I mentioned before how my sisters each had their own slice of the family record collection, only to cede music purchasing duties to my brother and me.
Shadow Dancing belonged to my eldest sister. We played it a few times on the record player till it went out of fashion. Then the record pretty much sat on the shelf till it disappeared altogether without anyone noticing. I tried to track it down in 2019, hunting all around my mom’s house with no success.
I had already bought a sealed copy from Hungry Ear Records in Honolulu the year before, assuming I would never track down the vinyl collections of my siblings. Although disco is a towering influence on dance music today, it’s still fashionable to dunk on the genre. (Hello, institutional homophobia!)
Even I treated Andy Gibb with some fair amount of derision toward the end of the 1980s.
It’s not deserved.
Strip away the era’s sonic hallmarks — the California smoothness of the Eagles, the disco strings — and you’re left with a set of some durable songwriting.
Side A hogs all the hit singles, leaving Side B to fend for itself, which it does quite well. “One More Look at the Night” always felt like something I had heard on the radio, only to find it was never released as a single. Same for “Good Feeling.” Under Toto’s hands, “I Got You” could have been more prog rock.
Even the singles deserve re-evaluation. The title track is a perfect target for haters because it’s the ultimate earworm. Hear that string intro once, and it’s impossible to wipe it from memory. Also, check out the modulations on “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away”.
Shadow Dancing epitomized its era so well, it suffered a backlash when tastes moved on. I don’t get the impression its reputation has recovered, and it doesn’t really warrant obscurity.
Wire Train is not a band with whom I have much history. I’ve taken a deeper dive into their music only in the last few years.
But I’ve known about the band since I was a pre-teen, and I had encountered … in a chamber a long time ago. Rather, this album represents one of the main avenues I used to discover new music: the public library.
I first encountered Wire Train through music magazines. They may have garnered a few paragraphs in Star Hits (the U.S. version of U.K.’s Smash Hits) but it was enough for me to note their name.
When I grew disenchanted with radio at the end of sophomore year in high school, I turned to magazines to direct me to music that Honolulu radio programmers wouldn’t touch. I was also learning more about classical music at the time, using Roger Kamien’s textbook Music: An Appreciation, which my dad bought for an appreciation class he took at a community college.
Classical music was easy to come by at the public library, so I would visit various branches of the Hawaii system, borrowing records and tapes of Broadway musicals and common practice repertoire.
Rolling Stone ran an article about the best albums from the 80s and mentioned Entertainment! by Gang of Four. Out of curiosity, I did a catalog search for “gang of four” at the library and discovered Entertainment! was available for loan. So I borrowed it.
It didn’t end there.
I borrowed XTC’S Skylarking and R.E.M.’s Green, which was actually a new release at the time. I was overjoyed to find 10,000 Maniacs’ The Wishing Chair listed in the catalog but dismayed by the perpetual status of “In Transit.”
If the library had anything really popular — which would have been classic rock in the vein of your Beatles or Rolling Stones — it was probably already checked out. But I didn’t search for any of that. I wanted to find music by post-punk bands, and I was surprised to find myself having quite a bit of success.
I can’t remember if searched specifically for the name “Wire Train” when I discovered one of their albums was available at a branch in Waipahu. Most likely, I may have followed a keyword result. I had gotten my drivers license by then, and I made the trip out to Waipahu to borrow a tape copy of … in a chamber.
I put it in the deck, and right away, the sound of the drums and the tempo of the opening track told me the album was released in 1984. A quick check of the copyright date on the case confirmed my suspicion. (Even back then, I was already hyper-aware of how music was recorded.)
When you’re a teenager, anything older than 2 years was already considered ancient history, so I copped a bit of an attitude toward the album. I thought it was OK, but I wanted something newer.
I wouldn’t really think about Wire Train for another 30 years.
As usual, an encounter at the thrift store got me curious about the band. I picked up a vinyl copy of … in a chamber the moment I spotted it in the bin.
Wire Train was a solid band at the time, and yes, the music on … in a chamber is reliably post-punk — danceable with lots of ethereal guitars. Though hailing from San Francisco, Wire Train could be played alongside A Flock of Seagulls, The Alarm and The Cure, and you’d think they were Brits.
The band would go on to record four more major label albums, but … in a chamber was enough of a regional hit that it’s been reissued a number of times: an expanded edition in 2019, and part of a three-album compilation in 2020. Yes, I have grown to like the album enough to have both.
Out of all the music I discovered through the Hawaii Public Library, … in a chamber seems like the least plausible encounter. Waipahu is a working-class suburb of outside Honolulu, and a new wave band from San Francisco would have been absolutely ignored by the neighborhood patrons.
If Wire Train were played on local radio, it was probably the University of Hawaii station, which couldn’t be heard beyond three miles from campus at the time.
