Category: Reviews: S-V

The Styrenes – Essential Styrenes Vol. 1 (1975-1979)

ARTIST: The Styrenes

TITLE: Essential Styrenes Vol. 1 (1975-1979)                    r-4432280-1364729490-3484.jpeg

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Drano in Your Veins, I Saw You

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

LINEUP: George Klimek, Paul Marotta, Anton Fier, Mike Antle, Jim Jones, other various drummers and bassists

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Arising out of the ashes of the early avant-garde Cleveland scene, the Styrenes were born, and wallowed in serious obscurity until people started to pay attention to Pere Ubu. Then they were just obscure.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Cleveland in the early 70’s produced some dark avant-garde rock, and after the first wave of bands came and went (including Mirrors and the infamous Electric Eels), the Styrenes formed.

Their first single (“Drano in Your Veins”) rather much captured it all. They weren’t loud and destructive – at least on record – they were subversive in other ways. The lyrics were just weird, art damaged maybe (early on), and the arrangements were a bit odd and off-putting. Later, they added saxes, shed members (many, like Anton Fier, joined Pere Ubu or other Cleveland bands) and Paul Marotta’s piano took more prominence. They were still weird.

This compilation covers their Cleveland years, containing the best two singles and album highlights. This was released originally as two 7” records, which was probably the perfect format for them.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They moved to New York, recorded an album, waited about eight years, recorded another one, and somehow Marotta have kept a version going.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE C+: Google the lyrics to “Drano in Your Veins”. If you can dig it, you can dig this. It’s just inconsistent weirdness.

 

Robin Trower – For Earth Below

ARTIST: Robin Trower                 220px-robin_trower_-_for_earth_below

TITLE: For Earth Below

YEAR RELEASED: 1975

CHART ACTION: #5 US, #26 UK

SINGLES: Shame the Devil

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: It sold, but it’s not played now.

LINEUP: Robin Trower, James Dewar, Bill Lordan

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Trower plays it safe with his third album, basically a stylistic repeat of his breakthrough.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I suppose that there’s nothing wrong with an artist making an album in the same mode as their previous work, but the former Procol Harum guitarist made Bridge of Sighs 2 with this release.

Not to say that this is a bad record. There’s definitely some cuts here to thrill the rock-and-rollers and the guitar fiends. James Dewar’s vocals fit the blues motif of the songs pretty well, and Trower adds some spacey rock guitar all over the place. That’s fine, but it’s becoming formulaic.

This sold a lot of records, hence the chart activity, but it’s hard to listen to now unless a satellite radio station programs a cut somehow. That’s a shame, because even Trower repeating himself is worth a listen or ten.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: In case you were wondering, he’s a Startocaster maven/

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B: It’s perfectly okey-doke, but it’s not a revelation as his other solo albums were. It’s just workmanlike rock-and-roll.

The Thermals – Fuckin A

ARTIST: The Thermals                  220px-the_thermals_-_fuckin_a

TITLE: Fuckin A

YEAR RELEASED: 2004

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: How We Know

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Um..doubtful

LINEUP: Hutch Harris, Kathy Foster, Jordan Hudson

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Thermals move into being a real band, and their fury lit up the Pacific Northwest.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s hard to believe that Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster were folkies before the Thermals, but they were. Now that Harris, Foster, and Jordan Hudson became the Thermals after Harris recoded and album under that name, there’s no ‘folk’ here, unless it’s the punk rock for the people as the new ‘folk’.

Harris’ guitar screams and howls, much like his vocals on many tracks. Foster’s bass is in the Laura Balance mode, distortion and volume and working in lockstep with drums. There’s definitely passion and fire here.

It’s under 30 minutes long, but it doesn’t seem like a rip-off. Harris’ vocals and lyrics point to the anger the youth felt about the world in the mid-2000’s. A leap forward and worthy of your catalog.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was recorded in four days, in a studio (unlike their debut)

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE A-: The Thermals were a hidden gem of the 2000’s, and this record truly started them toward toward their glory days.

Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf the Second

ARTIST: Steppenwolf                        220px-SteppenwolfTheSecond

TITLE: The Second

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #3

SINGLES: Magic Carpet Ride (#3)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Radio stayed away from the rest, and still does.

LINEUP: John Kay, Michael Monarch, Goldie McJohn, Rushton Moreve, Jerry Edmonton.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Steppenwolf’s second (hence the title) is lighter at times, more psychedelic, more political, and more of a hodge-podge (and strained through a Leslie, as it were).

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Magic Carpet Ride” was a monster hit, of that there is no question, and is one of the best hard psychedelic songs from the era. And at first listen, this record seems like it will be a worthy successor to their first album.

Yet upon more listens, it seems weaker and more unfocused.

