Tag Archives: 4AD

June 7, 2017 — “Skim” by Torres

Torres

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Skim” by Torres (2017, from the standalone single “Skim” and forthcoming album).

Torres is the stage name for indie rock musician Mackenzie Scott. She’s originally from somewhere in rural Georgia, and she got her start in Nashville. Her 2013 debut TORRES was my second favourite album of that year. Her sophomore release Sprinter was my 18th favourite album of that year. I also had the pleasure of seeing her at the 2013 Hopscotch Music Festival. Read about that here.

I didn’t have it on my radar, but Torres released a single and accompanying video yesterday via 4AD Records. I didn’t even know that she had signed with 4AD until I saw the video pop up in my twitter feed. She hasn’t divulged any details, but there apparently is a new album on the horizon.

I’ve only watched the video about a thousand times since last night. While the first record was more “indie folk” than rock and the second record was more “indie rock” than folk, it sounds like this might be something different entirely. It’s just one song, but this sounds like a new direction for her. This song reminds me quite a bit of St. Vincent’s marvelous 2011 album Strange Mercy. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that Annie Clark played guitar on this. If she didn’t, Torres is taking a page straight out of her book and a line from her page. Incidentally, I think Annie Clark has gotten a little weird since Strange Mercy, but that’s a different story for a different day.

This video has some strange direction, but it’s brilliant. It’s mysterious and sexy and dark and confusing. And I love it.

“Skim” by Torres

I absolutely love the line “There’s no unlit corner of a room I’m in”, and the line “I know every tense in which I cannot exist”. At least I think that’s what the line is.

The video was directed by Ashley Connor, who has directed lots of videos for Angel Olsen, as well as a few for Jenny Lewis, Jenny Hval, Julianna Barwick, and others. She also did the creepy/sexy/magnificent video for “Your Best American Girl” by Mitski. If you haven’t already, you should take the time to watch that video here. Just as she did with “Your Best American Girl”, Connor wants us to feel like creepy, filthy voyeurs with “Skim”. She also wants us to be confused. About a lot of things. No matter what, it’s a wonderfully shot video that has a few surprises in it. Also, as an added bonus, those scenes in the shower are also a subtle echo of some of the press photos from the first album. I like that.

As I said, there’s no word on when the new album is out, or even what it’s called. For the time being, we should just enjoy the video again and again.


05.25.13 — “Kingmaker” by Dead Leaf Echo

Dead Leaf Echo

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Kingmaker” by Dead Leaf Echo (2013, from the album Thought & Language).

Dead Leaf Echo is a dream-pop/shoegaze/ “nouveau wave” trio from Brooklyn. They’re heavily influenced by the music from the heyday of 4AD Records, and while listening to the album, it’s hard sometimes to remember that they’re from 2013 rather than 1992. You don’t have to know me very well to know that all of this adds up quite nicely for me. This new record, their debut, is a perfect fit in my record collection.

I should point out that this was a submission to the mailbag. I’m always accepting submissions to the mailbag. Just click on the “Mail Bag” link at the top of the page, where you’ll be directed to my electronic and physical mailing addresses. I like band bios and photos, which make my job a little easier. So send your submissions my way.

As you know from my recent run of posts about new records from Saint Marie Records, I’m pretty excited about the recent early-90s revival. While a lot of those fit under the “sounds like Slowdive” umbrella, this one is something else. Obviously there are times when I’m reminded of Slowdive while listening to Thought & Language, but I’m reminded even more of the brilliant and often underrated Pale Saints. And I always feel the need to point out that when I talk about the brilliance of Pale Saints, I’m mostly talking about what they did from 1989 to 1992. While I have no beef with Miriel Barham, the band suffered when Ian Masters left in 1993. Their final record was nothing to sneeze at, but it pales in comparison to the stuff when Ian was still on board.

