Groovemasters: Hunter and Amendola Live


It's one thing to have guitarist extraordinaire Charlie Hunter dazzle with simultaneous guitar and bass dexterity on his custom, 7-string, hybrid instrument, via his numerous recordings. But to witness such brilliance up close is nothing short of a decidedly jaw-dropping experience. Add the nimble and equally inspired drumming of Scott Amendola and one just might be at a magical loss for words.

Playing with the spontaneity of two adventurous jazz pros jamming in someone's living room, Hunter and Amendola--who clearly hails from the Joey Baron school of highly creative, stunt drumming--both awed and delighted the assembled crowd with spirited renditions of respective originals, as well as covers ranging from classics like Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" to pop hit "Royals" by Lorde. But their swampy New Orleans-infused Cars medley ("Bye Bye Love"/"Good Times Roll"/"Let's Go") must be heard to be believed. Awesome.


Lost and Found: 'Teenage Sex Therapist'

Teenage Sex Therapist
[Feeding Tube Records - 2014]

Being a dedicated music artist is like standing on a street corner asking the passerby if they are interested in having a conversation about a topic near and dear to you. If you’re lucky, a crowd of like-minded folk will gather to hear what you have to say. But more often the not, they won’t be interested in the topic and/or your delivery or in all likelihood won’t even stop to ask what it is you’re going on about. Hindsight might make clear you had nothing interesting or substantive to communicate, but when it’s actually the opposite and you’re ignored for reasons both fickle and frail, that’s gotta hurt.

In 1978 Maercks’ Teenage Sex Therapist went dramatically unheard or, alternately, unloved among those who had the opportunity to hear it. Yes, his Beefhart-ian take on post-punk/new wave wasn’t going to climb the charts, then or now. But this was accessible, workman-like art rock that deep down was catchy as fuck. Surely it would’ve found an audience had it gotten the right attention, particularly at a time when kindred spirits such the B-52s were just a year away with their own outside-the-norm statement of musical purpose. But it was not to be.

Aside from Maercks himself, we have noted guitarist—and former Maercks bandmate in Monster Island—Henry Kaiser, to thank for the existence of Teenage Sex Therapist, having gotten Maercks up to Monterrey, CA to record the album over a few days with a band Kaiser selected and rehearsed in advance. (No Skyping or prior exchange of files, kiddies—remember, this was 1978.) Because of Kaiser’s involvement—and, let’s face it, the vagaries of life and the lottery-like aspect of the Internet—Maercks’ lone release has now found a home in the record collections of quite a few sympathetic fans, having gotten a proper release by the Massachusetts-based Feeding Tube Records. For those of us who missed its wonderful courtship with brilliance the first time around, discovering Teenage Sex Therapist is a source of both joy and reaffirmation: the former is self-explanatory; the latter lies in the hope that great music eventually finds an audience, especially while its creator is around to bask in the somewhat muted glow. 

Highlights: Nary a duff track here but “Sleeping With Great Works of Art”, “Information”, “Asleep and Awake”, “Nancy Calls Collect”, “Hoh!” and “Intense Young Man” deserve special attention.


Mr. Jones' 21 Favorite Singles of the 21st Century (so far)

[As always, when attempting this kind of exercise, familiarity and poignancy—as well as considerations of time, space, length, reader interest, etc etc etc—will inevitably lead to some favorites falling by the wayside. But such are the pitfalls of compiling a list of any kind, although slightly less stress is involved when the main criteria is favorites. And so, with that out of the way, and in alphabetical order by artist, have at them. Cheers. - KJ]

AUDIOSLAVE "Cochise" [2002]
The first—and biggest—rock supergroup of the first decade of the 21st century didn't always gel, but when they did...

COLDPLAY “Yellow” [2000]
Boy, have these dudes caught grief. But long before the weirdly titled albums, "Sgt. Pepper's"-style band uniforms, the arrival—and subsequent departure—of the high profile Hollywood actress, and the questionable need to make a statement with every release, there was a simple yet heartfelt pop song that took the world by storm.

DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE “The Sound of Settling” [2003]
We almost went with the most excellent “Cath…” but this infectious, joy-imbued, short and sweet nugget of ear candy from their breakthrough Transatlanticism album [Barsuk], was too hard to pass up. Just might be our fave song of the 2000s. Yes, we love it that much.

FREELANCE HELLRAISER "A Stroke of Genius" [2001]
Talk about the sum of its parts: never cared for either Christina Aguilera or The Strokes, but this mash up truly lives up to its title. Arguably, the standard bearer for mash-ups.

GRIZZLY BEAR “Two Weeks” [2009]
This time the Brooklyn “cool” kids were right. Oh, yeah.

GUIDED BY VOICES “Glad Girls” [2001]
Uncle Bob’s best-sounding/produced album, Isolation Drills [TVT]—recorded in NYC, btw—is the home of this shoulda-been-a-monster-hit.

INCUBUS “Megalomaniac” [2003]
Lumped together with the nu-metal mooks of the late ‘90s, these guys were always a lot more interesting than that mostly sorry bunch. This fiery bastard is proof.

INJECTED "Faithless" [2002]
This Atlanta quartet never got much love while in the spotlight but this tune is modern melodic hard rock—with a catchy chorus the size of a house—at its finest.

"Woman King" [2005]
Sam Beam is one of the most gifted songwriters today. (And a master at interpretation, as his gorgeous solo acoustic cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” clearly demonstrates.) This one is but a highlight from his vastly impressive catalog.

JLS "Maco Jones" [2003]
A vicious slab of molten, in your face, slow-grinding metal, this is a track for the ages. 

NORAH JONES "Don't Know Why" [2002]
Only the most jaded among us—and we’re founders/card-carrying members of that club—could escape the intoxicating charms of this Jesse Harris-penned ballad.

LONGWAVE "Wake Me When It's Over" [2003]
One of the early ‘00s NYC outfits poised for fame, it never happened for these dudes. But this tune remains one of the finest recorded moments of that scene's brief heyday.

A PERFECT CIRCLE “Judith” [2000]
Few have perfected the metal-meets-
The Cure aesthetic like these guys. This track—with its David Fincher-directed video clip—is just...

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" [2000]
Whatever you do/don’t tell anyone.” Gotcha.

THE RACONTEURS “Steady as She Goes” [2006]
The Joe Jackson-indebted debut single from Jack White’s post-White Stripes outfit is a big fave ‘round these parts. "Find yourself a girl and settle down / live a simple life in a quiet town..." Rarely did straightforward advice sound so good.

DUNCAN SHEIK "White Limousine" [2006]
He’s a big deal on Broadway these days, and while his previous output never really did much for us, the title track from his 2003 album is simply a solid lesson in songwriting and arrangement in a pop music format. (Special props for the deft atmospheric/“color” guitarwork.)

SPOON “Don’t You Evah” [2007]
The Natural History were a talented NYC-based band from the first half of the '00s that never really took off, despite a solid EP and album on the hip, also NYC-based StarTime International label, and an even better self-released album. It is on the latter, People I Meet from 2007, that you'll find the original version of "Don't You Ever", which Spoon covered on their highly acclaimed record Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga  [Merge] that same year. Spoon's take is a little more polished and produced—and arguably the best track on their album—while the original has a lot of heart despite being about cold feet, heh heh. Great song in any version, regardless.

U2 "Beautiful Day" [2000]
In the midst of the avalanche of boy band/nu metal/prefab teen star nonsense that was the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, this one arrived like a truck of ice water in the desert, as the Irish legends reclaimed their place among the heathens.

WEEZER “Keep Fishin” [2002]
Three minutes and five seconds of pure ear-candy bliss, in the same vein as Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan classic "I Want You To Want Me", plus the equally ebullient Marcos Siega directed clip: a faux Muppet Show episode featuring Kermit and the gang panicking over the disappearance of Weezer drummer Patrick Wilson (who’s been kidnapped by none other than Miss Piggy) moments before the band is due to perform. Awesome.

