Los Popularos, formerly the Young Canadians, were a Vancouver crew who were apparently quite the rabble-rousers
back in the heady early days of punk mayhem. This particular 45, however, reminds me of any number of pop hits from the first half of the 80s that were considered purchase-worthy singles (think Huey Lewis, Tommy Tutone, stuff like that) by essentially forgettable artists. So not so edgy or anything, but I'm a sucker for the chorus.
More garage revival nonsense. By the 90s, I was not nearly so interested in the tunnel-vision Chesterfield Kings wanna-bes as I had been in the previous decade. It seemed that by then most of 'em were more concerned with getting their hair to look right than in knocking out a decent chorus. Inexplicably, the debut LP from these Canadians is a rock-solid monster, with every track full of stinging fuzz, squalling organ, and a cool, sinister vibe. Atypically for such affairs, all of the tracks here were written or co-written by guitarist/organist Rieuwert Buitenga, and most feature either a memorable hook, or an interesting production treat; often both. Six tracks clock in at under two minutes, which never hurts anything. "Little White Lies" is not the catchiest thing on the album, but I love the organ riff, the ghostly backing vocals, the fuzz tremolo, and the sneer. The Worst have a skill and passion that so many of their gear-ically correct peers can't even sniff from where they're standing. They articulate rather than re-create. Dig it.
What's the exact opposite of sounding dated? You know, a record that sounds bizarre and utterly unfashionable when it comes out, but sounds absolutely up-to-the-minute a good quarter-century later? Well, whatever the word is, it fits Antena's debut. Upon its release in 1982, who would have known what to make of this? These days, however, after Stereolab, Air and Nouvelle Vague, the immediate response is "Oh, yes. Of course."
In its original incarnation, Antena was a French trio led by singer Isabelle Powaga. The 1982 five-song EP Camino del Sol followed an earlier single recasting Joao Gilberto's "The Girl From Ipanema" into a discordant, largely electronic meeting between pioneering electro-minimalists the Young Marble Giants and Tracey Thorn's defiantly amateurish first group the Marine Girls. Leading off the EP, "Achilles" retains a hint of the Brazilian influence in the lazy percussion and the quasi-samba breakdown in the final minute, but the synth-heavy arrangement is straight out of the post-punk playbook, and Powaga's dead cool, heavily accented vocals wouldn't start to sound close to normal in pop music until at least a year or two into Stereolab's reign.
Largely ignored at the time (especially after the original group split and Powaga started a new lineup called Isabelle Antena, whose music sounds basically like a somewhat hipper version of UK adult contemporary pop singer Basia), Antena get resurrected every few years. The most recent reissue, part of Les Temps Moderne's outstanding devotion to Crespuscule, Factory Benelux and similarly influential labels, collects everything the original lineup of Antena ever recorded, including two bonus tracks. If you like this, I strongly recommend it.
For some fans of the twee end of the British indie scene, the apogee of the style was Mike Alway's label El Records. Alway's third label, after his time as the music director of Cherry Red and the head of the Warner subsidiary Blanco y Negro, El Records was The Alway Aesthetic in its purest form: the songs as light and frivolous as meringue, the artwork and graphic design impeccable, the liner notes right on the edge of terminally precious, all of it with a dry and veddy veddy English sense of whimsy. If P.G. Wodehouse had formed an indie label, it would have been El Records.
The Would-Be-Goods (name courtesy of the British children's author Evelyn Nesbit) were and are the project of singer-songwriter Jessica Griffin. Backed by a sort of El Records house band that at times included members of the Monochrome Set and other labelmates, Griffin debuted in 1987 with the "Fruit Paradise" single. 1988's "The Camera Loves Me" was both her second single and the title track of her first and best album, a song that marries Griffin's signature vocal and lyrical style with her catchiest tune, including a terrific chorus.
Somewhat surprisingly, Griffin has revived the Would-Be-Goods in the last few years, with ex-Heavenly guitarist Peter Momtchiloff as her musical foil.
