendations would probably suggest something along the lines of either artist, but rarely anything that would intersect both. And if I listen to both Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams, does it really need to bother offering Patty Griffin?

The shelves of thrift store are organized by alphabet and little else. The new arrival cart isn’t organized at all. You have to put in the work to scan each shelf for something interesting, and an encounter with one name can send me on a hunt for something else.

On one visit, I ran across the first two albums by the Streets. I’ve always been curious about Mike Skinner, and for a $1 each, it was a low-risk investment. Not a few weeks later, I found Boy in Da Corner by Dizzee Rascal, which I wouldn’t have thought to pick up had it not been for the Streets.

Thrift shops are usually dumping grounds for stock unwanted by record stores, as previously placed price tags on the discs can attest. And yes, it’s a lot of work sifting through piles of unwanted Ani DiFranco albums to find a copy of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew with few surface scratches.

But it’s the random encounter with something interesting — for example, a stage work by Harry Partch — that makes the effort worthwhile. It’s also nice to know that the $1 spent on a new favorite album goes to a charity that I support.

Photo credit: Lifelong AIDS Alliance Facebook page

Favorite Edition Lifelong Thrift Store

Here are a few titles to which I wouldn’t have listened without the Lifelong Thrift Store.

  • The Books, Thought for Food
  • En Vogue, Funky Divas
  • Everlast, Whitey Ford Sings the Blues
  • The Godfathers, Birth, School, Work, Death
  • Guadalcanal Diary, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man
  • The Housemartins, London 0, Hull 4
  • Idlewild, Hope Is Important
  • New York Dolls, New York Dolls
  • Juice Newton, Juice
  • Son Volt, Trace
  • The Roots, Game Theory
  • The Streets, Original Pirate Material
  • The Streets, A Grand Don’t Come for Free
  • Toto, Toto IV
  • Weezer, Pinkerton

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Vinyl find: Don Johnson, Heartbeat

[Don Johnson - Heartbeat]

Back in 1986, you probably would have heard me bad-mouthing Don Johnson’s hit single, “Heartbeat.”

Johnson was the star of Miami Vice, a show created after a television executive jotted down the phrase “MTV cops”. It was a great show, critically-acclaimed at the time, but who could take its lead actor seriously as an actual MTV star?

I was a rock snob in training, but even I could recognize the folly of it.

Johnson was ubiquitous back then. Guys dressed like his character, Sonny Crockett, because evidently girls dug guys in pastels. I wasn’t immune to the craze either, except I also dug guys dressed in pastels.

Johnson’s second single, “Heartache Away”, featured the actor in a promotional video singing plaintively with flashbacks to a hot sex scene. It really exploited his sex symbol currency, and I didn’t mind a bit.

I really wanted to buy the album, but I had already declared out loud how ridiculous I found it. Three years later, the show was canceled.

I didn’t think about it again till I spotted a vinyl copy at the Lifelong Thrift Store. I hesitated at first because of that residual skepticism, but $0.25 was a price point low enough to take a risk.

Modern country radio has a more direct lineage to hard rock and hair metal from the ’80s than actual country music from the ’60s. Heartbeat could very well be subtitled The Shape of Country to Come. Tim McGraw could totally work the chorus of “Last Sound Love Makes”, and the only thing missing from “Lost In Your Eyes”  and “Star Tonight” is slide guitar.

In that sense, Heartbeat is prophetic. Johnson wouldn’t give Blake Shelton any sleepless nights where vocals are concerned, but there’s a twang in his delivery that wouldn’t sound out of place on a country hitmaker.

Back in 1986, Heartbeat could be a considered a sad conclusion to Rick Springfield’s promise of pop-friendly hard rock. Instead, it’s a fascinating artifact on how ’80s rock would pivot into modern country.

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My brother’s albums: Rick Springfield, Working Class Dog

[Rick Springfield - Working Class Dog]

This entry in the Sibling Rivalrly Collection Race is so old, it involves my sisters.

They thought Rick Springfield was dreamy. My brother and I dug the catchiness of “Jesse’s Girl.”

Mom intervened in this fight, letting me take possession of the 7-inch singles, while my brother took the full album. He wasn’t about to share, of course. My sisters just wanted to look at the covers.

