Synth You Been Gone

With labels like Wierd and Captured Tracks trotting out bands like Xeno & Oaklander and The Soft Moon, that early '80s synthpop sound is back in a major way. Which also means the original bands are back in a more-or-less major way too. Even ones you didn't know were back…well, they are! Here's five to prove it.

The Human League – Credo
Late-'70s post punk industrialists turned genuine '80s megastars thanks to hits like "Love Action," "Mirror Man," "The Lebanon" and now karaoke favorite "Don't You Want Me." The Human League actually never broke up and have released albums in the '90s and '00s.

Does it Sound like The Human League: Phil Oakey, Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley are working within the template the band created for Dare!, right down to the synth sounds and boy-girl vocals. 

An eye to the future: Apart from some prominent use of Autotune on a few tracks, 

Should it exist? Not bad. lyrically a little dull (or in the case of "Night People," annoying), The Human League still know how to write a catchy tune. But you won't be putting away your copy of Dare! any time soon. 

Then: These Are the Things Dreams Are Made Of
Now:  Get Together

Orchestral Manoeuvers in the DarkHistory of Modern
One of the great synthpop bands and certainly one of the best live ones.The "classic line-up" that gave us OMD classics like "Enola Gay," "So In Love" and "If You Leave" reformed in 2007. The US just got it's first tour in 25 years.

Does it Sound Like OMD: Yes! "New Babies, New Toys" owes more than a little, melodically, to "If You Leave." Andy McLuskey's voice is still in fine form.

An eye to the future: Classic synths, but modern production and drum sounds. 

Any good? You know… pretty good actually. Hard-pressed to call it vital, but History of Modern was definitely not phoned-in. The title track (pt. 1) is especially nice.

Then: So In Love
Now: History of Modern Pt. I 

BlancmangeBlanc Burn
Named after either a dessert or a Monty Python sketch, this semi-obscure UK duo was best know for melodramatic single "Living on the Ceiling." Never really did much in the U.S. outside of college radio or KROQ. Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe got back together last year and released Blanc Burn in March.

Does it Sound Like Blancmange: Lead single "The Western" seems written to remind people who remember Blancmange of "Living on the Ceiling" to the point it's almost a re-write. 

An eye to the future: Apart from "The Western" you'd never guess this Blancmange. The singing is relatively subdued. It's still synthpop, but this sounds like a modern album without trying too hard.

Any good? Listening to Blanc Burn, you'd be hard-pressed to accuse Arthur and Luscombe of making this for the money. The two are still highly idiosyncratic — with a nice sense of humor — but not trying to pretend it's still 1984 and they're still 25. 

Then: Don't Tell Me
Now:  Drive Me 

John Foxx & the MathsInterplay
Original singer for Ultravoxx when they were good, before Midge Ure took over and turned them into histrionic bombast. Foxx released some classic synthpop singles as a solo artist in the '80s before hanging up music for graphic design and teaching. He returned to recording in the late '90s and has been prolific ever since

In touch with the past: Made entirely with analogue synthesizers, Interplay album sounds like it was made in 1981.

An eye to the future: Made entirely with analogue synthesizers, Interplay album sounds like it was made in 1981.

Any good? Quite good, actually. It may sound like it was made in 1981, but take that as a big plus. Anyone who's into minimal wave or the Wierd or Captured Tracks labels should give Interplay a spin. If you buy only one record from this list, this is it. Do read on, though.

Then: Underpass
Now:  Evergreen

ShriekbackLife in the Loading Bay
Formed by Barry Andrews (XTC), Dave Allen (Gang of Four) and Carl Marsh, Shriekback were a high-concept post punk supergroup, slithery, atmospheric, funky and unlike anything else out there in 1982. Line-up changes were frequent with Andrews the only real constant. Apart from a period in the mid-'90s, Shriekback have existed in one form or another. 

Does it Sound Like Shriekback: Barry Andrews is one weird cat, with a distinctive, menacing baritone. Even when it's on an uninspired album, Shriekback always sound like Shriekback. Life in the Loading Bay is no exception.

An eye to the futureShriekback may sound like Shriekback, but Andrews and Marsh are no slaves to the past. But maybe because they've always been ahead of their time.