Gary Lucy reminded me of this oddball LP from my year in the dormitory. Once In a Blue Moon
has held up quite well; though the strongest track might be the cover of Cat Steven's "Hard-Headed Woman" (which our legal counsel has advised us against posting), I count at least five others that appeared on mix tapes in my angsty early 20s. Yo were a San Francisco band who had some 7" action which you can sample on Hyped To Death's Homework
series, plus at least two long players. Starting with some fine songs written by singer Bruce Rayburn, they added elements of trad folk and a healthy punk roar, as well as a dash of the then de rigueur "new sincerity" sound (see The Wild Seeds, Zeitgeist) to create something that was rather unique, well-crafted, and roundly ignored outside the Bay Area.
A Message From Jon:
Hi. I'm still here.
It's been an interesting and slightly strange August. I resigned my full-time position at The Love Garden, where I had worked for 14 years. I don't recall ever talking too much about the shop here on the blog, but let me just say a couple of things: First of all, I'm extremely proud of the store. We frequently hear customers from all over the country telling us that it's one of the best record stores they've ever seen. We strive to be fair, friendly, and interesting, and I think we've generally accomplished that, and I have every confidence that we will do so in the future. Secondly, I'd like to publicly state how much it meant to me that my bosses, Kory Willis and Kelly Corcoran (and earlier Zippy Hester) accommodated my school schedule, always paid me a living wage, and made sure I was taken care of financially when I had to miss weeks of work with a fairly serious health issue a couple of years ago.
Actually, let me drop this in, at the risk of giving you too much information. The "issue" referred to above was testicular cancer. I was 37 at the time, past the age at which the disease normally occurs. My point is, guys, check yourself out regularly, and if anything seems amiss, go to a doctor. I waited quite a while (probably a year or so) to do anything about it, and as a result had to endure chemotherapy that probably could have been avoided. I know...I'm just sayin'.
Anyway, the reason I quit the store was because I have a student teaching assignment this semester. I'll be teaching three Accelerated Senior English classes and one Science Fiction class. I'm very much looking forward to it, while simultaneously worrying that I'm a complete fraud.
I'm actually kind of hoping that being away from the store will make music more precious (because less of it) and therefore get me more excited about it than I have been for most of 2006. I really enjoy getting in my car after school and turning the stereo up, understanding that "up" is not nearly as loud as "up" was in 1982. I hope I will have more motivation to update this site frequently, because your kind words and comments and e-mails really do mean a lot to me. Once again, I'd like to thank Andrew Chalfen and Stewart Mason for their help and patience.
Oh yeah, saw a couple of Embarrassment reunion shows this weekend. I can't say they were musically stellar, but it was cool to see those four guys playing a bunch of songs I loved, and there were certainly glorious moments. Bill Goffrier was particularly good. He's still a post-punk guitar genius.
Thanks for letting me ramble. As a reward, here's a belated Little Hits tribute to the late Syd Barrett
by Martin Newell's Cleaners From Venus.
Jon just reminded me that I promised someone some months ago in the comments section to the Philip Glass piece that I was going to put up Polyrock's "Romantic Me" at some point. Apologies for the lateness, but here it is.
Best known -- let's not kid ourselves, pretty much ENTIRELY known -- as the new wave band produced by Philip Glass and his engineer/right hand man Kurt Muncasi, Polyrock were an artsy sextet led by brothers Billy and Tommy Robertson. Their debut album came out on RCA in 1980, which as mentioned elsewhere here on Little Hits was pretty much a death knell for the band's commercial chances since there was no other major label more clueless about new wave music. Not that they were likely to go much of anywhere in 1980, anyway: in those pre-MTV times, the heartland just wasn't ready for the synthed-out pulses of this primarily electronic band, or for Billy Robertson's tightly wound, shrieking vocals and elliptical-to-the-point-of-meaningless lyrics. In light of current alternative-rock radio, however, Polyrock would be as big as the Killers if they debuted right now; half the bands played on WFNX here in Boston are -- probably unconsciously -- biting huge chunks of their sound directly off this one song.
Polyrock managed one more major-label album, 1981's Changing Hearts
, an EP on the PVC label and an after the fact compilation of unfinished demos and live tracks that came out on the ROIR cassette label sometime in the mid-'80s. All of their material is in this style, and is all of similar quality; if you see it in the used bins, pick it up.