Lost Classics: The Indie-Pop Underground

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.

lucksmiths375While Belle And Sebastian’s success may have popularized some of twee pop’s signature clichés—jangling guitars, gentle vocals and an affectation of childlike naiveté—it was subsurface groups such as the Lucksmiths (pictured), Tullycraft and Trembling Blue Stars that, along with flag-flying labels Matinée, Magic Marker and even Sub Pop, helped to expand the genre’s stereotypical barrettes-and-kittens borders. Like attention-starved sibling emo, twee has become increasingly maligned by its makers.

“I always see the term as derogatory and a fairly lazy way to characterize indie pop for those who aren’t very familiar with it,” says Jimmy Tassos, owner of the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Matinée.

“(Trembling Blue Stars singer/guitarist) Robert (Wratten) would be appalled to be described as twee,” says Matt Haynes, co-founder of the U.K.’s Sarah Records. “He wrote the songs he wanted to write, and his influences were more Factory Records than C86.”

Listening to TBS’s third album, 2000’s Broken By Whispers, it’s difficult to deny Wratten’s twee-pop roots. Bassist Michael Hiscock and keyboardist Annemari Davies lent “Ripples” and “To Leave It Now” their fleshed-out, flashback feel. It was Wratten’s beautifully drowsy voice, however, that ultimately turned Whispers’ intimate lyrics into an 11-shade spectrum of gray.

Decidedly extroverted, Seattle’s Tullycraft took a punk approach to its indie-pop aesthetic. The chorus of 2002’s “Fuck me, I’m twee!” was the refrain that launched a thousand T-shirts, and 2000 anthem “Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend Is Too Stupid To Know About” encapsulated an entire music scene in a single song. On 2005’s Disenchanted Hearts Unite, Tullycraft dropped the absurdity, and its appeal went into overdrive. Singing “We’re the best band you never heard!” as if there was never any doubt, Sean Tollefson’s nasal vocals were at once brash and bratty; Jenny Mears’ pointed “ah-ah”s and “la-la”s softened things ever so slightly; and together they made “Rumble With The Gang Debs” sound like a group of kids covering the Violent Femmes.

“People fight this term to the bitter end, claiming over and over that they aren’t twee,” says Curt Kentner, owner of Portland, Ore.’s Magic Marker Records. “What looks better: complaining that you aren’t twee or championing it like Tullycraft?”

:: THE LUCKSMITHS
The Green Bicycle Case // Candle, 1995

While most twee bands embodied overcast English winters, the eternally sunny Lucksmiths were a cloudless Australian afternoon. The effervescent Melbourne trio introduced its bubbling rhythms and witty wordplay on early lo-fi records but refined its approach on The Green Bicycle Case. An endearing mix of danceable pop songs and down-tempo ballads, the album abdicated twee’s security blanket without abandoning its wide-eyed wonder. Name-checking Rita Hayworth while slyly nudging Sgt. Pepper on “Only Angels Have Wings,” frontman Tali White’s conversational tenor resembled a more tuneful, Victorian-tongued John Darnielle.

“The Tichborne Claimant”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/TheTichborneClaimant.mp3

Grand Duchy Cultural Position #12: Hotels

grandlogo150c2120bcGrand Duchy is the latest venture from Charles Thompson (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis). It’s a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Grand Duchy’s playful and slightly Euro-affected debut album, Petits Four, is out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl. Thompson and Clark are guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with them.

beverlyhillshotelTo us, there is nothing more relaxing than passing the time in a hotel room or, better yet, a suite. The band the Church once called such a space a “hotel womb,” and that is how Grand Duchy feels about it. One’s home may be one’s castle (in the case of your Duke and Duchess, it is actually a castle, dearests), but a home can so quickly turn into the primary source of stress and overwhelm in one’s hectic life. Bills. Stacks. Clutter. Chores: duty. Obligation. Shoulds. Phones. Phone ringing: Do I answer? Leave a message. Messages on the machine, blinking blinking blinking blink. Dirty laundry: Wash it. Clean laundry: Put it away before it wrinkles! Make the food. Clean up the kitchen. Oops. The fruit got all rotten. Throw it away. The toilet is clogged. The roof needs to be replaced. Sweep. Scrub. Routine maintenance. Maintain maintain maintain! Would the house’s future owners 10 years from now like this color of carpet, or did I just lose that future sale?

