Len, again

Gin Blossoms

I’ve posted about Len and their 1999 album, You Can’t Stop The Bum Rush once before, but in a different-ish context, so I’m calling it ok to repeat a little now. Even though it’s now 12 (holy crap) years old, that album still sounds fresh to me. Maybe because it doesn’t sound like the late-90s at all; it borrows and mixes tiny bits from all over music history and every genre, which gives it an oddly timeless quality.

Len was a Canadian band inspired by early hip-hop, gospel, skater-esque punk-pop … and Kraftwerk? “The Hard Disk Approach” is a surreal electro-pop jam, “Cheeky Bugger” would sit nicely next to Blink 182, and “Crazy ‘Cause I Believe (Early Morning Sunshine)” has a chorus that could’ve come from Stevie Wonder. But instead of feeling like a disconnected stream of references and influences, You Can’t Stop The Bum Rush is bursting with the pure love of music. You can hear it spilling out of the speakers – Len just loves it all. Now that I think about, that may be the thing that keeps me coming back to this album after so long, it’s infectious.

But even with a huge assortment of influences, Len clearly loves old-school hip-hop the most. Like, the oldest school – Kurtis Blow and Biz Markie make appearances here, though I’ll never know how they got those legendary guys to join up with these crazy Canadians. And they get it just right – I agree, old school is the best school, and on songs like “Cryptik Souls Crew”, Len pay homage with respect, not with mimicry or irony.

What a shame then that Len never really got it together properly again. Apparently Bum Rush was their third album and there was another after, but the reviews I’ve come across (I haven’t had the chance to hear any of these myself) haven’t been kind. There was an odd magic that came together for just one album, apparently, that was sadly not heard by many. “Steal My Sunshine” was a really fun single and Len will probably be remembered as a one-hit-wonder because of it, but they had a lot more to offer on Bum Rush.

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The semi-new 100b, plus The Blueskins

A while ago, I talked about some changes I wanted to make here. To paraphrase myself: I talked about how I pretty much suck at writing about new bands and how I’d ultimately decided not to do that anymore. But I’ve been doing this little blog, for whatever reasons, for longer than I’d care to admit. I do wonder from time to time if, honestly, the sensible thing to do is to just pull the plug, but I just love geeking out about music too much – I can’t bring myself to do it. This is really my only outlet for what is, perhaps, my very favorite thing in the world. Even if I’m just babbling to myself, it gives my scattered affection a little focus.

But not really – we’ve always wanted to write about anything we liked, but that makes it impossible to pin anything down. When I finally said to myself, it’s do or die time, I knew that deciding to ‘do’ had to include narrowing myself to something I would properly enjoy writing about.

You’ll notice, perhaps, that I’ve updated the 100b header just a touch, to reflect my new focus. I eventually realized that what I love doing most is researching music stuff that has come as a surprise to me. Yes, I know that’s oddly specific – for example, my post about Mike Nesmith was fascinating to research. I started out just wanting to know what songs he’d written and discovered a whole list of achievements I’d never have guessed. My Shel Silverstein post followed the same basic path. Which made me realize that what I really love doing most is discovering those little bits that history let fall by the wayside. Sure, there are some people out there who know about them, but most of us have no idea.

I once read an article where Jack White said that, generally, the stuff that’s popular is the best stuff, that there’s usually a reason that bands end up in the bargain bin. I used to agree, and I still do think he had a basic point – popular stuff is very often popular for a reason (even Katy Perry is catchy as hell while we’re loathing her very existence). But what he (and I) weren’t thinking about was all those treasures that haven’t just been forgotten but were never noticed in the first place? Mike Nesmith made amazing albums that a few people loved, but were mostly ignored just because he was a Monkee. Those albums really don’t belong in the bargain bin, but most people don’t even know to look for them. I love looking for them.

That doesn’t mean 100b will only write about old music – sometimes I’ll want to point out an album from the more recent past that was unfairly ignored. But it does mean I will not write about anything new – for music to be considered ‘ignored’, it’d have to be at least, say, five-ish years old. Anything newer and there’s still a chance it’ll break out on its own. But even without profiling brand new bands, I hope people will stop by and find some music they didn’t know about before, that I’m able to give a little new life to something that has remained in the shadows for too long.