We’re not here today for the purpose of talking about Pale Saints. We’re here for Dead Leaf Echo. The point, though, is that this song has some bits from 1:20 to 1:40 and from 3:00 to 3:20 that are really reminiscent of some Pale Saints stuff. Like if they mashed together the choruses from “Baby Maker” and “Throwing Back the Apple”. Later on on the DLE album, there’s a song called “Dream of the Soft”, which brings the Pale Saints song “Sight of You” to mind.

I like every song on the new Dead Leaf Echo record, but “Kingmaker” is the one that I keep going back to. This is that song:

“Kingmaker” by Dead Leaf Echo

While Thought & Language was created under the influence of 4AD, they also had some help from some really important players from those glory days. The album was produced by John Fryer, who production credits include:

  • the magnificent and criminally ignored Blow by Swallow
  • a few albums for the Cocteaus
  • all three This Mortal Coil records
  • a few records by Wire
  • Depeche Mode

That list goes on and on, but Fryer also, incidentally, worked with Pale Saints on one of their early EPs.

Also, the album cover and artwork for Thought & Language was designed by the legendary Vaughan Oliver, whose v23 and 23 Envelope Studios did the artwork for almost every album on 4AD in the early-mid 1990s.

While this album has those influential hands all over it, the band show that they earned the help of those giants. It’s a dazzling, sparkling, hypnotic record equal to or greater than each of its influences. I’d put this alongside In Ribbons any day of the week, and everybody knows how I feel about In Ribbons.

For extra credit, please watch the official video for “Kingmaker” here:

You can buy a download of Thought & Language from the band’s bandcamp page


April 25 — “Hot Burrito #1” as covered by Belly

Legendary country rock bassist Chris Ethridge passed away on Monday from pancreatic cancer. He was best known as a frequent collaborator with Gram Parsons, and a founding member of The Flying Burrito Brothers. After leaving the Burritos, he did some work with some giants of popular music such as Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman and Jackson Browne.

In honor of Ethridge, today’s song is a beautiful cover of “Hot Burrito #1”, as done by Belly. The song was co-written by Ethridge and Parsons, and it originally appeared on The Flying Burrito Brothers’ debut album The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969).

Belly’s version of it appeared on their 1992 EP Gepetto. There was a misprint on the initial pressing of the EP, which resulted in the song being mislabeled as “Hot Burrito #2”. That’s a different song altogether. Subsequent pressings of the EP corrected the misprint. The uncorrected records and CD digipaks have a white cover, while the corrected versions are black.

I’ve heard a lot of different covers of this song. To name a few: Elvis Costello, My Morning Jacket, Cowboy Junkies, The Black Crowes. They’re all good in their own way, even if they’re a bit unimaginative. I’m partial to the Belly version because, well…, it’s Belly.

Belly

Belly was an indie pop band founded in 1991 by former Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donelly. She recruited bassist Fred Abong, who also formerly played in the Muses. Rounding out the band were brothers Chris (drums) and Tom (guitar) Gorman. They only put out two proper albums, but loads of singles and a couple of EPs. The band was dissolved in 1996, and Tanya Donelly went on to make a handful of solo records.

I’ve always been partial to Belly’s first record — Star(1993)– which featured the mainstream pop radio hit “Feed The Tree”. I also like the second record — King(1995)– but I just go back to Star much more frequently. I’ve actually had an argument that nearly turned into a fist fight about this. Part of my hangup with King has to do with the change that brought Gail Greenwood into the band. I never liked her, and she was way out-of-place as Belly’s bassist. She looked and acted like she would much rather have been in L7. She got that wish when Belly disbanded. I actually, to this day, blame her for killing Belly. I’m glad that Tanya had a solo career, but I wanted more Belly.

So anyway, if you only listen to one song today, make it “Hot Burrito #1” as covered by Belly:

I like that unlike most cover versions, they weren’t shy with the drums. In the original version and in most cover versions, the drums are kinda sparse. Not that they’re heavy here. Just that they’re present right from the drop. The guitar is a bit more prominent, too. The original starts off with piano, then gradually shifts to guitar, but it’s never quite as front in the mix as this Belly version. The Elvis Costello and Cowboy Junkies versions both exaggerate the piano bits, practically turning the song into their own.