The band does try to mix up their sound, getting quieter at times and diminishing the hard sound of the first album. But many of those quieter songs don’t really stand up to scrutiny, with only “28” really being outstanding, while “Tighten Up Your Wig” sounds nice but is a blatant rip of “Messin’ with the Kid”.

The sides end with lengthy tracks. “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” is a ham-fisted pro-pot song, while the end of Side Two is a long suite with five tracks that range from hard rockin’ to scarily political. There’s some duds in there which dilute the quality of the suite.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Drummer Jerry Edmonton sings two tracks, the openers to each side.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B: There’s enough good stuff in here to have it over a greatest hits album, but it’s not as good as I thought it was when I was young.

Stellastarr – Stellastarr

ARTIST: Stellastarr          Stellastarr_Stellastarr

TITLE: Stellastarr

YEAR RELEASED: 2003

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Somewhere Across Forever, Jenny, My Coco

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Shawn Christensen, Amanda Tannen, Michael Jurin, Arthur Kremer

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: NYC based band meshes a lot of influences into something that’s not quite original, but enjoyable.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Some good riffs, backing vocals by a female bassist, and a frontman that has a quirky shouty singing voice. It may be a little Column A and Column B, but it’s still enjoyable.

Shawn Christensen’s voice can be overbearing at times (he’s not subtle, but not outrageous), and he and Michael Jurin do a good job in making guitar sounds. They bounce from the 80’s to the 90’s in style, so they’re not breaking new ground here. And even if you don’t quite remember “Jenny”, you definitely recognize the motif. “My Coco” even has a little bit of Low in it at the beginning before it moves to an 80’s alt-rock style.

Some of their songwriting here is just average, and they don’t really slow down well. Still, it was a decent debut and one to re-visit if you missed it the first time.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Christensen, Tannen and Kremer met at Pratt Institute and had a band that dissolved upon graduation, but later added Jurin and formed Stellastar.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B+: Pleasantly cromulent 80’s and 90’s alt rock nostalgia.

Tsunami – The Heart’s Tremolo

ARTIST: Tsunami                       Tsunami-The_Heart's_Tremolo

TITLE: The Heart’s Tremolo

YEAR RELEASED: 1994

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Be Like That

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Jenny Toomey, Kristin Thomson, John Palmer, Andrew Webster

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: DC area band and record label owners second full length runs into a rut of same-same and bad production.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I guess I DON’T have to follow the hipster crowd on some things. One of these is this Tsunami record.

Critics loved this band, but they must have seen them live, because on record they sound flat, have same-same songs, and have mixing and production issues. I can her fits and starts of songs that sound good, but when they get to the chorus it blurs together, at least in my ears.

Tsumani has a great DIY and independent legacy, and I don’t mean to belittle that. It’s just…I don’t get this record. It’s probably on me.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: After this, they took a hiatus as Andrew Webster finished his degree.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE C: It’s probably a cop-out review but I’ll exile this and see if my ears perk up for their final album.

20/20 – Look Out!

ARTIST: 20/20                                      R-2470935-1285873847.jpeg

TITLE: Look Out!

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

 

CHART ACTION: #127

SINGLES: Strange Side of Love,

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Only if you adore power pop

LINEUP: Steve Allen, Ron Flynt, Joel Turrisi, Chris Silagyi.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from relocated Midwestern power-pop quartet is hooky and melodic

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Power pop was either a hit or miss (usually a miss) on the charts, since it fell in between radio-friendly rock, pop, and adult contemporary and only the catchiest tracks could catch on with the radio.

Which means a band like 20/20, who had catchy hooks, harmonies, and interesting songs and melodies, didn’t catch a break in the era when the Top 40 was transitioning away from disco and into new wave and arena rock.

This second foray by the band covers a lot of the same ground as their debut. Some of the tracks near the end didn’t work as well in reality as in concept, and at times it felt like a slight re-write of the first one. Still, there was enough here that it could have done better on the charts had radio taken a flyer on it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They added a new drummer, and after the album only Allen and Flynt remained.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Two extra tracks.

 GRADE: B+: A few duds near the end, otherwise another good representation of power pop.

Suede – The Best of Suede

ARTIST: Suede                                          BestofSuede

TITLE: The Best of Suede

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: #31 UK

SINGLES: Top 10: Metal Mickey (#7 US Modern, #17 UK), Animal Nitrate (#7 U), Stay Together (#3 UK), Trash (#3 UK), Beautiful Ones (#8 UK), Saturday Night (#6 UK), Lazy (#9 UK), Filmstar (#9 UK), Electricity (#5 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Brit-pop fans know the B-sides and album tracks here

LINEUP: Brett Anderson, Mat Osman, Bernard Butler, Simon Gilbert. Richard Oakes replaced Butler halfway through their hit tenure. Neil Codling joinde on keyboards later.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the original Brit Pop bands (taking the UK over from the Madchester scene), Suede’s singles were at times rock, pop, and bombastic prog all rolled into one.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: A combination of sex, drugs, and glammy rock-and-roll, Suede’s influence and popularity in the UK is greater than we’ll ever know here in the US. Yet, the band was a tinderbox due to tensions through recording and touring. and the drug use of singer Brett Anderson.