On that note, I’d like to briefly mention a band called The Blueskins to kick things off. You probably remember their debut album Word Of Mouth from way back in 2004 – or at least the lead single, “Change Your Mind”, which was featured in a Lynx ad in the UK. That was a pretty great album, a frantic indie-blues-rock affair, and “Change Your Mind” was a fantastic single. It felt like it was tripping over itself to be heard. But then The Blueskins kind of just stalled – they always seemed to be working on a follow-up, but instead formally broke up in 2008. Bummer.

For whatever reason, Word Of Mouth kind of went nowhere, but it deserved better. The Blueskins were definitely a band with promise – Tamboosh and I even went to see them play back then and they rocked out, even if the crowd was pretty small. It’s a shame they weren’t appreciated then, but I do see that Ryan Spendlove (Blueskins lead vocalist) released a solo album, Fables, earlier this year. I haven’t been able to hear the whole thing yet, but it sounds like it’s got good potential. A little more laid back than his previous band’s efforts, but there’s still some Blueskins wildness in there.

Get Word of Mouth at Amazon and Fables at emusic. And I do hope you’ll stick around to rediscover some forgotten music with me.

Little Brothers

Who: Little Brothers, who are, apparently, brothers. Whoda thunk? Brothers Michael and Tony Weis team up with their friend Jason Anderson to record in Michael’s basement studio and write awesome songs for … their own amusement? Michael says that they don’t tour at the moment and that they do pretty much everything they do on their own. Michael also says that he doesn’t imagine that will change anytime soon, but I have to respectfully disagree. I’m hardly an oracle on these matters, but I think these guys have a very promising future ahead of them as a band.

What: Indie rock with bits you won’t really expect: a little bit of disco-ness, some ska, a touch of Kenny G (in an awesome way)? There is definitely something about this sound that is rooted in the 70s, and maybe also the early 90s, but it’s really hard to put your finger on exactly what it is.

Where: Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Why: Honesty? I’m not sure! I think I avoided posting about Little Brothers for a while simply because I had no idea what to say. This always happens to me when I really like a new band. Don’t you find it’s so much easier to describe what you don’t like than what you do? I think I like that there’s something quite 70s (my favorite time period, musically speaking) about their sound, that their singer (I’m not sure which of the lads is on vocal duty) has a wonderfully odd captivating voice, that these are songs you can’t help but dance to, that “I Miss Those Days” (being in a bit of homesick phase right now) makes me cry a little, that these three dudes are clearly doing this just because they love it and you can hear it in every song.

When: Right now! Little Brothers’ debut EP, “Nostalgia Trip 2011”, is available right this second from bandcamp, on a pay-what-you-like system, and it seems like they’re recording more this summer. Visit them on bandcamp or facebook.

Low Cut Connie

Low Cut Connie

Any regular / long-term reader of this blog will know that I’m a really big Ladyfingers (aka Adam Weiner) fan; I’ve written about a couple of Ladyfingers albums already and love them so much, I never feel like I’ve managed to do them justice. Adam’s a great talent, has a fantastic and utterly unique voice, and makes music I can honestly say I’ve never heard the likes of before.

Now he’s teamed up with a whole group of dudes (there’s not too much information available about them just yet) to create Low Cut Connie, a bona fide, gen-u-wine rock & roll band. Putting on their debut LP, Get Out The Lotion, you feel immediately transported to a dark, dingy, kind of seedy bar in some backwater town. They’re playing in the back and every once in a while, someone throws a beer bottle.

Actually, my brain makes an immediate connection between Low Cut Connie and the earliest Beatles – way back in Hamburg or the Cavern Club. Known for being quite wild before Brian Epstein made them all shiny and tidy, the Beatles during that time were pure rock & roll. Listening to Low Cut Connie feels very much the same, like there’s nothing but undiluted rock in their veins – except that Low Cut Connie doesn’t have to be censored the way that even the wild Beatles would’ve been. I mean, they’re adorable and all but, c’mon, we all know the young Beatles weren’t as innocent and sweet as they looked. Low Cut Connie is just that little bit filthy, in the best way possible – making Get Out The Lotion feel both modern and old at the same time.

Low Cut Connie is getting some seriously good press already – they’ve apparently received great reviews from Rolling Stone and Robert Christgau – and not for nothin’. I’ve been a Ladyfingers fan for many years now, and I really hope this will be the project that finally gets Adam Weiner and his pals the recognition they deserve. Go grab the album now (pay what you want) from their official site and check them out on tour at a town near you.

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

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

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