Any good? There may not be any of the manic funk the band were known for on classic singles "My Spine is the Bassline" or "Nemesis," it's seeped with that off-kilter atmosphere Shriekback are known for. Andrews seems genuinely inspired here, making for one of Shriekback's best-ever albums.

Then: Lined Up
Now: Another Day Above Ground 

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before: Favorite Reissues of 2010

2010_ReissuesThey say those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. In music, however, those who pay attention to history seem just as likely to repeat it. So here's a bunch of new versions of things that are worth ripping off. The percentage of previously unreleased material (as well as packaging, liner notes, etc) certainly factored into what made this list as much as the quality of the original work. 

Dollymixture 1. Dolly MixtureEverything and More [Dolly Mixture] | BUY
For the first time in on place this three-disc collection brings together UK cult band's singles, demos, live cuts and, well, more…all in one place. Most of this has never been on CD before. Add to this great liner notes from Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley, you've got an indie pop fan's dream come true. 

MP3: Dolly Mixture – Everything and More 


ORANGE_JUICE_Coals_To_Newca 2. Orange JuiceCoals to Newcastle [Domino] | BUY
Most of what makes up this 99.9% complete collected works of Glasgow greats Orange Juice has been available before — Polydor UK released some nice reissues in 1997 that went out of print almost immediately. But this marks the first time EVER that most of this has ever been available in America. And for those that did get the '90s reissues, there's even more here — Peel Sessions, live cuts, 12" mixes, alternate takes — that it justifies repurchasing. No vinyl and no 7" version of "Rip it Up" help keep it out of the top spot.

MP3: Orange Juice – What Presence?! (12" version) 

Wafwotf 3. The FallThe Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall: Omnibus Edition [Beggars Banquet] | BUY
My personal favorite Fall album gets the four-disc Omibus Edition treatment. The 1984 record was the first fully made with Mark E. Smith's then-wife Brix, who brought pop smarts to the Mancunian band's somewhat difficult sound, and their first produced by the great John Leckie.  The Omnibus Edition restores the album's original running order, putting singles from the same time — "Oh Brother!," "C.R.E.E.P." and "No Bulbs" — on the second disc with their b-sides and rough mixes of album tracks. The third collects radio sessions, and the fourth is a live recording from their performance at the 1984 Pandora's Music Box Festival in Norway (set time 3:15AM) that shows what a powerhouse live band the Fall were at the time.

MP3: The Fall – Lay of the Land (Live at Pandor's Music Box Festival) 

TAMISHOWFALL 4. The T.A.M.I. Show [Shout Factory!] | BUY

The first ever home video release of this legendary 1964 concert film, given a first-class DVD courtesy the good folks at Shout Factory. The talent here is staggering — The Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Smoke Robinson & the Miracles, Chuck Berry, The Supremes — and the performances even better. But nothing tops the footage of James Brown that is worth buying this for alone and shows that Eddie Murphy's famous imitation wasn't really that far off from the real thing. Incredible.

VIDEO: James Brown & the Famous Flames on the T.A.M.I. Show 



5. The Method Actors – This is Still It [Acute] | BUY
Big thanks to Acute for putting the spotlight on obscure '80s Athens, Georgia duo who pounded out nervy post punk, a bit like Pylon's weird younger brothers.This best-of will have you scouring auction sites and used bins for more.

MP3: The Method Actors – Do the Method
MP3: The Method Actors – Bleeding 


JimSullivan_thumb_325 6. Jim SullivanU.F.O. [Light in the Attic] BUY
Whenever you think you've heard every lost classic, LIght in the Attic comes along to prove you wrong. In this case, it's Jim Sullivan, whose 1969 debut only known by writers at MOJO and employees at Aquarius. Now we get it too: expansive folk/country that should excite anyone who's ever loved "Wichita Lineman."

MP3: Jim Sullivan – Highways 


JaneBirkinSergeGainsbourg_t 7. Jane Birkin at Serge GainsbourgJe T’aime… Moi, Non Plus [Light in the Attic] | BUY
This one's a little better known, the first pairing of Parisian power-couple Serge Gainsbourg and muse Jane Birkin. The infamous title track is only the beginning, so many great songs — so many killer grooves — on this album, from the foreplay to the afterglow. The vinyl version comes with a bonus 7" and a comic book!