As much as I like the band, I’m not very fond of the Cowboy Junkies version of “Hot Burrito #1”. I hate the way Margo Timmins changed the lyrics to reverse the gender roles. The original lyric at the end of the first verse is

He may feel all your charms
He may hold you in his arms
But I’m the one who let you in
I was right beside you then

Timmins annoyingly changed that to

She may feel all your charms
You might hold her in your arms

Then in the second verse, there’s more. Parsons and Ethridge did it this way:

I’m your toy, I’m your ol’ boy
And I don’t want no one but you to love me
No, I wouldn’t lie
You know I’m not that kind of guy

Timmins changed it to:

You’re my toy. You’re my sweet boy
And I don’t want no one but you to love me
No, I wouldn’t lie
I know you’re not that kind of guy

I’m not sure why I’m annoyed by that, but I am.

Back on track to today’s song and why I prefer it over the others. With the help of Juliana Hatfield on backing vocals, Tanya sings it straight up. I respect the fact that she didn’t feel the need to change the roles.

I love the way she’s practically whispering at the beginning. Actually for almost all of the song. The third verse is the same as the second, and that’s where Tanya does her stuff. The second time through that “You know I’m not that kind of guy” section, she really belts it out. It gives me goose-flesh when she does that. It’s my favorite bit of the song.

The “white cover” version of the Gepetto EP with the misprint is out of print. There are some copies floating around, though. As cool as I think it is, the reality of it is that there isn’t very much collectible value to that misprint. There have been Beatles records with misprinted labels, and even those don’t have collectible value. They’re not coins or stamps, after all.

The “black cover” version has a different mix of “Gepetto”, and the misprint was corrected. It’s also out of print, but is much more readily available. Get it here.


April 4 — “Go Lady Go” by Mojave 3

Mojave 3

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Go Lady Go” by Mojave 3 (1998, from the “Some Kinda Angel” single).

Mojave 3 is an indie-folk band from England which rose from the ashes of the legendary shoegaze band Slowdive. After Slowdive’s third record —Pygmalion— failed to live up to the expectations of fans, the struggling label Creation Records dropped them from the roster. Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell and Ian McCutcheon (who were three/fourths of the band) immediately founded Mojave 3. Although the lineup is almost that of Slowdive, the two bands sound very little alike. Mojave 3 is heavily influenced by country and folk music as opposed to the dreamy shoegaze that Slowdive was doing.

It was a blessing in disguise for Slowdive to have gotten dropped. They were never going to do well on a label that was still too busy trying to recover from the debt that it accrued by financing My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Although that album was a masterpiece, and maybe as important as Pet Sounds, it financially ruined the label. It took nine years for the mortal wound to finally kill them, but Loveless was absolutely the reason. They were never in a situation to be able to support any of its other artists. When Mojave 3 signed to 4AD, they got a very good home. A label that takes very good care of its bands.

Mojave 3 released five albums between 1995 and 2006. They’re currently “on hiatus”, but there have been persistent rumours that they have been working on a new album, set for release some time in 2012. While that can’t really be confirmed, we do indeed know that Neil Halstead will be releasing his third solo record — Palindrome Hunches — in August, followed by a US tour in the autumn.

I don’t even have the most recent Mojave 3 record, and I would say that it’s pretty much a toss-up between Out of Tune (1998) and the 1996 debut Ask Me Tomorrow as to which is my favourite Mojave 3 record. Today’s song is a b-side from “Some Kinda Angel”, which is from Out of Tune. Here it is:

“Go Lady Go” by Mojave 3

One of the few holdovers from the “Slowdive sound” to the “Mojave 3” song is the presence of organs. There’s a lot of organ here. Another is the vocal harmonies between Halstead and Goswell. However, in Slowdive, the vocals were buried deeper in the mix, or made to blend in with the wall of sound. That’s not the case with Mojave 3. I guess those things are the highlight of the song for me.

