no need to get so obscure, you could just do a Death Cab for Cutie album.
And thanks to those of you who took the time to butter me up after my mini-hissy fit yesterday. Two picks to go. I promise to take them very seriously.
Pick #6 The Lucksmiths Naturaliste (2003)
There is a simple truth to my taste in music: if the guitars jangle, chances are I'll like it. I've had such a strong automatic reaction to that type of music over the years that it's always felt as though I'm just hard-wired to like certain artists. Such was my reaction to hearing Melbourne, Australia's The Lucksmiths for the first time. I somehow stumbled across "Camera-Shy," the first track on Naturaliste, shortly after the album's release, and within the first twenty seconds my reaction was this: "Well, of course I'm going to love this band for the rest of my life." It was just an immediate, almost visceral reaction to the guitar sound emanating from my speakers.
Truth be told, I could (but won't) write volumes just about "Camera-Shy" alone, a song that's easily in my top five all-time, and on certain days creeps into the top three. It's not just the guitar sound, which jangles merrily just like I like. No, it's the juxtaposition between the guitar and the wistfulness of the lyrics, which are all about awkwardness and regret (two feelings with which I can certainly identify), and it's the striking image in the first stanza which is perfectly echoed by the sound of the guitar:
"Heres me in 1981
Squinting into a sinking sun
Ankle-deep in the Pacific
In the foreground are my friends
Grinning madly at the lens
They look heliolithic"
It's just this crazy fusing of sound and emotion and memory that won't work for everyone but which never fails to sock me right in the gut. Rather than struggle to put it into words, here's the video and you can judge for yourself:
It wouldn't be unreasonable to compare The Lucksmiths' work to their Australian forebears The Go-Betweens, and while Naturaliste doesn't scale the same heights as that band's 16 Lovers Lane, their work treads the same territory and does so effectively: witty, hyper-literate lyrics (sung here by drummer-vocalist Tali White), songs bursting at the seams with melody, subtle vocal harmonies, and a knack for tapping perceptively into the simple details of everyday life. The virtuoso "Camera-Shy" is followed by the spare beauty of "The Sandringham Line" all brushed drums and quiet acoustic guitar which leads directly into the sprightly "Take This Lying Down," a song about nothing more complicated than breakfast in bed (which sounds terrible and twee and awfully awful, I know, but isn't).
One of the album's other standouts is "Midweek Midmorning," which rolls in on bouncing drums and a rapidly strummed guitar. White sings another of his deceptively simple lyrics, this time about enjoying the gift of a day off with someone you love. "You were never one for sleeping late/But oh! the working week can wait," he sings as a come-on, and heads off disagreement this way: "You might be less than overjoyed/Unimpressed and unemployed/But I refuse to waste this weather." Like "Take This Lying Down," it isn't complex, it doesn't solve any of the world's problems, but it's a simple (and simply beautiful) paean to enjoying life's little pleasures. By the time ebullient horns come in on the final lines, it's damn near irresistible.
If the album has a weakness, it's that the songs often too easily slot into a "fast one/slow one" dichotomy. You've got the ones like "Camera-Shy" and "Midweek Morning" that pulse with a nervous adrenaline (see also: "There Is a Boy That Never Goes Out" and "Sleep Well") and ones like "The Sandringham Line" that are slower and more sedate, built on acoustic guitars and tasteful horns (see also: "The Perfect Crime" and "What Passes for Silence"). It's a minor complaint, though. The fast ones are invariably joyful, the slow ones suffused with a hushed beauty there isn't a lot of variety, but it's a like a restaurant that does a few dishes well instead of trying to half-ass too much. And besides: any misgivings about variety will be swept away by gorgeous album closer "The Shipwreck Coast." White's delicate tenor drifts like fog over the titular shoreline, accompanied by a simple guitar line and mournful brass. It's a stunner.
The band broke up in 2009 after album First Frost. They were nothing if not prolific, so there's much to like in the rest of their catalog. They hit a serious stride in the early 2000's, so besides Naturaliste you might next explore 2001's Why That Doesn't Surprise Me and 2005's Warmer Corners. Both are terrific. Singer Tali White also formed side project The Guild League, which has three albums to its name and might as well be called The Lucksmiths, Jr.
Good call, Patrick. Funny that they don't have Kitchens of Distinction. It's obscure, but not that obscure. My last selection will be up tomorrow. Folks should be thinking about who wants to take over on Thursday or Friday.
Hrm. I think there was just really good stuff out when you were 14 or 15.
I dwell on stuff the stuff I listened to between 94-98. Still my favorite music.