MP3: Jane Birkin et Serge Gainsbourg – Jane B 

Hawksh_alan_mohawkthe_101b 8. Alan HawkshawMo’Hawk: The Essential Vibes & Grooves 1967 – 1975 [RPM] | BUY
In a similar if much more superficial vein is this compilation of early recordings of Alan Hawkshaw, a British composer and session man whose work can be heard all over British TV in the late '60s and early '70s, be it theme songs or jingles. All of it was groovy. (If you bought those Sound Gallery compilations from the mid-'90s you've heard his work.) I don't know that you'd want to listen to this as a whole, but it's always fun to throw Hawkshaw's tracks on a mix (or while DJing) and he seems an untapped resource for sampling.

MP3:  Alan Hawkshaw – Dr. Jeckyl and Hyde Park

Goodhumor 9. Saint Etienne - Good Humor [UMC] | BUY
Consummate '90s Londoners decamp to Sweden to work with Cardigans producer Tore Johansson and try something new: a concept album about America made with live musicians. It turned out to be a genius move, and the 1997 album is arguably the band's best. This deluxe edition gives us a second disc that expands the Fairfax High bonus disc that came with it's American release on Sub Pop.

MP3: Saint Etienne – Swim Swan Swim

Thecure_d 10. The CureDisintigration [Elektra] | BUY
One of the mopiest records ever to become a (deserved) worldwide hit, the Cure's 1989 uberwork gets the three-disc deluxe treatment. In addition to a slightly-punched up remastering (not too egregious) we get a discs worth of demos, as well as the entire Etreat live album which originally only came out in France.

MP3: The Cure – Plainsong (demo)

Black-tambourine-anth-aa 11. Black Tambourine – S/T [Slumberland] | BUY
What with every band in Brooklyn (and elsewhere) naming this band as an influence, as well as Slumberland's resurgence as a label, it only makes sense that we'd get a deluxe version of Black Tambourine's entire output, including six new tracks, three of which were recorded specifically for this release. I'm not sure it really betters Slumberland's previous BT compilation (which was always available), but the packaging and liner notes are real nice. 

MP3: Black Tambourine – For Ex-Lovers Only

In the Netherworld of Foreign Bees: Pavement | Summerstage | 9.21.2010

Not sure that I can add more than what has been said already — by others and myself — elsewhere but the Pavement reunion was totally worth seeing. Pretty sure I lucked out, the Summerstage show on Tuesday (actually the first day of Fall) was reported by one authority to be the best of the tour. I can say with certainly that it was the best Pavement show I ever saw, and I saw them three times back in the day.* They played better, had more fun than the original run and that definitely was felt by the audience.

This was the first show that was announced — way back over a year ago — before the band informed everyone that it would be a whole tour, including five NYC shows. When people at the time asked if I bought tickets, I joked that, dang it, wouldn't you know the Pavement show was the same night as my El Bulli reservation. (Many on twitter thought I was serious.)  As I said, I'd seen them back in the day and never found them to be any more than just okay live. Who plans their life 13 months in advance?

Flash forward a year and thanks to my gig writing for another blog, I scored tickets this week. Not that they were hard to get by this week. There were scalpers grumbling "how was I supposed to know they'd end up doing five fucking shows!" outside the gates which is pretty funny. Tickets were going on Craigslist for pretty cheap.

Anyway, I went in with low expectations. And then Pavement were awesome, playing just about every song I wanted to hear. Sure, not "Summer Babe" or "Embassy Row" but I got my favorite-ever song, "Shoot the Singer." Woulda liked "Here," but otherwise no qualms at all. Never considered myself more than a casual fan but I knew every song they played. 

The entire band was on but, no surprise, Bob Nastanovich made the night. He cracked jokes, gave out his home address (twice), prowled the stage with various percussion instruments, sang lead like a wild man on "Debris Slide" and "Conduit for Sale." He is Pavement as far as I'm concerned — the fanboy partymonster beating heart to Steve Malkmus' arch detachment.


