Lost Classics: Grant Hart “Good News For Modern Man”

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

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:: GRANT HART
Good News For Modern Man // Pachyderm, 1999

Despite all the post-Hüsker Dü success Bob Mould had solo and with Sugar, it could be argued that he wasn’t even the influential Minneapolis trio’s most valuable player. Drummer Grant Hart was responsible for writing and singing a large chunk of Hüsker Dü’s best songs, including “Never Talking To You Again,” “Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely,” “Green Eyes,” “Pink Turns To Blue” and “Sorry Somehow.” This often goes overlooked, mostly because of his erratic recording career since the Hüskers’ 1987 demise, a break-up spurred by Hart’s heroin use. After a great EP (1988’s 2541), a negligible album (1989’s Intolerance) and two inconsistent efforts with Nova Mob (1991’s Last Days Of Pompeii and 1994’s Nova Mob), Hart released Good News For Modern Man. The 11-track set was everything Hüsker Dü fans had always wanted from him: an album full of classic melodies that owed as much to ’60s girl groups and catchy Britpop as it did to punk rock and power pop. But Good News For Modern Man sold poorly, and the Pachyderm label was out of business less than a year after its release.

Catching Up: When not working as a visual artist, Hart has been recording material for a new album, portions of it with Godspeed You! Black Emperor. He is doing an East Coast tour in May and June.

“Remains To Be Seen”:

Lost Classics: Bobsled Records

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

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Like restaurants and dot-coms, record labels fail at an alarming rate. So it isn’t exactly newsworthy that Bobsled Records lasted only five years. What’s notable is that the Aurora, Ill., indie burned so brightly and left a vapor trail of mini-myths. At the center of it all was Bob Salerno, a former tennis pro. One of the great characters in the indie-label world, the mutton-chopped, Motown-loving Salerno founded Bobsled with friend and financial backer Jeff Slay (the label name is a play on “Bob” and “Slay/Sleigh”).

Initially operating from his basement, Salerno attracted bands by releasing music on 180-gram, colored vinyl. Scottish outfit Adventures In Stereo (featuring Primal Scream’s Jim Beattie) was the label’s inaugural signing in 1997, notably followed by Chicago’s orchestral-pop Chamber Strings, French/German disco-punk duo Stereo Total and power-pop vets Velvet Crush. A true believer in his roster’s hit-making potential, Salerno poured money into radio promotion, retail campaigns and label-sponsored tours.

“There didn’t seem to be any middle ground with Bob,” says one former associate who wishes to remain anonymous. “He was shooting straight for the top. He always talked about the possibility of his releases going platinum. Not even gold.”

By 2002, however, Salerno’s zealous drive became a fatal flaw: Following a show by flagship Bobsled band the Waxwings (pictured), he penned a scathing letter to the Detroit retro-rockers that was later posted on the Internet. Salerno criticized the group’s lack of preparation and singer/guitarist Dean Fertita’s failure to exude a rock-star persona: “Mick Jagger wouldn’t be hangin’ out in the club before HIS RECORD RELEASE show!” he wrote. “Bush leagues!!! Dean, you’re just fuckin’ hangin’ out by the fuckin’ entrance before the show, AND SOMETIMES ALONE! PATHETIC!!! A REAL rock ‘n’ roll band would have been backstage getting psyched up for the greatest show of their entire lives!!!”

“The band stopped trying,” says Salerno, who changed his name to Björn Forsell and ran the Giant Pecker label. “[Bobsled’s] philosophy was equal effort—which they gave on their first record, but then they lost perspective on the second. We guaranteed them—and all our artists—around $10,000 to $12,000 per record, and we ended up spending roughly $200,000 on each at the end. So when they stopped trying and copped the attitude that it was all owed to them, I got pissed. And rightfully so, I still believe.”

Bobsled never produced a hit album, and the label folded after the release of the Waxwings’ second album, 2002’s Shadows Of The Waxwings.

:: THE WAXWINGS
Low To The Ground // Bobsled, 2000

The Waxwings apparently didn’t get the central-casting memo that required all Detroit bands to be immersed in the garage legacy of the Stooges and the MC5. The Byrds-via-R.E.M. jangle of the Waxwings’ debut was a refreshing change of pace from the carbon-monoxide-marinated angst of their Motor City peers.

“Keeping The Sparks”:

Lost Classics: Swell “41”

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

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:: SWELL 41 // American/Psycho-Specific, 1993
Swell may be the strangest act to land a major-label deal in grunge’s wake. (And that includes Daniel Johnston.) What’s commercial radio supposed to do with deadpan, minor-key vocals set atop acoustic guitar and room-next-door drums? But on Swell’s second big-label effort, the San Francisco psych/rock outfit found the ultimate meeting of desert-dive twinkle and drug-induced moodiness. It might sound almost lazily laid-back at first, but 41 delivered 13 spooky, insinuating beauties that refused to be dismissed.

Catching Up: The major-label deal ended shortly after 41, and subsequent efforts delivered diminishing returns. Sole constant member David Freel had been quiet following 2003’s Whenever You’re Ready, but Swell has since released 2007’s South Of The Rain And Show and this year’s Be My Weapon.

“Is That Important”:

Lost Classics: Arcwelder “Pull”

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

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:: ARCWELDER Pull // Touch And Go, 1993
“Sing a little pop song/Then everybody loves you,” sang Arcwelder on “Remember To Forget,” one of the many instant classics on Pull. If only it were that easy. Coming out of Minneapolis’ fertile ’80s scene, Arcwelder seemed like the logical successor to hometown heroes Hüsker Dü. Like the Hüskers, Arcwelder was a punk-leaning, pop-loving power trio whose vocal duties were shared by its guitarist and drummer and whose bassist had a moustache. But Arcwelder never really rose above cult status despite releasing six albums of catchy, noisy rock ’n’ roll. Pull, the band’s third LP and Touch And Go debut, was the best of the bunch, a 45-minute masterpiece that still holds its own against almost anything from indie rock’s glory years. So what if Arcwelder never achieved commercial success? Like the band sang at the beginning of Pull, “When it’s all done/This is just a song.”

Catching Up: Though the trio rarely plays live and has no plans for another proper record (an Internet-only release has been discussed), Arcwelder still practices once a week.

“Remember To Forget”:

Lost Classics: Butterglory “Are You Building A Temple In Heaven?”

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

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:: BUTTERGLORY Are You Building A Temple In Heaven? // Merge, 1996
It was a short run, but one worth remembering. From 1994 to 1997, Butterglory released three albums of laconic guitar pop that acted like passing seasons in the Lawrence, Kan., band’s brief career. Transformed from a precocious duo into a seasoned threesome with the addition of bassist Stephen Naron, drummer/singer Debby Vander Wall and singer/guitarist Matt Suggs made the autumnal Are You Building A Temple In Heaven? sound like the swan song from a fictional supergroup led by Georgia Hubley and Stephen Malkmus. Of course, making droll, flat-voiced slacker rock in the mid-’90s was a bit like dabbling in Cubism in turn-of-the-century Montmartre, which helps to explain why Butterglory was typecast as a Braque to Pavement’s Picasso.

Catching Up: After Suggs and Vander Wall split romantically and Butterglory folded, Suggs recorded two less-slanted-yet-still-enchanted solo albums, 2000’s Golden Days Before They End and 2003’s Amigo Row. He now fronts prog/pop outfit White Whale.

“She’s Got The Akshun!”: