Gin Blossoms, New Miserable Experience

Gin Blossoms

Apparently, there’s a wicked case of nostalgia going around. I had no idea until I read Chuck Klosterman’s recent Grantland article (which I highly recommend) on the epidemic, but you know what? I’m kind of glad Chuck said something because now I feel less alone. I’ve been weirdly obsessed with the 90s for … well, a while now. It started with watching Thirtysomething reruns on tv, and then Northern Exposure on DVD. And the more I was re-exposed to the 90s, the more I’ve wanted 90s stuff – to the point that I’ve even got Soul Asylum on my iPod. Really. Soul Asylum. It’s becoming a problem.

But it all fits in rather well with a band I’ve been wanting to post about for a long time: Gin Blossoms and, specifically, their 1992 album, New Miserable Experience. Gin Blossoms are a band that kind of just faded away into unimportance, although this was a pretty great album. I suppose it’s not really the kind of album that gets referred to as one of the best of its time or anything, and – sadly for the band – it doesn’t really help anything that their lead songwriter (or, at least, the one who wrote their biggest hits), Doug Hopkins, was fired from the band just before this album was released and then committed suicide not long after. The band continued with a new guitarist, but either it just wasn’t the same without him or the Gin Blossoms were a band destined only for a specific moment.

Honestly, I’m not even sure what that moment was – an idea Chuck explains in his article that I found incredibly interesting: some music makes you nostalgic falsely, that you didn’t really listen to it at a great time in your life so much as you listened to it a lot at some point in your past. That notion really rang true with me; there are indeed some albums that are so intertwined with a specific (good) time of my life, that they are nearly inseparable. Pearl Jam’s Ten will always, always conjure up warm feelings associated with buying a much-desired album with saved pocket money, a weird sense of music-induced independence – the first album I loved fiercely, all on my own. New Miserable Experience doesn’t bring back any specific memory, only a sense of fondness. Back then, I didn’t have that many tapes, and I think Chuck is probably right that we used to listen to fewer albums more often. Through sheer repetition, Gin Blossoms became a band that I feel nostalgic about.

But that’s not really fair to the album and the band. New Miserable Experience really is a good album – early 90s alternative pop at its very best. Sure, its sound is most definitely of its time but, as a pop record, it holds up really well. It’s got mad catchy hooks everywhere you turn, so the songs burrow into your head and refuse to let go. It’s got the kind of melodies you absolutely can’t help but sing along to. Not terribly challenging listening, but here’s where I think Chuck missed one tiny aspect of musical nostalgia: a side effect of listening to one album a lot is that it becomes extremely easy to listen to. You know every note, you remember the lyrics years and years later, the melodies are so familiar you don’t have to think about it at all. It’s second-nature, and relaxing because of it. I think that’s also why I’ve been enjoying those old tv shows – they’re silly and naive, but they are so simple and easy to watch. Sometimes you don’t want to think about it, you just want to sing along.

Songs About Dancing

When I’m able, I like to watch the UK Top 40 on Monday nights – you know, to keep up with what those crazy kids are listening to these days. If I consider each song on its own, I’m pretty much ok with chart music right now. No one song is so bad that I really hate it*, some are even catchy as hell.

On the other hand, I look at the chart as a whole and I’m all, ‘Wha’ happen?!’ Since when is a single sound represented in the charts? And I mean that almost literally: during a recent countdown, I counted about 6 songs out of 40 that did not use the same clubby dance beat. And on top of that, the beat kind of makes them all sing the same – to the point where choruses actually do all sound the same, note-wise. And what’s weird is that it’s almost as if artists are now afraid not to sound exactly like everyone else, if recent tracks by Snoop Dogg (ahem) and Flo Rida are anything to go by. I know that chart music is not always the most diverse, and every old fart like myself says it was better in their day, but seriously – this is out of hand. It’s like unique-ness is now a flaw in an artist, no longer their potential selling point.

While thinking about all this important stuff, I’ve also noticed something else weird (and same-y) about chart songs right now: they’re all about partying, getting wasted, dancing all night, having the night of our lives. Last Friday Night, Party Rock Anthem, On The Floor, Don’t Stop The Party. There are few artists that even pretend they’re offering any substance right now. Tracy Chapman, Aloe Blacc, and even Adele feel very out of place when you watch along on MTV. Doesn’t anyone have an opinion about anything anymore? Don’t these artists think about stuff? I really wish the youth of today had something to say that wasn’t about partying but – based on the charts, at least – I’m really not sure they do. Which is pretty much the most depressing thing ever.

But, if you think back a-ways, this isn’t actually new, it’s just a little worse than before. Here’s a weird little thought that’s been floating around in my head for years: there were a lot of songs about dancing in the 80s. Seriously, a lot – everybody just dancing all the time.

Lionel was dancing on the ceiling:

while Bruce danced in the dark:

and Billy danced with himself** :

Whitney wanted to dance with somebody who loved her:

but David was inviting us all to just dance already:

And, of course, Madonna was into the groove, Michael Sembello told us the story of the maniac on the floor, Kenny Loggins got footloose … the list goes on. Maybe we just always loved dancing and always will. Maybe, just maybe, there’s still some hope for those kids out there right now.

After all, we all turned out ok, right?

