What We're Listening To: Check out the Records the Cream Is Currently Checking Out, 4/25/13



It's been far too long since we last filed one of these! From time to time, we, your loyal Cream scribes, like to keep you abreast of What We're Listening To. Of course, our various professional undertakings keep us rather busy, but believe it or not, we squeeze in some just-for-pleasure listening as well.

Follow me after the jump to check out what freelancers Ashley Spurgeon, Lance Conzett, Seth Graves, Stephen Trageser, Sean Maloney, Edd Hurt and Jewly Hight have been spinning as of late, not to mention some contributions from fellow staffer Adam Gold and myself. It's a diverse assortment that will take us from obscure and mysteriously vanished New Wave nuggets to British Invasion-meets-Nashville Sound collisions, gleaming electro-pop smoothness, classic indie rock, hardcore punk and beyond. Here, I'll start us off ...

D. Patrick Rodgers, music editor

Jacco Gardner, Cabinet of Curiosities (Trouble in Mind, 2013)
The full-length debut from this Dutch dude in his early 20s doesn't scream "Dutch" or "millennial" or "modern" or anything other than "1960s psych and baroque pop." Pulling influence from far-out innovators like The Zombies, The Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, The Left Banke and Donovan, Cabinet of Curiosities (pardon the overly whimsical name) picks up where last year's remarkable Tame Impala and Melody's Echo Chamber releases left off. While not quite as catchy or transcendent as either of those Kevin Parker projects, Cabinet features layers of trippy and diverse instrumentation, with creative and disjointed arrangements that avoid predictability without losing momentum.

Chet Atkins, Chet Atkins Picks on The Beatles (RCA Victor, 1966)
A Record Store Day find I picked up at Fond Object, this 1966 Atkins effort features obvious picks like "She Loves You," "Hard Day's Night" and "Can't Buy Me Love," but also some delightful and unexpected numbers: "I'll Cry Instead" and "She's a Woman" are two of my favorites. AllMusic's great Stephen Thomas Erlewine called this one an "entertaining, if ultimately disposable, artifact." I suppose that may be the case, but this is an excellent intersection of Beatles' mid-career gems (some of them under-celebrated) and that blossoming Nashville Sound. Atkins' playing is, as always, on point, and Charlie McCoy's harmonica contributions are delightful.

Past that, I've also been spinning Booker T and the MGs' 1968 Stax LP Soul Limbo (another RSD find), though it's curiously labeled "Over Easy" on the wax itself. Also been listening to both LPs from New England's excellent psych warriors MMOSS.

Adam Gold, staff writer/music listings editor

Suburban Lawns, "Janitor"
I know, you’d think a chorus that goes “I’m a janitor / Oh my genitals” would be a deal-breaker, like under any circumstances. Not true! And that’s not the only thing that’ll blow your mind if you’re just heard this divine Hardcore DEVO-meets-Missing Persons New Wave nugget courtesy of late ’70s/early ’80s Southern California quintet Suburban Lawns. I’ve been playing it and replaying so incessantly I think I’m about to overdose. Seriously, the fact that this song isn’t a karaoke standard is truly tragic. [Ed. Note: I concur, and also Su Tissue is awesome.]

Stephen "Goose" Trageser, freelancer

Country Soul Sisters (Soul Jazz Records, 2012)
In a classic "I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band" moment, the Grimey's staff played this when I walked in on my lunch break, and I had to buy it. Not much on here comes further than soul's doorstep, but it's a great group of cuts nonetheless. To highlight just a couple of standouts, there are two killer Bobbie Gentry cuts, her breakthrough "Ode to Billie Joe" and "Reunion," a positively psychedelic collage of interlocking verses spoken over a Bo Diddley beat. There's also Gentry's great "Fancy," perhaps the most soulful track of the bunch, though the original is skipped for a great cover by Lynn Anderson that has just a touch more drama in the delivery. "Get While the Gettin's Good" is an oddball with its ska groove, but I can smell the shampoo when Nancy Sinatra sings "I've noticed I stopped singin' in the shower," and I'm cool with that.

The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses (Silvertone, 1989)
Some folks could be forgiven for not knowing who this band is. Dinosaur Jr.'s gloriously grungy pyrotechnics aside, I rank this one of the best guitar records of the '80s: a heady balance of jangle-pop throwback and contemporary production that holds up extraordinarily well. Despite being hugely popular and influential on its release, a shit-storm of miscalculations, arrogance and bad luck effectively sidelined the band after this album; individual members have done credible work since then, but there hasn't been a Stone Roses record since 1995's Second Coming, and we don't talk about that one. Just now, almost 25 years after its initial release, they're booking their first ever dates in the U.S. (including the above-referenced Coachella headline slot), and now's as good a time as any to get nostalgic. Essential cuts for the uninitiated are the foreboding opener "I Wanna Be Adored" and the unrelentingly optimistic "Elephant Stone." Perfect for a budding spring day, if we actually get any.

