Book Review: Spiderland (33 1/3 series) by Scott Tennent

Spiderland (33 1/3 series)
by Scott Tennent
Continuum; 2010

My Rating: A

I can remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1994, and I was a freshman in high school, examining a double-sided, photo-copied Slamdek Records catalog. My eyes fell upon a blurb about a band named Slint, and I fixated on a quote that went like this: “Even Stone Temple Pilots rip off big ideas from these guys.” Not that I was an STP fan, but it didn’t take me long to realize that these Slint guys were a big deal. A few days later, I boogied on up to Mike Bucayu‘s Blue Moon Records in Holiday Manor and bought myself a cassette copy of Tweez. So, when I popped that sucker into my bookshelf setup, and the first discordant notes of “Ron” came blaring through my speakers, I was a little taken aback. Was this really the pride of Louisville?

Suffice to say, eventually I got it, and that’s why I’m pleased to say that Scott Tennent has finally written THE BOOK on Slint, a band that was heretofore the subject of so much conjecture, hearsay, and legend that it was often hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Starting in 1982 with Brian McMahan‘s first band, Languid and Flaccid, the book not only serves as the definitive story on Slint, but it also covers just about everything you’d want to know about seminal Louisville acts like Squirrel Bait, Maurice, and Solution Unknown. Tangentially, it even goes quite a ways toward revealing some of Will Oldham‘s artistic roots as well.  Through in-depth research and first-hand accounts from Dave Pajo, Todd Brashear, Ethan Buckler, and the imminently quotable Sean “Rat” Garrison, Tennant takes the band from cradle to grave, telling the story of the band’s origins as a Pajo/Britt Walford side project, Steve Albini‘s early embrace of the band, the controversial Tweez sessions and departure of Buckler, the second Albini session that produced the Glenn/Rhoda 10″, their efforts to establish themselves as a live act in 1989 and 1990,  the Spiderland sessions, and the band’s subsequent demise in late 1990.

Along the way, Tennent’s account is revelatory, capturing the artistic dynamics that went into composing and making Spiderland, and demonstrates that Slint were truly aiming for something new and unique. They were a band driven towards the sort of precision and craftsmanship that is often dismissed by rock musicians, and one gets the sense from reading Spiderland that one of the reasons the record is so special is that those guys cared about the placement and performance of every single note. Tennent’s analysis of Spiderland‘s tracks is quite insightful as well, and even for those, like myself, who have listened to the record dozens of times, it refreshes the record and illuminates just what it is that makes it such an uncanny experience. Let me just put it this way: having just finished Tennent’s Spiderland, “Good Morning, Captain” sounds even greater.

It’s about time someone got around to writing this book. Tennent’s Spiderland is HIGHLY recommended for any Slint fan, Slint-curious music fan, Slint-skeptic, or fan of interesting music in general.

Scott Tennent’s blog, Pretty Goes with Pretty
Wikipedia article on Spiderland

Quick Review (LP): Cerebellum by Cerebellum

Cerebellum
Cerebellum LP
Noise Pollution; 2010

My Rating: A-

Best Tracks: “Fire”, “Marble”, “Calm”, “Crawl Out of the Water”

The first five songs were originally released in 1989. This band produced future members of Crain, Rodan, Matmos, Parlour, and other post-punk pioneers. What we have here is, on one hand, above average fare for a group of high-schoolers looking to imitate their musical heroes. On the other hand though, there is evidence of real creative vision here, and the melodies are especially strong on “Fire”, “Winter”, and “Calm.” “Marble” is a lovely little Smiths-esque piece; Drew Daniel’s adolescent-in-longing vocals evoke an incredible nostalgia for me now. The best thing here though is the brand new recording of “Crawl Out Of The Water” (one among five such tracks). It sounds outstanding, and feels more like a long lost Crain track (which it pretty much is) than anything else. Most of the music world probably won’t care about this, but they should.

Louisville Hardcore History band story
Slamdek band story
Buy the album

Worth Shouting About: Free EP from Follow The Train!