The haters can knock it all they want, this one will always make us…well, you know.

ZWAN "Honestly" [2003]
Billy Corgan has written some great tunes and you may get to hear many of ‘em if you catch the latest of incarnation of Smashing Pumpkins on the road. Sadly, this gem won’t be one of ‘em.


Mr. Jones' 21 Favorite Albums of the 21st Century (so far)

[As always, when attempting this kind of exercise, familiarity and poignancy—as well as considerations of time, space, length, reader interest, etc etc etc—will inevitably lead to some favorites falling by the wayside. But such are the pitfalls of compiling a list of any kind, although slightly less stress is involved when the main criteria is favorites. And so, with that out of the way, and in alphabetical order by artist, have at them. Cheers. - KJ]

If you are of the faction that enjoys Adams’ alt-country leanings but have more of a hankering for his rock and roll exploits—namely, um, Rock n Roll [Lost Highway-2003]—then the final Cardinals album is the one for you. Adams and his mates are in full-on rock mode here and despite the common quality control pitfalls of a double album, they amply succeeded in putting together a batch of rockin’ tunes that don’t let up and coalesce into a consistent album. The Cardinals’ final bow was quite the farewell and arguably one of Adams’ best overall.

BECK Sea Change [DGC-2002]
Returning to the full-on singer/songwriter mode he mined on 1999's Mutations [DGC] with even better results, Sea Change was Beck’s breakup album. And while the man is in fact grieving over the demise of a long-time relationship on disc, Sea Change is not a dark, mournful listen. No. This is a slow, sadly beautiful piece of music. A late night or Sunday morning record of the highest order with simple, heartwarming songs driven by wonderfully recorded acoustic guitars and supple arrangements. A classic.

BRIAN BLADE & THE FELLOWSHIP BAND Season of Changes [Verve-2008]
A gifted drummer whose talents extend into composition as well, Blade has played with many a great, including Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Daniel Lanois, Brad Mehldau, Joni Mitchell, Joshua Redman, and Wayne Shorter. He also leads the Fellowship Band, one of the finest jazz ensembles out there. Season of Changes, their third album, is incredibly accessible, pregnant with soaring melodies that never pander, while firmly planted in the jazz realm yet eschewing unwarranted instrumental indulgence. No gimmicks, tricks or nonsense, this is the real deal.

JON BRION Meaningless [Straight to Cut Out-2001]
The Los Angeles-based producer/multi-instrumentalist/composer is a name familiar to anyone who has perused the liner notes to records by Fiona Apple, Eels, Jellyfish, Aimee Mann, Rhett Miller and many more. And although he has only one album under his own name at this point, it’s clearly a winner. Released on Brion’s own label and almost guaranteeing it very limited exposure despite the artist’s high profile production/session work, Meaningless is a wonderful album in the singer/songwriter vein with a healthy dose of classic pop chops definitely worth seeking out.
Feel Good Lost [Arts & Crafts-2002]
One of the privileged few who have gone thru the reverse sophomore slump—their second album, the Juno Award-winning You Forgot It In People [Arts & Crafts-2002] was their critical and commercial breakthrough and set the stage for members Leslie Feist and Emily Haines to become stars in their native Canada—this beloved collective started out as a 2-man operation on this, their debut album. Before the group swelled to around a dozen or so members and became an indie rock powerhouse, Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew put together dreamy, mostly instrumental soundscapes that can be as effective a soundtrack for late night seduction as for a sober Sunday morning.

ROBERT DOWNEY JR. The Futurist [Sony Classical-2004]
A mostly piano-driven singer/songwriter album reminiscent of latter day Elton John, The Futurist is a moving full-length debut from a talented musician better known for his day job and past run-ins with the law, and one that should appeal to anyone looking for mellow, more adult-leaning fare.

