Them – Complete Them (1964-1967) (Legacy)

When Them debuted in 1964 with “Don’t Start Crying Now” b/w “One Two Brown Eyes”, the Belfast band immediately placed themselves on the cutting edge of the UK Invasion. The songs were steeped in the blues and R&B, but they were also rhythmically driving and dangerous sounding in an all new way. These were not polite young boys, looking to hold hands and drink milkshakes. They were, as the punning title of their first album would tell you, Angry Young Them. Over the next three years they released two full-length albums and a handful of timeless singles that were vital to the foundation of what is today known as garage rock. Plus they wrote and performed the original version of “Gloria”, a true rock and roll standard if there ever was one, that’s been covered by everyone from The Doors, to Hendrix, to Patti Smith. Because band members came and went with alarming frequency, singer Van Morrison is the central character in the story of Them, as he’s the only person to play on every song on this three disc set. Even though he’s held in high public regard mostly for his successful solo career, he was at his unhinged best in Them, with his electrifying vocal style dominating blues standards like “Baby Please Don’t Go”, or “Bright Lights, Big City” as easily as covers of contemporary folk rock like “It’s All Over Now (Baby Blue)” (which would be sampled by Beck 30 years later on “Jack-ass”) and “Richard Cory”, or his own self-penned material (“All For Myself” is about as convincing a blues song as white people produced in the 1960s).


If you purchased the 1997 double-disc set The Story Of Them, well I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to have to trade it in and upgrade to this new collection. First of all, the remastering is fantastic, and Van Morrison’s liner notes are informative. More importantly it includes the original versions of several songs which were presented in badly rechanneled stereo mixes on The Story Of Them, even using additional percussion which wasn’t part of the original recordings. Why Deram used these mixes (which date from compilations released on Parrot Records in the 1970s) is a mystery, but it doesn’t matter anymore, because now you can hear these songs as they were originally meant to be heard. Even better is this collection’s third disc, which includes previously unreleased demos and alternate takes, one song (“Mighty Like A Rose”) left off the previous compilation for space, and a half-dozen live songs recorded for the BBC. Many of these versions are similar to the originals, but there is a noticeably tougher take of “Go One Home Baby” and an alternate take of “Turn On Your Love Light” with a different, and absolutely deranged, rave-up arrangement that doubles the length of the original. Again, I’m sorry but you just gotta buy this.


33 1/3: Beat Happening by Bryan C. Parker (Bloomsbury)

I acquired Beat Happening’s self-titled debut album about six months ago, and have had a lot of questions about it ever since. Mostly I wanted to know how an album of low fidelity recordings by a trio of unseasoned musicians (vocals, guitar and drums – no bass) whose lyrics were almost child-like, came to be; and I wanted to know why it sounds so wonderfully out of step with everything else, even thirty years later. Bryan C. Parker’s book helps answer those questions over the course of twenty-six chapters, each one covering a band-related subject corresponding to a letter in the alphabet. “A” is for action, “B” is for Bret, “C” is for Calvin…and so on. At the center of the story is the band’s leader Calvin Johnson, a decidedly unique character who basically helped put Olympia on the punk map with his band and record label, K Records. Think of him as something of an Ian MacKaye of the Northwest, minus the aggression, as the two shared an almost identical vision of needing to make something happen locally, no matter how much work it took them. Parker does admirable work here in describing the origins of the band’s sensibilities (improvisational theater and early exposure to feminism are both key), and how those sensibilities put them at odds with punk as the scene was getting more violent and exclusionary. As with all volumes of the 33 1/3 series, I’ll judge Parker’s work on how much it enhanced my understanding of the album and whether or not that enhanced perspective made me want to revisit it with fresh ears. He’s successful on both fronts.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Mini Album Thingy Wingy (A Recordings)

