Thursday, December 12, 2013

Music Library Catch-Up: Belle and Sebastian, Cramps, Dexateens, Dylan, High Fidelics, Lou Reed, Sparklehorse

This is yet another post in which I discuss a few albums that I've picked up since I covered the artist in question.

Belle and Sebastian - The Third Eye Centre (compilation, 2003-13). This is a collection of EP and b-side tracks that was released this year. It's not as comprehensive as 2004's Push Barman To Open Old Wounds compilation, but I still like it. I wish I'd double-checked to see how many of these tracks I already had, though.

The Cramps - Smell Of Female (1983). I generally hate live albums because they are so often, in the words of Camper Van Beethoven, greatest hits played faster. This Cramps live album, however, captures the sound of a show where flat-out anything could happen. This is the kind of music that begs to be called "blistering." I'm willing to grant it.

The Dexateens - Sunsphere (2013). Alabama's mighty Dexateens, a band I love, dropped this EP earlier this year. It was actually recorded in a flurry of action in 2009, the same year as the band's last album Singlewide. I guess this means that it features the last line-up. Anyway, it rocks most righteously.

Bob Dylan - Biograph (compilation, 1962-81) and "Watching The River Flow." I never realized that there were nonalbum tracks on this box set. These are those tracks! Most of them are quite good and some are utterly essential, so I recommend them for the semi-obsessed Dylan fan. "Watching The River Flow" is a nonalbum track from Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II, which I have (or at least used to have?) on vinyl. Anyway, I picked this up, too, because "semi-obsessed Dylan fan" are words that could possibly be directed at yours truly.

The High Fidelics - The High Fidelics (2012). This is a first-rate surf-influenced instrumental rock band from Alabama. They have a Shadows-like willingness to mix other retro-exotica-cool sounds in with their surf music, and the interplay between guitarist Edwin Cleverdon and organist Robert Huffman is excellent fun. The rhythm section is no joke, either. Highly recommended. The spacey "Theme From Kismet" is my favorite of their tracks, but they are all worth a listen. Check them out here.

Lou Reed - Lou Reed (1972), Rock 'n Roll Animal (1973), Sally Can't Dance (1974), Lou Reed Live (1975), Coney Island Baby (1976), Rock and Roll Heart (1976), Street Hassle (1978), Take No Prisoners (1978), The Bells (1979), Growing Up In Public (1980), Bottom Line NYC (bootleg, 1983), Mistrial (1986), Songs For Drella (with John Cale, 1990), Magic & Loss (1992), Set The Twilight Reeling (1996), and Ecstasy (2000). Let me start by saying that I have about half of these on vinyl, but never felt the need to pick up digital copies until Lou's passing, when suddenly I wanted to listen to everything again. But the thing is that while the Velvet Underground is one of my favorite bands, Lou's solo stuff generally suffers from piss-poor quality control. Here is a blog post from 3 1/2 years back that I wrote about the few Lou albums I had digitized. I'm pretty hard on the lyrical content of New York in that post, and, well, I don't feel as harshly towards it anymore, although I think the bones I pick with Reed are still valid. So, to back up: Lou Reed has The Man playing a Donovan-like chamber-folkie, reworking a number of VU demos, but it is still much better than any album with hummingbirds on the cover has any right to be. Rock 'n Roll Animal, Sally, and LRLive all continue Lou's Transformer-and-Berlin-era glam maestro period. The former and latter are, in fact, carved from the same show with what was essentially Alice Cooper's backing band behind him. All are quite good in their own way, although after all this time (I mean, I first heard these albums when I was 16 or so) I still don't quite enjoy Lou's Maximum Rock & Roll period. What I love about the VU is that they were minimalists, never using million-note theatrics to express something that could be said with a two-note squalling drone. Coney Island Baby and R&R Heart have Lou going back to different basics, where he experiments with confessional folk and doo wop-influenced rock. I hated them when I first heard them back when I was a teenager, but I like them much, much more now, especially Baby, which sounds like all of the cracks and weariness that grew from Lou's glam persona and pushed him to be honest. I find Street Hassle a lot more uneven than I used to, although the title song is still one of the best things that came of the 70s. Even its clunkiest line (the one about how someone turning so blue means you'll never fuck again) can't unhorse its relentless drive. Take No Prisoners is, of course, his Havin' Fun With Elvis On Stage, where the massive amount of speed that he has taken derails his live show into what is essentially a rambling comedy routine. Since what I like about live shows is the uncertainty, the feeling that anything could happen, I love Take No Prisoners, because what happens is utterly unexpected and impossible to reproduce. I specifically mentioned in my previous Lou write-up that I did not think I needed a copy of the The Bells, and I am here to say that I was wrong. Growing Up In Public is so-so. Bottom Line NYC is the audio from a show that was out on video and I am grateful for whoever the mad genius was who ripped it because it is an AWESOME document of the Lou-vs-Quine guitar histrionics, way better than Live In Italy. I find Mistrial, Drella, and Magic all pretty mediocre, with far too few great moments. Twilight, despite the silliness of songs like "Egg Cream," is pretty enjoyable, and Ecstasy is an album I wish I'd heard back when it came out. But, y'know, I was too used to being disappointed by Lou to bother.

Sparklehorse - Chords I've Known EP (1995), Rainmaker single (1996), Rainmaker 2 single (1996), Someday I Will Treat You Good single (1996), Maria's Little Elbows single (1998), Sick Of Goodbyes single (1998), Distorted Ghost EP (2000), Gold Day EP (2001), Knives Of Summertime single (2006). After covering Sparklehorse's full-lengths recently, I realized that emusic has a lot of Mark Linkous's singles and EPs, so I picked those up. And, y'know, these are b-sides and throwaways. The ones I have listed as EPs are all pretty good, though. Definitely worth an investigation by fans.


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