Saturday, October 25, 2008

The fact that I've been listening to this album, Galaxie 500's On Fire CD from 1990, is a slightly odd turn of fate. When it came out it was licensed to Festival Records down here (from Rough Trade/US, just before it went bust), and Festival, in attempting to push shit uphill in the pre-grunge landscape, did at least give 'em a push or two. I saw a clip on Rage a couple of times, but that was about it. The band barely registered a blip on the radar of the general public, nor mine. I only knew about 'em (or vaguely cared) because of the Kramer connection - he produced this - and because they had some tracks on various Shimmy Disc comps at the time (most notably the super-ace Rutles Highway Revisited LP). I guess being a bunch of American fops didn't sit well w/ most people at the time. That was left to the Limeys. So, it's 18 years later, Damon and Naomi are somewhat certified u/ground elder statespeople w/ a swag of (apparently) great albums under their belt and Galaxie 500 are now hailed as a "classic" band by some folks I know, a sorely-missed outfit who criminally never went anywhere in their day yet whose recorded legacy moves mountains. Kinda the same shit I rave about in regards to bands such as Slovenly, Pell Mell or The Scene Is Now.
I bought this CD secondhand about 6 months ago for no particular reason. It was there on the rack - cheap - and I had not thought of the band much the last decade. I heard most of the album back in the day on the radio or at friends' places, but that was it. It's fitting in perfectly w/ my current love of middle-brow u/ground rock which doesn't tax my brain too much and doesn't upset those around me. I'm talking Pell Mell, Feelies, Cul de Sac, et al. No Drunks With Guns or Peter Brotzmann for me right now. I'm comfortably slipping into a rut of musical niceness and melodies for the time being. You can call Galaxie 500 "shoegazer" if you will; it won't upset me too much. The barely-registering pulse of the music, all slo-mo guitar strums and kinda on-the-mark vocals, are a bit like "Sweet Jane" on cough syrup for 45 minutes. There's a nice cover of George Harrison's "Isn't It A Pity" at the end, and Kramer's patented production style - you can hear it in the bass sound and guitar licks - lends this a slightly wintery, off-kilter feel which is a perfect late-night listen when one's brain is fried and wants to be horizontal. On Fire hasn't changed my life one iota, though that's not the criteria I require to hang onto it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Lexicon Devil reissue of this li'l mini-classic, Tonight We Ride by THE SCENE IS NOW, fully remastered by the band, will be out November 1st. A swish package w/ a 12-page photo-filled booklet and liner notes by a certain blowhard known as Dave Lang. Read 'em and weep...

"I first heard of the band known as The Scene Is Now in 1989 when I read a review of their Tonight We Ride LP, penned by the great James C., in issue 23 of B-Side fanzine. The review in question had my curiosity piqued. Early in the lengthy piece he made allusions to Mellencamp(!) and Springsteen(!!) in regards to the band's ability to pen seemingly "straight" rock/pop tunes, yet as the review progressed he then began to note that the band's apparent simplicity was disarmingly deceptive and that repeated listens brought to light a group of great uniqueness. His summation at the end of the first paragraph put it perfectly and succinctly: "...by the third song, "Full Fathom Five", you start to realise that you've become involved in something VERY ODD INDEED...". After listing a motley crew of TSIN's cohorts (Fish & Roses, Chain Gang, Mofungo), he ended the review with this line: "You probably won't find any of their recs in yr local store, but you'll be missing out on some of the most unusual and best US crap being put to vinyl these days. Do what you know you must".

"I did: two years later when I discovered a copy of Tonight We Ride for $8 in the sale bin at Exposure Records. The first time I took it home and put needle to vinyl, it made perfect sense. There were no shortage of pop hooks interspersed among what at first appeared to be a seemingly straight-playing rootsy indie-rock album, but then the magic of the band's unique interplay took hold. Guitar lines weaved randomly throughout, keyboards came to the fore at unexpected moments, and, despite the fact that much of the material sounded like two bands playing at once, pulling at times in opposite directions, each song came together at the right moment to deliver a knockout punch. I tried to think of comparisons, and the ones I came up with, I later found out, had been used many times before: Slovenly, Red Krayola, Beefheart, Pere Ubu, The Feelies. I announced them to friends at the time as the great post-No Wave harmolodic pop band. After all, somebody had to be. No one would listen, and the cult of TSIN remained a well-kept secret, even if Yo La Tengo did record an old songs of theirs.