I was 9 years old when Working Class Dog turned Springfield into star, but looking back, I had to admit I wanted to look at the covers too.

Springfield was indeed dreamy, and I recognized it even if I was a few years away from translating that to actual desire.

By the time that inkling turned into a confusing suspicion, Springfield’s star had waned. It was all about Duran Duran, Huey Lewis and Sting then.

As the ’80s turned into the ’90s, the only Rick Springfield album you needed was a greatest hits collection, just for “Jesse’s Girl.”

That does Working Class Dog a disservice.

From start to finish, the album doesn’t let up its frenetic pace. Springfield does some hard swinging on “Red Hot and Blue Love” before stepping off the accelerator for the concluding track, “Sylvia”. In an interview with the AV Club, Springfield says he would lean more toward a heavier sound than his producer preferred.

For good or no, Working Class Dog became a template from which the Outfield and Bryan Adams would eventually draw. It’s tough to picture the ’80s without it.

 

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My ambivalent relationship with Weezer

[Weezer - Pinkerton]

My first encounter with Weezer was at a concert. A friend of mine had an extra ticket, and I was curious about the band, having heard about them for years.

It was not a pleasant introduction.

First, I had a beer in my hand and was about to take a sip when a frat boy bumped into me, spilling my drink. The motherfucker turned to me and said, “Watch where you’re going.” That did not put me in a receptive mood.

Weezer got on stage, and the only thing I heard was a bunch of songs ripping off the Pixies.

I said as much to my friend who asked me what I thought. He hadn’t yet discovered the Pixies.

I wrote off Weezer from that moment on.

There was just one problem. Rivers Cuomo is so totally my type.

Whenever I flipped through rock magazines, I would do a double-take whenever I spotted Cuomo, then feel let down when I discovered the cute guy in the pic was in that band I totally hated.

By 2002, I surrendered to my hormones and gave Weezer a chance. So I picked up Maladroit. I still wasn’t impressed, mostly because I was deep into Japanese indie rock. Among my friends who were Weezer fans, the post-Pinkerton albums were varying degrees of disappointment.

So Rivers Cuomo joined that cadre of musicians who I found attractive but could not support. I was not the target market.

I do make one exception: Pinkerton.

I found a copy of the album at the Lifelong Thrift Store and bought it on reputation alone. Whatever traces of the Pixies at which I scoffed in the concert aren’t found here. I might buy another Weezer album if it sounded like Pinkerton.

Similar to Billy Joel’s Storm Front, Pinkerton is the album to own if you don’t really like Weezer all that much.

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Vinyl find: Steve Winwood, Roll With It

[Steve Winwood - Roll With It]

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes, the cover is incentive enough.

The Sibling Rivalry Collection Race precluded me from getting Steve Winwood’s Roll With It when it was released in 1988. My brother had already called dibs on Back in the High Life, which made Winwood his exclusive.

I feigned a lack of interest anyway because Winwood was at the peak of his solo career, and I had started my exploration of college rock by then. Winwood, by virtue of topping the charts, was immediately deemed square.

Except, he was kind of hot.

Not hot in the George Michael/Duran Duran sense of hot. More like a Robert Palmer/Huey Lewis kind of hot.

The cover of Roll With It dolled him up to look dangerous, but the back cover of the album drew my attention.

[Steve Winwood - Roll With It (Back cover)]

The album title is in the way, so let’s clear that up a bit.

[Steve Winwood - Roll With It (Back cover without title)]

Yup. I would have bought this album for a crotch shot. (An arse shot, too, now that we look closer.)

Would I have cared one whit about the music? Perhaps. At least, I would have pretended to.

In terms of hits singles, Roll With It didn’t have quite the same staying power as Back in the High Life, and I don’t think the cross promotion with a beer company did any favors to “Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do?” Reviews of the album weren’t enthusiastic, but sales-wise, it managed to ride the coattails of its predecessor.

I left the album on the store shelf safe in the knowledge that I just wasn’t the target audience, despite how much I wanted to stare at that crotch.

I have no such reluctance 29 years later, especially when a nice 12×12 LP cover can be had for $1 at the Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Store. I could probably find a store clerk who would understand.

 

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Looking ahead, June-July 2017

[Prince and the Revolution - Purple Rain]

Even after posting a preview of June, more titles were announced as May wore on. Seriously, labels, why are you all putting all this stuff out in one month? You got 12 from which to choose.

