My Impression Now

I have long sung the praises of the month of March. The promise of the impending Spring and baseball seasons, the widely distributed Girl Scout cookies, and yes, the pull of those brackets all contribute to the month running a close second to Rocktober. It’s the musical climate, though, that has really made the month in recent years.
As the calendar flips to March, the floodgates open for new releases. Bands and labels of the indie variety set a course for the South By Southwest Festival. Even if you’re like me and can’t make the trip to Austin, podcasts, webcasts and social media bring you the build-up, the highlights, and the aftermath. You can practically hear the buzz and smell the barbecue all the way up here in Ohio. Here’s a six pack of artists that made a serious impact on me this month who also happened to play SXSW:

As a kid I would read “Strange But True Baseball Stories.” Now I listen to The Baseball Project. Their new album “Third” is out now on Yep Roc. They get better with every release. Happy Opening Day!

Ex Hex is the latest outfit from Mary Timony who’s best known for her work in the nineties band Helium. She most recently brought a cool 1970’s rock sensibility to the band Wild Flag, and that carries over here. (From my snowy environs in NE Ohio, I caught a webcast of an Ex Hex set at Waterloo Records in Austin, and they even covered Johnny Thunders.) They are signed to Merge Records, and their debut 7″ just hit the racks.

Why wouldn’t I like the post-punk band Protomartyr? Some have observed that their vocalist, Joe Casey, appears somewhat older than his Detroit bandmates and doesn’t resemble your average indie circuit musician. We have a fine tradition of unlikely frontmen here in Ohio as well (Robert Pollard, Ron House, Jim Shepard, David Thomas), and Casey’s vocal style and world outlook are welcome. Protomartyr’s next longplayer, Under Color of Official Right, is due out 4/8 on the Hardly Art label.

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness out now on the Jagjaguar label.

Natural Child – Dancin’ With Wolves out now on Burger Records

Withered Hand‘s “Black Tambourine” might be the perfect pop song: Jingle-jangle verses, tasteful backing vocals, a soaring chorus, a mini-bridge that soars even higher, a distorted guitar solo, lyrics about loneliness, a lingering organ outro and yes… tambourine. The astonishingly good LP “New Gods” is available now on Slumberland Records. .

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See It My Way: My Top 25 LP’s of 2013

2013 was bursting with great new music from beginning to end. Due to the wonders of modern access, headphones at the day job, and a long commute,  I spent time with upwards of 175 releases this year including reissues.  These were my 25 favorite new albums of the rock & roll sort that emerged from the heap (Artist /Title /Record Label):

1) Superchunk – I Hate Music (Merge Records)

2) Mikal Cronin – MCII (Merge)

3) Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic (Jagjaguwar)

4) Califone – Stitches (Dead Oceans)

5) Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw (Paradise of Bachelors)

6) John Murry – The Graceless Age (Evangeline Recording)

7) Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You  (Anti)

8) Charles Bradley – Victim Of Love (Daptone)

9) The Julie Ruin – Run Fast (The Julie Ruin Records)

10) Lee Ranaldo & The Dust – Last Night On Earth (Matador)

11) Sonny & The Sunsets – Antenna To The Afterworld (Polyvinyl)

12) Adam Green & Binki Shapiro – Adam Green & Binki Shapiro (Rounder)

13) Savages – Silence Yourself (Matador)

Top 11-25

14) Yo La Tengo – Fade (Matador)

15) Holydrug Couple – Noctuary (Sacred Bones)

16) Phosphorescent – Muchacho (Dead Oceans)

17) Jacco Gardner – Cabinet of Curiosities (Trouble In Mind)

18) Barrence Whitfield and the Savages – Dig Thy Savage Soul (Bloodshot Records)

19) Chris Forsyth – Solar Motel (Paradise of Bachelors)

20) La La Brooks – All or Nothing (Norton Records)

21) Steve Gunn – Time Off (Paradise of Bachelors)

22) Of Montreal – Lousy With Sylvianbriar (Polyvinyl)

23) Wooden Shjips – Back To Land (Thrill Jockey)

24) Promised Land Sound – Promised Land Sound (Paradise of Bachelors)

25) King Khan & The Shrines – Idle No More (Merge)

After everything shook out, it was interesting to see how the labels fared.  North Carolina labels registered almost a third of the spots and “the majors” really weren’t anywhere to be found.  The tops: Paradise of Bachelors (4), Merge (3), Matador (3), Dead Oceans (2), Polyvinyl (2)

These hits and other Greater Listens will be spotlighted daily over at the Greater Listening Area’s Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/TheGreaterListeningArea

Visit us there for the Now Sounds and a few surprises on Wayback Wednesdays as well.