Robyn Hitchcock, Spooked (Yep Roc, 2004)
The prolific former Soft Boy cut most of this one here in Nashville, at the Woodland Street Studios facility owned by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, who contribute just the right dose of weathered harmony and slide guitar. Spooked burns slow; impatient folks would do well to skip to the moody, groovy "Creeped Out," where the energy ratchets up. "Creeped" and the follow-up "Sometimes a Blonde" are worth the price of admission, but a couple of listens reveal the rest of the record's charms. Hitchcock's trademark warped sense of humor is all over this one, including occasional non-sequiturs that loosely relate to some larger, hidden narrative. If you're looking for a next step from Hitchcock's 1982 solo debut I Often Dream of Trains, perhaps one that has the chops and dry, dark wit of the former but is a bit more, well, spring-y, give Spooked a whirl.

Natalie Prass, Sense of Transcendence (self-released EP, 2011)
If this is any indication of what we can expect from the new full-length Prass has in the works, we're in for a big treat. There are a lot of folks putting an indie-pop spin on late '80s/early '90s R&B at the moment, but few have an amazingly supple voice like Natalie Prass. Her impressive degree of vocal control carries over to the arrangements, which have lots of neat little nuggets of ear candy, but never overwhelm or distract. There are bits of pretty everywhere, but Prass isn't all soft-sell; "Bird of Prey" is a neat study in contrasts, where a vulnerable character turns the tables, and "Violently" is a great example of a kinda-creepy love song that's too fascinating to pass over.

The Grateful Dead, Live/Dead (Warner, 1969)
This concise statement sounds amazing, besting even the great Europe '72, especially in the bottom end. If you absolutely can't stand jamming, then stay away, but the improvisations here are coherent and purposeful, not the aimless noodling that rightfully drives some people away. Besides the classic "Dark Star/The Eleven/St. Stephen" opener, there are great versions of "Death Don't Have No Mercy" and "Turn on Your Love Light," with vocals by keyboard player Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, one of the few white guys to sing those songs with the kind of soul they require. Unlike several Dead records I could name, this one leaves you wanting to hear more after it's over.

Ashley Spurgeon, freelancer

Can I contribute music that I am going to be listening to very, very soon? 2013 is shaping up to be one of the best New Music years in recent memory for me, because guys! New Daft Punk! May 21! Here’s the first single, “Get Lucky,” with Pharrell and Nile Rodgers. It’s super disco, and it’s super amazing. And guys! New Empire of the Sun! June 14! Here’s the first single, “Alive,” which Billboard.com describes as a “synth-bass driven electro-pop track.” SOLD. You have no idea how sold. The new Phoenix album, Bankrupt!, was just released on April 22, but thanks to surreptitious methods I’ve been able to give it a listen for a while and spoiler alert, it’s great.

As far as music that has actually been out for a while, I’ve been playing “Oh No!” by Marina and the Diamonds pretty much nonstop since I heard it in a commercial on MTV. I’ve also been listening to Yelle’s 2007 album Pop Up, specifically “Ce Jeu” and “Tristesse/Joie.” Synth pop and disco are always going to be the soundtrack to my spring and summer.

Sean L. Maloney, freelancer

MLB.tv (monthly subscription)
I'm not going to lie — I've been making a conscious effort to avoid music lately. Not that I have anything against music, it's just that being on the receiving of an infinite amount of promos is kind of like getting the monkey's paw. Yes, I made my wish, but now my wish is slowly driving me insane, driving me toward my inevitable demise. So I just put on baseball and zen out to the soothing sounds of our national pastime. It's like ambient music but way more fun.

Sonny Sharrock, Black Woman; Albert Ayler, Spirits Rejoice
I'm lumping these two together, because if I listen to one I feel compelled to listen to the other, and then before I know it I've just been flipping between these two records for an entire day, actually getting a bunch of work done. I don't know exactly what it says about the state of my brain functions these days, but free-jazz (and all the chaos and dissonance that implies) has been really good for my work flow. Basically, my office is exactly like that scene in You're Gonna Miss Me when Roky is listening to three stereos, two TVs,and a bunch of assorted noise makers playing all at once.

SS Decontrol, The Kids Will Have Their Say (Dischord/Xclaim, 1982)
So, I assume you've heard about the tragedy in Boston. If you weren't aware, that's my hometown. I didn't lose anybody and all my friends and family are safe, but it was disconcerting to watch unwind. I was working on that block when 9/11 went down, so it's been a strange surrealistic week, watching a neighborhood I spent so much time in explode, over and over again. And like pretty much anytime where the weird is threatening to overcome my wigdome, I retreat to classic hardcore punk. In this case, the most classic of all Boston hardcore punk.