FREELOADER Cantina Claqueur [JSS-2005]
Sort of a more down home version of Wilco—2/3 of the band were from the South—but edgier than Tweedy and company, on their sophomore release killer grooves and blissful vibes effortlessly share space with hooky, deep-fried licks. Of special note is "6 Train", a stunningly beautiful acoustic tribute to the band’s adopted home of NYC, courtesy of frontman Scott Sinclair, a talented guitarist and vocalist, not to mention a keen lyricist, with a gift for atmosphere and observation. Why this kickass trio didn’t blow up…

GUIDED BY VOICES Isolation Drills [TVT-2001]
Amidst a couple of lo-fi masterpieces, the Rob Schnapf-produced Isolation Drills has the highest quality sound to quality song ratio in the GBV catalog, which also makes it a perfect starting point for the uninitiated, as well as the studio album that comes closest to capturing the energy of their legendary live shows. (Isolation Drills features Elliott Smith playing keyboards on a couple of tracks.)

JUMBO D.D. Y Ponle Play [BMG US Latin-2001]
The exact opposite of what is commonly known as a sophomore slump, the follow-up to the Monterrey, Mexico quintet’s tentative 1999 debut Restaurant [BMG US Latin] is quite a spirited affair. Chock full of soaring choruses, solid playing and held together by a finely tuned production approach that gives the proceedings its underlying fluidity, D.D. Y Ponle Play is a rousing rock and roll record from start to finish.

THE LEMONHEADS self-titled [Vagrant-2006] 
Released almost 10 years to the day after their last studio album—the spotty but noteworthy Car Button Cloth [Atlantic-1996]—Evan Dando dusted off his nom de band and showed the young’uns how it’s done. The old pop/punk pin-up (along with The Descendants rhythm section of Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson, the latter also serving as the album’s producer) was smart enough to rejoin us with a gem of a disc that recalls the joyous, infectious sound of their '92 classic It's A Shame About Ray [Atlantic]. As the All Music Guide plainly states, this was "the right kind of return for a band that should never have gone away in the first place."

AIMEE MANN Bachelor No.2 or the Last Remains of the Dodo [Superego-2000] 
With the exception of ‘Til Tuesday’s debut we’ve not been big supporters of this lady’s work, before or since this album. But this one, oh, this one…    

JASON MORAN The Bandwagon: Live at the Village Vanguard [Blue Note-2003]
Moran is tremendous. And The Bandwagon, recorded live with his trio in NYC, is a gem. His covers of Brahms’ "Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2"—one of the most sadly beautiful pieces of music we’ve ever heard within the realm of jazz—and the standard “Body and Soul” are pure genius; Moran’s own “Gentle Shifts South”—featuring sampled members of his family narrating their genealogy—is not be missed. Oh, and his reworking of “Planet Rock" is none too shabby, btw.

NADA SURF Let Go [Barsuk-2003]
Avoiding the frequent comparisons to Weezer that plagued them since the release of their hit single "Popular" (which was also produced by former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek), Brooklyn-based rockers Nada Surf returned from a 3 year hiatus with an engaging, gimmick-free collection of top-notch guitar pop. Yes, the crunchy guitars are in the mix, but there’s a lot more subtlety, maturity and definition to their sound on Let Go. That doesn’t mean the tunes don’t rock: au contraire, mes amis. This is what a band sounds like when they’ve assessed their gifts and weaknesses, balanced them out, and delivered their very best.

THE RACONTEURS Broken Boy Soldiers [Third Man/V2-2006]
Jack White always had our respect, if not necessarily our admiration. That all changed when he teamed up with fellow Motor City singer/songwriter/guitarist Brendan Benson and the eminently talented Greenhornes rhythm section of Little Jack Lawrence (bass) and Patrick Keeler (drums) for one of the most anticipated pairings of the ‘00s. Like it or not, Broken Boy Soldiers answered the question, “What would the White Stripes sound like with a rhythm section carried by a real drummer?” (Sorry, Meg.)