Bloody hell. Life is art, and art is not about servitude to things or the meta-container of those things. To remind yourselves of this, dear readers, I advise spending one weekend per month, minimum, in a hotel. In a hotel, the only obligations are to leisure, ease and self-care. One is a phone call away from food, from cleanliness, from a fresh bottle of cold champagne. Down the elevator, emerge, everyone smiling, happy to see you. The car awaits. The world is your oyster. Upon return, the room is fresh as a daisy. Covers turned down; mint on pillow. This environment suits the Duke and Duchess. We would happily change our last names to Gabor. Here is a list of five of our favorite hotels:

5. The Avalon, Beverly Hills
Organized around an interior courtyard with requisite amoeba-shaped pool, this retro-tastic hotel is like waking up in a Rat Pack movie. The first hotel to be decorated by the now living legend Kelly Wearstler, there’s not a design “i” that isn’t dotted. We love brunching in a cabana by the pool. Have the spa breakfast and a cappuccino.

4. Hotel Tomo, San Francisco
If you are stimulated and amused by Japanese pop culture, like we are, you will relish the time spent at this hiply remodeled Best Western in the heart of Japantown, San Franfabulous. The wackiness of the murals and vivid colors is grounded by the smart, basic furniture concept.

3. Hotel Montalembert, Paris
Built in 1923, this hotel is a handsome classic, with all the right updates and technological sophistication we all demand these days. The rooms are tailored and luxurious, yet have a serene, atelier-type feeling, allowing you to make-believe that you are either a savvy art dealer or a renegade boheme, depending on your mood and what you’re drinking.

2. The Lloyd Hotel, Amsterdam
The Lloyd is a magical place, a grand old building (impossibly tall ceilings, graceful proportions, crazy-big Dutch windows) that’s been many things throughout its long life (factory, prison) but none more capable of eliciting delight as its current incarnation as a hotel. One feels like Alice in Wonderland, peering into doors to see what bizarre and/or lovely environment awaits on the other side. Would you like the room with the hammock? Or the one with an eight-foot-long bed? How about the fold-away bathroom or the creaky, dim, stunning attic suite with views for miles through little windows? Every room is different, and the rooms range in luxury from one to five stars. Children are welcome and doted upon, their every need anticipated. Designed in collaboration by members of avant-garde design collective Droog (whom Violet adores) and other cutting-edge artsy architect types, the spaces are organized around a three-part plan: practicality, surprise and wit. Antiques of old wood hobnob with eclectic newer pieces and clean lines. The breakfast is a vast mix-and-match buffet of every conceivable delight to get you going for the day: breads, cheeses, muesli, jams, coffee, teas, five kinds of milk, fruit, brownies, peanut butter and a delightful substance hovering somewhere between cream cheese and whipped cream and flecked with poppy seeds. Wowza!

1. The Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills
Oh, Pink Palace of Luxurious Delights! We love you for the sheer graciousness of your voluptuous carriage, the powdery Max Factor hue of your flesh, the vastness and leafiness of your grounds, the star-spotting, the way your beds and sofas and chairs all suck us in to the most relaxing repose imaginable. The charming little diner with the amazing chocolate shakes and french fries, a hit with all ages. The staff at our beck and call, and the room service that sucks not one whit (a miracle)! In fact, it’s rather divine to order in (plates of pineapple slices and bowls of sorbet) and dine on the patio of our private bungalow as the sun is setting. Then, upon rising, we amble down to the main pool area, past the private tennis lessons, and slip into a poolside booth to begin the morning with a fruit smoothie, to be followed by a dive into the pale blue water. We never hurry to rise back to the surface—that’s Mozart they’re piping into the pool.

This concludes “Grand Duchy Week” here at magnetmagazine.com. Thanks to Charles and Violet for writing about some really cool stuff. Be sure to check out Grand Duchy’s debut album, Petits Four.

