Classic Alternative: Green River “Dry As A Bone/Rehab Doll” [Sub Pop]

Due to frequent championing by Kurt Cobain, the Melvins are regarded by many as the granddaddies of the late-’80s/early-’90s Seattle grunge scene. Predating Buzz Osborne and Co. by at least a year, however, were the true progenitors: Green River. Not only did Green River exemplify the collision of punk, metal and classic rock that became the early Seattle sound’s calling card, but it eventually spawned some of the most recognizable faces of the grunge era. It’s an oft-told story, but following Green River’s split in 1988, singer Mark Arm formed fuzz-rock titans Mudhoney with Steve Turner (an earlier member of Green River), while Jeff Ament, Bruce Fairweather and Stone Gossard teamed with singer Andrew Wood in the decidedly glammier Mother Love Bone. When Wood became a heroin casualty, Fairweather went on to Love Battery, while Ament and Gossard started a little band called Pearl Jam. Green River’s sophomore effort Dry As A Bone and swan song Rehab Doll hit the streets in 1986 and 1988, respectively, before Sub Pop combined the two for a seminal 1990 release. If you’re at all familiar with its legacy bands, the Green River sound is exactly what you would expect, with the tension of competing styles (Arm’s unhinged, punk-rock shriek vs. Gossard and Ament’s bluesy metal wanking) forming a singular, if combustible, mix. “Unwind” is typical, hearing Ament and Gossard opening with some textbook electric blues; Arm plays along for a while before delivering the line “I can … fuck your mind” in his high-volume sneer, effectively kicking the band headlong into a boozy, proto-grunge romp. The impact is something akin to a beer bottle to the head, and it still reverberates 20 years later. [www.subpop.com]

—Matt Ryan

 

Funny Guys Andrew Earles And Jeffrey Jensen Sign To Matador; Yeah THAT Andrew Earles

Judging from the volume and content of letters submitted to MAGNET over the past few years, readers will be either delighted or appalled to learn that contributing writer Andrew Earles (author of Where’s The Street Team?) has signed to Matador to issue a comedy CD. Earles & Jensen Present: Just Farr A Laugh Vol. 1 And 2, due in April, consists of prank phone calls by Earles and partner Jeffrey Jensen. Listeners expecting Jerky Boys-style locker-room humor will be disappointed; the duo instead traffics in slow-developing, character-driven calls. One features the singer of a smooth-R&B cover band called Bedroom ETA attempting to secure a gig at a Memphis blues club, while another has a junk-collector type attempting to sell Garfield memorabilia to an antiques dealer.

“We wanted to make a different type of prank-call CD,” says Earles. “One devoid of cruelty and overstuffed with pop-culture references.”

Continue reading “Funny Guys Andrew Earles And Jeffrey Jensen Sign To Matador; Yeah THAT Andrew Earles”

RADIOHEAD: In Rainbows [self-released]

It’s tempting to spend as much time contemplating the tectonic-plate-shifting dynamics of how Radiohead’s seventh full-length was released as it is to analyze the actual content of In Rainbows. So let’s suspend discussion of the nearly $10 million worth of website downloads the group purportedly generated before the album was officially made available in a store (this based upon an average user-set price of $5 US per album, the best estimate we’re likely to see outside of Camp Radiohead itself) and concentrate instead on the music. Which, as it happens, is some of Radiohead’s most interesting work of the past decade and yet, simultaneously, a strangely subdued collection of songs. We’ve all watched Thom Yorke’s psyche be picked apart ad nauseum since the self-loathing “Creep” made its way into pop consciousness. There’s no need to engage in amateur-hour psychology here, given that a) Yorke has made clear he’s not the most trustworthy narrator even on his best days and b) In Rainbows continues to mine the same themes of alienation, societal collapse and/or “that flavor of gum I like’s not in stores anymore” he’s been exploring since the band first ventured beyond Oxford’s cozy confines. What that leaves us with is a set of compositions that are decidedly less icy than the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions (maybe Yorke’s nascent solo career has helped to vent that particular vein of synthesized musical expression) but still less rocking or expressive than the group’s decade-old OK Computer high water mark. Some of the quintet’s finest ballads can be found here, non-traditional though they may be. Longtime live favorite “Nude,” the down-at-the-mouth “All I Need,” the neo-bossa nova “House of Cards” and the unapologetically lovely “Faust Arp” represent real melodies and bona-fide songcraft, a feature often missing from Radiohead’s output in the ’00s. These ballads set the tone for In Rainbowsas a “group of guys well into their thirties taking stock of life” exercise, a notion that even the album’s more experimental tracks (“15 Steps,” the album’s most Kid A-like moment; the distortion-heavy “Bodysnatchers”) fails to undermine. Which leads us back to the business-model question. As the music industry’s most high-profile band of free agents, it’s a fascinating bit of career theatre to watch Radiohead playing out its options so publicly while the peanut gallery decides how they factor into the Pop Life. Sure, it may represent a holding pattern while Radiohead decides what its next move should be, but In Rainbows made you look, didn’t it? [www.radiohead.com]

