Saturday, June 13, 2009

Quick Hits - The Pursuit of Happiness / I'm An Adult Now

Some lost afternoon during my junior year of college, I was sitting in my friend's dorm room doing something that rarely happens anymore. ..................... Now that you've got your snickering out of the way, I'll note that activity actually was listening to a major market FM radio station (KY102 - "Paseo. REPRESENT!") and hearing new, non-formulaic music that I actually enjoyed.

While college radio stations continue to perform the service of introducing young, impressionable listeners to music by bands outside the template of "conglomocorp-music" stations, the salad days of college music have unfortunately been consumed by internet-based music sources.

Brief aside: Has a relatively obscure (to the collective music-listen consciousness) entity, ever been so brilliantly represented than by The Replacements 1985 song "Left of the Dial". While this is a rhetoric question - the answer is no...and the point is moot (the car is mine!). Ah, here comes that train of thought, let's get back on....NOW

The point being, that as recently as 20 years, there were commercial radio stations that would attempt to broaden horizons by introducing listeners to new bands. OK, they constrained themselves to boundaries that college radio was less or not beholden to serve, but every now and then you still heard something really great.

And on that lost afternoon in 1989, I was introduced to one of my favorite Canadian exports - no, not Moosehead, or hockey - rather The Pursuit of Happiness. "I'm An Adult Now" off the album Love Junk had actually been a pretty big hit in Canada when it was originally released in 1986. Unfortunately, that's similar to being big in Denmark - where David Hasselhoff rules!

Admittedly, when Moe Berg's gravelly voice dumped out of my friend's speakers over a simple, driving beat, I thought it was actually something new by George Thoroughgood - which would have been good as well. Then the girls showed up. In the midst of the crunching chords in the chorus, Kris Abbott (also ably handling guitar duties) and Leslie Stanwyck jump in the background - and that sealed the deal for me.

I bought the album, "Love Junk" within a few days. The album's mood veers wildly between Brady Bunch "Sunshine Day"-optimism and Robert Cray "Smoking Gun" betrayal. Produced by Todd Rundgren (who I believe at last count has produced over 165,000 albums in his career), it borders on misogyny (some would say colors right in the lines), but instead of blundgeoning with agnst, Berg wields it incisively and sardonically.

For example - from "I'm An Adult Now" - "I don't hate my parents. I don't get drunk to spite them. I have my own reasons to drink now. I think I'll call my dad up and invite him." While I'm sure some would say "cliche", there is a universal truth in these four lines and it's generationally transcendant. And to those who would say "cliche", I would reply "I can see how you might feel that way, given that you were dropped on your head as a child...repeatedly." I can think of the first time I felt exactly this way, and even though my dad has since passed away, there are times when I wish I could "call my dad up and invite him."

So, I spent a paragraph using words like "transcendant" and the phrase "universal truth" and generally sounding like James Lipton on the Actor's Studio. I promise to kick my own ass for doing so. I didn't mention the obvious - but now I will. This is part of a song - a song with an amazing hook...and those harmonies. There are a few hiccups on Love Junk, but most other offerings measure up to this standard - try "Hard to Laugh" and "She's So Young".

OK, well, I'm done - and less than a week after my last entry! I guess my reason to drink now is to celebrate. And again, I wish I could call my dad up and invite him.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

BOTM - Modern Eon

Wow...two weeks between posts - a new punctuality record. Don't worry readers, I won't let it get to my head. NOTE: It's now been about five weeks - so much for punctuality.

This week's band, Modern Eon, falls into the category of music I like to call, "How The Hell Did I Miss This" or HTHDIMT, for short(?). A bit of background first.

NOTE: "Bit of background" = John Galt's treatise on Objectivism in "Atlas Shrugged"

Through high school in the early/mid 80s, I pretty much took what local radio spoon fed. There were a few notable exceptions. For example, in the middle of buying all my Hall and Oates albums, I inexplicably bought a couple of Ramones albums. Inexplicable because I don't have any idea what drew me to buy them having never heard them before. I was a big Huey Lewis and the News fan and went to see them at Kiel Auditorium. I didn't know who the opening act was. Turns out that guy was pretty freaking great - Stevie Ray Vaughn - and I became a fan that night.

But I think back to a total random event that kind of defined my musical awareness. In 1984, while roaming the halls of Chaminade College Prep, we were shown a "promotional" movie for the school. One of the resident hall student was talking about the school, and being the great guy that he was, asked the "audience" if they wanted to listen to R.E.M. I had no idea who they were, but I remember the start of the song and when I later became a huge fan of that band, I realized that song was "Pretty Persuasion". All these seeds were being planted, but ironically, it took the hard, red clay soil of Oklahoma to get anything to emerge.

