In a lot of ways, the 1980s were a strange decade. Speaking specifically to the musical output there was a lot to like, but it was dominated by fads and failed experiments. As someone who had limited access to music other than what my parents played or what popular radio had to offer, the 80s were a kind of dark period for me until much later in life. But during those dark times some names were always part of the conversation, even if they just skirted around the fringe. One of those names was Joe Jackson.
I feel like I’ve always known Jackson’s name. I knew that he had some radio hits but I absolutely could not name one of them. I knew he had a few hit records, one was Look Sharp, the other had a white and blue cover, maybe with a drawing of a piano or something on it. This is about as much as I knew about Joe Jackson. In my pursuit to fill in some holes in my fabric of music information I decided it was time to see what Joe Jackson was all about.
Continue reading [The Past Presents] Joe Jackson – Body and Soul (1984) →
At this point in history I think it would be difficult to find many people who would exclude Radiohead’s OK Computer from a list of the best albums of 1997. I’d also wager that more than 70 percent of those lists would have OK Computer in the number 1 position. Few will argue that OK Computer is an album that will be listened to for decades to come. By 2000, Radiohead was basking in the glow of their fantastic follow-up album, Kid A, and were pretty well set up as one of the biggest bands in the world.
At the same time, another UK band, Catherine Wheel, was calling it quits. In 1997, Catherine Wheel also released an album, Adam and Eve. Like OK Computer, Adam and Eve was lauded by long-time fans and critics as the band’s masterpiece. Prior to this release, Catherine Wheel was known for their guitar-heavy shoegaze albums, particularly from their debut, Ferment, and its heavier follow-up, Chrome. Adam and Eve, the band’s fourth album, signaled a bold, exciting shift in the band’s sound, much like Radiohead’s leap from The Bends to OK Computer.
Catherine Wheel and Radiohead’s music followed similar trajectories in the 1990s. Both bands had highly successful debut records with big singles; Radiohead had “Creep” and Catherine Wheel had “Black Metallic.” Those debuts were followed by sophomore albums, The Bends and Chrome, respectively, which saw both bands brushing off a bit of the fuzz from their sound and pumping up the guitars. Catherine Wheel open Chrome with the thunderous “Kill Rhythm,” probably the closest shoegaze ever came to arena rock. Radiohead’s most popular track from The Bends was “Fake Plastic Trees,” which was one of the mellower tracks on the album. While The Bends was a great album it was clear that Radiohead needed a new direction or they would surely fade out.
Continue reading [The Past Presents] Catherine Wheel – Adam and Eve (1997) →
The Past Presents is typically where I take a fresh look at an older album, either because it’s regarded as a classic album and I’d like to see if it still holds up, or because it’s an album I feel is special and it never really got the love it deserves. For me, this column was always about looking at the records that many people feel are essential to every record collection. Moving forward, The Past Presents will still bring you these looks back at some great older records, but in and around those reviews, I’ll be writing about my own experiences with some records that are widely loved but I’ve just never had the time to hear. Oftentimes I’ll read about albums that have been on best-of lists for decades or my friends will tell me how great their favorite records are. Some of these I just have not had the time to hear beyond what a friend has played for me or what’s been curated by commercial radio. Sometimes I want to know if a Steely Dan album is really as bad as the singles I’ve heard. To make an effort to fill in some of these gaps for myself, I’ll be hitting record stores looking for albums I’ve heard about but have never listened to, then writing about my impressions. I’ve made a few rules for myself: I have to listen to the album start to finish three times before I write anything, I cannot research the album or the band in any way prior to listening, I can’t read re-issue liner notes, etc. This has to try and replicate a clean, unbiased first listen as much as possible.
To begin this new experiment I’ve chosen The Modern Lovers self-titled debut.
Continue reading [The Past Presents] The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers (1976) →
When the deep chill of winter settles in completely, I find myself drawn to spare, beautiful music that requires dedicated time for listening. Callahan’s delicate acoustic songs are perfect for time spent in your own version of frozen tundra. Callahan is the alter ego of Michigan native Malcolm Cumming, who manages to bring [...]
When I listen to Andrew McHenry’s latest — and, to my knowledge, first — EP, I can’t help but notice the similarities to Elliott Smith. It’s not just a hint of Smith I hear in these songs, it’s a very strong resemblance. McHenry plays delicately layered guitar melodies and adds crisp, sing-a-long vocals [...]
It’s time for music fans to sit up and take notice: there’s something special going on in Minneapolis. A solid stream of excellent music is coming out of the twin cities these days, and the latest to add to the list is Prissy Clerks. The band’s debut album, Bruise or Be Bruised, is [...]
I don’t know if you noticed but it’s getting cold out there. As autumn starts to sink its teeth into the world for another year, Old Earth is here to complete the picture for you. “Less Words,” a fantastic song from Old Earth’s latest release, a low place at The Old Place, sounds like [...]
Largely the vision of former Antlers bassist Justin Stivers, Passenger Peru rides Stivers bass into more experimental areas than Antlers usual fare. Stivers teamed up with Justin Gonzalez to bring Passenger Peru’s self-titled album into existence.
From the start of the album, you get the impression that Stivers attempted to bring the experimental [...]
The Past Presents revisits revered albums from the past 20-25 years to ask the question, “Is this album still a classic, or has it lost its edge over the years?”. Was it a great record for that particular time and place, or is it something we’ll be passing on to our kids? It also looks at the “lost classics” – countless albums that should have earned more attention but for one reason or another fell through the cracks.
At this point it’s safe to say that most people who consider themselves obsessive music fans have seen the move High Fidelity. One of the classic moments of the film sees Jack Black’s character assisting a customer with records that are essential to his collection such as the Jesus and Mary Chain and Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Black slyly tells the customer, “Don’t tell anyone you don’t own Blonde on Blonde. It’s going to be okay.”
If there ever was a modern equivalent to Blonde on Blonde, it’s Slint’s Spiderland. Let’s be clear, Spiderland is not similar to Dylan’s classic in its sound, but it is similar in that it has become a record that you need to own, or at the very least be aware of.
When Slint quietly released Spiderland in 1991, I was too busy freaking out over Nirvana and Sonic Youth to notice, but by 1993 I was one board 100%. Unlike many albums, the noise surrounding this record has grown every year since. It is considered one of the first, if not the first record, to bear the post-rock and or math-rock tags and it is still known as one of the best of the genre. For my money, it’s also one of the best examples of an album’s ability to generate a mood. From start to finish Spiderland gives you the feeling that something sinister is about to happen. The tension is apparent throughout the album and is intensified by the seasickness the music induces. It sounds like a ship bobbing on rough seas; the music in constant motion, rocking back and forth and never letting you forget that something evil is to be unleashed.
Continue reading [The Past Presents] Slint – “Spiderland” →
When not sharing the stage with Nick Bindeman in Eternal Tapestry, Dewey Mahood creates his own sonic adventures as Plankton Wat. The arrival of fresh sounds from Plankton Wat is always cause for anticipation. Typically a Plankton Wat album is delivered on cassette, or sometimes CD-R, so having an LP release is even more special.
Plankton Wat rides [...]