Britpop didn’t make much of a ripple over hear (Oasis and the odd Blur track notwithstanding), and while the themes of Suede’s music had an audience here. At times Suede were too bombastic and really worshiping at the altar of Bowie and Marc Bolan. When Bernard Butler left, Anderson didn’t quite have the musical partner he needed.

This is a good introduction for most of the curious in the US, as it covers most all of their A-sides from their classic period, and has a few B-sides and album tracks. That second disc does drag a bit and lowers the grade, as some songs are definitely exile-worthy..

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Here, we have to officiallycall them the London Suede, but I’m not going to.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The first disc is the hits. The second are Brett Anderson’s favorites.

 GRADE: B : Had it been the first disc, it’s definitely an A-. The second disc has some duds.

The Statler Brothers – Flowers on the Wall: Essential Statler Brothers / Gold

ARTIST: The Statler Brothers

TITLE: Flowers on the Wall: Essential Statler Brothers 1964-69 / Gold essential statler

YEAR RELEASED: Compilations

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 10: Flowers on the Wall (#4, #2 Country), Ruthless (#10 Country), You Can’t Have Your Cake and Edith Too (#10 Country), Bed of Roses (#58, #9 Country), Do You Remember These (#105, #2 Country), The Class of ’57 (#6 Country), I’ll go To My Grave Loving You (#93, #3 Country), Thank God I’ve Got You (#10 Country), Do You Know You Are My Sunshine (#1 Country), Who Am I To Say (#3 Country), The Official Historian on Shirley Jean Berrell (#5 Country), Nothing as Original as You (#10 Country), (I’ll Even Love You) Better Than I Did (#8 Country), Charlotte’s Web (#5 Country)…and more.

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Susan When She Tried

LINEUP: Harold Reid, Lew DeWitt, Don Reid, Phil Balsley. Jimmy Fortune came in for Lew DeWitt later.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Two comps for classic country vocal group allows you to make one good one but with two omissions you need to grab. statler gold

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Statler’s got their breaks with “Flowers on the Wall” and then opening for Johnny Cash for about a decade. They were singers in the gospel quartet tradition and they also had a sense of humor and parody. The harmonies they sang were impeccable, and notable for Harold Reid’s booming bass.

They had a huge collection of hits, and gained steam after leaving cash thanks to some great TV marketing and appearances. Their hits collection was advertised on independent stations everywhere. Anyone of a certain age knows at least snippets of their biggest hits.

Yet despite the riches here, Gold focuses too much on later material and omits two tracks almost everyone knows: “What Ever Happened to Randolph Scott” and “The Movies”. That downgrades that collection. The earlier collection doesn’t have as many hits, but has some nice material that would have fit nicely with Cash on stage.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Not brothers, but named after a Kleenex box they found in a hotel room.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. There are other compilations, but with split record companies it’s hard to get the early stuff and later stuff together, and they don’t solve the issue of “Randolph Scott” missing.

GRADE: B / B-  Gold needed a better selection and pacing.

Squirrel Bait – Squirrel Bait

ARTIST: Squirrel Bait                                    220px-Squirrel_Bait_Squirrel_Bait_EP_

TITLE:  Squirrel Bait

YEAR RELEASED: 1985

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Technically an EP

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Well, maybe if you followed the family tree of Slint.

LINEUP: David Grubbs, Clark Johnson, Brian McMahan, Peter Searcy, Ben Daughtry. Britt Walford drummed on two tracks taken from their demo.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Punky band from Louisville document themselves after opening  for several prominent bands who were touring in the midwest.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: These were kids who were inspired by the punk scene and not radio. Just out of high school, they toured with Husker Du and Black Flag, among others, and got enough buzz to get in a bidding war of sorts between punk labels before settling with Homestead.

The sound is definitely an evolution of the original punk scene, with melodies and textural changes that complement the punk, and doesn’t sound like it was grafted onto it unwillingly. “Sun God” may be the beginning of the emo movement with Peter Searcy’s pleading over a simple guitar line, then a mild cacophony. It’s like Die Kreuzen with better production and a better lead singer.

There’s still a lot of hardfastrules here, but the variety in sounds is something that differentiated the band from other youngsters trodding the punk rock boards in the 80’s

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Steve Albini designed the cover. .

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: B+: Pretty good EP that was influential for the right people.