RADIOHEAD Kid A [Parlophone-2000]
With a couple of classics under their belt, Radiohead once again surprised fans with a new musical direction on their next album. Disturbed by the legion of groups copping their style and disillusioned with the traditional parameters of rock music, vocalist and main songwriter Thom Yorke was motivated to go for a change of musical scenery. (Although, it must be said, "The mythology around [rock music] has run its course" is truly one of the most pretentious statements ever made by Yorke or any other rock star.)
Despite experimenting with an electronica-based sound, Kid A managed to retain much of the majesty of their previous album and undisputed landmark, OK Computer [Parlophone-1997], and reach the top of the album charts shortly after its release, later winning a Grammy for Best Alternative Album on the strength of "Everything in its Right Place", "The National Anthem", "How to Disappear Completely", "Treefingers", "Optimistic" and "In Limbo", among others.  

SUN KIL MOON Ghosts of the Great Highway [Caldo Verde-2003]
The debut album under the former Red House Painters frontman/main songwriter Mark Kozelek’s third moniker was universally acclaimed and for good reason. Nary a cover nor a duff track anywhere, Ghosts of the Great Highway is at times an acoustic elegy while also mining a Crazy Horse revisited terrain. Regardless, this is simply a hauntingly beautiful record by a talented artist who has been toiling in the not-so-bright spotlight while making some of the most timeless music of the last couple of decades.

MATTHEW SWEET Kimi Ga Suki [Superdeformed-2004]
Sweet and the land of the rising sun have conducted an equally requited love affair for some time now. So, four years after his previous official release, In Reverse
[Volcano-1999], Sweet got together with most of the crew from his landmark album Girlfriend [Zoo-1991]—except the late guitarist Robert Quine—returned to the studio and delivered this power-pop valentine to his Japanese fan base. Recorded in a week and produced, engineered and mixed at home by Sweet, Kimi Ga Suki is a raw, loose and wonderful showcase for the man’s plentiful songwriting talents.

TEARS FOR FEARS Everybody Loves a Happy Ending [New Door/Universal-2004]
With their classic panoramic production and a strong late-period Beatles influence in place, this album is nothing less than prime TFF. Granted, in an era of segregated musical tastes mainstream pop fans did not care and indie rock fans stayed away in droves. Which is a shame, since this is pop music of the highest caliber; written, performed and arranged with precise attention to detail but with enough kick to please pop purists and rockers alike. Nobody makes records like this anymore, but thankfully Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith made sure that at least one band still did.

VAN HALEN A Different Kind of Truth [Interscope-2012] 
After the Van Hagar era and the lone album with Gary Cherone, to expect a classic Van Halen record was nothing short of foolishness. That a damn good one appeared 14 years after the band’s last studio album and almost three decades since they’d parted ways with Diamond Dave was, well, as close to a miracle as anyone could aspire to, in this case.

THE WEBB BROTHERS Maroon [Warner Bros-2000]
Virtual unknowns here in their homeland—they got their first record deal in the UK and even snagged a slot at the Reading Festival—the Chicago-based sons of legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb haven’t had much commercial success in these United States. The critically lauded Maroon is undeserving of such neglect for, among other things, its catchy, sophisticated pop occasionally suggests a cross between Ben Folds and latter day Flaming Lips (especially on the last third of the album). Engaging and rewarding, Maroon may be just one more in a long line of hidden gems out there, but its dreadful commercial fate does not diminish its power and beauty one bit.

WILCO Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [Nonesuch-2002]
It’s been long enough that one can easily listen to the fourth Wilco album while forgetting all the inherent drama surrounding YHF. It also served, at the time, as the basis for an interesting thought experiment: What kinda record would Radiohead’s OK Computer have been if they’d hailed from the Midwest and had alt-country roots?