Beth Ditto, Fake Sugar, June 16

I was sad to see Gossip split up, but it did feel like the group had gone as far as it could.

Wendy and Lisa, Eroica (Deluxe Edition), June 16

I was wondering when a deluxe edition of this album would appear. Even Fruit at the Bottom got a deluxe treatment.

Onitsuka Chihiro, Tiny Screams, June 21

Onitsuka Chihiro has released a number of live DVDs, but Tiny Screams is her first live album.

Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain (Deluxe Edition), June 23

Of course, I’ll be getting this reissue, but the deluxe edition on my wish list is Parade.

Radiohead, OK Computer OKNOTOK, June 23

I picked this album up for $1 at the Seattle Public Library Book Sale back in March 2017 in an attempt to understand its appeal. I’ve encountered OK Computer over the years, but it has never left enough of an impression with me to warrant its unadulterated praise.

TLC, TLC, June 30

How is it I own every TLC album except Ooooh, On the TLC Tip!?

LOVE PSYCHEDELICO, Love Your Love, July 5

It’s been four years since Delico released an album, but the duo has never seen the need to rush.

k.d. lang, Ingenue (25th Anniversary Edition), July 14 (Vinyl, Aug. 18)

File under: The one album you would own of an artist if you bought nothing else from that artist.

Arcade Fire, Everything Now, July 28

I ended up at an Arcade Fire concert because I wanted to see Explosions in the Sky. It was one of the best live shows I’ve seen. But the only album I really own is Funeral.

Anne Dudley, Plays the Art of Noise, TBD (US/UK, out now in Japan)

Art of Noise was always so coy about who did what, but in those early years, I had inkling Anne Dudley brought in the music, while everyone else brought in the noise. Later interviews would confirm that was exactly the case.

Vinyl

The Cranberries, Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, June 16

The soundtrack to romantic comedy movie trailers.

Helmet, Meantime, June 23

I remember reading about the bidding war to sign Helmet to a major label deal. I bought the album out of curiosity and wondered how Interscope was going to recoup its advance.

Emmylou Harris, Pieces of the Sky, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Elite Hotel, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Luxury Liner, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Blue Kentucky Girl, July 5

Did you miss out on the Record Store Day boxed set, Queen of the Silver Dollar? It looks like the box is being broken out into individual releases. Or you can find fairly decent used copies of these albums for a bargain.

Soundtrack, Pride and Prejudice, July 7

The soundtrack to the film with Keira Knightley is actually pretty good, but like everything else about Pride and Prejudice, it’s not as good as the BBC mini-series.

Beyoncé, Lemonade, July 28

Unofficial pressings of this album have been in local record shops for a while now.

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Rewind: At the Drive-In, Relationship of Command

[At the Drive-In - Relationship of Command]

Rewind takes a look at past Musicwhore.org reviews to see how they hold up today. The albums featured on Rewind were part of my collection, then sold for cash only to be reacquired later.

Once again, quantity trumped quality, this time with my review for Relationship of Command by At the Drive-In.

Given its length and lack of opinion, the review did nothing more than meet a quota. By the time I got around to writing about the album, the band had broken up.

(Now that I’m writing about them again, they’ve just released a new album. Of course, I’m writing this entry beforehand, so I haven’t heard it yet.)

I picked up Relationship of Command because I had listened to a few tracks at a Tower Records listening station, and I was struck by how much At the Drive-In reminded me of NUMBER GIRL, which I mention in the review.

To be honest, it couldn’t dislodge all the Japanese indie rock that monopolized my car CD player. NUMBER GIRL, SUPERCAR, Cocco and Shiina Ringo released career-making albums in 2000, and the fact At the Drive-In didn’t sing in Japanese was a strike against them.

Relationship of Command is also an album that I can’t queue for casual listening. It screams for attention — quite literally — and it’s tough not to get immersed in all that agitation. When it came time for a collection purge, it was a prime candidate.

Oddly enough, I started to miss the album. Despite not internalizing it as thoroughly as, well,  NUMBER GIRL, I felt a bit of regret having let it go.

So when I spotted it at a Friends of the Seattle Public Library Book Sale, I brought it back into the fold.

