Incense And Documents: The Definitive Albums Of The Paisley Underground

dreamsyndicateDREAM SYNDICATE The Days Of Wine And Roses (Ruby/Slash, 1982)
The dream that grunge was made of. Steve Wynn made like a lucid version of Lou Reed, Karl Precoda squeezed jagged sparks from his barely tuned axe and Dennis Duck and Kendra Smith kept the beat. “Tell Me When It’s Over” might be the best song ever penned by a Paisley group, single-handedly resurrecting the ghost of the Velvets and making guitars cool all over again. Later name-dropped by Kurt Cobain as a formative influence, The Days Of Wine And Roses is scheduled for reissue this summer by the Rhino label.

RAIN PARADE Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (Enigma, 1983)
David Roback’s first Paisley endeavor was heavily indebted to the folk/rock bands that made up the first wave of L.A. psychedelia: Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Love. Sprinkling in a pinch of Television’s two-guitar pixie-dust, Power Trip scores with the beautiful calling-card “What’s She Done To Your Mind,” setting the stage for Roback’s eternal search for the slow-motion chord in Opal and Mazzy Star.

BANGLES All Over The Place (Columbia, 1984)
Before the money (and Prince) rolled in with “Manic Monday” and “Walk Like An Egyptian,” there was this LP, one of the finest girl-group/garage-band albums ever recorded. Equal parts Troggs, Rubber Soul and Mamas And The Papas, All Over established Susanna Hoffs as the most recognizable voice of the Paisley Underground, whether belting out “Hero Takes A Fall” (written for Wynn) and “James” or adding a floating layer of harmony to their classic rendition of Kimberley Rew’s “Going Down To Liverpool.”

THREE O’CLOCK Sixteen Tambourines (Frontier, 1983)
At the intersection of the Monkees’ buoyant bubble-pop and the Hollies’ more sophisticated juxtaposition of harmony and melody came
Sixteen Tambourines, the Three O’Clock’s first album after an EP and a previous release as the Salvation Army. “Jetfighter” established Michael Quercio and Co. as the power-pop masters of their day, while their unusual use of the organ—when married to dance beats—would surface again in the sounds of Madchester bands like the Charlatans UK and Inspiral Carpets. Pure pop for now people.

GREEN ON RED Gas Food Lodging (Enigma, 1985)
These Arizona transplants were instrumental in forging the nascent sound of “desert rock,” taking Neil Young’s mid-‘70s work with Crazy Horse as a starting point and adding a honky-tonk swing. Frontman Dan Stuart was believed by most to be the guiding artistic light of the Paisley Underground, a poetic genius with an ear for phrasing and a way with a riff. Groups like the Meat Puppets, Giant Sand and Calexico claim kinship with the embryonic sound and vision found here.

LONG RYDERS Native Sons (Frontier, 1984)
Sid Griffin’s Long Ryders (“The perfectly right band at the perfectly wrong time,”according to U.K. critic Johnny Black) paved the road for the alt-country legions who followed in the ‘90s. Taking Gram Parsons’ “cosmic American music” and applying it to the ragged sensibilities of the punk movement then flourishing in L.A., Native Sons (the Ryders’ second album) pointed the way for fans such as Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown, who would later found the alt-country nation on the bedrock of musical strands heard on this album.

OTHER NEEDLES IN THE PAISLEY HAYSTACK
TRUE WEST Hollywood Holiday (New Rose, 1983): produced by Wynn
LEAVING TRAINS Well Down Blue Highway (Bemisbrain/Enigma, 1984): produced by Roback
NAKED PREY Under The Blue Marlin (Frontier, 1986): produced by the Dream Syndicate’s Paul B. Cutler
CHRIS CACAVAS AND JUNKYARD LOVE Chris Cacavas And JunkYard Love (Heyday, 1989): a “supergroup” consisting of members of Green On Red, Opal, Long Ryders, Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade

—Corey duBrowa

Frank Black: Odd Ball

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Former Pixie and long-standing master of the obtuse, Frank Black evinces a small change by taking rock ‘n’ roll head-on. By Matthew Fritch

In a very cold, dank basement lit by a bare lightbulb, I’m at long last face-to-face with Frank Black. Alias Black Francis. Alias Charles Thompson. Alias Chuck. Notorious agent of the underground, complicated code-talker and former leader of a well-known organization responsible for sinister innovations like the “Bone Machine” and the “Wave Of Mutilation.”

