Category: alternative rock

The White Stripes “There’s No Home For You Here” 2004. Third Man Records/XL Records. Today, December 10th, is Meg White’s 45th birthday (b. 1974). “There’s No Home For You Here” was the fourth single (released in the UK, where we picked up this 7″) from Elephant and is a big, dense crashing stomper upon which Meg thrashes the shit out of her drums. The single didn’t chart and according to Wiki, Jack White says about the song: “Our idea was to see how far we could go with an eight track recorder, and I think how far we went is too far.” The b-side has two tracks re-recorded live at Electric Lady Studios, the swampy punk blues “I Fought Piranhas” from The White Stripes and “Let’s Build a Home” from De Stijl, this live version even more raucous than the original (the Electric Lady Studio versions are blocked on the internet ☹️).

Morrissey “Ouija Board, Ouija Board” released 30 years ago today, November 13th, 1989. Released as a stand-alone single (it would appear on the comp Bona Drag in 1990), Morrissey’s fifth single as a solo artist was his first not to hit the top 10 in the UK, going to #18. And honestly, it’s not a great song – I picked up this 12″ single mainly for the cover and the cheap price when in London this past summer (at Flashback Records, I think in Islington). The video is weird as hell, though, crystal balls, a spirit manifesting on a fridge in the middle of the woods, a lot of dizzying camera work on Morrissey laying in a pile of leaves, etc. (it was ranked by Pulp magazine as the most “tweaked” music video of all-time). The b-side to the 12″ has “Yes, I am Blind” (a collaboration with the Smiths’ Andy Rourke) and “East West,” which is a cover of a song originally performed by Herman’s Hermits. I’m not much more of a fan of these tracks, either, though of the bunch “Yes, I am Blind” is the best, with a lovely little acoustic guitar riff and some real emotion behind the lyrics.  

Sinead O’Connor “The Lion and the Cobra” released on this date, November 4th, 1987. One of my favorite records of the late 80′s. I distinctively remember hearing it for the first time when my dear friend Susie played it for me in late ‘87 and being completely blown away by the eerie atmospheric music and the searing, soaring, gorgeously clear and tortured vocals. The Lion and the Cobra was O’Connor’s debut LP and it went to #27 in the UK and #36 in the US. Ours is the American version, the UK release had a different – and more accurate -cover: a photo of O’Connor in full-rage mode. Apparently the record company (Chrysalis) felt we sensitive Americans couldn’t handle this: 

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O’Connor released two singles from the album: “Troy” (which charted in the Netherlands but not in the UK or US until it was remixed in 2002 and then went to #48 and #3 respectively – on the Hot Dance Music chart in the US) and “Mandinka” (#17 UK, #6 Ireland, #14 US Dance chart). I love those two songs but I also adore the opening track “Jackie” (so unbelievably haunting), “Jerusalem” (exotic, ethereal, beautiful) and my absolute favorite: “Just Like U Said It Would B.” That song has the most amazing vocals of pretty much any song I’ve ever heard and I love trying to sing along (alone, of course, though I can nail a lot of it some of the time). O’Connor co-wrote “Just Like U Said It Would B” with another Irish musician, Steve Wickham of The Waterboys. Another Irish performer, new agey Enya, also contributed to The Lion and the Cobra; she does a Celtic recitation of Psalm 61 for the intro to “Never Get Old.” 

Wolfmanhattan Project “Blue Gene Stew” 2019. In The Red Records. No wave garage-noise rock by the alt-super-group that includes Bob Bert (Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Chrome Cranks, Jon Spencer’s Hit Makers) on drums, Mick Collins (Dories, Dirtbombs) on guitar and vocals, and Kid Congo Powers aka Brian Tristan (The Gun Club, Knoxville Girls) also on guitar and vocals. Lo-fi, swampy and often catchy as hell, Bob Bert smashes the shit out the rhythm section (his preferred drumsticks? Hammers!) and the guitars are garage-jangly mixed with hard power chords. Long-time Bert collaborator Lydia Lunch even makes a guest appearance on the track “Jar in the Staircase.” My top tracks include the garage-blues ass-shaker “Smells Like You” which Wolfmanhattan Project released as a single in 2015, and “Now Now Now” plus “Silver Sun” (both totally danceable, too). There’s some weird shit on the album as well, like the VERY no-wave track “Toynbee Tile Blues” which is long and filled with lots of crazy beat, spacey noise, distorted “vocals” (spoken word, mostly name-checking various cities, planets and Stanley Kubrick). 

Last week I got a copy of Bob Bert’s kinda-autobiography I’m Just the Drummer, sent and signed to me by Bert himself. It’s a delightful read, a little bit about the man: his background, musical influences and collaborations, and art – one of his works is featured as Blue Gene Stew’s cover – but mostly it’s short interviews and photographs of the multitude of other artists he’s worked with over the years. Some of those interviews are pulled from Bert’s zine BB Gun from the early 2000′s. 

