Tell Cher I’ve found a way to turn back time

How retro. I just bought my first CD in ages. In this case I suppose I should have really gotten it on vinyl, since Sparks predates even 8-tracks and cassettes. Funnily enough, I’ve only really come to know and love them in the streaming age, thanks to my Apple Music subscription. America’s ignorance of the band is one of the great injustices in rock music … many of my British friends are big fans. At any rate, glad I finally found them, and I’m absolutely thrilled to learn that they’re coming to Japan in October (which hopefully marks a return to form for Hostess Entertainment, who also put out the CD in Japan).

While the band has never done a duff record, “Hippopotamus” sounds like a revisitation of their classic formula after more experimental excursions such as “Lil’ Beethoven” and the “FFS” collaboration with Franz Ferdinand. Tracks like “Missionary Position,” “Edith Piaf (Said it Better Than Me)” and the title track wouldn’t have been out of place on the band’s quirk-pop classics “Kimono My House” or “Angst in My Pants”.

While I was at Recofan in Shibuya buying “Hippopotamus,” I also tried to pick up the new one from Dream Syndicate but they didn’t have it. Luckily Apple Music does. “How Did I Find Myself Here?” really may rank up there with the Paisley Underground touchstone “Days of Wine and Roses”. It’s nostalgic and fresh at the same time. After listening to the new album, I had to check out their recentish KEXP performance, which rocks … hard. How does a band call to mind both the Bangles and Sonic Youth? Steve Wynn is a genius. Hopefully someone like Hostess will release their album locally and bring the band to Japan for a show or two.


Time to get Schwifty in here

I’ve seen enough. These guys are one-hit wonders. – General Nathan

Expectations can be a bitch. In the financial world, a company can grow its profits 25% in a year and yet see its stock price plunge if the market was expecting a 30% gain. Such can be the way with entertainment as well. In an age where streaming services spew out hit series one after another, you’re only as good as your latest show. A band’s fanbase can swell faster than the White Walker horde if lured by that rare album or song that is truly original and also enjoyable listen to … but if the band can’t advance upon or completely change their sound on the next record they wind up being dismissed with claims of “one-hit wonder” or “all their songs sound the same”.

Have to admit I was perhaps too harsh on the latest Broken Social Scene album “Hug of Thunder,” which at first sounded to me like they were just going through the motions. Further listening is revealing some depth in the music (if not the lyrics and titles), so this one may be worth a few more spins. Still feeling let down by the new stuff from some other indie heavyweights, though: Arcade Fire must be taking the piss, and LCD Soundsystem might be attempting a comeback just for the money.

There are many factors that can color our expectations, make us predisposed to a positive or negative response. Philadelphia sports fans are fair-weathered, if not fickle. You’re a hero one day and a bum the next. My Philly roots have me always rooting for War on Drugs, though it’s a pride tempered by fears of an impending letdown. After first becoming a fan on the strength of “Slave Ambient,” I was disappointed with “Lost in the Dream.” But while the band did indeed seem “lost” for a bit, imprisoned by the template, they now seem to have found a way to revel in it. “A Deeper Understanding” is another aptly named album, an intense justification of the group’s existence, and it’s consistency. The latest record’s instrumentation is perhaps a little broader, with the full band complementing Adam Granduciel’s compositions. This makes the songs feel somewhat lighter than the dense “Slave”. Perhaps it’s best to express my appreciation in true Philly style, by damning an opponent, so you hopefully this record will make Mark Kozelek stfu!

Somewhat similarly, Grizzly Bear’s “Painted Ruins” builds on a career-making album and helps bury the memory of an underperforming follow-up. While there are echoes of “Veckatimest ” in the chord progressions and tones, “Ruin” is gorgeous and grand in comparison with the earlier album’s dark intimacy. Bassist/producer Chris Taylor achieves a super-lush sound, complementing and blending the works of songwriters Dan Rossen and Ed Droste seamlessly. Drummer Christopher Bear bolsters his reputation as one of indie rock’s great secret weapons – I could listen to his snare work all day. Without Bear there is no Grizzly. He is the anchor without which this uber-talented group could slip through a wormhole into the past or another dimension to become a giant, flesh-eating prog rock monster (but perhaps I’ve just been watching too much Rick & Morty).