The Breeders, LSXX (4AD, 2013)
I'm not going to get too deep one why this 20th anniversary edition of The Breeders Last Splash is so awesome — I'll have a full feature about it when they come to town next month — but I will tell you that it's a wonderfully thorough document of one of the coolest records of the '90s. Also, Kelley Deal is a super nice lady.

Seth Graves, freelancer

Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze
“Kurt Vile” has always seemed and sounded like a bad composite alt-rock icon from a bad coming-of-age indie film set in the '90s — except he’s really not bad. Maybe it’s all the Mark Lanegan he’s channeling, or the layer of guitar effects that ride over this breezy folk-pop jaunt, but it feels awfully “grunge” despite its total lack of fuzz. Either way, it’s an easy, laid-back listen, and while bands aren’t so great at naming their bands these days, album titles have gotten remarkably more self-aware. The title of this one sums it up pretty nicely.

The Flaming Lips, The Terror
When The Terror's release got pushed back from April 1 to April 16, the blogosphere was comforted with and pretty damn ecstatic about a short-lived stream of the band performing the new record in its entirety live at SXSW. This was the total opposite reaction of the crowd surrounding me at the actual show. This family-friendly-free-for-all set no doubt brought out their blankets and lawn chairs and shelled out eight bucks a beer in anticipation of an outdoor sing-along of “Do You Realize?” Instead we got a solid hour of depressing banter and this darkened, droned-out, glitch-based unsettling dream of an album everyone but the band was hearing for the first time. It wasn’t a comfortable place for those with a fear of the unknown, and neither is The Terror.

Bleached, Ride Your Heart
It either sounds like The Go-Go’s covering early Blondie or an early-'90s reincarnation of Josie Cotton. Either way, it’s just cute, catchy, girly, sunny LA jangle-pop that makes me wish i drove a convertible.

Lance Conzett, freelancer

Telekinesis, Dormarion (Merge Records, 2013)
Practically all I've listened to over the past two or three weeks has been this brand-new record by Telekinesis, a one-man indie-pop band from Seattle whose uptempo harmonies mask bittersweet lyrical content. Which is to say, completely and totally my jam. Domarion is a bit less twee than previous LPs (possibly thanks to the influence of Spoon's Jim Eno, rather than Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla), but it's still utterly charming in its execution, with a couple of great ragers — “Empathetic People” and “Laissez-Faire” — thrown in for good measure.

Alvy, Nacho y Rubin, Interpretan a Los Campos Magnéticos (Vol. 1 y 2) (Grillo Records, 2012)
Let's not bury the lede here: Interpretan a Los Campos Magnéticos is an Argentinian band covering The Magnetic Fields in Spanish, and that is objectively awesome. Even if I wasn't already a sucker for non-English-speaking bands reinterpreting English pop songs — Seu Jorge covering David Bowie in Portuguese, Rachid Taha covering The Clash in Arabic, Marie Laforêt covering The Rolling Stones in French — I'd be way into this. Alvy, Nacho y Rubin pull off Stephen Merritt's fragility without sacrificing their own unique cultural identity. Rad as hell.

Then, on the DL, I've been bumping that new Hotpipes hotness (due out in May), a bootleg of the Phoenix/R. Kelly madness from Coachella, and this 10-minute loop of Ron Swanson dancing to 15 seconds of Daft Punk.

Jewly Hight, freelancer

So far, I’ve only had time to dip a toe into the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Mosquito, but it’s ready and waiting on my iPod.

I enjoyed the hell out of the Pistol Annies’ Annie Up on vinyl.

While reading an advance copy of Lost in the Mix last week, I had the uncontrollable urge to listen to Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You” four times in a row.

Two of the albums that have provided my running soundtrack lately are Houndmouth’s From the Hills Below the City and Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s Love Has Come For You.

Oh, and I don’t know if this counts, but I was recently trapped in an SUV in middle-of-nowhere Michigan at 3 a.m., trying to get to a conference that started the next day, and Patton Oswalt’s album My Weakness Is Strong was the only thing that carried us through. “Uncle Touchy’s Naked Puzzle Basement” especially.

And finally, I’m thoroughly enjoying the gospel-disco territory The McCrary Sisters stake out in their new song “Train.”

Edd Hurt, freelancer

Timmy Thomas, Why Can't We Live Together (Glades 1972)
Drum machine-fueled soul tunes, with organ and voice. The title track is a classic.

Perigeo, Genealogia (RCA 1975)
Italian jazz-prog band — the record's finest song is a pastiche of Frank Zappa circa Zappa's Hot Rats, "Monte Pallidi."

Also in the stack: Wax Idols; Linda Jones (late-'60s soul singer); Maurice Jarre; Steve Gibbons Band; Kacey Musgraves; Ramsay Midwood; Rob Galbraith; The Books' Thought for Food and Lost and Safe; William Tyler; Judee Sill.

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