Who Ordered The Chickenfoot?

chickenfootWhat’s that smell? Oh, it’s Chickenfoot, the new band featuring—you really will not believe this garbage storm—guitar showoff Joe Satriani, drummer Chad Smith (a.k.a. the only Red Hot Chili Pepper who has to wear his laminate on tour so he doesn’t accidentally get kicked out of the backstage area), Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar (wildly pathetic former bassist and singer, respectively, for Van Halen). The self-titled album, “a result of jams held at Hagar’s club, Cabo Wabo Cantina, in Cabo San Lucas” and recorded at George Lucas’ Skywalker Studios, is out June 9. We have a new punching bag, and it is Chickenfoot. Feel free to use the comments section to come up with worse band lineups. For example: guitarist Paul Dean (Loverboy), DJ Muggs (Cypress Hill), bassist Mikey Way (My Chemical Romance) and Jean-Michel Byron (the fourth vocalist from Toto).

MP3 At 3PM: Les Savy Fav

lasavyfav390Merge Records is 20 years old this year; MAGNET celebrated by criticizing the label’s catalog and angering our friends, family and readership. You, however, can celebrate with SCORE! 20 Years Of Merge Records: The Covers!, a collection of Merge-released songs covered by non-Merge artists: the Shins, Bright Eyes, Death Cab For Cutie, the National, the New Pornographers, Times New Viking and others. Art-punk veterans Les Savy Fav add a touch more noise and feedback to Superchunk’s “Precision Auto,” originally on 1993’s On The Mouth. The recording is taken from a live performance at 2007’s CitySol sustainable music and art festival in New York City. For more live Les Savy Fav, check out After The Balls Drop (Frenchkiss, due digitally April 29), a document of the band’s show at Bowery Ballroom this past New Year’s Eve.

Les Savy Fav covers Superchunk’s “Precision Auto” (download):

Q&A With PJ Harvey

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A Woman A Man Walked By may be the first collaboration credited to PJ Harvey & John Parish in more than a decade—the pair issued Dance Hall At Louse Point in 1996—but it’s hardly an occasional partnership. Parish and Harvey began working together in Somerset, England, band Automatic Dlamini in the late ’80s, when the latter was 18 years old; Parish continued to work with Harvey on several of her solo albums as a producer and multi-instrumentalist. Their close musical relationship comes to full fruition on A Woman A Man Walked By (released last month on Island), a wide-ranging album that matches Parish’s music with Harvey’s lyrics and vocals, with assistance from bassist Eric Drew Feldman (Captain Beefheart, Frank Black), drummer Carla Azar (Autolux) and Italian guitarist Giovanni Ferrario. MAGNET spoke to Parish and Harvey (read yesterday’s interview with him) about their long-distance collaboration, the process behind the album and a curious mermaid suit.

“A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go”:

MAGNET: You and John have been collaborating for 20 years. What keeps you two coming back to each other? It’s an unusual partnership that can last 20 years and still be fresh, relevant and functional.
Harvey: It is an unusual partnership, and the relationship we have is very rare, I realize that more and more as I get older. That’s why we keep coming back to each other; it’s a special working relationship but also friendship as well. John’s always been, from the first time I met him, someone I respected enormously, and his judgment, I think, is very keen. I trust him implicitly. He has extraordinarily good ear for judging what’s good and bad with music. I value his opinion and judgments just on the stuff of life, reallyhe’s a remarkable human being and I realize that more as I get older. But throughout our friendship, even if I’m not working with him on a particular project, he’s always one of the first people I’ll send my new songs to in order to get feedback and to help me gauge what’s good and what isn’t. John, Flood and Mick Harvey—those are my three people I’ll send songs to before anybody else because I know them so well and they know me so well, we have this relationship where they can be completely, honestly critical of my work and I can return that and it’s all done in the right spirit, if you know what I mean.

If it makes you feel even better, he uses almost exactly the same words to describe how he feels about working with you. He said, “It’s a delicate thing to deliver really honest feedback to somebody without damaging their confidence”—there’s a balance to how it’s done. He told me a funny story about touring with youthat on the To Bring You My Love tour you went on one night in a mermaid’s costume, and it freaked him out, and he told you backstage afterward it freaked him out. And …
And I never wore it again. [Laughs] That’s true … my extravagant creation that had been made months beforehand. Well, we had a good laugh about it, and I never wore it again. On a more serious note, very often I might send John demos of my own new songs, and there may be songs that he doesn’t think are good. And it doesn’t mean I’ll always go with thathe’s usually right, unfortunatelybut I might go ahead and record it anyway, because it’s something that I just need to do. And he’ll do the same; work that he might feel he believes in and has to do, so we can also critique each other’s work but then ignore it, take it on board but then carry on the way we were going anyway. We’ve both done that in the past, too. That’s another important part of this equation; we’re not at each other’s beck and call. We value each other enormously and take each other’s opinion on board as we go.