1999 doesn't really seem that long ago — to me at least — and it's kind of shocking how much they all still look the same, so it didn't really seem like a nostalgia trip so much, as much a "hey, I haven't seen Pavement play in a while." Without having to endure some new so-so album.**

SETLIST: Shady Lane | Frontwards | Heckler Spray | Elevate Me Later | Starlings of the Slipstream | Stereo | Kennel District | Grounded | Rattled By The Rush | We Dance | In The Mouth A Desert | Perfume-V | Unfair | Fin | Gold Soundz | Debris Slide | Range Life | Trigger Cut | Cut Your Hair | Perfect Depth | Fight This Generation | Box Elder |ENCORE: Date With IKEA | Shoot The Singer | Conduit For Sale! | Silent Kid | Heaven Is A Truck | Stop Breathin’

NYC Taper has the whole concert to download. As well as all the other NYC Pavement shows.

MP3: Pavement – Baptist Blacktick (buy it)

While other members were tuning, Bob started singing "Baptist Blacktick" to much hooting and hollering but then SM was all "that song is just two minutes of young vocal chords screaming and we're…" then Bob interjected, "The real truth is 'Baptist Blacktick' is too fast for this age group." Hey!

MP3: Pavement – Embassy Row (buy it)

Pavement lyrics I've never even tried to decipher. I just listen for the many good turns of phrase and enjoy them for that. Which is probably why up I only just recently the the chorus of "Embassy Row" was actually "In the netherworld of foreign thieves." I still like mine better.

*The first of those times was on the final night of the Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain tour, May 14, 1994 in Morgantown, WV (I know 'cause I still have the ticket). I do remember they played "Shoot the Singer" and that SM gave me his drink tickets after the show when I tried to talk to him about the Fall. I clearly didn't need any more drinks. The night is a little fuzzy.

No One Twisting His Arm…

I bought the new issue of The Big Takeover over the weekend. (REM's on the cover… am I the only one that thinks Peter Buck kind of looks like Bea Arthur these days?) I'm always anxious to tear into it — it's always good and one of the few music magazines these days that takes longer than an afternoon to read — but I was specifically looking forward to this one to read the second half of editor Jack Rabid's interview with New Pornographers' AC Newman. The first half, in the last issue (which also featured AC on the cover), was one of the best interviews with a musician that I'd read in I don't know how long.

To be honest the second half is not quite as good as the first — Carl takes a lot of BT reader questions — but he did talk about his band Zumpano who were signed to Sub Pop in the early '90s, and were really one of the first pop bands, along with Velocity girl, to be signed to the Seattle label that was then known as the home of grunge. Jack asks if there is any chance, what with New Pornographers' success, that we might see their two albums reissued…

AC: No, I still don't really want to do it. A friend at Sub Pop was talking about how they wanted to repackage both records as a two-for-one. But they're just a part of my past. I feel like it was a learning process.

JR: You don't wan't people to hear them???

AC: I just want them to go away.

JR: Why?! They're excellent!

AC: They're all right. I still feel kind of embarrassed by them. I feel like New Pornographers is the music I've always wanted to make.

JR: I can't imagine someone buying Zumpano records and not buying New Pornographers. Not buying it?!

AC: Maybe… I don't have any problems with those records. But some things from your past, you just want them to exist in their own time. It would be nice if they become really sought-after. If all the copies disappear, and then people start paying $100 for them on eBay… like Game Theory CDs from the '80s. Those have become sought-after because they're all long gone.

JR: Maybe I should sell mine!

AC: Apparently Lolita Nation is the one that everybody wants..

JR: I've got that.

AC: Get rid of it before the market falls out!

I had no idea Game Theory CDs were such hot property, though in a weird bit of happenstance I've been listening to Lolita Nation a lot lately — which I won't be selling to anyone. I bought Lolita Nation my freshman year of college after hearing a couple Game Theory songs on that Enigma Variations 2 compilation I mentioned in my Wire post last week. (You all remember that, right?) And the college radio station was playing it and they sounded similar to a lot of other, paisley-wearing bands I liked at the time — Let's Active, The Three O'Clock, and R.E.M.