The Great Disturbance EP

Well that’s just too cool — the apparently re-united Louisville space-rock powerhouse Follow The Train is giving their 2005 (out-of-print) EP The Great Disturbance away for free on their newly re-vamped website. So give the second track, “Wake Up”, a listen below, and then head on over and download some costless goodness. And while you’re there, you may as well pick up Mercury or A Breath of Sigh, excellent releases in their own right…

If you’ve never heard Follow The Train, you’re in for a dose of anthemic, dreamy rock that is part-U2, part-Pixies, part-Afghan Whigs, and part-Cure. That is to say, there is a late-80’s indie throwback feel to their work, a sound I’m happy to hear making a resurgence in their little corner of the music world. Enjoy!

Download Follow The Train’s Great Disturbance EP for free.

Listen to “Wake Up” by Follow The Train:

Career In Brief: My Morning Jacket

photo via YouAintNoPicasso.com

CAREER IN BRIEF: MY MORNING JACKET

From A Dreamer’s Dorm Room To Indie Rock Hegemony

Indulge me – MMJ’s meteoric rise to indie ascendancy can be paralleled with Google’s synchronistic rise to technological domination over the course of the last decade. Both began as the pet projects of nobody visionaries in the late 90’s; both slowly made a name for themselves by promoting humanistic ideas and an optimistic worldview; both went “big time” around the middle of the last decade; and both continue to push the envelope of what is still humanly possible in their respective realms.

While those similarities may be general enough to warrant comparisons between my sock drawer and Google, My Morning Jacket indeed achieved a profound rock and roll transcendence over the last 12 years by putting on one of the best live shows around (stealing the show quite frequently as an opening act and on a few occasions at Bonnaroo)  and pushing the limits of what rock and roll can be in a decidedly post-rock age. Led by hyper-charismatic frontman Jim James, the band is given to some excess, which has manifested itself on albums that are sometimes a little too drawn out, but that hasn’t stopped the fans from coming back for more. MMJ is in the business of action-packed indie rock blockbusters, and even if they do manage to lose the plot every once in a while, the spectacle is so brilliant that it’s hardly noticeable.

Personally, I’ve always had a preference for MMJ’s softer side. While classics like “The Way That He Sings” and “One Big Holiday” do bring down the hammer of the gods, James’ art shines brightest in quiet, humble settings. Their full-length debut, “The Tennessee Fire”, is still one of the high music points of the last 15 years, and similiar brilliance can be found sprinkled throughout their releases, from the weird-coustic of “Sooner” to an intergalactic cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” If you’re new to MMJ, my 20-song sampler below is a good place to start, but once you’ve fallen for the band, just sit back and enjoy the ride, one album by one.

20-TRACK SAMPLER
Mageetah
Olde Sept. Blues (Ga-Ed Out)
By My Car
Sooner (AC version)
Xmas Curtain (AD version)
Heartbreakin Man
Golden
O Is The One That Is Real
I’m Amazed
Rocket Man
Wordless Chorus
Off The Record
Anytime
Two Halves
Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2
Lowdown
The Way That He Sings
Bermuda Highway
One Big Holiday (live – OKONOKOS)
I Just Wanted To Say


MAJOR/NOTABLE RELEASES:

The Tennessee Fire [1999] (A+): One of the most stunning debuts of the last 20 years, The Tennessee Fire radiates a sort of sleepy-eyed, post-apocalyptic Americana haze that sets it apart from the rest of the band’s catalog. It’s a slideshow of twilight dreams, the sort of record that seeps in through the pores of your skin and becomes a part of you. Magnificent. (R: “Heartbreakin Man”, “Old Sept. Blues”, “By My Car”)

Does Xmas Fiasco Style [2001] (B): The only bad thing I can say about this is that it’s merely an EP, and thus only 5 songs. Only 3 of these tracks are originals, but they come off as potential Christmas classics in the old-school sense. You won’t find corny jingles about Santa Claus (ok – you’ll find one, though it’s obscure), but you’ll find plenty of homegrown nostalgia through and through. (R: “Christmas Time Is Here Again”, “I Just Wanted To Say”)