Abby Jeanne “Get You High” and “Spellbound” 2019. Hi Fi Records. Very limited edition 7″ colored vinyl and even more limited cassette release. This past weekend Milwaukee’s own Abby Jeanne hosted a “Pop-Up Atomic Records” shop at the Bay View coffee shop, Hi Fi Cafe for her just-released single, “Get You High,” a dreamy track filled with swirls and tension. Side B is a cover of Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “Spellbound,” which Jeanne recreates beautifully, respectfully: not many singers can match Siouxsie Sioux’s piercingly clear vocals but wow, Abby does an amazing job, adding her bluesy touch to the goth classic. The cassette has both of those tracks plus a bonus track – “Get You High (Daniel Ash ‘Paradise Mix’)” – remixed by the Bauhaus/Tones on Tail/Love and Rockets/Pop Tone goth master himself. 

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion “Orange” released 25 years ago today, October 12th, 1994. Matador Records, silver vinyl. Tonight we’re catching JSBX’s drummer Russell Simins’ band S-E-R-V-I-C-E at Cactus Club in Milwaukee. We saw them last month at our neighborhood street party, Bay View Bash, and back in May 2017 in Indianapolis at Hi-Fi Indy and they are amazing. Here’s a couple of shots from those shows.

Orange, my favorite JSBX record and their third or fourth (depending upon how you count the first two releases from 1992) LP, is at times sparse, chaotic, funky, punk, bluesy but always amazing. The lead track, “Bellbottoms” swells with strings and a funked out groove before hitting the staccato’d “bellbottoms” anthem. The song inspired Edgar Wright to write the 2017 movie Baby Driver, the soundtrack to which was nominated for a Grammy (the song “Chase Me” in the movie is a remix of “Bellbottoms” by Danger Mouse featuring Run the Jewels and Big Boi). “Wright laid in his bedroom listening to the song on repeat, visualizing a car chase set to “Bellbottoms.” He also started coming up with the idea of a character: a getaway driver for a bank heist, who cannot do his job properly without the right music playing.” (IndieWire) “Ditch” is hip-shaking sexy and “Dang” has fantastic, crazed harmonica solo by Judah, matched by Jon Spencer’s insane theremin. The first of two excellent instrumentals on Orange comes next: “Very Rare” slows down the beat to a hypnotic rhythm overlayed with Spencer’s signature guitar twang. “Sweat” is iconic JSBX giving us the classic line “That’s the sweat of the Blues Explosion!” “Cowboy” is weirdly mangled country-western (not my favorite track on the album) but the title track “Orange” returns to the slinky JSBX groove (Spencer name-drops ‘Star Trek’ and manages to make even that sexy). Side B leads off with “Brenda” with Spencer singing longingly, just a little too high out his range, for a girl and her money. “Dissect” is thick with musical chaos and “Blues X Man” is a “12-bar back-country roadhouse blues and back-alley back-seat eros to Lower East Side boasting about the Blues Explosion’s musical virility. It begins sparse and skeletal before adding a female backing chorus and DJ turntablism, turning traditionalism upside down and scraping country and city down to their nubs in order to make everything bleed.” (Allmusic) “Full Grown” is balls-out insanity beginning with the line “Baby baby you sure like to fuck FUCK!” and “Flavor” is hilarious, rattling off all the cities where the Blues Explosion is number one and the band gets Beck on the phone to croon out “flavor.” (The remix of “Flavor” is even better, featuring Beck and Mike D in a wicked funny video.) Orange concludes with my favorite JSBX track, the instrumental “Greyhound” which is monstrously awesome, best played at 11. 

The Black Keys “Let’s Rock” 2019. Nonesuch Records, limited edition blue vinyl. Let’s Rock is The Black Keys’ 9th studio LP, which debuted at its peak chart positions of #4 in the US and #3 in the UK. They released it after a five-year hiatus and wrote it mostly in-studio; the title and cover art inspired by last words of a Tennessee convict executed by electric chair in 2018, as well as an “homage to the electric guitar” (Patrick Carney). And also because it’s a rock-n-roll record, blues-inspired for sure – waaayyyy less lo-fi than their early work – even though Dan Auerbach says, “We’re not rock’n’roll guys. We fucking hate rock’n’roll guys. We always have. The idea of pyrotechnics on stage and lasers is always so goofy.” We saw The Black Keys perform this past weekend at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee and they indeed did not have pyrotechnics or lasers, but did have some pretty great lighting and a giant electric chair replica from the LP’s cover behind them at one point. I was also pleasantly impressed with the Fiserv, a really new venue in Milwaukee (this was our first time seeing a concert there as we generally avoid big shows). In the past when I saw concerts at the now-demolished Bradley Center (which the Fiserv replaced), the sound was horrible. All concrete and echoes – just imagine seeing the last show I remember going to there: Neil Young with Social Distortion and Sonic Youth. The bands were great but the sound was fucking horrible. 