So it makes we wonder how it ever ended up in the collection in the first place. I’m just glad it was.
Gang of Four, 77-81, March 12 (vinyl), April 23 (CD)
I don’t need this boxed set. I already have Entertainment! and Solid Gold on vinyl. But I want this boxed set because of the ephemera that goes along with it, including an actual cassette tape of demos. I’m glad I still have my TASCAM 424 to play it.
MONO, Beyond the Past: Live in London with Platinum Anniversary Orchestra, March 19
I don’t think I ever got around to listening to Holy Ground: Live in NYC with the Wordless Music Orchestra. (NOTE: I’m listening to it now as I write this entry.) As much as the orchestra is important to MONO’s studio recordings, it’s not terribly important in a live setting. I have seen the band enough times not to miss it. Still — I’d love to see them perform with one.
Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, Thanks for Coming, May 7
I’m usually skeptical when Hollywood actors form bands, but Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under, Dexter) played the title role of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which is enough cred for me. Also, I’m definitely the target market for the trio’s post-new wave sound. I liked the self-titled EP enough, but I’m curious to see what they can do over the length of a full album. Thanks for Coming is already available on digital platforms.
PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, Feb. 26
Yeah. This reissue is the one for which I’ve been waiting. I’m even going to get the accompanying disc of demos released separately. Next target: Let England Shake.
Bad Brains, Bad Brains, April 22
Because … Bad Brains.
Death Cab for Cutie, The Georgia EP, July 30
Death Cab for Cutie made this covers EP available for one day on Bandcamp to raise money for Fair Fight. With Senators Warnock and Ossoff now sworn in, the band is making it available on vinyl.
What is the memory you most associate with this title?
Before I moved to New York City in 1992 to spend two semesters on an exchange program, Honolulu had two classic rock radio stations. When I came back in 1993, one of those stations had turned into an alternative rock station.
Suddenly, it seemed like everyone had always been into Björk and R.E.M. when I knew for a fact I got confused looks whenever I mentioned these artists to my friends.
Despite my bitterness, I did feel somewhat gratified that people came around to my point of view. But the year I spent on the mainland also revealed I was actually pretty mainstream. It just took six months for Hawaii to catch up with the rest of the country.
What was happening in your life when it was released?
As much culture shock I felt moving to New York City, recalibrating to Hawaiian time was just as hard. I don’t think I managed to feel remotely realigned for at least a year.
Having tasted that independence, I asked my parents whether they would spring for me to live on campus. They agreed.
Honolulu isn’t nearly as walkable as New York City, and public transportation isn’t remotely as frequent. But I held onto as much independence as I could muster till I moved to Austin, Texas in 1997 for work.
What was happening in your life when you bought it?
I bought the album at the time of its release, so same answer as above.
Living on campus did confer a lot of conveniences, though. If I wanted to watch an arthouse movie at the now defunct Varsity Theatre, I could just walk from campus housing. A visit to Tower Records was a 20-minute bus ride to Ala Moana Center. Living on campus probably made it easier for the student newspaper to get its hooks into me.
No, it wasn’t like living in New York City. But I probably would have gone crazy commuting back and forth from the suburbs.
What do you think of it now?
The EP still ranks highly in my favorites for 1993. I listened to it a lot at the time, and I tried to catch Spiny Norman as much as I could, which wasn’t much given how few rock venues were available in Honolulu.
The chip on my shoulder about Hawaii’s lack of an independent rock scene probably got exacerbated by this EP. It was of such stunning quality that I held out hope my hometown wouldn’t be so much a backwater.
The band, of course, broke up, and my music tastes got increasingly esoteric as I explored that thing called the Internet (back when publications still capitalized the “I”.)
But the music on Crust still holds up well. Play it alongside other music of the era — your Siamese Dreams and your In Uteros — and you’d be hard-pressed to think Spiny Norman was a regional band.
I had no idea this album was considered Ronstadt’s new wave album. Yes, three Elvis Costello songs are on this album, and “Hurt So Bad” has a scorching guitar solo more characteristic of the late Andy Gill. But it doesn’t sound like some new Romantic looking for a TV sound.
Carpenters, The Singles 1969-1973
There was a time when digging the Carpenters was an ironical act. The 90s are distant enough that I think we can sincerely dig the Carpenters now.
The Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole
I was skeptical of the whole attempt to make electronic dance the heir apparent of grunge. But that doesn’t detract from the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers releasing some durable albums from that late-90s era.
bloodthirsty butchers, Mikansei
bloodthirsty butchers have a talent from making long songs that don’t feel as long as they are.
The Fixx, Reach the Beach
I knew the Fixx were responsible for “One Thing Leads to Another”, but I had no idea they were also behind “Saved By Zero”. To be honest, the songs sound like they’re from different bands.