At Dawn [2001] (B+): The band makes the jump from hushed, lo-fi Kentuckiana alt-country to full-spectrum, wall-of-sound rock. James’ muli-tracked voice really shines here, and although there is a bit of filler (“Honest Man”, “If It Smashes Down”), the highlights are so grand that you’ll barely notice. (R: “Lowdown”, “Bermuda Highway”, “The Way That He Sings”)

Split [2002] (C-): “O” and “Come Closer” would have made a solid 7″ single by themselves – the other 2 tracks are essentially throwaways. (R: “O Is The One That Is Real”)

Choclate & Ice [2002] (A): James takes a detour toward his softer side on what is essentially a solo affair, although the eccentric “Sooner” and the epic “Cobra” would figure prominently in the band’s live sets in the years to come. C&I is the sort of indulgent interlude that demonstrates that great artists sometimes make their best stuff when fewer people are looking. (R: “Cobra”, “Sooner”)

It Still Moves [2003] (A-): The band’s major label debut features the glorious “Mahgeetah” and the gorgeous “Golden.” The recording doesn’t quite achieve what they seem to have been going for (sounds a little hollow rather than cathedral-esque), but nevertheless this is an outstanding set of songs that would form the core of the band’s live sets for the next 7 years. (R: “Mahgeetah”, “I Will Sing You Songs”, “Golden”)

Acoustic Citsuoca [2004] (B+): James once again attacks things mostly by himself on this live recording. “The Bear” sounds incredible and “Sooner” sounds fantastically cross-eyed. My only complaint is that it isn’t a full-length. I would have loved a whole record of solo Jim James at this point (how about a live cover of “Rocket Man”, plus more Omnichord please!!!!). (R: “Sooner”, “The Bear”)

Chapter 1 [2004] (C+): Sure, b-sides, rarities, and demos are great, but there’s a lot of filler here. I’d rather get one CD of the best stuff. Why no “RIPVG?” (R: “Weeks Go By Like Days”, “Rocket Man”, “Olde Sept Blues (Ga-Ed Out)”)

Chapter 2 [2004] (C): See comments for CHAPTER 1. (R: “Tonite I Want 2 Celebrate w/ You”, “Tyrone”)

Z [2005] (A): An album shot through with questions about endings and what lies beyond, it’s perhaps the most soulful record in the band’s entire catalog. “Knot Comes Loose” is priceless, featuring JJ at his most vulnerable. Elsewhere, “Wordless Chorus”, “Gideon”, and “Anytime” deliver the most grandiose rock sound since the good parts of Use Your Illusion. Another masterpiece. (R: “Wordless Chorus”, “What A Wonderful Man”, “Dondante”)

Okonokos [2006] (A-): Let’s face it – MMJ have made their name as a live act. OKONOKOS is the first, full-blown testimony to that fact. The recording quality is marvelous, and you haven’t heard tracks like “One Big Holiday”, “Run Thru”, and “Dondante” until you’ve heard them live. I would have liked a tiny bit more from the older records, but there’s so much here, it’s hard to complain. (R: “One Big Holiday”, “Run Thru”, “At Dawn”)

Evil Urges [2008] (B-): The band reaches for something even bigger than Z on their fifth full-length, incorporating R&B and funk influences and even diving headfirst into some throwback numbers. Although some of it pays off (“Thank You Too”, “Two Halves”), some of it falls short (“Librarian”, “Highly Suspicious”). All in all, not bad, but a step down from Z. I’m hoping to see the band re-charge their creative batteries, re-consider their vision, and deliver a fantastic, left-field follow-up sometime in 2011. A full-length solo record from JJ wouldn’t be bad either. (R: “I’m Amazed”, “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream pt. 2”, “Thank You Too”)