Milestones: Sueño Stereo

Sueño Stereo 
[BMG US Latin-1995] 

Despite what could be described as a cross between the dark yet accessible electronica of Depeche Mode’s Violator [Warner Bros-1988] and the panoramic soundscapes of U2’s Achtung, Baby [Island-1990], the band’s sixth studio album Dynamo [Sony-1992] failed to ignite the expected enthusiasm from either their fanbase or the rock en español crowd in general. (Lukewarm reception aside, the album is a shoegazer touchstone in Latin America.) 

But a worthwhile plateau had been reached: the use of a more modern and expansive palate had yielded significant musical dividends. And with the lessons learned—as well as the further groundwork laid by Amor Amarillo [BMG-1993], the solo debut album by frontman Gustavo Cerati—there would be plenty to work with next time out. 

Studio album number seven turned out to be their swan song, but what a way to go—electronica-treated, Beatlesque guitar pop, flawlessly performed, recorded and produced; a heady, spacey mix of 21st century rock and roll half a decade early, yet arriving not a moment too soon. (The album’s title translates as “stereo dream” and it couldn’t be more appropriate.) Not only the band’s best but one of the finest rock records ever recorded in Spanish. Released August 15, 1995.

Highlights: “Ella Uso Mi Cabeza Como Un Revolver”, “Disco Eterno”, “Zoom”, “Ojo de la Tormenta”, “Paseando por Roma”, “Planta”.


Getting the Poison Out: The End of 'Californication'

Thanks to Netflix, and a year after everyone else—anyone who was still watching, that is—we’ve managed to settle the unfinished business we had with Californication, mainly to play catch up with seasons 6 and 7. As it turns out, unfinished business is one of the major themes of the final season. That and how increasingly over-the-top and devoid of much resemblance to reality the show had become. Let’s face it: there are ladies’ men and then there’s Hank Moody (David Duchovny). And no 40-something writer, no matter how attractive, gets that much ass for free. Sure, he has that self-destructive, bad boy streak than many women find irresistible but it’s just too much in this case. It’s almost as if your suspended disbelief has to pause and get its bearings.

Season 6 is a ridiculous rock and roll journey almost redeemed by the luminous Maggie Grace (‘Lost’) and a bonafide rock legend: Sex Pistol Steve Jones. But “almost” is the key word here since the plot lines are as atrocious as the bad accents and scenery chewing by most of the guest stars, not to mention the least accurate rock star-types seen this side of a Amish after school special. (The likely concoction of someone who quite possibly may have confused This is Spinal Tap with an actual documentary.) Oh, and Hank's best friend and agent Charlie (Evan Handler) pretends to be gay so he can sign gay clients. Yes, the results are disastrous and not as funny as anyone might’ve hoped. And Rob Lowe as Eddie Nero is exhausting and not in a good way. Whew.

Season 7, as we mentioned before, revolves largely around loose ends: the end result of one particular instance of Hank’s past sexual proclivities; Charlie and Marcy's (Pamela Adlon) marriage; and, of course, the on-again off again romance between Hank and Karen (Natascha McElhone). Their daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin), as always, represents the show’s emotional center and her appearances tend to imbue the proceedings with a bit of heft. But we don’t see much of her, since the show has veered too far off the silly end to employ Becca’s gravitas. Lowe as Nero makes a brief and unnecessary appearance but the guest star slot is redeemed by the return of Jones, as well as the welcome arrival of Michael Imperioli and Heather Graham. (The less said about her character's son Levon…)

Californication ends in a way that Hank Moody himself may have deemed lame: with a series of whimpering clichés that bear no relation to the lunacy of its previous episodes. As if someone in the show’s hierarchy finally had enough with the shenanigans and abruptly decided it was time to wrap it all up. Just like Hank, one assumes.

Your Movie Sucks, Too

A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck 

Because the late Roger Ebert was a lifelong film critic he had first hand awareness of the pitfalls of sequels. And because he was one smart dude he knew enough not to make the same mistakes he’d witnessed time and time again on the silver screen, when it came time to publish a sequel to his fabulous compendium of crappy flicks, Your Movie Sucks [Andrews-McMeel-2007].