—Corey duBrowa

Please Explain: Stephen Malkmus

What’s up with your passion for fantasy sports? We heard you played online multi-player basketball while recording your latest album, Real Emotional Trash (Matador).

I’m the commissioner for the basketball league that (current Jicks bandmates) Janet Weiss, Joanna Bolme, (Pavement drummer) Bob Nastanovich and others play in. People can protest trades, and I can flat-out reject them if I think they’re unfair. But I won’t, because we’re all adults, and people can make their own choices. Within reason. Lately, I haven’t cared about who wins the NBA Finals—it’s just a show, entertainment. The Spurs win because they do lots of fundamental things well. But fantasy is where the fun is. It’s streaky, guys drop like flies from injuries, people do well for a short time, then someone else shines and does well. You start the season full of hope, then you ride the wave.

Q&A With eels

eels510

As the old blues chestnut insists, if it wasn’t for bad luck, eels’ Mark Oliver Everett (better known by his monosyllabic moniker, E) wouldn’t have no luck at all. Having lost his father as a teenager, the Virginia native made his way to Los Angeles in the ’80s, releasing a few underheard solo albums before unexpectedly hitting it big with the quirky alterna-anthem “Novocaine For The Soul” in 1996. Then the loss came in waves: Everett’s sister, who had battled schizophrenia most of her life, committed suicide later that year, and in 1998 his mother died of lung cancer. (Moreover, Everett’s cousin was a flight attendant on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.) eels are commemorating a decade’s worth of work with the best-of Meet The Eels Essential Eels Vol. 1 and its odds-and-sods companion piece, Useless Trinkets (both on Geffen/Universal), which document Everett’s struggle to retain his humanity and humor in the face of insurmountable sorrow.

Continue reading “Q&A With eels”

THE BREAKUP SOCIETY: Nobody Likes A Winner [Get Hip]

Newspaper writer and music critic Ed Masley—originally from Pittsburgh, now hailing from Phoenix—pens songs akin to those of kindred spirit Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5). Both offer plenty of I’m-a-loser-but-hey-so-are-you tales, spiking any self-flagellation with plenty of insight into everyone else’s pathetic human condition. Fittingly, McCaughey contributes lead vocals to the jangly “By A Thread” here, and it’s a compliment to Masley that the tune would fit perfectly on a YFF or Minus 5 effort. On the sophomore Breakup Society LP, Masley’s tough-and-tender tunes also bring to mind the storytelling of Fountains Of Wayne: “When she was young, he used to bring her flowers,” sings Masley on “13th Angry Man.” (His somewhat thin voice resembles FOW’s Chris Collingwood.) Most material here, though, is usually delivered with a rougher, YFF-y power-pop attack. Masley scores, too, with slower fare such as “This Little Tragedy,” a biting rebuke of someone who needs to get over himself, couched in a soft, gorgeous melody. If it’s true that nobody likes a winner, this album is definitely in trouble sales-wise. But Masley probably knew that going in. [www.gethip.com]

—Matt Hickey

The Aliens: Space Is The Place

After the Beta Band crashed and burned under a dark cloud of drugs and mental illness, some of its members picked up the pieces to form a fitter, happier psych/pop group called the Aliens. By Neil Ferguson

It’s a balmy early Friday evening in one of the less salubrious neighborhoods of the nation’s capital, and I find myself backstage in a venue called the Rock & Roll Hotel. I’m here to talk to cosmic Scottish three-piece the Aliens, who consist of erstwhile Beta Band members John Maclean and Robin Jones, plus Beta Band founder and occasional Lone Pigeon Gordon Anderson.

