Lost in the ’90s | Pale Saints

I always thought of Pale Saints as the ultimate 4AD band — having aspects of the label’s best-known groups: the ethereal shimmer of the Cocteau Twins, the off-kilter arrangements and rhythms of Throwing Muses, and the sonic roar of the Pixies.

Backstory: Formed in 1987 in Leeds, England, the band consisted of fey-voiced bassist/frontman Ian Masters, guitarist Graeme Naysmith and Chris Cooper on drums, and they later picked up Meriel Barham, who had been in an early line-up of Lush, who provided vocals and guitar, rounding out the band nicely. Masters quit in 1993, but the rest of the band carried on without him for four more years.

Recommended discography: 1990’s The Comforts of Madness is noisy but there are some some great songs under the squall. In contrast, 1993’s In Ribbons is pretty and polished — Barham’s voice, songwriting and textured guitar is a welcome addition. Both are highly recommended. This was also the era of the EP, where every song seemed to
count, and almost everything Pale Saints released was worthy with nary a wasted track. Of the EP’s, 1991’s Flesh Balloon was probably the best, featuring "Hunted" which would turn up the following year on In Ribbons, plus a great instrumental, "Porpoise," and a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s "Kinky Love" which got a fair amount of play on 120 Minutes. 1990’s Half Life EP is probably the weakest, with tinny production by Wedding Present knob-twiddler Chris Allison, but the title track is good. If you can find it, pick up the Japan-only compilation Mrs. Dolphin which contains Pale Saints first three EPs, plus a couple rarities. I’m not a fan of Slow Buildings, made after Masters left.

Where are they now? After leaving the group, Masters went onto a number of other projects, including Spoonfed Hybrid, ESP Summer, and Friendly Science Orchestra. He now lives in Japan and maintains a web presence at the Ministry of Spoons. Barham spent time in late ’90s Britpop bands Rialto and the Warm Jets (who I liked) and is currently in a band called White Hotel that I can’t find any information on. Naysmith and Cooper continued playing together in bands Lorimer and the Terminals.

Links: MySpace, 4AD, semi-official fan site

Buy: Amazon.co.uk | iTunes

And a bunch of music to check out:

MP3: Pale Saints – Sight of You (Barging in the Presence of God EP)

MP3: Pale Saints – You Tear the World in Two (The Comforts of Madness)

MP3: Pale Saints – Colours and Shapes (rarity from Mrs. Dolphin)

MP3: Pale Saints_Half-Life Remembered (Half-Life EP)

MP3: Pale Saints – Kinky Love (Flesh Balloon EP)

MP3: Pale Saints – Throwing Back the Apple (In Ribbons)

MP3: Pale Saints – Blue Flower (Slapp Happy cover, via Mazzy Starr, from In Ribbons)

Lost in the ’90s: Lotion

Writing about the Luna Lounge got me thinking about Lotion, one of my favorite NYC bands of the ’90s. Which in turn gave me an idea for a new feature here: Lost in the ’90s. There are certainly a treasure-trove or great bands who got lost in the shuffle between grunge, Britpop, and boy band mania. My first installment…

Years active
: 1991-1999

Backstory: Singer Tony Zajkowski said Lotion originally formed as an excuse to make band flyers, and theirs became somewhat legendary around the Lower East Side — cleverly appropriating a flurry of brand logos as their own. (Zajkowski was/is a graphic designer.) The got the idea from UK rave posters, and Lotion initially wanted to be an American version of what was going on in Manchester. They wisely dropped that element and focused instead on crafty pop, often with complex time signatures.

Claim to fame: There’s a few. Lotion were one of the first to receive "Cute Band Alert" status in Sassy; their debut Full Isaac was named Album of the Year by the Village Voice (though not in the Pazz & Jop poll); and perhaps most notably, the famously reclusive Thomas Pinchon penned the liner notes to their second album, Nobody’s Cool.

ETC: Lotion continued to play Luna Lounge even after their popularity had grown enough to play bigger places. Those shows, often playing unannounced on a Friday or Saturday, late after the last scheduled band, were loose, boozy affairs, loaded with the band’s affinity for covers. One night I saw them perform kick-ass versions of "This Charming Man," "Brand New Key" and "Love is the Drug."

What to buy
: It got the least acclaim of Lotion’s three studio efforts, but The Telephone Album, is hands-down their best. Ambitious, melodic, muscular, clever… Lotion in a nutshell. It also contains the band’s finest pop moment, "Feedback Queen." Followed quickly by Nobody’s Cool and Full Isaac, in that order. You can skip The Agnew Funeral EP, but if you can find their four-song debut EP released on Kokopop, snatch it up immediately. All their CDs are out-of-print (though available on iTunes) but easily found on Ebay, Amazon, and your local record store’s used bin (sadly).

Where are they now? Tony Zajkowski and drummer Rob Youngberg formed Honeycomb early this decade that were equally pop-friendly but added a multimedia element to their shows that made them unique. Despite winning some big Best Unsigned band contest a couple years ago, I’m pretty sure they’re now defunct, though the website still exists. Tony is a mainstay at NYC’s Loser’s Lounge tributes. As for the rest of the band… no idea what happened to brothers Bill and Jim Ferguson. If anyone out there has the scoop, please write in. Meanwhile, here’s a song from each of Lotion’s albums:

MP3: Lotion – Head
| From Full Isaac. Best song ever about a dog’s envy of it’s owner’s new baby.

MP3: Lotion – Marijuana Vietnam
| From The Agnew Funeral EP, by special request.

: Lotion – Rock Chick | From Nobody’s Cool. I still can’t figure out the time signature of this song. The piano solo (played by Loser’s Lounge founder Joe McGinty) that is the song’s latter half is second only to The The’s "Uncertain Smile."

MP3: Lotion – Feedback Queen
| A perfect pop song, just ridiculously catchy, yet it never gets old.