It’s still not an album I can play casually, but I’m not holding that against it.

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Catching up: The Books, Thought for Food

[The Books - Thought for Food]

I worked at Waterloo Records from 2002 to 2005, and while it wasn’t the most lucrative job, it was one of the most influential.

It also taught me the quickest way to kill enthusiasm about music is to work at a record store.

For the most part, everyone on staff got along. We all shared different aspects of the same sense of humor, fueled by skepticism of the world in general and customers’ tastes in particular.

None of us could fathom why Bob Schneider or Norah Jones sold tons of discs, but we rang up those purchases anyway because, hey, paycheck!

The one point of contention that threatened this egalitarian ideal was the in-store player. We could play six tracks of anything we sold in the store. Some staffers were more aggressive about queueing items up, and a large portion of the staff preferred those items to be garage rock.

I would make some controversial picks myself — Duran Duran being a natural choice. Enya was one that caused a miniature staff meeting.

Thought For Food by the Books was one of those rare instances where I would stop what I was doing and see what was playing. It was a fleeting experience, though — something else would come on the player that would erase my desire to see what was queued up next.

I didn’t actually listen to the album all the way through till I found it at a book sale for the Seattle Public Library. I picked it up knowing I vaguely liked what I heard.

I can now say I concretely liked what I heard. It’s equal parts Slint and Scott Johnson, the sampled voices contributing musically to the laid back post-rock.

As much as I like the album now, I’m not sure I would have liked it as much then. I was still deep into Japanese indie rock, and it would be another five years before I dove deeper into the Temporary Residence catalog.

I may not have meshed with my coworkers taste-wise, but they did help strengthen my opinion on what I liked while also showing me how to expand those tastes.

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The ones that nearly got away: Shawn Colvin, A Few Small Repairs

[Shawn Colvin - A Few Small Repairs]

The success of Shawn Colvin’s A Few Small Repairs was a huge deal in Austin.

Despite its billing as “The Live Music Capital of the World”, the Austin music scene didn’t have much of a national profile beyond music industry insiders. Seattle had its moment with grunge, and Prince was synonymous with Minneapolis.

Austin had a statue to Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I had heard about Shawn Colvin before I moved to Austin in May 1997 — 20 years ago this month! — but I hadn’t heard any of her music. My parents still didn’t have cable television when I moved away, so tuning into MTV in the St. Edwards University apartments where the Austin American-Statesman housed its interns was pretty novel.

That’s where I encountered the video for “Sunny Came Home.” The chorus of the song grabbed me, and of course, it was all over local radio. Before there was Kanye vs. Taylor Swift, P. Diddy infamously grabbed the mic from Colvin as she was accepting her Grammy award.

The late ’90s were kind to the Austin music scene. Flush from the dot-com boom, transplants such as myself were eager to spend our cash, and the entertainment districts in Austin gladly took it. Beside the usual country acts, Austin supported singer-songwriters and indie rock bands. Colvin was the first to emerge nationally, followed a year later by Fastball.

I hadn’t been to many concerts before moving to Austin, and it was the live music experience that made me realize gay bars weren’t really that much fun.

A Few Small Repairs and my first summer in Austin are pretty much entwined.

Then the economy tanked four years later, and A Few Small Repairs got traded for cash. My motivation for selling the album was based on the reason I bought it: peer pressure.

I really hadn’t chosen to live in Austin — it was just the place that allowed me to leave Honolulu. By embracing the local music scene, I could embrace the city that was to become my home.

The dot-com bust landed me a job at Waterloo Records, where I was subjected to music I just didn’t like. Up until then, I tried to be a cheerleader for everything new I encountered, but that experience made me realize I didn’t have to like everything.

As money got tight, I couldn’t justify devoting shelf space to an album if I liked only one song on it, so A Few Small Repairs got purged.

I was wrong, of course. A Few Small Repairs had more than one great song on it, as evidenced by “Get Out of This House”, the track following “Sunny Came Home”. “Wichita Skyline” and “Nothin’ On Me” provide further evidence.

I did have the presence of mind to rip the album before I sold it, suspecting I was making a foolish decision, which I confirmed years later when I found that rip and listened to it.

I wouldn’t welcome the album back into my collection till I found it at a book sale for the Friends of the Seattle Public Library.

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