Five years later, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Chicago Sun-Times reviewer brought more of the same wit and snark to this bunch of reviews as he did previously, as well as a heartfelt expression of ‘But, why?’ to many films which should never have been made or originated from an inspiring spark and were simply botched in the execution phase. Both humorous and eye-opening, A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length is that rare sequel that delivers. Didn’t expect anything less.


Just Say No: A Lifelong Fan Walks Away from Yes

[For the first time in the history of “5” the royal we” will be put aside. This is personal.]

I used to be a real hardliner about artists retiring once, in my estimation, they had become artistically irrelevant—which I define as releasing mediocre material nowhere near the quality of their artistic heyday and simply cashing in on their past—but in recent years my stance has softened considerably in this regard. Hey, if people want to pay good money to see _____ perform, who am I to disagree? I’ll just be over in the corner if somebody needs me.

So, why has the news that Yes plan to soldier on without Chris Squire, founding member—the last of those, btw—and sole constant presence throughout the band’s history, bothered me so much? To the point that I’ve engaged in heated discussions online over the subject. (Chill, dude.) Part of it has to do with the fact that I unapologetically expected much more than dexterous mediocrity from a band which has meant so much to me. And that’s what the music they’ve made from 1991-2014 has been: well-executed dreck. So, the death of Squire coupled with fans who tell me they’ve been listening to Yes for decades and that they consider the last quarter century of Yes music to be of respectable quality, has made it obvious to me that I need to STFU, walk away and leave these folks to enjoy their Krokus* version of Yes. Cheers.

* [Krokus is a Swiss metal band which has soldiered on without an original member in their lineup for decades, long after their creative and commercial peak, with diminishing returns.]


Your Valuable Hunting Knife: A Brief Guided by Voices Primer

You may have heard of these guys, but have yet to experience the saga that is Guided by Voices up close and personal. Maybe you’ve been a tad gun-shy. Sure, who can blame you? Aside from the baffling origin story—30-something schoolteacher and a rotating cast of beer-fueled buddies record British Invasion-influenced, minute-plus, fascinating tunes in a basement, on boom boxes and 4-track tape machines, toiling in obscurity for a decade—there’s the weird song titles; the crushing low fidelity of their first eight albums; the huge catalog...take your pick. After all, the Robert Pollard-led outfit’s body of work is staggering in sheer size—22 studio albums, 17 EPs, 39 singles, 6 box sets(!) and 6 compilations, in addition to various split EPs and singles—as well as reverence and reputation. But we’re here to help.

Because it’s been a bit of a GBV listening marathon ‘round these parts lately—aided in part by reading former bassist Jim Greer’s book on the band, Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll—coupled with our desire to share our love for the Dayton, OH indie rock institution and lo-fi avatars, we started wondering what could be the gateway album for neophytes. This led to putting together a primer on how to immerse oneself in Uncle Bob’s best known exploits. And so here we are. (Note: we’ll be focusing on the studio albums exclusively. You can do the rest of the digging yourself. That’s half the fun anyway, right?) So, shall we?

Where To Start:
There’s some choice stuff among the early albums, but some people you just can’t start ‘em off on a lo-fi tip. Meanwhile, Do the Collapse [TVT-1999], although a solid record, is quite polished and overly produced—what’s up, Ric Ocasek?!—so it’s not the most accurate introduction for a newbie. The Rob Schnapf-produced Isolation Drills [TVT-2001] has the highest quality sound to quality song ratio in the GBV catalog (“Unspirited”, “Glad Girls”, “Privately”) which makes it a perfect starting point. It’s also the studio album that comes closest to capturing the energy of their legendary live shows. (Isolation Drills features Elliott Smith playing keyboards on a couple of tracks.)

