Coming soon to 100b: Big Changes

If you stop by here frequently – or, heck, even if you stop by infrequently – you may have noticed that I have a difficult time updating regularly. We used to be really good about that, with a rotating schedule that made sure we got new content up pretty damn often. But with just me left of our little team, my partners having moved on to bigger and better ventures, and a dwindling sense of why I’m actually writing this blog, it’s been tricky. Don’t get me wrong, I love 100b. But there’s something I’ve been thinking in the back of my mind for a while that I finally admitted to myself recently:

I don’t really enjoy writing about new bands that much.

Phew, I said it, what a relief – even though it’s only about 78% true. I do like finding wonderful, secret treasures that are new to me. I’ve discovered some really fantastic – and now dearly loved – bands through mails sent here, and I’d be so sad to see that go. On the other hand, any music blogger will tell you that it’s almost impossible to keep up with the mail. 100b is just a small blip in the music blogosphere, but even I can’t listen to and assess half of what comes in. I do my best to screen and I hope I’ve caught the stuff I’d want to have heard most, but there’s no way to do any better. I was, I have to admit, starting to feel burdened by the inbox – as if I never had time to write any posts because I was forever trying to keep the mail under control.

There have been some serious rewards in there, and I do enjoy getting someone’s name out that I feel deserves and needs the attention. What I really don’t enjoy, as it turns out, is the feeling that I have to get to the newest and coolest bands first or else I might as well not bother. Because, let’s face it, I’m never going to get there first. I just can’t compete, and, honestly, I don’t write that sort of newest-hippest-band post very well anyway. I either like them, in which case someone’s long since already written it better, or I don’t like them and I really can’t be bothered wasting my time on something I don’t like. It took me over five years to realize, but that whole scene is just not for me.

But I do love music, more than almost anything, and I do love writing about it. I’ve been thinking for months now about what angle I do really enjoy writing from: I thought about my favorite posts, which bands I liked writing about most, which read as most personal and enthusiastic … and I finally figured out what direction to take. It might be a while before I get there – there’s a small pile of backed up post drafts and intriguing emails to get through first – but I wanted to get the ball rolling a wee bit now.

Mostly because – new bands, pretty please listen here – if you send an email this way, and it is dated after, say, this coming weekend (June 26th), I absolutely will not write a post about it. My new focus will, by its very definition, exclude writing about new music. I do really, really wish I could do better by the hopeful new bands that pass this way, but I just can’t anymore and never really could anyway. If you send mail after this weekend-ish, I will try to read it and promote anything I think is good via Twitter. I can’t promise anything more than that and if that means you don’t want to risk your music getting lost in the interwebs, I totally understand. I hope I’ll hear about you some other way.

So there we go. I’m pretty excited about the changes I’ll be making – even if the readership is tiny or gets even tinier, I think I will enjoy writing for it more, and I expect it will show. Enthusiastic writers write enthusiastic posts, right? I hope mine will be infectious.

David Bowie – Changes
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The Soup Dragons, Hotwired

Do you remember The Soup Dragons? If you’re from the UK and / or of a certain age (the certain age that means you actually remember buying albums on cassette), you probably do. If not, this band probably passed you by completely. Which would be a shame because, while Hotwired isn’t necessarily one of the very best albums ever, it’s a classic of my 1990s and can definitely still stand up tall today.

Although I only really listened to Hotwired, a little research shows that The Soup Dragons were more than I realized – or, at least, here in the UK they were. Nevermind that they were already six years old by the time I heard of them, or that Hotwired was actually their third LP – they’d also had a pretty decent hit in the UK with “I’m Free” in 1990. The Wikipedia says that single charted higher on the U.S. Modern Rock chart, whatever that is, but I definitely don’t remember it being a presence. I do, however, know every note of it, though I couldn’t have even told you it existed before yesterday. Isn’t it weird how that happens sometimes, as if you just absorb songs somehow without ever consciously hearing them?

Anyway, it turns out that the band had had some indie-world success even earlier than that, and – enough to secure their place in indie music history alone – were included on the NME’s legendary C86 cassette compilation. If you don’t know about that cassette, check out this great post from Indie-MP3. (Also, you can still download the whole compilation from Stupid and Contagious, though I can’t promise for how long.) The track included on C86 is wildly different from how we came to know them on Hotwired in 1992 – very much a Buzzcocks-inspired messy-punky-poppy sound which is very pleasant but, honestly, not terribly unique. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great track, but I doubt I’d have remembered it if I didn’t already love them from their later work.

