Long ago, in my first installment of this series, I extolled the virtues of vinyl. I'm still very supportive of the format, but LPs sure as hell aren't very portable, a sad fact that made me unable to splurge on the ample vinyl selection of a nice little record store in Notting Hill during a week-long and lightly-packed trip to London. Luckily, their CD selection was also commendable, with one particularly lowly bin offering used CD singles and EPs for ten pence each. Naturally, I went to town on a quest for buried treasure, but considering the bin was basically the abandoned promotional CD's last refuge, some justly neglected items were sure come my way. So now, here be my portable spoils:
Cathy Davey, Come Over (2004)
Primary reason for purchase: Construction paper packaging was a welcome change in texture during my CD rifling.
Overview: A jolting howl on the title track and an effectively dramatic climax on “Hammerhead” are the only two moments on this four-song set with any sense of adventure. With those two out of the way early, the next two songs settle into an unfortunate coffeehouse vibe, particularly the listless closer, “My Surprise.” Cathy Davey's voice maintains a non-threatening whisper over the course of the four songs showcased here, and while the songs don't go for the stereotypical acoustic strumming that often accompany such voices, the in-studio atmospherics are hardly any more exciting. Had they been dialed up to the point of mayhem like some of the best moments on a St. Vincent album, the results could have been thrilling, but as it stands, the songs fall into the background quite easily.
Verdict: Justly neglected.
Gay Dad, To Earth With Love (1999)
Primary reason for purchase: Recalling their name as a Britpop coulda-been.
Overview: Gay Dad's first single, “To Earth With Love,” namechecks both Aerosmith and Kraftwerk, and over the course of four minutes, the song manages to perfectly meld the former's arena rock with the latter's spacey electronics, and ropes in a few other disparate elements for a supremely satisfying whole. Hell, it even builds to a glorious gospel moment, before gently fading out. While “Us Roach” is a standard-issue neo-psychedelia track, its follow-up, “Pegasus 51” is another top-notch gender bender, starting off like a Kid A-style distancing workout and morphing into a laid-back Marshall Tucker Band-style soft rock gem.
Verdict: Buried treasure.
Red Light Company, With Lights Out (2008)
Primary reason for purchase: Intriguing band logo, which actually turned out to be the very prominent label logo.
Overview: At this point, there are so many more indie rock bands trying to fill arenas than there are arenas to fill them, but even with so many bands out there trying to hit that grandiose sweet spot, it's still a thrill to hear when one succeeds. The three tracks on Red Light Company's With Lights Out achieve just that, with the Arcade Fire-style bombast on the title track, the sumptuous chorus on “First We Land,” and to a lesser extent, the Interpol-lite mood of “Sinking Ship.”
Verdict: Buried treasure.
Eleven, Rainbow's End (1991)
Primary reason for purchase: Possibly the oldest CD in the bin.
Overview: The CD cover for this features a faded brown-town photograph and militaristic lettering, all of which gives off a vague hardcore punk vibe, so I was quite surprised when Eleven's Rainbow's End actually wound up being a considerably poppy affair. It still fits squarely into the early '90s alternative rock scene, but any hard-edged guitar parts are offset by bouncy keyboard lines and some seemingly helium-induced vocals. Judged as a record of the era's sound at its most radio-ready, it's solid through and through, but by any other standards, it does not hold up well.
Verdict: Justly neglected, but it did lead me to this delightfully kitschtastic video:
The Hybirds, 24 (1997)
Primary reason for purchase: Strange compulsion toward number-titled songs.
Overview: Unfortunately, the title track of this three-song single is an annoying mess of whirling guitars and sneered repetition of the word “yeah,” so the “24” slot on any numerically-themed mix I may make still belongs to Game Theory's power pop gem of that name. Fortunately, on the other two songs on this set, The Hybirds show off their own power pop chops. “Where I Want To Be” in particular recalls the sunny British pop tradition of the Kinks, throwing in some Byrdsy jangle and filtering it through the sonic influence of the 1990s Britpop scene.
Verdict: Two-thirds buried treasure.
Colour, Unicorns (2009)
Primary reason for purchase: Potential fodder for my Best of 2009 list.