1997’s Mag Earwhig! [Matador] is the big anomaly in the band’s catalog in that Pollard fired the prior incarnation and replaced them with Cleveland’s Cobra Verde, lock, stock and barrel. As such, the lone ‘Guided by Verde’ album is a muscular one, chock full of great tunes (“Sad If I Lost It”, “I Am a Tree”, “Bulldog Skin”) and should be your next stop.

What’s Next?
Once you are certain this band is to your liking and you are willing to withstand some hardcore lo-fi recording, it's time to move on to what was thought to be the band's final album, one noted for both its songs and the insouciance behind the making of the album itself. Recorded on portable 4-tracks and boom boxes, the lo-fi, basement sound of indie rock landmark Bee Thousand [Scat-1994] (which includes the classics “Tractor Rape Chain” and “Gold Star for Robot Boy”, as well as "I Am a Scientist"), was more the result of financial constraints and dissatisfaction with proper recording studios than an aesthetic (which they fully demonstrated later on when they came into actual recording budgets and name producers) and further proof that great tunes can't be stopped, no matter the circumstances. Named during a marathon weed smoking session—its title approved by Uncle Bob for its resemblance to famed Who guitarist Pete Townshend—this tribute to the British Invasion and Pollard’s “four Ps”: pop, punk rock, progressive rock and psychedelia, remains the single most beloved piece of GBV's musical output.

Even though the success of Bee Thousand led to signing with Matador and, consequently, exposure to a much larger audience, GBV chose to stick to their lo-fi guns and came up with an almost equally stunning followup to its predecessor in Alien Lanes [Matador-1995], home of “A Salty Salute”, “Game of Pricks” and “Motor Away”. Quite the tour de force, Alien Lanes is along with Bee Thousand, the foundation upon which the GBV mythology is based.

What to Avoid:
Every GBV record has gems, but leave the 6 albums from the 2012-2014 span of their reunion for absolute last. (The band first broke up in 2004, went on an extended hiatus, reunited in 2010 and then broke up abruptly in 2014.) Collectively, they sound like the band is trying too hard to capture their "youth" and not being too convincing at it, either. English Little League [GBV-2013] is probably the best among that latter bunch.

The Rest:
Devil Between My Toes [Schwa-1987] Sandbox [Halo-1987] Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia [Halo-1989] Same Place the Fly Got Smashed [Rocket #9-1990] Propeller [Rockathon-1992] Vampire on Titus [Scat-1993]  Under the Bushes Under the Stars [Matador-1996] Tonics & Twisted Chasers [Rockathon-1996]  Universal Truths and Cycles [Matador-2002] Earthquake Glue [Matador-2003] Half Smiles of the Decomposed [Matador-2004] Let's Go Eat the Factory [GBV-2012] Class Clown Spots a UFO [GBV-2012] The Bears for Lunch [GBV-2012] Motivational Jumpsuit [GBV-2014] Cool Planet [GBV-2014].


They Make Country Albums, Don’t They?

Pageant Material

Aside from the fact that she’s been known to cover the deplorably materialistic and plastic “No Scrubs” by TLC on stage, Musgraves is alright in our book. Actually, as one of the few mainstream country artists who is, in fact, solidly country, and not a purveyor of that cheesy pop/rock with a twang that passes for the venerable art form these days, she’s more than alright. Musgraves seems like the real deal.

On her sophomore album, the Grammy-winning Musgraves fuels the frequent Dolly Parton comparisons by continuing on her traditionalist bent and delivering some of the best mainstream country we’ve heard in a while. Sure, she makes a few concessions to contemporary Nashville (“Dime Store Cowgirl”, “Die Fun”, “Good Old Boys Club”), but it's unavoidable in 2015 while recording for a major label, even if you happen to be a traditionalist. Fret not, howeverthere’s more of the good stuff than you would expect from a new darling of the country set on Pageant Material. This one, though, looks like she might have a chance at keeping the crown.

Highlights: “High Time”, “Biscuits”, “Miserable”, the hilarious “Family is Family”, “Cup of Tea”, “Fine”, the Willie Nelson duet “Are You Sure?” and the title track.