A rusted instrument lies on the small table that separates us. A silent man with close-cropped blonde hair sits behind me lighting a succession of cigarettes. This is good. I’m thinking Marathon Man, I’m thinking I have ways of making him talk, I’m thinking … that I’m interrogating Frank Black with the fumbling ineptitude of Colonel Klink.

MAGNET: Throughout your career, you’ve sung in Spanish, French, German. What is it about foreign languages or phra—
Black: “Psycho killer! Qu’est que c’est! Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa …
MAGNET: Sure, but—
Black: “Mi-chelle, ma belle, sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble …
MAGNET: Point taken. Maybe another way of asking the question is what you find compelling about non-literal lyrics.
Black: You ever listen to a Beatles record? Why don’t we do it in the road? No one will be watching us. Why don’t we do it in the road? Birthday. You say it’s your birthday. Birthday, birthday, birthday.

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Stephen Malkmus: Being Stephen Malkmus

“I’m not what you think I am,” declares Stephen Malkmus on his post-Pavement solo debut. No, he’s not really Yul Brynner or the King Of Siam. But it’s still a wonderful life. By Jonathan Valania

I’m driving Stephen Malkmus’ car. In America, that’s tantamount to possessing someone’s soul. But wait, it gets better: I’m listening to Slanted And Enchanted—make that Malkmus’ copy of Slanted And Enchanted—and it sounds great as I tool down the sun-kissed streets of Portland, Ore., with the windows down and the stereo up. There’s a parking ticket flapping beneath the windshield wiper—and it bores me. I look around at all the people, and I just don’t care. Not a care, really, in the world. I am, for a moment, Stephen Malkmus, fortunate son. Listen to me, I’m on the stereo.

Actually, I’m driving Malkmus’ girlfriend’s car. Which you would know is even better if you’ve ever seen his girlfriend. Her name is Heather Larimer, and she’s beautiful and bright and 28. She was a cheerleader and she has a master’s degree in creative writing—a major-league summer babe (AOL Keyword: Babia Majora). By the time you read this, you may have already seen her singing in Malkmus’ new band, the Jicks. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s back up.

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Elliott Smith: Emotional Rescue

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If it’s true that only love can break your heart and that only a love song can help to mend it, then the fitter, happier and more productive Elliott Smith is healing by the thousands. By Jonathan Valania

With all due apologies to Nick Hornby, here are my desert-island, top five break-ups of all time:

5) Colleen Reese: Beautiful girl. I loved her with all my heart. To quote Weezer, we were good as married in my mind. Sadly, we never lasted past kindergarten. Break-up record: “Seasons In The Sun” by Terry Jacks.

4) Christine Thompson: Golden-haired Teutonic goddess. Because we were the tallest in our sixth-grade class, we always got seated together in the back. Somewhere along the way, she turned into a “bad girl” and got shipped off to Catholic school. Break-up record: “Come Sail Away” by Styx.

3) Tracy Stocker: Cute as a button, head majorette. I took her to the junior-high prom. Didn’t see her all summer, and my terminal shyness around girls forbade me from telling her I still liked her when we met up again in high school. She wound up going out with some jerk who wanted to kick my ass. I should’ve let him. Break-up record: Abbey Road by the Beatles.

2) Lynette Miller: Smart, sultry and voluptuous. High school sweethearts, we lost our virginity together. Probably should’ve married her, though I practically did, as we dated on and off for the next 15 years. Living together put an end to that. This just in: She said yes when the keyboardist in her band proposed onstage a few nights ago. Break-up record: “So. Central Rain” by R.E.M.

1) Jude Gillespie: Breathtaking, ruby-haired beauty with a heart as big as the great outdoors. Really should’ve married this one. She wanted to, but I was too wrapped up in my own bullshit, which is pretty much all she left me with. Break-up record: Figure 8 by Elliott Smith.

And now, it would seem, all my trains have left the station.

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Q&A With Matthew Sweet

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Beginning with 1991’s Girlfriend (after two major-label albums essentially went unnoticed) and continuing through 1999’s In Reverse, Matthew Sweet has staked his claim as one of the most consistent pop/rock purveyors. Fittingly, Sweet has capped his decade of quality work with Time Capsule: The Best Of Matthew Sweet 1990-2000 (Volcano), an 18-track (two are new) retrospective. Not beholden to a label for the first time in 10 years, Sweet is now focused on writing music for himself before figuring out what kind of record he’ll make and for whom. As quick with a laugh as with a self-deprecating remark, expressing even the most depressing thoughts with a chuckle, Sweet walks us through some career highs and lows.

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