Sunday, July 6, 2014

North Carolina Trip June/July 2014 - Highlights

(from the It's Better In The Carolinas department)

Hi everyone,

We've been on vacation for the last few weeks.  Here's a few snaps.

First up - Flag Day in Old Salem (June 14th, 2014):

Dana sure looks patriotic, doesn't she?

Next Dunkin' Donuts had a special Father's Day "#1 Dad" donut - I ate a few of them.  Here it is:

After spending some time with Dana's mom in Winston-Salem, we headed to Sunset Beach on the coast.  On the way there, we saw some amazing sunsets:

After our arrival at Sunset Beach, I found the perfect spot for my brother just a few miles away in South Carolina:

Donuts, Ice Cream, Fireworks, 
and there's a Waffle House in the background 

Rare shot of Dana entering a Dunkin' Donuts

David, Rena, and the cousins Alan, Amy & Eric flew in to join us.  The next day, we caught a ferry and headed to the Fort Fisher Aquarium, where we were joined by Dana's brother Nick:

One of the few moments Rose stopped running around the ferry

The whole gang at the aquarium - with butterflies!

Rose gets a little crabby

After we visited the aquarium, we headed to the boardwalk at Carolina Beach, to visit one of the finest donut shops in existance:  Britt's Donuts

They only make one type of donut - glazed - but it's amazing.

In an Ideal Deal Copy Blog exclusive, here's the masters at work:

Sunset on the ferry back

Dave, Rena and the cousins got to spend a few days at the beach with us.  Here's the cousins interacting:

(from L to R, Eric, Rose, Amy & Alan)

Amy caught me taking pictures

Dave joins them - how did Eric's shirt change?

Rena catches up with the outside world

Next, we went to Calabash, NC to get some seafood:

Rose runs from the shrimp

Fresh from the boat!

While we were there, on July 3rd, Hurricane Arthur passed close by.  We got a chance to see it:

Luckily, it was long gone by July 4th, and we had a great day grilling and visiting with Dana's friends.  Finally, on July 5th, Dana, Nick, Rose and I got ice cream at the Calabash Creamery.  Good stuff!

Nick and Dana define cool!

Rose enjoys her chocolate

Rare self portrait


Friday, July 4, 2014

Flashback Friday: Raise by Swervedriver

Now - there's two things you should know about my musical tastes.  Number 1 - I love Shoegazing bands.  Shoegazing was a musical genre that started in the 1980's or so - and hit its apex in 1991 with bands like My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Lush, and Catherine Wheel.  Shoegazing was known for its dense wall of complex guitar sounds that required many foot pedal effects, forcing the guitarists to stand fairly still, and concentrate on their feet, hence the term "Shoegazing".  (Wikipedia has a great entry on the genre.)

The second thing in my musical tastes is Swervedriver.  Although nominally a Shoegazing band, they also had a fondness for Detroit punk (Stooges, MC5) that added an aggressiveness to their sound that most of their psychedelic brethren in the music scene lacked.  Sadly - they also had one of the worst runs of luck of any major label band, so most of their work comfortably fits in Flashback Friday.  I'm sure I'll be covering all of their four albums eventually, so let's start with their first release, Raise.

You can hear it here:  Raise by Swervedriver (Xbox Music)

Originally begun as a series of EPs, the band collected them together, recorded some new material, and called the resultant album "Raise".  Even though the songs were recorded at different times, it sounds remarkably uniform and works as a coherent statement from the band.  Continuing with the Detroit fascination, many of the songs are about cars and driving.  Highlights include Son Of Mustang Ford, Rave Down, Feels So Real, and Sandblasted.  Think dense melodic guitar rock, in the vein of Dinosaur Jr. or Neil Young - but with a denser, fuzzier wall of sound - and you won't be far off the mark. 

Although well regarded at the time, their run of bad luck also started right after the album's release; during a North American tour, while the band was waiting to enter Canada, the drummer left the tour bus to "get a sandwich" and never returned.  When he was finally located, he would only speak to one of the band members, and stated he wanted out of the band.  Their bass player quit shortly thereafter, leaving just two members to decide the band's fate.  (To be continued...)