Overview: The press materials attached to this single heavily flaunted Colour's math rock leanings, and while the influence is definitely there, especially when the rapidly shifting guitar lines crop up on all three tracks, it's by far the poppiest “math rock” I've ever heard. The vocals are hard to differentiate from any number of fey-leaning indie rock band these days, with only the occasional unique guitar flourish to stand out from the crowd.
Verdict: Decent, but hardly year-end best material.
Listen to Colour's "Unicorns" here.
Various Artists, Smalltown Supersound – Where We're At (2004)
Primary reason for purchase: With nine songs, one featuring Sonic Youth, it was more bang for my buck (or pow for my pound?).
Overview: Smalltown Supersound appears to be a Norwegian techno label, so at least now I have an in next time some cute girl at a party starts talking about Norwegian techno labels. Of course, once I'm done namedropping acts on this sampler, it'll soon become apparent that I have no insight into the genre. When it comes to an 11+ minute minimalist techno track like Kim Hiorthøy's “You Know the Score,” I have a hard time seeing any purpose behind the music other than finding a good groove to fold laundry to. It is a sampler in the best sense of the word, though, so the rest of the tracks follow much different and often promising routes, from the mellow-jazz-build-to-cacophony of Jaga Jazzist's “Plym” to the electronic reggae of Toy's “Decorama” to the dancefloor-ready robo-stylings of Martin Horntveth's "Hasta Luego, Manchego" to the orchestral loops on Lars Horntveth's “Tics.” Unfortunately, this diversity also leads to Mats Gustafsson's collaboration with Sonic Youth on “Hidros 9,” which is a sad reminder that sometimes a Sonic Youth track means Kim Gordon screeching over formless instrumental slop.
Verdict: Some interesting tracks, but not quite enough to merit Buried Treasure.
Extreme, Waiting For the Punchline Sampler (1995)
Primary reason for purchase: Fond memories of mid-nineties overuse of the word “extreme.”
Overview: Extreme's first album debuted in 1989, so at the very least they took their name before sports and Mountain Dew campaigns started hopping on the “extreme” bandwagon. They were pretty clearly on the grunge bandwagon, though. The sampler kicks off with sludgy guitars on “There Is No God,” and the rest of the tracks stay in pretty much the same mid-nineties alternative radio sound. “Tell Me Something I Don't Know” is more foreboding than the rest, but it loses steam with a 6+ minutes runtime, and “Shadow Boxing,” the sampler's highlight, incorporates a lighter funk tone. The sampler closes back in standard grunge mode with “Hip Today,” which blasts bands for latching onto the latest trends and telling them, “You'll be gone tomorrow.” Fittingly, Extreme broke up after the release of Waiting For the Punchline.
Verdict: Justly neglected.
Good Shoes, Think Before You Speak (Remixed with Angostura Bitters) (2007)
Primary reason for purchase: Nice clay formation of band name on cover.
Overview: The good news is that I picked this up before I had any knowledge of Good Shoes, since it led me to discover that the band is a fun indie pop outfit with angular guitars and very pronounced British accents. The bad news is practically none of that is on display on this remix CD, which basically removes the vocal parts and stitches together the instrumental moments with added electronics. It all sounds the same, and unfortunately that sound is a notch underneath annoying MIDI file.
Verdict: This particular remix CD is justly neglected, but the actual Think Before You Speak album is a buried treasure.
Embrace, One Big Family EP (1997)
Primary reason for purchase: I enjoy having multiple bands of the same name from different countries in my collection.
Overview: The title track of One Big Family opens the EP with a very distinctly Britpop fade-in to a burst of swirling guitar and a sneering shout of “Get ready!” Though it tries its best at reaching the anthemic heights of the best Oasis singles, it fails to join those ranks, and the same goes for their other rocker, “You've Only Got to Stop to Get Better,” though to be fair, it does have a damn fine horn section. The other tracks, however, reveal Embrace's strengths are in slower piano-driven numbers, with the heartbreaking ballads “Dry Kids” and “Butter Wouldn't Melt,” both tender gems of seemingly effortless simplicity and great power.
Verdict: Buried treasure.