In the fall of 1985, I met the two Bens that would change my musical life. Ben Birge - a Poli Sci major from Orange County - a fan of all things ska. Ben Mesander - majoring in engineering . . . and nihilism - a fan of all things noisy. In those first four months, Dire Straits was supplemented with Dead Kennedys, Steely Dan with The Specials. My best friend, Chris Coughlin, got a new roommate in the spring '86 semester and he brought with him a Bang and Olfsun stereo, which served to blast out my new discoveries as well as make additional introductions - including R.E.M.

For the next two years, I think I spent most of my time trying to find the obscure, the sublime, the ridiculous - in other words, I became one of those tools who tried to be "professorial" with their musical knowledge - those of you who visited Vintage Vinyl with any regulatity in the late 80s/early 90s might be able to conjure up a name or two here. It took my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) threatening me with forced celebacy along with the purchase of "Bedrock Vice" by Thrashing Doves - bought solely because I liked the name of the band - to snap me out of it.

The funny thing is, my wife ended up having a much better track record of finding new music in the time before we got married and after that, we kind of settled into what we had. Then Napster came along. My nephew introduced me to it on a 14.4K dial-up connection one night in late 1999. The next day I had it, along with RealPlayer Jukebox. And while Napster was the vehicle, directions (and finally our connection to our Band of the Week) came from Jukebox.

Even in the nascent days of these programs, someone with a lot of time and a greater depth of musical knowledge than I started creating the "If You Liked ___________, You Might Also Like." I don't even remember what I was listening to when I eventually got to Modern Eon - much like I would imagine you, the reader, can't remember what you were doing when you started reading this . . . yesterday.

When I searched for Modern Eon on Napster, I came up snake eyes for several days. During that time, a friend of mine told me about Audiogalaxy Satellite, so I tried there. Jackpot! So, I downloaded "Choreography" (at work, since the connection was faster - we had blazing fast ISDN!!!). By the time, the propellant, tom-based and cymbal crashing finale faded I was hooked and looking for more.

Modern Eon formed in Liverpool in 1978. Several other bands, several with greater prominence, were emerging from Liverpool around this same time - Echo and the Bunnyman, Teardrop Explodes, Orchestral Manouvers in the Dark (that is the first and ONLY time that band will be mentioned in this blog ... or your money back!). However, what set Modern Eon apart was a combination of odd, yet familiar-sounding, analog electronic fade ins and outs, sharp toned guitar parts, judicious saxophone, and most importantly, the propulsive drumming of Cliff Hewitt.

While the band had recorded one local album and a couple of singles on smaller labels prior to Hewitt joining the band in late 1980. In early '81, Modern Eon released "Fiction Tales"and rehearsals for a tour supporting The Stranglers were underway...momentum was building for the band, but during those rehearsals, Hewitt suffered a critical injury to his wrist. The dummer gamely tried to continue, helping the band deliver an acclaimed performance on The John Peel Show later that spring, but after a few additional dates, it was clear the injury would prevent him from playing on the tour. The band tried a novel solution - use Hewitt's taped drum tracks on tour and have Hewitt play the tapes. This allowed Modern Eon to finish up the tour and Hewitt was back behind the kit when they began working on demos for a follow-up at the end of 1981. But by the spring of '82, Modern Eon's eon had ended. The band members all moved to other bands or production. Tim Lever, the band's guitarist and saxophonist enjoying commercial success that alluded Modern Eon as a member of Dead or Alive.

So why in the hell would I spend this much time discussing a band that barely registered on the radar? That released one album, had one, essentially regional, tour before breaking up? It starts with Cliff Hewitt's drumming and sonically works its way up to Alix's voice. While most folks would point to Joy Division as the deliniation point in the transition from punk and post punk - as well as its standard bearer, Modern Eon is my dark horse for this title. It's obvious both bands (Modern Eon and Joy Division) distilled similar references.

Modern Eon has a smaller body of work to judge, but to my ear, I hear Modern Eon's influences in many more bands, even though most of those lack Hewitt's unusual drumming technique. I'm certain, for the most part, the bands I'm thinking of, likely had little, if any recollection of Modern Eon - but I hear parts in songs by The Ocean Blue, Lush, Cocteau Twins, Ride, Radiohead, some Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, etc... and can come back to the gripping best parts of Modern Eon's regretfully too few songs.