Continue reading “Q&A With PJ Harvey”

Wrens Watch, April 13, 2009

wrenswatch9211111We’ve been fans of New Jersey’s finest since even before their first album came out back in 1994, so let’s just say we’re used to sitting around waiting for them to take their sweet-ass time putting out new music. (Three albums in more than 14 years makes the Wrens about as prolific as Boston, which is kind of like being as tall as Phil Fondacaro.) As reported in a Wrens Watch Special Report, January 9 marked a huge milestone for the guys: guitarists Charles Bissell and Greg Whelan, bassist Kevin Whelan and drummer Jerry MacDonald. They issued “Pulled Fences,” their first new (well, sort of new) song since 2003’s The Meadowlands. Perhaps motivated by finally releasing something, the band convened—not in a real studio, but in Kevin’s basement—three months ago to begin work on its new album. And not only that, the Wrens recorded an actual song (which you can download for free here). When we checked in with Bissell seven weeks ago, he took exception with our good-natured sarcasm and quickly ended the interview. After ignoring us for a while, Bissell finally gave us a progress report; it seems that while other bands get together and record, the Wrens stay apart and talk to each other on the phone. Or they do nothing at all. Or they update their Facebook pagesA month ago, Bissell informed us he was “too busy” to respond to our questions, but he did promise us some exclusive Wrens mp3s in the near future. Three weeks ago, he didn’t even bother responding to our emails, prompting us to call him an unprolific Ryan Adams. That got Bissell’s attention, who two weeks ago apologized (profanely) and promised us an exclusive Wrens mp3 for last week. After not delivering, he said he’d come through this week. Guess not. We’re starting to take this personally.

Lost Classics: The Geraldine Fibbers “Lost Somewhere Between The Earth And My Home”

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.

:: THE GERALDINE FIBBERS
Lost Somewhere Between The Earth And My Home // Virgin, 1995

geraldinefibbers360 In mid-’90s Los Angeles, there was hardly a more punk-rock thing to do than sprinkle some country influences into your sound. Bands such as Mary’s Danish and X flirted with it, but the Geraldine Fibbers embraced it, pushed it into the gutter and gave it a night to remember. Led by the husky vocals of Carla Bozulich, the Fibbers’ warped alt-country twang haunted the City of Angels like ghosts of California country’s past, full of grinding violin and poisoned tales of junkies, madness and lost innocence. It wasn’t quite what Gram Parsons had in mind, but that was the point.

Catching Up: After enlisting guitarist Nels Cline for 1997’s more rock-oriented follow-up Butch, the Fibbers folded. Bozulich has continued to collaborate with Cline (now a member of Wilco) while pursuing a solo career.

“Dragon Lady”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/DragonLady.mp3

Grand Duchy Cultural Position #11: Carbon/Silicon

grandlogo150c2120bcGrand Duchy is the latest venture from Charles Thompson (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis). It’s a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Grand Duchy’s playful and slightly Euro-affected debut album, Petits Four, is out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl. Thompson and Clark are guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with them.

carbon540b

We present to you a playful, genre-bending musical duo, much like ourselves, who are very, very dear to our hearts. Much like ourselves! Carbon/Silicon is Mick Jones (from the legendary Clash and Big Audio Dynamite) and Tony James (from Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik). I know—incredible, right? Violet has long admired the realism of Jones’ vocal stylings. You can tell when he’s jumping up and down or tapping his foot while singing. The way it joggles his voice, it’s so visceral. James majored in math and computing in college. A confindent bassist (he created the “space bass” sound in Sigue Sigue), James has dallied on the fringes of pop punk for a few decades now.

What make these heroes heroic is that, for all their combined age and experience, the music and the methods of creation are neither jaded nor humorless, nor rooted in past glories. The premise of this band is to embrace, rather than fight, the eminence of the Internet, which is in direct contradiction to the fear and denial of the record labels, who still think they’re fighting the good fight against illegal downloading. Carbon/Silicon make rock music, but they’re making it on their laptops; they release many of their projects as digital-download only; they engage in file sharing; they sample. And their stance on illegal downloading? You can get it all for free from their website! Jones and James aren’t in it for the money.