Brian Jonestown Massacre singer Anton Newcombe has been a busy guy in 2015 – first he released a mostly instrumental full-length soundtrack to a nonexistent French film, then a collaborative album with singer/songwriter Tess Parks, and now this seven song mini-album recorded at his Berlin studio in 2014 and ’15. A lot of artists can’t maintain that kind of pace without sacrificing quality, but Anton has put out some of his best stuff during periods of hyper-productivity, and sure enough I don’t detect any signs that he’s rushing his process to keep up with himself. Cohesion isn’t much a of a factor, however; with each of these songs feeling like a separate thread that could be returned to later for deeper exploration. It opens with another songwriting collaboration with Parks called “Pish” (Anton takes the lead vocals, unlike their previous meeting), reminiscent of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s own mid-’90s song “She Made Me”, crossed with The Velvet Underground’s “Ocean”. These are good things. Next up is “Prsi Prsi”, an almost Morricone-like song which features guest vocals from Vlad Nosal, and is sung in Slovakian because, well, why the hell not? “Get Some” is a classic garage-rock tale of teenage boy/girl drama. What follows is a rather unexpected cover of “Dust” by The 13th Floor Elevators. It’s an awkward song vocally and lyrically, yet it’s effectively rendered here, with Alex Maas from The Black Angels adding some understated electric jug sounds. “Leave It Alone” follows; a simple, yet powerful, song reminiscent of John Lennon’s first post-Beatles albums. An instrumental song, “Mandrake Handshake”, is fine if a bit unexciting, giving way to the closing “Here Comes The Waiting For Sun”, a full-on lysergic rush of psychedelic rock, complete with backwards guitars and vocal tremolo, which sounds nothing like the Doors or Beatles songs it’s sorta named after. As with all Brian Jonestown Massacre releases, this mini-album is highly recommended.

The Mickey Finn – Garden Of My Mind: The Complete Recordings 1964-1967 (RPM)

The Mickey Finn are one of the many bands from the mid-’60s UK rock scene that had a few brushes with greatness, but ultimately failed to find themselves much of an audience. Garden of My Mind is the first ever compilation of the band’s material, collecting all the songs they released from 1964-1967, and a few songs that are getting their first airing here. The band’s earliest recordings were decidedly average ska sides, recorded under the moniker Mickey Finn and The Blue Men. Things start to pick up considerably in 1965 when the British ska craze died down and the newly christened Mickey Finn released the “The Sporting Life” single b/w “Night Comes Down”, featuring production from the brilliant Shel Talmy (The Who, The Creation, The Kinks…etc.). “The Sporting Life” is a solid Animals-styled R&B/blues hybrid, but the B-side “Night Comes Down” is a stone killer, with a barely controlled explosiveness that threatens to boil over as the song progresses, but never actually does. Their next single, “Because I Love You” was a weak attempt at a pop number, though the b-side “If I Had You Baby” was another strong slice Animals-esque R&B. After a year spent touring, finding a new bass player, and recording demos, the band put out their final single,”Garden Of My Mind”, one of the great British numbers of the psychedelic era, earning the band a worthy inclusion on the second Nuggets box-set. Perhaps the song amounts to little more than The Yardbirds covering “Purple Haze”, but if it’s executed correctly – as it is here – that’s a pretty great thing. The excellent b-side, “Time To Start Loving You”, is a proto-glam stomper featuring an exciting combination of livewire riffing from guitarist Mickey Finn (real name Mickey Waller) and Alan Marks’ gruff soul vocals. Had the band recorded a full album around this time they’d almost certainly have a more prominent place in rock history. Instead, all we get are some fleeting moments of brilliance. Waller would go on to be a popular session musician in the ’70s, and early band member Jimmy Page went on to be Jimmy fucking Page.

The Telescopes – Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992 (Cherry Red Records)

The Telescopes 1992 album, given the quizzical title of #Untitled Second, has now been reissued on CD three times since 2004, but Cherry Red finally gets it right with Splashdown. I’m not going to review most of the music on Splashdown because I’ve already covered a good portion of it here and here, but I will tell you briefly that #Untitled Second is a unique chapter in the Creation Records story of that era, featuring a becalmed, almost pastoral take on shoegaze and experimental indie. I will also tell you that, even with so much of it available on other archival releases, Splashdown is a revelation for Telescopes fans. The remastering is great, Jon Dale’s liner notes are informative, and there is more than a full disc of bonus songs taken from the band’s two year stay on Creation Records. The extra songs are, for the most part, easy to find on other Telescopes releases (my favorites are “Precious Little”, “Soul Full Of Tears” and “Sleepwalk”, all some of the best and most tuneful psychedelic music of the era), but there are a few key songs I hadn’t heard before, which piqued my interest. Included in those are a reverential cover of “Candy Says” which falls right in the band’s narcotic wheelhouse, a cover of “The Good’s Gone” which slows the original’s tempo down to an uncomfortable drone-crawl, and versions of four songs from #Untitled Second recorded for a Peel Session in 1991. The Peel Session tracks are fascinating proof that the band was strong enough during this period to translate the highly experimental sonic atmospheres from the album (which included sounds from sugar being poured into lemonade, wind up cars…etc.) to a more immediate recording environment, and still be entirely effective. Splashdown is the long-awaited final word on The Telescopes from this period, and an essential purchase.