There's also some appeal to me in the fact that they are still largely 'undiscovered'. In younger days, I would have used the words "criminally underrated", but that's the crutch of writer who doesn't have a good close. In my case, I haven't had a good open, middle, or close. Also, I don't want Modern Eon to be criminally underrated - you can judge for yourself by going to:

THE REASON THIS IS LATE: The site above is a good space - and then there's YouTube. Ijust the last few days, I came across a song by Modern Eon I'd never heard - Splash! - ( - and I like it even more than the four songs you can hear from the MySpace link. While enjoying every second of this song, I can't suppress the melancholy feelings that Modern Eon got kicked to the curb entirely too early.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Band of the Week - Lush (My "Bobby's Dead" Season of "Dallas")

If there is an afterlife, I fully expect to "come to" hearing the simple, yet hypnotic beginning of "De Luxe". The song, off the 1990 release "Gala" (4AD), captures all elements of the band, Lush (1988 - 1996), hitting on all eight cylinders (or two cylinders for Fiat 500 fans - the inspiration for "500 - Shake, Baby, Shake").

Back when MTV used to live up to their name, they had a show "120 Minutes". Anyone who had a cassette from any "college music" band is now likely heading to YouTube to find their favorite song. I'd simply ask that you give me five minutes (that will leave you 115 minutes), to tell you a Lush story.

So, in the fall of 1990, I was living with my folks and during a period of mental abstraction, my father decided to get cable television. Having 40 choices soon became irritating for dad, but in the three months we had it, I happened to catch the video for "Sweetness and Light". The next day, I bought Gala. As is often the case, over the course of the next few weeks, I played that tape to the point where my girlfriend nearly didn't become my wife.

In early 1991, I landed a job as a reporter for the finest weekly newspaper in Illinois - The Pike Press. Located 30 miles from any towns with a non-Wal Mart affiliated music department, my affair with Miki and Emma slowly faded. A lot happened the year I moved back to Saint Louis - I got married, we bought a house, I changed professions. I still had "Gala" and it would seem to reappear occassionally - luring me in. By 1996, when tragic circumstances led to the band's eventual breakup, Lush occupied something similar to a cell phone "dead zone" in my brain - any calls out were not being connected. Unfortunately (and as my wife will attest), I believe that cell phone coverage is improving in inverse proprotion to the "dead zones" in my brain.

Fast forward to 2007. We've since moved - "Gala" packed away in box marked "basement" since 2000. Upon returning from a vacation, we find that we've had a bit of leak. We are out of our house for four months. After the reconstruction begins, we are forced to move most of the undamaged furniture in our back basement (which reminds me, we probably ought to start moving it back out). During one of these trips, I spot a box marked "basement" and open it - a snapshot of my musical past! Near the top I find "Gala" and remember "Sweetness and Light". I ran upstairs to find my laptop, got on YouTube and was knocked cold.

Lush didn't just put out "Gala". This one album (actually two EPs "spliced" together) had more than satisfied me. There were three more releases. They were part of Lollapalooza. THEY HAD BEEN IN SAINT LOUIS IN 1994! In 1996, at the peak of their popularity, their drummer ended his life. The band spent much of the next two years trying to lift the weight of crushing sadness and in 1998, sent a brief announcement that they could no longer continue as Lush - an announcement that was largely ignored by the short attention span music press.

I couldn't believe what I missed - damn it all! But then I came across "Superblast!" I never heard that song before - a swirling, soaring, all-crescendo effort that clocks in just over four minutes. If I'm ever going to run a mile in anytime close to four minutes, this song will be the soundtrack of that effort.

I bought Ciao off iTunes, read "at-the-time" reviews of the band's later releases. One song, "Undertow" (on the album, "Split") caught my attention in the 30-second preview. I wanted to hear more...went to YouTube and searched for it and instead of the 4:57 album version, was greeted with a 9:13 remixed epic. While watching the accompanying video (taken during the 1994 tour to support "Split"), I learned Lush was in Saint Louis and apparently we're quite taken with the Arch. There are no performance spots in the video, yet by the end, it absolutely drains you.

And as it fades out, you can't believe its over...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Modus Operandi

Welcome to Substantial Penalty For Early Withdrawl - SPFEW for short. I had always wanted to be in a band with that name. Problem is, I came up with the band name without knowing how to play a musical instrument. Fast forward 20+ years...and I still think it's a great name for a band, but I'm still sorely lacking skills on any musical instrument (despite having a two basses, one electric guitar, and an old drum kit).

Given these musical ambitions, this blog will capture my bloviations, pontifications, and reflections on the music I enjoy and my struggles to broaden those horizons.

Look for a weekly update, innovatively titled "Bands I Like". You should find over time, I'll like veer into other topics. Get ready for a long, strange trip...