Anyway, it was a great show, the duo’s sound beefed up by three backing musicians. They played several songs from Let’s Rock including a few of my favorites: the singles “Lo/Hi” (which went to the top of  Billboard’s Mainstream Rock, Adult Alternative Songs, Rock Airplay, and Alternative Songs charts simultaneously, making it the first song ever to do so), “Eagle Birds” and my top-pick, “Go” which is a great summer anthem with a hilarious video (see below). I also really love “Shine a Little Light,” the album’s opener, and “Under the Gun.” I don’t love the whole LP though: “Walk Across the Water,” “Sit Around and Miss You” (though the video is damn funny, a parody of the commercial that aired incessantly in the 80′s for “Freedom Rock”) and “Breaking Down” are all a little too 60′s/70′s smooth California blues-rock for my taste. Though, weirdly, I really like “Tell Me Lies,” which has a similar sound as those last two (kinda Eagles-ish with a dash of Steve Miller Band) but it’s got such a great hook that I’m overlooking it. Honestly it’s taken me awhile to really warm to Let’s Rock: The Raconteurs Help Us Stranger was released about a week before Let’s Rock and there’s that (untrue??) rivalry between Jack White/The White Stripes and Dan Auerbach/The Black Keys that makes comparisons virtually impossible to avoid – and I really really love Help Us Stranger. So when I had the choice of which to listen to on repeat, The Raconteurs inevitably have won out – but I’m making more of an effort now. 

Liz Phair “Whip-Smart” released 25 years ago today, September 20th, 1994.  Matador Records. Whip-Smart is Phair’s second album; it’s not my favorite of hers but the only one we have on vinyl (I prefer her critically acclaimed debut Exile in Guyville and her 1998 release Whitechocolatespaceegg). Whip-Smart was fairly successful, debuting at #27 on the album charts with a Top 10 modern rock hit (#74 on the Hot 100), the danceable, swirly, poppy “Supernova.” It was also nominated for a Grammy in the Best Female Rock Performance category. Phair released two more singles: “Whip-Smart” and “Jealousy” but both failed to gain much traction; “Whip-Smart” made it to #24 on the Modern Rock chart but not the Hot 100 and “Jealousy” did not chart at all. Those are a few of my preferred tracks – though I also like ‘Support System” and the mid-tempo, Sheryl-Crow-ish “Go West.” Not surprisingly based on my general taste, these are the more (mostly) rocking tracks on Whip-Smart, I’m less fond of the super-sad, super-sparse songs like “Chopsticks,” “Shane” and “Alice Springs” where Phair’s monotone voice – which works for the riot-grrrl-lite vibe’d songs – becomes, well, really really monotonous. 

Most of the album is lo-fi (with the exception of the highly produced “Supernova”) and, like most of Phair’s writing, Whip-Smart focuses on love and sex: “a rock fairy tale, from meeting the guy, falling for him, getting him and not getting him, going through the disillusionment period, saying ‘Fuck it,’ and leaving, coming back to it.“

The Raconteurs “Help Us Stranger” 2019. Third Man Records. Limited edition green/black/copper swirled vinyl, part of Third Man’s Vault Package, #40. Help Us Stranger is The Raconteurs third album and it debuted #1 on the US album chart in June when it was released, only to dive to #45 the following week. That dramatic drop is too bad and unwarranted because it’s a really really great album. I’ve found myself listening to it frequently since it came out, proving my thesis that Jack White is a genius but only truly palatable when he’s collaborating with other musicians that enhance and rein in that genius. He and Brendan Benson have written some really good and even addictive alt-pop tracks. My favorites come in a 1-2-3-4 punch at the start of the record. Track 1, “Bored and Dazed” starts off with a Grateful Dead-ish riff that quickly morphs into a big early 70′s scuzz-rock/Midwest protopunk ripper, punctuated with the line “Well I’m Detroit bored and razed.” “Help Me Stranger” is ridiculously catchy and I think maybe my favorite of favorites but there’s a lot of competition for that with the sadly beautiful “Only Child.” “Don’t Bother Me” is dense and loud, reminding me of some of White’s work on some of the later White Stripes stuff as well as his mostly decent solo material on Blunderbuss and Lazaretto with the prominent garage-style organ. On Side B The Raconteurs’ cover of Donovan’s “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)” is a great update to the original, punching up the Bo Diddley beat and adding in screaming guitar.  I also like the head-banging “Sunday Driver” which I heard earlier in the year when Third Man included the 7″ as part of Vault Package #38; that song is a great partner to “Bored and Razed” for that hard-edged 70′s Detroit sound but adds in elements of 60′s psychedelia. The Vault Package also came with an early demo 7″ of “Help Me Stranger” and “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)” but I haven’t listened to it yet. Also included is a Patrick Keeler-designed Raconteurs bandana and a turntable slipmat. 

Jane’s Addiction “The Shocking EP” 1989, limited edition UK release. Today, August 23rd, is the anniversary of Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing Shocking, their first major label release and an album that for me was mind-blowing and earth-shattering when I heard it in the fall of ‘88. This 3-song EP has one of my favorite Jane’s Addiction tracks, the epic alt-metal “Mountain Song” – I believe it’s also the first song I ever heard by the band. On Side B is the now-classic “Jane Says,” which hit #6 on the US Modern Rock Tracks chart, and a live version of “Had a Dad,” recorded at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago on March 10th, 1989. We picked up this EP a few weeks ago in London; it’s a promo copy so I’m not sure if it had the poster of Perry Farrell that the originals came with or not, but ours sadly doesn’t.