Note/Public Service Announcement: The Greater Listening Area believes that advance listens and streaming are wonderful things, but that we should all be mindful of the importance of purchasing physical or digital recordings and other merchandise and getting out to live shows.  Better yet, we should purchase music at a show from the artist, through a label’s website or at your local independent record store.  Finally, when you hear something that deserves it, share it with your friends and “Shout it Out” from your own social media platforms. 

Happy New Year and here’s to finding the Top 25 of 2014.

Down In The Bowery: Soaking Up CBGB

CBGB, the movie, is available tomorrow on DVD.  I haven’t read/heard anything positive about the film set around the famed NYC music venue.  Apparently it displays such outright atrocities for fans of the early punk rock scene as a depiction of Patti Smith performing “Because The Night” at her club debut. (Of course that song would not emerge until a couple of years later.) One would think that the music history aspect would have been the easy part to get right.  Negative buzz aside, the temptation to see portrayals of folks like Cheetah Chrome, Stiv Bators and Genya Ravan is just too much for me.  I am currently 14th out of 102 on the “holds” list through my county library system.

Just over twenty years ago, I made my one and only pilgrimage to this legendary dive in the Bowery.  It was my last night in NYC for the New Music Seminar, an adventure that has surfaced on this site before (and probably will again).  Here’s my brief description about my visit to CB’s as originally shared in The Stew:

We would be closing out the week at the venerable punk rock club CBGB on Bleecker Street. Everything that we had heard about the famous “hole-in-the-wall” was true.  The club was soon celebrating its 2oth anniversary, and the original dust was still on the baseball pennants behind the bar.  The bathrooms are literally backstage, and nobody pays any mind to modern concert trappings like security.  I was just happy to hang out in the hallowed hall that was the old stomping grounds of The Ramones, Patti Smith, and Richard Hell.  I was nearly starstruck too as Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth brushed by my barstool on their way out.

CBGB

“Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandizers”
The famed CBGB awning now hangs in the lower level of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

Unfortunately the performances on stage that night were not as memorable as the mystique of the room. The bill was made up of bands from the Caroline label.  We learned that St. Johnny was average, the Action Swingers have a bad attitude, and Paula Kelley from Hot Rod is not afraid to display affection publicly.  Walt Mink, who most everyone was there to see, played at a chest-vibrating volume level that easily surpassed The Fluid as the loudest band that I have ever heard.  (This also confirmed reports that the club’s regular soundman is already deaf and would like to inflict that disability on others.)  Richmond’s Fudge closed out the night, but by this time it was anticlimactic. The next day we were to head back west.

Sure that’s just a memory snapshot and just one segment of an article about a jam-packed week of live music, and I am sure that I figured I would return to the venue many more times.  I can still picture those small dusty baseball pennants on the wall including one featuring the Washington Senators, a team that hadn’t existed for over twenty years. Most of all, though, I think one never forgets the bathrooms, scuzz monuments which are well documented elsewhere.  It will be interesting to see if my recollection of the long, claustrophobia-inducing room with the big sound matches up at all with the setting of the film.  CBGB was shuttered for good in October 2006.

Digging For Something: Ephemera eXcavation

Drawing some inspiration by digging for buried treasure was always part of the plan for the Greater Listening Area.

Digging 6

I am referring to my boxes of ephemera picked up through the years: fliers, stickers, and postcards from rock shows or maybe the odd promotional item from the heyday of bricks and mortar music retail. These file boxes also house countless mostly defunct music magazines and alternative weeklies that may help piece together a timeline.  Unfortunately no archivist-worthy protective measures were taken— no acid-free dividers, no temperature or moisture-controlled environment maintained. These boxes of could-be-content-catalysts have been schlepped over roughly a dozen household moves and were usually relegated to closet floors or worse, dank basements.  I am mostly unaware of what exactly might be uncovered in these mini-time capsules, but it should be enough to jog some memories. Dig this. I even saved my CD longboxes.