Rachel’s vocals are, in fact, buried in this song. While she sings lead on a bunch of Mojave 3 songs, she’s barely but brilliantly used here. What I really like, though, is that the second time through the chorus, her vocals are upped a little bit. It’s a subtle difference, but listen for it and you’ll hear her more, especially in the bit that goes

Yeah, there’s a light shining down on you

I guess this is about finding your calling. Or more precisely, it’s about supporting someone as they go off to find their calling.

There is a light
shining down on you, girl
And I can see
that you need something new

Maybe shoving them out the door to find their calling. The second time to the chorus is slightly different

Yeah there’s a light
shining down on you
and I don’t mind
to help you out the door

It’s about telling her that whatever that thing is, it probably isn’t going to come knocking on her door. She’s gotta go find it. But more importantly, it’s about saying telling her that she’s destined for something great (the light shining down on her), and that she’s wasting her time hanging around here. Even if she can’t see it. Back to a bit earlier in the song:

You need someplace else to go
I said “Go, Lady. Just go”.
‘Coz I don’t want you walking ’round the wall

This is exactly the opposite of the kind of thing that happened with Sharon Van Etten. The guy in this song is saying “you’re going to make it, but not if you hang around here. I don’t want to be in your way. Go Lady go”. In Sharon Van Etten’s life, it’s a widely reported story that she had a boyfriend who tried to stifle her creative ambitions. Her record Tramp makes a lot of reference to that scenario. In her song, “Give Out” which is autobiographical, she basically says “It took me a while to figure it out, but you’re in my way. I’m leaving”

As confidence is speaking to me
I loosen my grip from my palm
put it on your knee, in my way
I say
You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city
or why I’ll need to leave

There’s no doubt that Sharon Van Etten has found the light that was shining down on her. And I will highly recommend all of her records. Here’s what I wrote about her song “Serpents”, a couple of weeks before Tramp was officially released. I don’t want to digress too much. Today’s post is supposed to be about Mojave 3.

The physical form of “Some Kinda Angel” has fallen out of print. A lot of things on the 4AD label fell out of print when they had a huge warehouse fire last summer when the kids all over the UK were rioting in protest of a police shooting. However, copies still exist, and they can be had for a reasonable price through the amazon.co.uk store here.


February 28 — “Baby Talk” by Lush

Lush

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Baby Talk” by Lush (1989, from the mini-album Scar). Lush was a shoegaze-y ethereal pop band from London. They were active from 1987 to 1998, but only released three proper albums in that span.
One of the founding members of Lush was vocalist Meriel Barham. Shortly after they started, she left Lush to join Pale Saints. It was an amicable split that benefited both bands. It was only then that Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson assumed the responsibility of singing. Miki did most of the vocals, while Emma remained primarily a guitar player. And a very good one at that.

They started off as sort of a punk band and didn’t take the songwriting aspect very seriously, but they made a sudden shift, and it paid huge dividends. After making a decision to take being in a band seriously, they ended up with a deal on 4AD records. You all know how much I love that label, but also how much of a huge deal it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Their first release was a six-song “mini LP” called Scar, which was enormously successful in the UK. They were also putting on some really great live shows. They had good looks, charisma, great songs, and a bit of good luck. They were all anybody was talking and writing about in the UK. A couple of EPs later, they were still enjoying success in the UK, but they had barely made any impression in the US.

4AD decided to compile the Scar mini-LP, the Mad Love EP, and the “Sweetness and Light” single. They put these into one package with two “bonus” tracks and targeted the United States with the Gala compilation album. It was released in the autumn of 1990 and was promoted with a video for the song “De-Luxe”. That video was my introduction to them, and I’m sure I went out and bought Gala Monday morning after seeing it on “120 Minutes” Sunday night.