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – The Night Creeper (Rise Above Records)

There were a lot of albums I looked forward to hearing in 2015, but my anticipation was at its most feverish for The Night Creeper, the fourth album from Cambridge, England’s Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. The band’s previous two albums (good luck finding the first one) were excellent takes on all things heavy and psychedelic from the late-’60s and early-’70s, and, when coupled with their rising profile (including a tour opening for Black Sabbath), all signs were pointing towards The Night Creeper being the album to lift them out of the psychedelic metal ghetto and on towards better things. Now that I’ve had the album for a little over a month, I don’t think it meets the unrealistic expectations I saddled it with, but it’s still a totally inspired listen.

“Waiting For Blood” opens the album in typical Uncle Acid fashion, which means it combines a Sabbathy riff, Crazy Horse garage rock slop, and Revolver-era Beatle vocals. Perhaps the song is too mid-tempo and too closely attached to its main riff to truly excite you down to your core, but it’s rock solid and features a great guitar solo from singer/lead guitarist Kevin Starrs, one of the few players today that I feel is doing anything interesting with the instrument. Elsewhere, the album is heavy on doomy tracks, with “Downtown”, “Pusherman” and the title track all great restatements of the thunderous glory of early Black Sabbath, with the twisted murderous lyrics of Kevin Starrs giving them a unique vibe. Several other tracks break that mold and veer off in their own interesting directions. “Yellow Moon” is a guitar and mellotron instrumental that adds considerably to the albums creepy feel. “Melody Lane” is the album’s most obvious choice for a lead single, with a killer chorus and a ’60s garage rock sound that could almost pass as a song from the Nuggets compilation. “Slow Death” closes out the album proper with nine-minutes of musical bleed-out and brittle guitar interludes a la “Down By The River” (Neil Young is a huge influence – and an uncommon one for a band classified as “metal”). With all of the album’s focus on death and murder, you couldn’t ask for a more appropriate bonus tack than the acoustic funeral procession drone of “Back Motorcade”.

While it may not be the critical or commercial breakthrough I hoped for, and it could use a few more up-tempo songs to provide the immediate impact that “I’ll Cut You Down”, “Mind Crawler” or “Evil Love” gave their previous albums, The Night Creeper digs its way deeper into your brain with each listen, and it affirms that Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats are the best band making heavy music right now.


Ride, Live at the 930 Club, Washington, DC, September 17th, 2015

In 2013, My Bloody Valentine reformed, recorded a new album, and went on tour. In 2014, Slowdive did the first and third of these, prompting me to joke that in 2015 it was Ride’s turn. And here we are.

Of these three shoegaze groups, Ride were the rock traditionalists; MBV and Slowdive were forerunners of post-rock, using guitars and pedals to make sounds free of form, at times experimental, ambient, and discordant. Ride, on the other hand, rejected the shoegazer moniker, were more likely to listen to the Nuggets box set–they’ve covered The Creation’s “How Does It Feel to Feel?”–and it’s no accident that after they broke up guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Andy Bell joined Oasis, albeit as a bassist.

And so on Thursday, September 17th, a rock show broke out at Washington, DC’s 930 Club. Ride opened with “Leave Them All Behind,” as close to a defining statement as they have. The band clearly wasn’t content to “play the hits,” as they were, busting out “Birdman,” live for the first time since 1995, as well as “Decay” and “Seagull,” both for the first time since 1991. “Twisterella” followed the first of these rarities, with Bell, doing his best guitar god impression and inexplicably clad in a Neu! trucker hat, turning the song into a southern boogie workout via his clean, single-note picking. “Black Nite Crash” and “Time of Her Time” similarly rocked, with the middle-aged crowd pogoing and bopping along. Mark Gardener, Ride’s other guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, broke up the group when Bell brought these songs to the studio, but he was all smiles this evening, harmonizing with his co-vocalist in the style of The Byrds. Meanwhile, Laurence Colbert dished out plenty of hi-hats and cymbal crashes and bassist Steve Queralt held down the low end.

Ride may still reject the shoegaze label, but delay, reverb, and other effects pedals were employed on many songs, including an extended freakout in the middle of “Taste,” while the vocals from Gardener and Bell were appropriately buried in the mix throughout. When Bell asked the crowd if this was their, our, first Ride show, many hands stayed down, and there was plenty of singing along during the concert. “Vapor Trail” was dedicated to us first-timers, Bell’s guitar and pedals mimicking the famous cello solo. The band closed with “Seagull,” sending the audience out into the night ears ringing, and thus ends the holy trinity of shoegaze reunions.