I don’t know exactly what caused the change in sound, other than just the change of times and trends, but when they hit upon the sound featured on Hotwired, they made a classic album. Personally, I had no idea The Soup Dragons existed before “Divine Thing” came along and rocked my MTV. I didn’t know from baggy, or rave culture, or C86. I had no concept of British music being cool or anything in particular; I’d never heard of The Stone Roses or the NME. But I do remember this album soundtracking the summer of 1992 (along with Stereo MCs’ Connected). And you know what? It’s actually still pretty great. The sound might be a little bit dated, but not nearly as much as I’d expect after nearly 20 years – and even if it is a little dated, it’s in a wonderfully nostalgic way (rather than a cringey embarrassing way). These guys deserve to remembered fondly.

The Soup Dragons – Divine Thing
The Soup Dragons – Running Wild

The B-52’s, Cosmic Thing: the real #1?

The B-52s, Cosmic Thing

For many, many years, I’ve claimed that Pearl Jam’s Ten was my first album purchase but it recently occurred to me – holy crap! – have I been lying about that all this time?!

Not that my real #1, now that I see my mistake, isn’t just as cool. My deception was accidental, I assure you – I promise I was not trying to look cooler than I am. Please. I freely admit I adored New Kids On The Block. The cool ship has sailed.

So anyway, I recently went on a miniature album shopping spree and, at the last minute, threw The B-52’s Cosmic Thing into my cart. It was by the register and stuff. Listening to it the next day, I couldn’t get over how fresh, fun, and surprisingly not dated it sounded. Honestly, I bought it thinking it would be a nostalgic giggle and not much more. “Love Shack”, anyone? But that never was the best track on Cosmic Thing and I should’ve remembered that.

Taken aback by how much I still loved it, and not in a kitschy sort of way at all, I looked it up and – wha?! – found out that it was released in 1989. That’s a whole TWO years before Pearl Jam released the amazingness that is Ten. Even if my 9-year-old self took a while to catch on and buy Cosmic Thing, it still came first. Whoopsie. Sorry I lied to y’all for so long.

When I thought about it a bit more, I actually remembered the exact day I bought it – on cassette! From Phar-Mor!! I had a little pocket money I’d gotten as a gift or something, I’d guess around $10, and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted some specific Barbie or the B-52’s album. I guess I wasn’t really your typical 9-year-old girl. I must’ve been dimly aware that I’d already prolonged the decision-making process out to a near-painful point, because I remember choosing the Barbie, in part, just to be done with it so my father and I could go home already. I was known for this type of separation anxiety when it came to my pocket money. But, perhaps predictably, I regretted it almost immediately and was in quiet, trying-to-hold-them-back tears by the time we got home a few minutes later. I wonder if I’d have done the same if I’d gone the other way in the store? I guess not, because Dad was crazy nice about it and took me back to exchange the Barbie (though he really must’ve wanted to shake me silly by that point) and I never looked back. I mean, I totally still played with Barbies, but I didn’t want one more than I wanted that album. I guess I was a budding music dork long before I knew what that meant.

But back to the album. Maybe not as ass-kicking as Pearl Jam, but Cosmic Thing is still – after 22 years, that’s a scary thought – a really great album. It feels just like the time, but also like it totally could’ve come out this year – both nostalgic and timeless somehow. Fred Schneider’s freaky speak-singing really should be annoying or gimmicky, but it fits here, alongside Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s angelic harmonies, to make something unusual and pretty, poppy and alternative. “Roam” is still my favorite track, it’s just too dreamy, though I have always loved the quirkiness of “Junebug”. Whatever, the whole album’s classic – get it yourself right here.

The B-52’s – Roam
The B-52’s – Junebug

Thanks, Colin Meloy!

Bjork, Colin Meloy, Joanna Newsom

Listening to a little Björk last night while whipping up some fruit dip (as you do), I started thinking about how I used to really not like Björk. Really, really not. I always thought she was cool, but her music was a little too freaky for me. I wasn’t quite ready for a voice as unusual as hers.