Rarities: JJ is the sort of creative genius who records 5 new songs before breakfast. There exists an extensive back catalog of home and 4-track recordings from the old days, as well as early, lost recordings that will probably never see the light of day. The band hasn’t recorded a ton of b-sides since they made it big, but when they do, they are generally of a pretty exceptional caliber. Early acoustic ditty “RIPVG” is definitely worth seeking out, as is the full band recording of “Chills” and a handful of other great tracks (esp. their cover of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference”). (R: “RIPVG”, “Chills”, “How Could I Know”, “Where To Begin”, “It Makes No Difference”)

Best Breezes: 2010/05/10 – 2010/05/16

Best Breezes brings you the most notable threads of the past week in great music…

Jason Noble Benefits Spell Reunions from Cerebellum, others…

This weekend saw several benefit shows in my hometown of Louisville, KY for Jason Noble of Rachel’s, Shipping News, and Rodan fame.  Not too far back, Jason was diagnosed with cancer, and the outpouring of support over the last few months serves as a better tribute to him than I can possibly do here.

The big name to reunite was of course Endpoint, who played together for the first time since 1994. Sunspring joined them on Friday night, also for the first time since 1994. The biggest deal for me though was Cerebellum, who played together for the first time since 1989. Cerebellum morphed into Crain, who were one of the greatest bands to come out of Louisville and recorded the classic album Speed.

Cerebellum were great in their own right, charged through with youthfulness and optimism. Their sole release, a self-titled cassette on Slamdek Records, has gotten the re-release treatment on Noise Pollution, with the added bonus of five newly recorded “oldies.” To give you some idea of how awesome this is, it is sort of like Minor Threat getting back together and recording some early, proto-Fugazi tracks.

Check out Cerebellum playing “Calm” here…



New Arcade Fire on the way…

All the music websites were abuzz with the possiblity of a new record from Arcade Fire. Nothing particularly concrete yet, but the band’s website definitely alludes to something big coming our way soon

Free Josh Ritter concert…

The Frontloader has a complete audio recording of Josh Ritter’s 5/8/2010 performance at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Band sounds great, Josh sounds great, recording sounds great. Why don’t you have this yet?

Lala shutdown

Major bummerooski as Lala.com announces that it is closing its door for good. This was by far the most useful website to come along in, well, ever…I hope something comes along to take its place soon.

Wax Fang rising

Wax Fang are a sort of prog-punk from Louisville, featuring drummer Kevin Ratterman, formerly of Elliott. It sounds like they are making a huge buzz on the international scene right now, and they have just re-released their only full-length LP, La La Land, on Absolutely Kosher Records. Check them out here:

New Low Anthem track...

Brought to us by HearYa…live video of a new track from The Low Anthem, “I’ll Take Out Your Ashes.”

Is it just me, or is 2010 turning out to be the best year for music in recent memory?

Second Story Man: Screaming Secrets (2010)

Second Story Man
Screaming Secrets
Noise Pollution; 2010

My Rating: 69/100

Tragically under-recognized Louisville band delivers a solid third full-length…

Having grown up in Louisville, I’m astonished to say that while I have known of Second Story Man for years now, their third long player SCREAMING SECRETS is my first full length exposure to the band. I’m not really sure why. As a 90’s scene kid, I was a fan of the members’ work in bands like Itch House and The Flats, but for whatever reason, Second Story Man have managed to hover just below the national radar for 12 years now. While they have toured occasionally with the likes of Shipping News and Sebadoh, they have otherwise contented themselves with churning out apparently masterful noise pop records whenever the mood strikes them. So unfortunately, I can’t really speak to Second Story Man’s growth as a band, but I can attest to the fact that this is a marvelous record that will most likely go tragically under-recognized. SECRETS succeeds by finding a Beatles-esque middle way between the ultra-dynamic river city indie of hometown greats like Slint and Rodan and the scrappy indie pop of early 90’s Chapel Hill bands like Superchunk and Polvo. While opener “The Want Within the Need” and A-side closer “Traffic Jams” attest that the band can rock at full-power, I find myself continually drawn to the lilting and lush “Quietly” and the pastoral acousti-pop of “Suicide Dream.” Elsewhere, the dissonance of “Flies” recalls Murray Street-era Sonic Youth, and “The Mav” best exemplifies the band’s powerful dual vocal approach. Given the overall quality of SCREAMING SECRETS, I’ll definitely search out the band’s back catalog. Having grown into this record over the last few months, I can entusiastically say that it’s high time the world get to know Second Story Man.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)