Carbon/Silicon lyrics often have political overtones, I can’t lie. It’s clear that Jones is disillusioned and feels politically disenfranchised at times, but he expresses these feelings in ways that are both though-provoking and drenched in wit. And the massively catchy “The News” from 2007’s The Last Post exudes a surprisingly youthful air of utopian idealism. What Carbon/Silicon song are Grand Duchy listening to right now? An epic eight-minute, 45-second song based on the science-fiction novel Snow Crash entitled “Buckethead.”

P.S. Black Franics has been a huge Mick Jones fan for years and would be thrilled to have him—or the full Carbon/Silcon duo—produce a Grand Duchy record.

“Buckethead” (download):

MP3 At 3PM: John Vanderslice

johnvandeslice370It’s entirely possible that “Fetal Horses” is John Vanderslice‘s answer to the Stones’ “Wild Horses.” The track from Vanderslice’s forthcoming album Romanian Names (Dead Oceans, due May 19) makes it clear he’s the anti-Mick. Instead of refusing to be dragged away from love, he’s galloping in circles trying not to get involved. Vanderslice, who operates the famously all-analog studio Tiny Telephone in San Francisco (host over the years to Spoon, Death Cab and Beulah—holler at us, Miles Kurosky, because you are missed—and others), just finished a tour with the Mountain Goats and will hit the road again in May. Follow him following Shaq on his Twitter page.

“Fetal Horses” (download):

In The News: Beck, Conor Oberst, Flipper, Son Volt, Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs And Free MP3s

sweet_hoffs550On April 14, Beck revives his One Foot In The Grave, the indie follow-up to 1994 major-label debut Mellow Gold, with a deluxe reissue. It includes 13 previously unreleased tracks from the original LP’s sessions as well as three additional songs from an out-of-print seven-inch … As we told you before, Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band are set to release Outer South next month on Merge. Starting Wednesday, One Of My Kind, a documentary about the band, will be available as a free stream or download via a handful of websites, including Oberst’s and Merge’s. Download “Nikorette” … Legendary punks Flipper, the self-proclaimed “band that simply refuses to die,” is releasing two new records May 19 on MVD Entertainment: a studio effort called Love and a live disc titled Fight. Fun Flipper Fact: Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic had been playing with the band since 2006 but recently gave notice that he was leaving … Alt-country pioneers Son Volt (well, founder Jay Farrar and some other guys) return with the atypically named American Central Dust (Rounder) July 7. Expect sounds ranging from rootsy to twangy … Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs (pictured) had such a good time with their first covers record, 2006’s Under The Covers, they decided to reconvene for Under The Covers Vol. 2 (Shout! Factory), out July 21. We’ll leave it up to you whether you really need to hear their versions of John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth,” Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and Yes’ “I’ve Seen All Good People” … Unless you’ve been living under an indie rock, you surely know April 18 is Record Story Day and bands galore are celebrating with special release. Two more: Black Kids’ limited-edition 10-inch vinyl of demos for the 2007 Wizard Of Ahhhs EP and the Dandy WarholsEarth To The Remix E.P. Volume Two, which, as the title implies, features four more remixes of tunes from last year’s Earth To The Dandy Warhols. A digital version of the Dandys’ effort will be available April 21. Download “The Monster Mish”Damon And Naomi, Saint Etienne, Laurie Anderson, Jarboe and others are featured on a Scott Walker tribute LP, out next month on Lakeshore Records. The CD accompanies 30th Century Man, a Walker documentary directed by Stephen Kijak … Civilized (Bloated Wife), the third album from the preciously monikered stellastarr*, is set for July 7. The first single, “Graffiti Eyes,” will be available on iTunes April 20 and featured on Gossip Girl that night. Set your DVRs if you must. Download “Sweet Troubled Soul (James Iha Mix)” … And continuing a tradition of defiling hallowed baseball venues with mediocre, cash-grab concerts—like Dave Matthews and Jimmy Buffett gigs at Wrigley Field or, worse, the upcoming Billy Joel/Elton John and Rascal Flatts shows at the Friendly Confines—iconic jam band Phish invades Fenway Park May 31. To be fair, Bruce Springsteen played Fenway once, and the Police played Wrigley last summer. But why can’t we just let these shrines to the national pastime serve their original purpose?

John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth”
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/GimmeSomeTruth.mp3