At the start of 2021, sea shanty TikTok was a thing. Of course, I had to reply, “I’m more of a waulking songs / mouth music person myself.”
In the mid-90s, a friend of mine and I got heavily into Celtic music. Enya, of course, had to go sing in Irish Gaelic, which led to Clannad, which led to the Shanachie label, which led to Talitha MacKenzie.
Tower Records featured her album Solas on a listening station, and sampling the first two tracks of the album got me hooked. I played the album just about nonstop on my DiscMan throughout 1994. Further research led down the rabbit hole of Scottish music, with its shanties, waulking songs and mouth music.
And also the band, Mouth Music.
Mackenzie was original member of the duo, before creative difference led to a split which resulted in Solas. A pair of songs MacKenzie recorded on Solas also appear on Mouth Music’s self-titled debut. I bought it thinking the albums would sound similar.
The only thread between the two is MacKenzie’s voice. Otherwise, they occupy distinct sonic territory.
Mouth Music is sparse compared to Solas and cosmopolitan in ways Solas is not. (It works the other way around — Solas is cosmopolitan in ways Mouth Music is not.)
With Solas, MacKenzie placed traditional music squarely in a contemporary context. Mouth Music straddled the line a bit more, letting the source material have more of a spotlight before being blurred in a cauldron of effects.
I can’t say I was a fan of the approach.
MacKenzie’s version of “Seinn O” dove straight for the dance floor, where the Mouth Music version went for more of an art school vibe. The Mouth Music version of “Chì mi na mórbheanna” went for an ethereal industrial sound, where the Solas version kept to its folk roots.
Solas felt joyous, where Mouth Music was much more cerebral. I chose MacKenzie and eventually sold Mouth Music for cash.
On my frequent visits to the thrift shop, I would see Mouth Music albums pass through the shelves with enough regularity that I knew I could re-acquire the album at a bargain. Spotting it in the $0.10 bin provided the right opportunity.
I’m not as severe on the album now. When I listened to Mouth Music the first time around, I cast it in context of another. Enough time has passed that I can extricate the two and appreciate both approaches.
It’s a rarity, but it happens — I will find Japanese indie rock at the thrift shop.
Most finds are bands with deals in the US, but a handful have been long-time favorites. I never got around to buying ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION’s Surf Bungaku Kamakura till I spotted it at Lifelong.
But when I see Japanese text on the spine of a CD, I’m drawn to it immediately.
Such is the case with Sanka Sanbusaku (Hymn Trilogy) by bloom field. The band’s name, unfortunately, is a search engine optimization nightmare, so I bought it with the intent to do further research later.
Judging by the length of the tracks and the cover art, I guessed correctly bloom field was a post-rock band. They’re not as dense on the effects as MONO, downy or envy. Rather, the trio hews closer to Slint.
Like the better post-rock albums, the three pieces on the half-hour EP unfold organically, starting quietly and building to a wall of distortion. The 7- to 10-minute length of the “hymns” never overstay their welcome. The middle track, “Noumin Sanka”, does go a bit overboard with the fake vinyl surface noise.
Where contemporaries such as downy and MONO sit closer to the metal end of the post-rock spectrum, bloom field is more like the Album Leaf and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Not much information exists about bloom field, even though their incredibly ancient official site has an English version. The discography section indicates the band lasted from approximately 2001-2009. Not a bad run.
Information is so scant, in fact, that the Discogs entry for the album was entered by me, including the hi-res scan of the cover. If you want to hear the EP for yourself, it looks like it was uploaded to YouTube.
I read about Big Pig when I was a teen-ager, but none of the record stores in Honolulu would carry Bonk. So when I spotted the album at the thrift shop, I picked it up. Singer Sherine Abeyratne is the big draw here, but a band with up to 5 drummers makes quite a sound. The album was released in 1988, so expect a lot of post-new wave.
Control Machete, Artillería Pesada, Presenta …
When rock en Español started getting traction in the US at the start of the 2000s, the genre was nearly pigeon-holed by rap-rock groups fashionable at the time. I drove to Dallas on a whim to catch the first Watcha Tour, and the evening was dominated by hip-hop and electric guitars. By the time Control Machete took the stage, I was getting worn.
So it’s my bad to have dropped the ball on this album.
Cocco’s music let in a lot more sunshine after the birth of her son, but on this album and its predecessor, some of the storminess from her early work is creeping back in.
Test Pattern, “This Is My Street”
I so want the entire Test Pattern concert to be released on a physical audio medium. Yeah, I have the Documtary Now Blu Ray.
Antoine Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered, Vol. 3 (Ivan Ilić)
There are 57 variations on this 86-minute album. At various points, that theme keeps pounding at you. And yet, I feel compelled to take in all 86 minutes. Reicha really interrogates this theme, as does Ilić.
Siouxsie and the Banshees, Tinderbox
I’m an opportunistic Siouxsie fan — if I can find their albums for cheap, I’ll pick them up. I’m fond of Superstition, even if I recognize it’s probably not their best. But Tinderbox has so far convinced me why Siouxsie has a loyal following.
Soundtrack, The Crow
Rhino reissued this soundtrack on colored vinyl back in October 2020, and it sold out immediately. I was curious why, so I grabbed one of many copies on CD at the thrift shop. I understand — it’s a pretty good mixed tape of the predominate music of the mid ’90s.
Maxi Priest, Bonafide
I am old enough now not to care if you judge me for totally loving “Close to You”, but the rest of the album is actually quite enjoyable. I found myself digging it even though I’m clearly not the target market for it.
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.