Give this a spin and see what you think.  Comments always welcome.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Flashback Friday: Speak For Yourself by Imogen Heap

Finally - a Flashback Friday Album that isn't quite so obscure.  Chances are you may have heard some songs off this one - especially if you were a fan of the TV show The O.C. 

In the season two finale, Imogen's "Hide and Seek" was used to punctuate the ending scene.  This was later parodied on SNL as one of their Digital Shorts - Dear Sister - which is where I first heard the track.

Following an appearance by Imogen live on David Letterman, I decided to get a couple of her albums.  Her work is very good - but this record is really special.

Written, produced, arranged, and funded by Imogen herself, it was the first record where she really explored the sonic textures and songwriting that would become her hallmark. 

You can hear it here:  Speak For Yourself by Imogen Heap (Xbox Music)

Musically the album ranges from the spare vocalizer sonics of "Hide And Seek", to the full-on guitar rock of "Daylight Robbery".  In-between, Imogen detours into quiet strength with the song "Have You Got It In You?", gets Jeff Beck to contribute a solo to the upbeat "Goodnight and Go", and finishes with the jaw-droppingly stunning "The Moment I Said It".

Her other albums, like Ellipse, her latest solo release; or Details, recorded with Guy Sigsworth under the moniker Frou Frou; are also worthy of investigation.  But Speak For Yourself is a great place to start.

Give it a listen and let me know what you think below.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Flashback Friday: Big Plans For Everybody by Let's Active

In 1983, in my senior year in high school, my super hip musical friend started raving about an album he had purchased by a band from Athens, Georgia.  We looked at the cover and tried to figure it out - but it was impenetrable, covered in kudzu - much like the music inside.  The vocalist was mixed deep into the backing track, at the same volume as the rest of the instruments - plus he mumbled with no lyric sheets.  We listened to the record over and over again - marveling at the chiming guitars, the atypical for the 80's thin drum sounds (remember "In The Air Tonight"?)  and the overall unique production of the record.  The band was R.E.M., and the album was Murmur.

We discovered that there were many more bands in the Athens, Georgia area and the surrounding college towns that we liked.  In fact, they had given a name to this musical movement:  "The New South".  New South bands included Pylon, Guadalcanal Diary, The B-52s, Oh-OK, The dBs, and Fetchin Bones.   Many of these artists recorded at a converted car garage in Winston-Salem, NC - Drive-In Studios - and were engineered and produced by the garage's owner, Mitch Easter.

Mitch was also the leader of a band called Let's Active.   A power-pop trio, their first EP Afoot, and their first LP Cypress are considered landmarks in the New South genre (and are sadly out of print).  However, lack of national success and interpersonal squabbles derailed them, and they disbanded, leaving Mitch the solo member.  Working mostly by himself, with the help of a few close friends, he recorded Big Plans For Everybody. 

You can hear it here:  Big Plans For Everybody by Let's Active (Xbox Music)

This is an amazing album - especially if you're into guitar sounds.  The lyrics are a little twisted - and nobody quite knows what all of them are, since Mitch hated the whole "Stevie Nicks" vibe of printing lyrics in records.  I think there's a lot in there about the band breakup and his own difficulties in handling the situation. 

NOTE:  This album was sequenced for vinyl - there's a natural break that occurs between track 6 & 7.  In addition, this version contains two worthy bonus tracks - 12 & 13. 

Mitch would go on to make one more Let's Active album - Every Dog Has His Day - before giving up and moving on to concentrate on album production.  His later work with the California band Game Theory is considered to be some of the finest in rock - but that's a story for another time. 

So calibrate your music dials to "power pop with a slight jangle" and give this a listen.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.  Also if you want to find out more about other bands from that time period, the documentary Athens GA: Inside/Out covers the whole scene pretty well.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Flashback Friday: Get There by Bôa

In 1998, one of the strangest Animes ever produced was released: "Serial Experiments Lain". A description of this anime is beyond the scope of this flashback, so I'll just point you at the Wikipedia page if you're interested:  Serial Experiments Lain.  

Anyone who saw an episode of the show was immediately struck by the haunting opening theme "Duvet" by a band called Bôa.  

It turns out that Bôa was actually a British band, formed by Steve & Jasmine Rodgers - the son and daughter of legendary rock singer Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company, The Firm, etc.). The song Duvet was from their debut album "The Race Of A Thousand Camels", released on the small Japanese label Polystar.  