Tracks:

1. The Want Within the Need (4.5/5)
2. Clocks (4.5/5)
3. OompaLoompa (4/5)
4. Quietly (5/5)
5. Traffic Jams (4/5)
6. Flies (3.5/5)
7. The Mav (4/5)
8. Floor Falls Out (3/5)
9. Suicide Dream (4.5/5)
10. Bottom Line (3.5/5)

START WITH: Quietly, The Mav, The Want Within the Need

Follow the Train: A Breath of Sigh (2006)

Follow the Train
A Breath of Sigh
Darla Records
My Rating: 79/100
Akwardly enchanting lullabyes…
After one listen to Follow the Train’s A BREATH OF SIGH, there’s no denying their influences: Afghan Whigs, The Cure, Joy Division, The Replacements, and, in general I’d say, the overall aesthetic of John Hughes. They are not unique in this regard. Plenty of bands continue to tread the familiar ground of the early indie greats, but it’s in the angle and the execution that Follow the Train manages to stand out from the pack. You won’t find sheening, over-produced hipster-bait here. Follow the Train write endearingly simple, stumbling odes to the finer things in life. The lovely “Endless Summer” sets things off on a nostalgic breeze, while “Flower” blooms into a striking love song. Tracks like “I’m Not Sorry” and “Thin in the Skin” demonstrate an inherent starkness to the overall sound of the album, as if each song was inspired from a black-and-white photo. Sometimes, there seem to be ghosts herein, benevolent beings for sure, but spooks nonetheless. My only complaint would be that the album is front-loaded – the first three tracks are just fantastic, and then it trends ever so slight downhill. Otherwise, a great record, one that has me thirsting for their (unfortunately posthumous) follow-up.
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Tracks
1. Endless Summer (5/5)
2. Flower (5/5)
3. I’m Not Sorry (5/5)
4. Thin in the Skin (4/5)
5. Up in Flames (4/5)
6. Kentucky (4/5)
7. Original Disconnect (5/5)
8. Afraid (3.5/5)
9. An Akward Lullaby (4/5)
10. Remember (4.5/5)

followthetrainFollow the Train
A Breath of Sigh; 2006
Darla Records

My Rating: 79/100

A breath of fresh air…

After one listen to Follow the Train’s A BREATH OF SIGH, there’s no denying their influences: Afghan Whigs, The Cure, Joy Division, The Replacements, and, in general I’d say, the overall aesthetic of John Hughes. They are not unique in this regard. Plenty of bands continue to tread the familiar ground of the early indie greats, but it’s in the angle and the execution that Follow the Train manages to stand out from the pack. You won’t find sheening, over-produced hipster-bait here. Follow the Train write endearingly simple, stumbling odes to the finer things in life. The lovely “Endless Summer” sets things off on a nostalgic breeze, while “Flower” blooms into a striking love song. Tracks like “I’m Not Sorry” and “Thin in the Skin” demonstrate an inherent starkness to the overall sound of the album, as if each song was inspired from a black-and-white photo. Sometimes, there seem to be ghosts herein, benevolent beings for sure, but spooks nonetheless. My only complaint would be that the album is front-loaded – the first three tracks are just fantastic, and then it trends ever so slight downhill. Otherwise, a great record, one that has me thirsting for their (unfortunately posthumous) follow-up.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)

Tracks

1. Endless Summer (5/5)
2. Flower (5/5)
3. I’m Not Sorry (5/5)
4. Thin in the Skin (4/5)
5. Up in Flames (4/5)
6. Kentucky (4/5)
7. Original Disconnect (5/5)
8. Afraid (3.5/5)
9. An Akward Lullaby (4/5)
10. Remember (4.5/5)