Like a lot of double albums, Lolita Nation is a sprawling mess. Songs crashed into one another, with some half-baked 20 second snippets thrown in, along with a really weird sound collage near the end of the record. But in between all that unbridled creativity, there were all these amazing songs and I thought it was the most awesome thing I ever heard. Obsession set in quick. This was maybe the first
record I'd heard at that point that attempted to bring a Beatles
aesthetic to the "college rock" sound.

And again, the songs. Lolita Nation has at least ten great ones. Mitch Easter produced and, apart from some thin-sounding keyboards, it doesn't really sound all that dated. Probably because they resisted the reverby/gated drum sound that was so prevalent at the time. It really holds up. Most of Game Theory's album's are worth hearing, but Lolita Nation is genuinely essential.

Frontman Scott Miller says there's not enough demand for reissues, but seeing how '80s indie classics from Let's Active, The Three O'Clock ,and Dumptruck (who were probably equal on the obscurity level) can get them, surely so can Game Theory. The real reason is probably because Miller doesn't own the rights to the masters.  Until someone rectifies this situation, here are a few of Lolita Nation's choicest cuts:

MP3: Game Theory_- Not Because You Can

: Game Theory- We Love You Carol And Alison

: Game Theory – The Real Sheila

MP3: Game Theory_- Slip

MP3: Game Theory_- Chardonnay

Scott Miller's post-GT band, The Loud Family, are worth checking out too, as is the Loud Family website. He's a true musicologist, and has lists of his Top 20 albums for every year from 1965 – 1999, which makes a great shopping list for those who want to fill out their music collections.

Meanwhile, for those of you who started reading this thinking it was going to feature some Zumpano songs…

MP3: Zumpano – The Party Rages On

MP3: Zumpano – Behind the Beehive

Sonic Paramedics Weep for New Wire EP

Expect the worst. No matter how much you loved a band, even if they never made a bad record, and all the original members are participating in the new recordings. This is how I approach everything reunions and albums by bands who’ve been together more than 20 years. Cause chances are, it’s going to suck.

But some groups you have more hope for than others. Wire are one of them. Like the Fall, Wire have never had any interest in nostalgia, constantly moving forward for the last 30 years. When they reformed in 1986 they refused to play songs from their first three records, though they did hire a Wire cover band, the Ex-Lion Tamers, to open for them. (They did however play some oldies in 2000 when I saw them at Irving Plaza — a radical idea for them.) Even when the results are less than successful (1990’s Manscape) you can never say they aren’t doing their own thing.

Wire ceased to function a second time in the early 90s after making one record as Wir (drummer Robert Gotobed had left the group), but Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Bruce Gilbert and Gotobed resurrected the group around the millenium, and have trickled out new material in the form of a series of Read & Burn EPs in-between reissues of their classic albums.

Read & Burn 3 is the first new recordings we’ve had in about five years, and these four tracks show they’ve lost none of their momentum. They’re still playing songs at 12XU speed, impressive when you think Bruce Gilbert is in his ’60s. I’m especially partial to the nearly 10-minute lead track "23 Years Too Late" as Newman and Lewis share vocal duties. Graham Lewis has always had this menacing quality to his vocals* and it’s used to good affect here. Wire promise a brand new album in 2008 that will include no previously released tracks.

MP3: Wire – 23 Years Too Late
(Buy Read & Burn 3)

*If I ever got to be music supervisor on a horror film, I would campaign for Wire’s song "Feed Me" (from the Awesome The Ideal Copy) to be used in it. It’s Graham Lewis at his creepy best.

MP3: Wire – Feed Me
(Buy The Ideal Copy)

Pylon | Mercury Lounge | 11.07.2007

Pylon03There was no doubt who was playing, as they had actual pylons on stage, lit up with bulbs underneath, bathing the proceedings in a warm crimson. It matched with the band’s red attire, the men in t-shirts emblazoned with the word "Cool," the title of Pylon‘s 1979 debut single — which also kicked of the band’s set. Their first NYC show in probably 17 years, thanks to DFA reissuing their seminal 1980 debut, Gyrate, for the first time on CD.