"By 1995 the album had become such a stalwart favourite that I wrote about it in the fanzine I was producing at the time, Year Zero, in an article detailing the top 10 LPs I would take to a desert island. Alongside the likes of iconoclastic faves of the time (and now!) such as Die Kreuzen, Chrome, Minutemen, Electric Eels and MX-80 Sound, I noted that the music of TSIN may shock some listeners who believed I only wanted abrasive racket in my audio pleasures. I said something dopey along the lines of "the music of TSIN probably won't upset your average Fleetwood Mac or Eagles fan", but then noted that such a comment was only meant to imply that TSIN wrote great pop songs. Indeed they did, and still do.

"TSIN were formed from the ashes of NYC No Wave outfit Information by Chris Nelson and Philip Dray at the dawn of the '80s. They went on to produce three albums in that decade - Burn All Yr. Records, Total Jive and 1988's Tonight We Ride - and to me they demonstrate a brilliant evolution in sound from one of the great unknown bands of the era, a three-disc evolutionary bender from ramshackle beginnings to slick songsmithery and musicianship rivalled only by the Meat Puppets. The former two will be reissued by Lexicon Devil in due course throughout 2009 (don't ask me why I'm going backwards; perhaps it's because their third LP is the most accessible of the three), and are musically much different, and perhaps more abrasive, affairs. Added to the band for Tonight We Ride were ex-dB Will Rigby and Tony Maimone from Pere Ubu. The sound was much more streamlined but still unmistakably The Scene Is Now. It's the band's combination of the avant-garde and the traditional which makes them so special. The fact that the band can claim influence from the likes of Bob Wills and Hoagy Carmichael, as well as Sun Ra and DNA, speaks volumes of their synthesis of disparate influences. I always thought their sound encapsulated that wide-open-space Americana sound many reached for, even a picturesque midwestern-cornfields vibe, though now that I listen to it again, and ogle the Coney Island photos the band just sent me to accompany the booklet (taken the same day as the front cover), I see their sound as pure east coast, even urban. Or perhaps not. Now I'm just confusing myself. I'm reminded of family summer holidays in Coney Island and yet I've never even been to the place. TSIN evoke a sense of old-time romanticism in me. Their oblique lyrical references, which include lines taken from Shakespeare, and occasional forays into right-on political radness, make them a curious beast indeed. The comparisons have been made, yet there remains no band on earth like The Scene Is Now. It's 17 years later, I'm now reissuing the thing on my own label and it still sounds so goddamn good. Enjoy."
Fugg this blog sabbatical shit when one hears an album this good. I just have to tell you about it. Never mind the fact that I also happen to work for the company which has licensed this album for Australia. That's not relevant. I only like to waste my time and yours in telling you about the good stuff, the records which moves your loins, put ants in your pants and make you wanna dance. And in this case, this album makes me wanna boogaloo 'til the cows party on down. Or something like that. I'm speaking gibberish. Maybe I've lost my mojo w/ this blog-writing, or perhaps I shouldn't've just swallowed that last glass of red... Don't take this as a press release. Frankly, I don't care if you do. I'm clocked off and not getting paid for this rant. The band is DUNGEN and they're from Sweden. The album is 4. They're an underground phenomenon who went almost semi-overground Down Under a few years back. They release the goods on the awesome u/ground Swede imprint, Subliminal, but somehow or other caught the attention of the folks at Ivy League (kinda faux-indie label linked up w/ Universal or something) w/ one of their discs mid-decade, had it licensed and toured the country in support of Wolfmother (Yeah... them!! Then again, Ten East supported 'em on a bunch of German dates last year, so, for a bunch of no-talent douchebags, I can't fault their choice of supports), but have now returned to true indiehood w/ this. That's the background. All you need to know is that Dungen is Swede wunderkind, Gustav Ejstes, and whoever else he feels like bringing to the party. They are unashamedly "psychedelic" in a tributory fashion, but they pull it off better than anyone else in recent memory. They sound like the ultimate Euro art-rock band plundering the best audio vaults of the '60s and '70s. I'm talking about art-pop shenanigans butchering the likes of The Move, Amon Duul 2, Syd's 'Floyd, Eno-period Roxy Music, SF Sorrow-era Pretty Things, Scott Walker, Marc Bolan and all those other continental faves which probably made life bearable back in the late '60s and early '70s. 4 is flat-out one of the best albums of the year of any genre, and I feel like a putz-and-a-half for having only given the band the nod in the last 6 months, ignoring the pleas of friends to lend them an ear those years ago when I figured them to be a flash-in-the-pan load of Nordic blowhards riding a wave of undeserved success. I am eating my words. This record has reminded me, just at a time when I need it, why I have wasted my adult life w/ all this music shit. My faith has been restored.