David Byrne – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston cover)

* Other than that godawful Snoop Dogg song that’s popular right now. It’s so crap I can’t even be bothered to check the title. Please stop playing it. Seriously. Please stop.

** And some zombies, apparently. What the hell is going on in this video?!

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

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

Johnny Hawaii, Smurf’s Up

Johnny Hawaii

Who: Johnny Hawaii

What: Laid back surfer pop, brought to us by Bad Panda Records

Where: From Marseille, France, not often the origin of Hawaii-infused surfer tunes.

Why: Because Johnny Hawaii knows exactly how to bring the sounds of the beach, somehow. With the first few notes of “The Lonely Smurfer”, I can close my eyes and seriously feel like I’m on a sandy beach, sun shining, a warm breeze on the air, nothing but the sounds of the water and some rustling palm trees around for miles. Not that I’ve ever been anywhere near such a place, but Mr. Hawaii really knows how to evoke the image we all associate with the beaches of his namesake state.

When: Johnny Hawaii’s Smurf’s Up EP is out now and available to listen to or download via bandcamp, or learn more about this intriguing man through this little interview.

Johnny Hawaii – The Lonely Smurfer

Darren Hayman’s January Songs

Darren Hayman's January Songs

We got a mail last week about Darren Hayman’s January Songs project – you know Darren Hayman: “ex-Hefner, godfather of modern indiepop, one of the best songsmiths of the past 15 years, oh you know the one”. Ok, I didn’t know any of those things, but I’m sure you do. I’ve been meaning to listen to some Hefner for a while now, but haven’t gotten to it yet. Isn’t it funny how you can somehow miss out on something everyone else has been listening to for ages?

Anyway, so there’s this Darren Hayman guy who everyone already knows everything about, and he’s doing a project right now – January – called, unsurprisingly, January Songs. The goal is to write and record a song for every day this month. It’s already the 19th, but it’s not to late to listen along – you can check out the full schedule here. He’s apparently been keeping a video diary throughout, and has gathered a whole bunch of people to collaborate with on this slightly crazy, but very cool and ambitious project. Especially when whipping out a song in a day can sound as good as this one, recorded with Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris. I don’t think there’s a person out there who can’t relate to this one.

Darren Hayman w/ Elizabeth Morris – I Know I Fucked Up

2010: Artists of my year

I put the emphasis on my because these aren’t going to appear on anyone else’s run-down of 2010. Or two out of three anyway – the artists of my year actually have a lot in common, but release dates aren’t one of them.

Not that there wasn’t enough good music out in 2010. It’s been a long-ass time since I made one of those numbered lists – I used to love doing it, but I think I might have taken it a little too seriously and they would always end up taking me so long to compile, it wasn’t worth posting them anymore by the time I was finished. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to mention really great albums by Mark Ronson, Hot Chip, She & Him, Tunng, Son Of Dave, Frightened Rabbit (especially Frightened Rabbit – The Winter Of Mixed Drinks really stuck with me), and The Black Keys (always, always The Black Keys) – all of which got a lot of airplay on my iPod.

I’m thinking as I type this that a badass mix tape (the old school kind) could be made of some of my favorite singles of the year. If I did that, the tracklist would probably look a little something like this:

“The Arsonist”, Our Lost Infantry (thanks to Saam at Faded Glamour for letting us know about this one)
“Superfast Jellyfish”, Gorillaz
“Bang Bang Bang”, Mark Ronson (probably my single of the year, if I had to pick one)
“New York Is Killing Me”, Gil Scott-Heron
“Taos”, Menomena
“Best Friend”, The Drums
“The Opposite Of Adults”, Chiddy Bang
“The Cities That You Burn”, Adam Haworth Stephens
“King Of The Beach”, Wavves
“Kentucky Pill”, Johnny Flynn
“Ghost Train”, Summer Camp
“O.N.E.”, Yeasayer

Among others. Hmm, maybe I should make that mix.

Anyway, the point is that, although I loved all of this music dearly, they aren’t the artists I’m going to forever associate with 2010. It wasn’t really my best year ever and, I suppose I really latched on to the way Tom Petty, Langhorne Slim, and Mark Oliver Everett AKA Eels approach music.

Tom Petty?! Yeah, I know, I’m at least 20 years late and it’s not like I didn’t love Tom Petty before last year. But I got to see that amazing Peter Bogdanovich documentary earlier this year and then couldn’t get enough. Same with Langhorne Slim, whose eponymous 2008 album had been wasting away in my iTunes library until I finally remembered to check it out this summer. I snatched up everything else he’s recorded within weeks and at least one of his albums has been on my iPod ever since, no exaggeration. As for Eels – yeah, I listened to a lot of Eels last year too, but again – Mark Oliver Everett’s voice and songwriting just took hold me of me this year even more than before. I loved Tomorrow Morning but listened to everything I have as much as I could; Eels music is, for me, definitely something I love even more the more I listen.

All three play and sing from the bottom of their hearts, reaching deep, deep down for a level of true emotion (both happy and sad) that most other artists can’t dream of – but they all three also infuse their music and lyrics with the kind of hope that just refuses to give up. And I guess that’s just what spoke – or sang – to me in 2010.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – Even The Losers
Langhorne Slim – Worries
Eels – Oh So Lovely