Digging 3Digging 1

Milk It: Nirvana in ’93 (Marking Another 20th Anniversary)

A couple of weeks ago, Geffen Records released a deluxe 20th anniversary package of Nirvana’s third and final studio album In Utero. It has been 20th Anniversary-Mania for music scribes, labels, and fans this year as every week seems to bring another waft of nostalgia.  Not only was 1993 the heart of the alterna-boom, it really did produce some classic and career-defining albums. As “modern rock” exploded I was fortunate enough to have a great vantage point from both the music retail trenches and the beer-soaked floors of the shows as we watched our favorite bands go from underground heroes to MTV regulars.  In July of 1993,  I ventured to New York City for the New Music Seminar with a buddy — we’ll call him Rick. I chronicled this vacation road trip at length, and you’ll find more from that excursion and 1993 in general in future posts. For now here’s an excerpt detailing one memorable night:

Tonight was a “surprise” show from Nirvana and the Jesus Lizard at Roseland.  Announced only two days prior, this was the event of the week.  We figured it would be the only chance to see them in such a small venue, and we could hear them perform material from their long awaited forthcoming LP In Utero.  Nirvana in N.Y.C. — maybe something to tell the kids someday.

Anticipation was high for the show as epitomized by a Swedish tourist whom we met at the front of the stage. He had paid $75 to a scalper for his ticket just to see the Jesus Lizard and was equally eager to see Cop Shoot Cop on the following night. Shrugging off the price he paid, he summed up our week well.  “You know,” he said, “it’s New York. Everybody wants to take your money.”

The Jesus Lizard was phenomenal.  They thumped it out as tightly as ever as vocalist David Yow chain-guzzled cans of Bud.  We had staked out some ground near the stage and helped Yow stay afloat during his many sojourns into the crowd.

When Nirvana hit the stage, we were bounced back to the “old guy section” even though we were wearing sensible shoes.  The only escape from the rampant teen spirit of the N.Y.C. youthful would have been the special guest area above us that seated the Kurt Loders and Courtney Loves.

Anyway, the barrier-breaking trio turned in a set that was musically better than what I had experienced on ’91’s Nevermind tour.  Included were new ones like Heart Shaped Box and older faves like School,  and they also debuted their female cellist friend for some quieter moments.  The show was a classic example of what Nirvana was all about, characteristically sloppy at points and brilliant at others.  Kurt Cobain ended the show on the floor, drenching us with and basking in his guitar’s feedback.

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This magnet just showed up on the refrigerator one day a couple of years ago. (Audrey picked it up at Big Fun in Cleveland.) The realization eventually hit me that I was actually at the gig commemorated on the magnet. Note Pat Smear (pictured lower left) had become a touring member of the band which I failed to mention in the brief review.

Nirvana would swing through our Northeast Ohio Region about three months later for a Halloween show at Akron University with their upstart labelmate Beck and their heroes, the Meat Puppets. I decided to sit that one out as my tastes leaned almost exclusively to smaller underground club shows.  It turns out that that would be Nirvana’s last Northeast Ohio appearance.

A Place In The Sun: The Great Yacht Rock Countdown of ’11 – Part 3

This holiday weekend in the Greater Listening Area we have been taking a look back at some words I typed before this site existed. After spending the Summer of 2011 indulging in the soft rock sounds of the 1970’s, I made a case for this wave of nostalgia as a guilt-less pleasure.  Again this year we’re marking the unofficial end of summer by revisiting a countdown of my Top 3 all-time fave Yacht Rockers:

I know you’ve hardly been able to contain your excitement so here goes…  My #1 Yacht Rock act of all time is none other than Pablo Cruise.  While late ‘70’s hits like “Love Will Find A Way” and “Whatcha Gonna Do” electrify on land or sea, it’s tracks like “Island Woman,” “Ocean Breeze,” “Sailing To Paradise,” and “ A Place In the Sun” that propelled the band to the top of the 8-track pile and the top of this prestigious list.

Thunder Island: The Great Yacht Rock Countdown of ’11 – Part 2

From time to time in the Greater Listening Area, we will take a look back at some of my ramblings from before this site existed. After spending the Summer of 2011 indulging in the soft rock sounds of the 1970’s, I made a case for this breeze of nostalgia as a guilt-less pleasure.  Over the Labor Day Weekend that year I launched a countdown of my Top 3 all-time fave Yacht Rockers:

I am celebrating my musical guilty pleasure of the summer over this holiday weekend.  Checking in at #2 on my mammoth list of Yacht Rock favorites is Jay Ferguson!  The former lead vocalist of the arty band Spirit and then 70’s boogie rockers Jo Jo Gunne, Ferguson foreshadowed his Yacht Rock prominence runnin’ away  “To the Island” on his debut record.  It was “Thunder Island” though, the title track from his 1978 album, that floated onto the FM airwaves and into Yacht Rock immortality.  The song is a true pop classic, and the presence of Joe Walsh on guitar appealed to even the manliest of Yacht Rockers.  The following year Ferguson returned to high seas adventure with the song “Shakedown Cruise.”