Amy O(MG)

Never thought I’d be writing about two artists with Bloomington, IN connections two days in a row, but damn I really dig this Amy O album “Elastic”. First thing I’ve head from her, though a retroactive listen to previous release “Arrow” proves this isn’t a one-off fluke. I’m a sucker for nice rhythmic, guitar-based indie rock, and O (presumably no relation to Karen) delivers in spades. Really, how could any Japan resident not love an album with a song called “Cherry Blossom”? The Breeders’ edge, softened with some Dressy Bessy sweetness. I could dig further into the traces of Liz Phair riot grrl reimagined through the lens of Mitski and Angel Olsen, but better to just kick back and enjoy …

Triptides – Afterglow

Obon, that kinda sorta vaguish holiday-like period that no one can ever quite tell you when it exactly begins or ends. Train’s somewhat less crowded but the city slows to a crawl, and the workday is interminable. I pop in the earphones and slip into a sweaty midsummer dream …

A Byrd, or maybe a Beatle, takes wing on the sultry Triptides, the Moody Blues’ “Ride My Seesaw” blaring on the in-flight entertainment console. After a leisurely layover at the Paisley Underground, the trip resumes, en route to a Beach House, or maybe the Woods. Before you know it, the pulsating organ finds a home in the fuzzy bottom end and floats away into the shimmering Afterglow. This is some hippy dippy weather, man …

Mates of states

I recently switched my driver’s license from PA to NY. Having lived in Japan for 18 years I’m not actually a resident of any state, but upstate New York is now my homebase when I go back for a visit. It’s really just a matter of convenience, but I look forward to my exalted status as a New Yorker. Imagine – a place that people actually write songs about! Not that I’m particularly in love with any of those songs. If I were to choose a state simply based on a song it would probably have to be “Kentucky“. But I guess true statriotism has to be based on actual residency, and I’ve only ever lived in three states: PA, DE and NJ.

Recently a workmate introduced me to a band called Zebra Hunt who have a nice power poppy sound. I especially love the first song on their first album, which just so happens to be called “Delaware”. New York has been lauded in songs by music industry titans from Frank Sinatra to Billy Joel … the rest of the mid-Atlantic region not so much, especially the tiniest member of all. So I was quite pleased to hear a tune about the Diamond State that I actually liked.

Then just yesterday I checked out Apple Music’s suggestions “just for me” and found a Woodsist greatest hits playlist – had to give that a spin. It contained the song “Pennsylvania” by John Andrews & The Yawns, which reminds me somewhat of the great Southern and Appalachian songs about places. This experience made me feel like I should check out Apple’s recommended section a bit more often, and sent me on a quest to find a song about New Jersey …

Beyond Bon Jovi and Bruce the options are few, but my search yielded an absolute gem by Red House Painters. I’ve never really been able to get into Mark Kozelek’s stuff, but like the Garden State Parkway shuttling summer vacationgoers “down the shore,” this song may just serve as my route in. Glad I stumbled upon this “second version” first – the earlier take isn’t nearly as good.

Sufjan Stevens only got two albums into his “50 States” recording project before calling it quits. It’s hard enough to find one decent song about a state that someone else wrote, let along write 10-12 good new songs by yourself all about one state. But I’m surprised how well these 3 songs work as a playlist. Might have to try and expand it to the whole country, or at least the Eastern seaboard.

The Big Nothing

Got to give a shout out to my former band The Big Nothing for completing their second album under the most difficult of circumstances, dissolution. Like going through a divorce and giving birth at the same time. It sounds great. Congratulations to Tokyo BGM’s erstwhile member mmclovin and company. Give it a listen and if you like it, throw some money at them.