They’ve just finished soundchecking on the fourth night of their inaugural U.S. tour and have agreed to discuss their days as art students, the Beta Band and their current incarnation. The Aliens are enjoying widespread critical acclaim for their debut album, Astronomy For Dogs (Astralwerks), a gorgeously frazzled, kaleidoscopic explosion of Day-Glo psych/pop. Right now, however, I can barely get a word in. As they reminisce about how they met, the conversation rapidly descends into inter-band piss-taking, with each member ridiculing the worthlessness of the others’ individual tastes at the time.

“Fuck me, John,” splutters Anderson. “You were into some really bad dance stuff. The Brand New Heavies?”

“Yeah, well,” counters Maclean, “you were listening to what’s quite possibly the worst album of all time.”

Continue reading “The Aliens: Space Is The Place”

Q&A With Dean Wareham

As frontman for Galaxie 500 and Luna, Dean Wareham lived and prospered through two decades of indie rock. MAGNET spoke to Wareham about his memoir, an honest and surprisingly juicy behind-the-scenes look at bandmate squabbling, life on the road and the perils of cult stardom.

Dean Wareham speaks in a soft, cultured voice, punctuated by a lot of easy laughter. His frankness is a little jarring, so far is it from the cryptic tenor of the songs he wrote for Galaxie 500 and Luna. But then, Wareham has just spent a year and a half penning Black Postcards: Unreleased B-Sides And Notes From The Road (Penguin Press), a memoir of his years recording and touring with those now-defunct bands. And in order to do that, he’s been opening up lots of old wounds.

If there’s a more immediately terrifying phrase in English than “open-mic poetry,” it’s “rock memoir,” a mongrel bastard of a genre that encompasses everything from muckraking oral histories to ghost-written stroke jobs. But Wareham’s fame, such as it is, has always hinged on the fact that his bands never achieved the popular acclaim his critical rep might’ve suggested. As such, the enigmatic quality of his music, released on both indie and major labels, has always been very much a part of his public persona. And there’s a big chapter of his professional history—the acrimonious split with Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, his bandmates in Galaxie 500—about which he’s never spoken in detail.

Continue reading “Q&A With Dean Wareham”

EX-BOYFRIENDS: In With [Absolutely Kosher]

It’s not always easy coming up with nice things to say about an ex. But in the case of Ex-Boyfriends, genuine expressions of goodwill aren’t too difficult. The San Francisco trio refines its alternately fizzy and edgy pop/punk on the follow-up to 2006’s admirable-yet- disheveled Dear John. The group has never been one to play coy with its sexuality. Its MySpace page pretty much lays it out: “We are looking for bands that like to take long walks on the beach, cuddle for hours on end, watch Merchant Ivory films and love taking it up the ass.” Yet Ex-Boyfriends don’t spin their preference in the sack as a gimmick, either, choosing instead to see love, lust and the inevitable pain that accompany both as boundless, universal and unavoidable necessities no matter which way you lean. In fact, there’s nothing especially novel about Ex-Boyfriends’ approach. Strummed electric guitars unfurl simply with an algebraic precision (see the Sugar-y “Private D”); rhythms lurch and lunge with new-wavey panache (take your pick from a handful of XTC moments). In the end, In With’s indecisiveness is its sole drawback. A do-we-rock-out- mindlessly-or-cozy-up-and-get-cerebral? waffling is embodied in frontman Colin Daly’s oddly noncommittal vocals, which can’t quite reconcile the bawdy holler of a young Andy Partridge with the forlorn coo of James Mercer. [www.absolutelykosher.com]

—Hobart Rowland

MAJOR STARS: Mirror/Messenger [Drag City]

Listening to the sixth record from Boston’s Major Stars is a little like stumbling across a character-rich old house that’s just been given a fresh coat of paint. You can appreciate the restoration effort, but some of that ragged old charm is inevitably lost. Led by psych veterans Wayne Rogers and Kate Biggar, Mirror/Messenger still offers plenty of face-melting guitar workouts consistent with the band’s past fondness for 15-minute epics. But much of the LP is dominated by the brassy, bar-band howl of singer Sandra Barrett, which adds an unexpected and presumably unintentional layer of gloss. This being her second album with the band, Barrett’s vocals mesh well with certain tracks (the sprawling “My People,” the roaring “Can’t End Today”), but it’s sometimes a relief when her contributions are set aside and the band can fire all its engines without having to make room for a classic-rock hook. Mirror/Messenger is more approachable with its shorter track lengths and head-bobbing choruses, but it’s less memorable as well. Progress, you just can’t stop it. [www.dragcity.com]

—Chris Barton