Due to the popularity of the anime, Bôa was subsequently signed to Pioneer, and re-released their debut album under the name Twilight. It was about this time that I struck up a friendship with them on their on-line message board.  Eventually, I traveled to England to meet them, and catch one of their shows. (Yeah - I know - I was young with a surplus of disposable income). 

Live - they were amazing. They played selections from Twilight and a bunch of new songs. Sadly, they were dropped from their label, but - they did eventually record the new songs and released the album themselves. This is the record "Get There". 

You can hear it here:  Get There by Bôa (Xbox Music)

Considering the relative youth of the band members, this is a very mature record. Highlights include Courage, Daylight, America & (especially) Passport.  

Sadly - this was to be their last record. Luckily, both Steve & Jasmine have started solo careers and their work is excellent.  Check out their work on Amazon/iTunes/Xbox Music.

So - give this a spin, and let me know what you think.

P.S.  Don't laugh - but here's a photograph of me at the show.  That's me in the center.

From left to right:  Lee Sullivan, Jasmine Rodgers, me, Steve Rodgers, Alex Caird.  This was taken around 2000 or so. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Flashback Friday: Lost Sirens by New Order

In 2003 New Order started recording what would turn out to be their final album: Waiting For The Siren's Call.  It took over a year to record and at least £700,000 in production costs.

During these torturous recording sessions, they started recording new material during off moments.  They completed 7 songs, which they were going to hold for the next record.  However - long simmering tensions built up and the band split apart in 2007.

It took 9 years, but the 7 new tracks plus a remix of one of the original songs were released as the album Lost Sirens in 2013.

You can hear it here: Lost Sirens by New Order (Xbox Music)

This album is well worth the wait.  While many of the tracks on Waiting For The Siren's Call seem overly fussed over, the relative spontaneity of these tracks make them seem fresh and memorable.  Plus - the stripped down remix of "I Told You So" brings the song out from underneath the gloss of the original mix, and fits in nicely with the other tracks.

In the meantime, New Order have reformed without "lead bass" player/founding member Peter Hook and are touring the US this summer.  Peter is also touring - with his son - playing New Order and Joy Division classics.

Give Lost Sirens a spin, and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Also - if you want to compare/contrast, the parent album is also available on Xbox Music.

You can hear it here:  Waiting For The Siren's Call by New Order (Xbox Music)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Flashback Friday: The Dreaming by Kate Bush

In 1974 or so, Kate Bush, a shy, retiring 16 year old schoolgirl, managed to get a demo tape to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. He was stunned that there were over 50 songs of exceptionally high quality on her demo. Paying for a proper studio recording of three of the songs out of his own pocket, he got her signed to EMI records.

A few years later, after she turned 19, she entered the studio to record her first album. She had spent the intervening years studying movement and dance, while continuing to write and perform idiosyncratic songs. At this point, she had over 200 compositions to choose from. Her debut album, “The Kick Inside”, featuring the single “Wuthering Heights” was released to general acclaim and success, but a large part of her career – mostly record production – was out of her control.

In 1982, after a couple of modestly successful follow-up albums, she finally gained control of the producer’s chair and released an album that was her vision from start to finish: The Dreaming.

You can hear it here: The Dreaming by Kate Bush (Xbox Music)

Fair warning: This is a “difficult” album, but you can get your head around it if you spin it a few times. Kate had become intrigued with the compositional possibilities of the Fairlight CMI sampler and built most of the album around it. Also – she had moved beyond the singer/songwriter style of the time and was exploring more dramatic cinematic storytelling with her songs. Topics on this album include failed bank robbery attempts, driving in the Australian outback, the life of Harry Houdini, and the paranoia of the suburban homeowner, among other things. She also was experimenting with alternative vocalizations – shrieks, groans, backward vocals – all processed through the Fairlight. This can be off-putting to the first time listener, but patience is rewarding, since there’s nothing quite like it in modern music. The album is roughly divided into two movements, split right where the vinyl album break would be.

After this record, Kate moved back to a more general pop direction, and released Hounds of Love, which became the biggest selling record of her career. However, Hounds of Love’s cinematic sweep would not have been possible without The Dreaming, which most people still haven’t heard, due to its reputation. So – give it a spin and see what you think.