Which was a long, long time ago, back when she first started appearing in the charts. I suppose that idea just got stuck in my head, which happens sometimes. Until I happened upon a version of “Human Behaviour” by Colin Meloy. I put in on a mix and it really showed me what a great song it is – and what I’d been missing in Björk for years. It took some time, but I’ve finally come to love her crazy voice and seemingly limitless talent.

While thinking all this, stirring up my dip, I realized that I could tell the exact same story about Joanna Newsom. I found her fascinating, but couldn’t imagine a whole album of that tiny voice. When I found out that The Decemberists’ “Bridges and Balloons” was actually Joanna Newsom’s, I turned right around and got myself The Milk-Eyed Mender, which I now love dearly.

So, cheers very much, Colin Meloy, for making me realize what I was missing!

Björk – Human Behaviour
Colin Meloy – Human Behaviour
Joanna Newsom – Bridges and Balloons
The Decemberists – Bridges and Balloons

Friday Favorite: Fat Boys

Fat Boys – Human Beat Box

Cornershop and The Double ‘O’ Groove Of, featuring Bubbley Kaur

Cornershop

It’s no secret that I love Cornershop. Yeah, I say I’m a big fan of a lot of bands, and it’s always true, but this is special. Like on equal footing with how I feel about the Beatles. One of those rare, one-in-a-million bands whose music you love so much it almost makes you feel a little sick to your stomach.

Me and Cornershop go way back. In fact, I remember the day – like most people, I got into the band via “Brimful of Asha”, just as it was turning into a monster single, and it was my night out with my friends for my 18th birthday. A little silly on the bus ride home, my friends and I couldn’t stop singing the ‘on a 45’ bit of that song, it being the only part we really knew yet. It didn’t take long for me to get myself When I Was Born For The 7th Time and, as they say, I’ve never looked back. I would pledge my undying love to Cornershop’s music (erm, if I had to for some reason), so 8 pounds seems like nothing.

Cornershop is asking us, their listeners, to pledge as little as 8 pounds to get a minimum of a pre-order of the new album they’re working on with – my heart just stopped a little – Bubbley Kaur. She of the magical single “Topknot”, one of my most beloved songs of all time. In fact, this new album seems to be based around the amazing results of that recording, finally turning it into a full-length LP. For 8 pounds you’ll get yourself the album and the knowledge that you had a little part in making it happen. For more money, you’ll get more stuff, but the list of possibilities is pretty fun to look through so I’ll let you check it out yourself.

This pledging / investing-in-the-making-of-albums isn’t really brand spanking new; I’ve seen similar offers by other bands. It’s a really interesting thing going on, releasing bands from big labels who don’t seem to give much of a crap about the bands they represent nor the listeners who pay for the music. Wouldn’t you much rather give your money directly to a band you care about and have a wee hand in helping get an album made? Cornershop is the first band to do this that I do feel that strongly about, and I will definitely be making my pledge asap, – how about you? There’s only 27 days remaining so have a think about how great it will be to hear Cornershop and The Double ‘O’ Groove Of for the first time and get pledging.

Hear Tjinder and Ben tell you all about it themselves, and find out more about the pledge options over at PledgeMusic – and remind yourself how amazing this band has always been below.

Cornershop – Good Shit

Harlan Pepper, Young and Old

Harlan Pepper, Young and Old

Who: Harlan Pepper

What: Indie-folk brought up-to-date with a sense of humor, a blend of styles, and a little more ‘today’ than most.

Where: Hamilton, Canada. The Google tells me this is in Ontario. Canadian geography is a mystery to me.

Why: Because “Great Lakes” – below and available free from Harlan Pepper’s bandcamp page – is totally awesome. Seriously, it’s a fantastic track – just all-around great. Good lyrics, nice wordplay going on with the lake names, and it weirdly makes me feel like home. I guess because Pittsburgh is near Lake Erie – and by ‘near’ I can only mean ‘nearer than I am right now’ because it’s all relative and stuff – or something, it just feels familiar like home. Anyway … I’ve enjoyed Young and Old, Harlan Pepper’s debut, but I should admit that I think “Great Lakes” really is the standout track. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the rest of this very young band’s album – “Reefer” is pretty great as well – but I think Harlan Pepper is still trying out styles to see how they fit and not all of it is as successful as “Great Lakes” is. Their music doesn’t feel like a cohesive whole yet, but Young and Old definitely has moments that point to potential I’ll like to see develop.

When: Young and Old is out now, available via bandcamp!

Harlan Pepper – Great Lakes