I constantly get annoyed by people talking about terrible '90s music is because so many people seem to only be able to focus on a very tiny bubble of mainstream radio music, and the bubbles are different for different people. I have a huge affinity for early '90s records as well.
8/23-24/14 FYF Fest - Expo Park //8/25/14 Nine Inch Nails - Hollywood Bowl // 9/6/14 Elvis Costello & Ben Folds - Hollywood Bowl
9/12-14/14 Riotfest - Humboldt Park, Chicago, IL // 9/18/14 Neutral Milk Hotel - Hollywood Bowl
Pick #7 The Blue Aeroplanes Swagger (1990)
This shouldn't work. Some guy recites free-verse poetry over indie-rock guitars, occasionally abandoning his own verse to use that of Sylvia Plath's. There're songs about fossils and androgyny and the symbolic power of colors. Oh, and of the seven band members listed on the album sleeve, someone named Wojtek Dmochowski is credited with "Dance." It should be terrible. But for almost thirty years The Blue Aeroplanes have been pretty spectacular. They hit an early 90's high-water mark with Swagger and Beatsongs, and I probably could've chosen either (or both). But Swagger, their fourth album, was my introduction to the band, and remains my favorite.
You get a pretty good feeling of what you're in for from the offing. Vocalist Gerard Langley intones, "Pick a card, any card/Wrong!" over Angelo Bruschini and Rodney Allen's film-noir guitars, and opener "Jacket Hangs" lurches into motion. Langley gets most of the attention, and with good reason. He doesn't sing, not even in the way Lou Reed "sings," and his spoken-word approach which should come off like a gimmick but doesn't inevitably makes the listener focus on his poetry. It's surprisingly good stuff, certainly better than a lot of conventional song lyrics, turning on striking sensory images: the "sound of violins drowned in gunfire"; hands that "flutter round the neck/like nervous birds"; the "grass bank ghosts" left by a riverside. Langley doesn't do anything flashy with his vocals, and his unadorned recitation allows the music to do most of the heavy lifting.
And Bruschini and Allen truly do yeoman's work on this album. Like I said, Langley commands a lot of the attention, but it just wouldn't work without the dual guitar accompaniment. They do the bluesy spy-movie stuff on "Jacket Hangs," unleash an echoing whirlwind on "...And Stones," work themselves up into a righteous fury on "Weightless," and exercise some sheer pop smarts on "Love Come Round" and "Anti-Pretty." And then there's what is, for me, the album's highlight: the delicate, pastoral "Your Ages." Over chiming guitars Langley recites some of the most vivid, affecting verses on the album, urging a lover to take advantage of the time they have: "In ten years everything will bleach to primer/And we'll lie in the light, grass bank ghosts." As Langley makes his final exhortation, the guitars pick up the pace and build to a churning crescendo before slowly tapering off. Strong stuff.
There are some other tricks that add to the enjoyment of the album. Michael Stipe guests on "What it Is," adding some distinctively Stipeian "oh"'s and "ah"'s, guitarist Allen takes the mic on the pretty, mandolin-led "Careful Boy," and "The Applicant" is the previously-mentioned Sylvia Plath adaptation. The band makes the poem its own, turning it into a muscular, percussive tune, climaxing as Langley bellows, "Will you marry it?" The album ends with the relentless drone of "Cat-Scan Hist'ry," the building storm of guitars and Langley's repeated vocal line complemented by the squeal of violins and clouds of feedback. This is a band that does a lot of different things well, and they're all pretty much on display here. Swagger, indeed.
If you like this, Spitting Out Miracles (their third album) shows you how they got to Swagger. It's not as strong, but the foundation is there. And apart from Beatsongs, which I mentioned above and is very much worth your time, 1994's Life Model is also worth checking out. They took a little hiatus through the late 90's and early 2000's, but they've released two albums recently, 2006's Altitude and 2011's vinyl-only Anti-Gravity, both of which show a band in very good health.
2014 Collaborative Playlist on Spotify.
Bmack want to start this back up again?
Hey. I'm going to do this next week.
8/30: Peaking Lights @ The Chapel
9/3: Bear in Heaven @ The Independent
9/11: Tomas Barfod @ The Rickshaw Stop
9/12: Shifted @ Mercer
9/24 - 28: Decibel Festival
10/3-5: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
10/4: Ought @ BoH
10/5: The War on Drugs, Cass McCombs @ The Fillmore
10/18-19: Treasure Island Music Festival
There's so much out there, Tom. Those quotes will be gone in no time!