Today’s song is one of my favorites from the Gala compilation, and I’m writing about it today because I woke up with it in my head. That kind of thing happens sometimes for unknown reasons. It’s rarely the way that I select my song of the day, but it’s a big part of the reason that I started this blog.

“Baby Talk” by Lush

It looks, on paper like it’s a song about pregnancy. However, I get the feeling that the pregnancy images are metaphoric. Whether it’s literal or metaphoric doesn’t have any impact, though, on what I think about the music. It’s great.

It’s not the bass part that I like. It’s Emma’s blistering guitar part contrasting it. She was underrated as a guitarist. Maybe because she’s a woman. Maybe because she played in a band that was only hugely popular in the UK. Maybe because she wasn’t the front of that band. I don’t know, but she did some really amazing things with Lush.

As Lush moved forward in their career, they got further and further away from the shoegaze. 1992’s Spooky was in the same vein as their previous stuff, but something happened between then and 1994, when they released Split. By the end of it, by the time they released Lovelife in the spring of 1996, they were writing big, anthemic brit-pop songs. That was what it took to sell records in 1996, and I can’t blame them for doing it, but I wish they had remained the ethereal shoegaze band that I fell in love with.

In the autumn of 1996, drummer Chris Ackland hung himself. The shock was more than the rest of the band could take. After a period of mourning, they were going to carry on, but they officially called it quits in February of 1998.

Both Scar and Gala are out of print. It’s easy enough to find used physical copies, at least of the CD format. Vinyl is another story. There’s not any need to have Scar since the entirety of it appears on Gala. Find a physical copy of Gala, but if you can’t, you can get digital copies from your normal legal downloading place.


January 18 — “Teenage Sensation” by GusGus

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Teenage Sensation” by GusGus. (1999, from the album This is Normal)

GusGus

GusGus are an Icelandic electronic group that came up in the late 1990s. Between 1995 and 2002, they spit out five studio albums. Since then, they’ve done three. If I’m honest, I had no idea that they were still in business until I started writing this.

Between about 1998 and about 2003, I had a bit of an “electronic” phase. Prior to then, my relationship with electronic music was adversarial at best. I had a girlfriend who I dated for two different one-year stints, separated by a ten year gap. She was pretty obsessed with the stuff. I wouldn’t have any part of it the first time we were together. Towards the end of my bizarre “electronic” phase, she was back in my life and I would listen with her and explore new artists with her. By then, she wasn’t into going to raves anymore, so I got a pass on that, but it was something that I could share with her that I wasn’t willing to the first time around. Independent of that relationship ending, my interest in electronic music also ended. That’s just anecdotal information, though.

I’ve had a lifelong passion for the 4AD Records label, and these guys had a contract with 4AD. It was, then, a no-brainer for me to be into this.

These days, I find some of the electronic music in my library really hard to stomach. Partly because I don’t think it’s aged well. Partly because my taste has changed. However, some of the albums and some of the songs from that age of electronica still blow me away.

This song is one of those songs.

This is Normal was the third album in their catalog and the highest-charting. “Teenage Sensation” was always my favorite song on the album. I’m surprised to learn, just now, that it wasn’t one of the singles from the album.

Not so much with the rest of the album, but on this song, I’m very much reminded of the first Hooverphonic record. I guess it’s the almost whispered soprano vocals. Mezzo-soprano? I don’t know. I wasn’t a music major. Anyway. I love the vocals. With the pulse of the beat, it’s just so sexy.
Speaking of which, there’s no two ways about it. This is a about sex. It’s actually about creepy sex with a borderline child.

I can look
And I can touch
My teenage sensation
And I think
Maybe it’s wrong.
How young is too young?

But that’s neither here nor there. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last that a really good song turns out to be about that kind of thing.

Creep factor aside, it’s a fantastic song.

Buy the song or the whole This is Normal album using the band’s bandcamp page.


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