There was also no doubt who was on stage from the second they broke into "Cool." Pylon may not have made an album since 1990’s Chain, but it was apparent they’ve still got the chops. Drummer Curtis Crowe and bassist Michael Lachowski, in particular, don’t seem to have missed in beat — nothing sluggish or sloppy about their playing. And Randall Bewley’s wiry guitar lines still sound fresh. In fact, Pylon felt more of the moment than nine-tenths of the bands who have been aping post punk sounds since it came back in fashion five years ago. They even broke out an old B/W portable trucker TV to add buzz and hum to "Driving School" — a gimmick that still works.

If there was a weak link, it was singer Vanessa Briscoe who, after years away from the spotlight being a nurse and a mom, seemed a bit shy and self-conscious. At first. But about halfway through the set she loosened up (as did the crowd), started having fun and her charisma returned. By set’s end, she was belting out "Beep" and "Danger" like no time had passed. Certainly the adoring crowd, most of whom were older than me by a good eight years I’m guessing (a nice change of pace for me, I must be honest), helped make things more comfortable. I kind of expected to see James Murphy amongst them, but if he was there I didn’t spot him. Gang of Four drummer Hugo Burnham was there, however… as was, uh, my cheesemonger.

Setlist, courtesy nyctaper, who has the whole show on his site as lossloss downloads:

Cool | Dub | Driving School | Read a Book | Working is No Problem | Sugarpop | 3×3 | Gravity | Precaution | Weather | The Human Body | Crazy | K | Danger | Volume | Feast on My Heart | Stop It | Encore: M Train | Beep | Sloganistic

: Pylon – Gravity
(buy it)

The Mercury Lounge show was sold out, but I’m guessing there are plenty of tickets to tonight’s show at Music Hall of Williamsburg. It’s a more appealing bill, I think, with Oxford Collapse and Free Blood (ex-!!!), plus DJ slots from Hugo Burnham (billed as Gang of One, har) and Andrew Butler of DFA signees Hercules & Love Affair. All for $14! Cool indeed.

Yes, I Was Always Cool

My college radio station, WWVU-FM (AKA U-92), turns 25 this year and this weekend
I’m back in Morgantown, WV for a big celebration/reunion.

I was Music Director there a long time ago, back when I wore a lot of turtlenecks.* When exactly? Well I think the posters may give it away a bit — we can see Let’s Active, The Smiths’ Rank (Plus the Beatles, and, um the Eurythmics for some reason)… and I think I spy a Some Kind of Wonderful poster there on the door to the Control Room.

I’m going to be in that Control Room this morning from 10AM – Noon EST. And you can listen in to hear me screw up segues and misuse equipment in general. If you want. Just go to the U-92 website and click on the "Listen Live" link in the upper left corner. Or just click here if you have Windows Media. What will I play? Tune in and find out. And if you want to hear something, you can make a request in the comments section… though chances are I’m not going to play it. I only got two hours!

UPDATE: I almost didn’t screw up at all. Here’s what I played:

The Clash – Straight to Hell
M.I.A. – Paper Planes
The Darkness – Friday Night
Caribou – Eli
The Left Banke – She May Call You Up Tonight
Belle & Sebastian – Waking Up to Us
Spoon – Fitted Shirt
New Pornographers – From Blown Speakers
Built to Spill – Big Dipper
The Flaming Lips – Turn it On
Hot Chip – Over and Over
CSS – Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death from Above
Super Furry Animals – Herman Loves Pauline
David Bowie – Queen Bitch
Echo & the Bunnymen – Rescue
The Smiths – What Difference Does it Make?
Jacques du Tronc – Le Responsible
The Strokes – You Only Live Once
The Fall – Cruiser’s Creek
XTC – Life Begins at the Hop
The Shortwave Set – Casual Use
The Pastels – Coming Through
The Royal We – All the Rage
Pulp – Monday Morning
Lee Hazelwood & Nancy Sinatra – Some Velvet Morning
Luna – This Time Around
Pavement – Summer Babe
Electrelane – The Greater Times
The Jazz Butcher – Southern Mark Smith
The Go-Betweens – Surfing Magazines


*I have no idea why I’m holding all those plastic mugs.