No other group within the so-called "New Weird America" scene has covered so much stylistic ground as Tower Recordings. Much like the Holy Modal Rounders did 30 years before them, Tower has attempted to re-image and rework traditional folk ballads, seeing old standards through a modern, psychedelic lens. They have also tried, to varying degrees of success, a kind of chugging psych-stomp, free noise freak-outs, and almost straightforward indie rock, to name just a few of their other directions. This range, or lack of focus, depending on how you look at it, is both their strength and their weakness. It is no doubt a product of being a loose collective rather than a proper band, with members coming and going and participating in an endless web of other musical projects. With Folk Scene, Tower Recordings released a milestone album, and although it took a few years to be recognized as such, it came to define a genre. But it's almost more of a compilation than an album, rounding up many loose directions and ideas. And with an average song length of around two minutes, it lacks a certain depth. It is ambitious but distracted, wondering from one style to the next in a fit of giddy creative ecstasy. With The Galaxies' Incredibly Sensual Transmission Field of the Tower Recordings, the group rectify their lack of focus somewhat. The tracks are longer, and the overall album length is much shorter: six songs in a little over 30 minutes. By virtue of that alone, the album feels like the work of a unified band, and it stands as their most concise and cohesive work to date. Even so, Galaxies' is still a pretty diverse affair. "Harvester" sounds like Sonic Youth and Pink Floyd in a dream jam session: a saucer-full of chiming guitars and tribal drumming, with a swirling broth of feedback holding it together. De facto leader Matt Valentine reinterprets "Going up the Country" as a bluesy raga tinged with bells and handclaps on "Empress of I-91." Elsewhere, such as on "Giggy Garbage Gods" and "Forum" a light, hazy psychedelic vibe prevails, and the closer, "Other Kinds Run," sounds like a lost Spaceman 3 gem. The music here was recorded around the same time as the material used for Folk Scene, and in the intervening years the group obviously developed a clearer sense of itself. When they decided to go back to the tapes for these sessions and assemble this album, they had a better idea of who they were and what they wanted to sound like. So, although Folk Scene was an impressive clarion call that announced them as a major force in the American psychedelic scene, Galaxies' is perhaps a better place to start exploring the music of Tower Recordings. Their wandering spirit can be both intriguing and frustrating, but Galaxies' offers compact and concise primer.
-Jason Nickey, All Music
For his third album, Nighthawks at the Diner, Tom Waits set up a nightclub in the studio, invited an audience, and cut a 70-minute, two-LP set of new songs. It's an appropriate format for compositions that deal even more graphically and, for the first time, humorously with Waits' late-night world of bars and diners. The love lyrics of his debut album had long since given way to a comic lonely-guy stance glimpsed in "Emotional Weather Report" and "Better Off Without a Wife." But what really matters is the elaborate scene-setting of songs like the six-and-a-half-minute "Spare Parts," the seven-and-a-half-minute "Putnam County," and especially the 11-and-a-half-minute "Nighthawk Postcards" that are essentially poetry recitations with jazz backing. Waits is a colorful tour guide of midnight L.A., raving over a swinging rhythm section of Jim Hughart (bass) and Bill Goodwin (drums), with Pete Christlieb wailing away on tenor sax between paragraphs and Mike Melvoin trading off with Waits on piano runs. You could call it overdone, but then, this kind of material made its impact through an accumulation of miscellaneous detail, and who's to say how much is too much?
"The single must be a distillation of one's powers, the most exciting slice of noise a person can cram between the lip of the disc and the edge of the label," writes Superchunk frontman Mac McGaughan in the sleeve notes to Tossing Seeds; the 13 7" sides which make up this collection deliver everything McGaughan promises and much more, capturing the essence of American indie rock in the pre-Nirvana era with an energy and eloquence matched by few other records of the period. As a note-perfect snapshot of minimum-wage angst and attitude, "Slack Motherfucker" justly remains the band's most celebrated moment, but perhaps their most quintessential record is instead "My Noise," a glorious celebration of indie ethos and music's liberating power; add underground classics like "The Breadman" and "Seed Toss" to the mix, and you've got a definitive portrait of arguably the best singles band of the early '90s.
Helium's first full-length album expands on Timony's feminist lyrical bent and adds more colors to the band's musical palette. Full of what Timony calls "cartoon and monster movie music," The Dirt of Luck is a tight, focused album that is also diverse. The sludgy "Pat's Trick" mingles with the sweet-sounding and sweetly named "Honeycomb," which shares space with the nasty-sultry sounds of "Medusa" and the shimmery drone pop of "Baby's Going Underground." It's tied together by the album's spacious sound and Timony's singing, which is fuller and richer than on the group's debut.
The second of GBV's aborted releases from 1992, The Corpse Like Sleep of Stupidity represents sort of a weird middle ground between Back to Saturn X and the album that would eventually be released from this era, 1992's Propeller. Where Propeller had a rather deliberate sequencing of big studio rock songs that gradually shifted over to lo-fi 4-track numbers as the album progressed, this album tends to jump back and forth which lends itself to a very scattered listening experience. Despite this the album somehow still manages to maintain a sense of continuity, which is not surprising knowing Bob's knack for sequencing albums. Many songs on this release have not been released officially, and many versions of songs are different than their later released counter parts.
The history of rock music is filled with one-hit wonders and debut albums left without a follow-up. Most of those just had the fate they deserved, some were the results of early disbanding or mismanagement. Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms belongs to none of those categories. The singer/songwriter spent all her inspiration on this gem, simple as that. It sits there on the shelf, a life's compendium, stunning in its beauty and the fact that no later albums can frame it in a historical context, or diminish its impact. Softer, less declamatory than Joan Baez, more daring than Joni Mitchell, Perhacs' songs are psychedelic on a daily, domestic basis. Originally released in 1970, the album had been lifted from the LP and reissued on CD by The Wild Places in 1996. Informed by the female singer/songwriters of the late '60s, and the sonic experiments of the West Coast psychedelic scene (just listen to the title track, its abstract lyrics and beautiful, intertwined atonal melodies), Perhacs has created 40 minutes of music out of time.
Ashytray Navigations - Use Copenhagen 69 Guitars & Park Drive Circular Effects Pedals Exclusively (1997)
The lone vinyl-only Siltbreeze release from the ultra prolific Phil Todd otherwise known to you as Ashtray Navigations. Between the band name and the album title, you should pretty much know what you are getting yourself into with this one. These lengthy guitar drones are extremely impressive in their texture and density, especially on the opening number "Dead X-Mas On Earth". The Wire's David Keenan has very accurately described Phil Todd's works as "a trashcan antidote to LaMonte Young."
The GBV aborted albums posts will resume later this week. I have found upgrades for some of my sources so it's going to take a little extra time to compile.
The second aborted album in GBV's time line, Back to Saturn X was one of two albums that were slated to be released in 1992 but were shitcanned at the last minute. The album prior Same Place The Fly Got Smashed saw GBV to begin to go further down the road of home recording and begin to explore darker themes centered heavily around drinking (who would've thought?). Many have argued (myself included) that Same Place was the first proper album in what has become known as the "classic" era of GBV where the albums started to resemble a patchwork of musical ideas rather than just a collection of songs. Back to Saturn X took the home recording approach to an even greater extreme. On many of the tracks it sounds like the band was recorded two rooms away into a single microphone while the vocals are recorded clear and direct. It makes for an interesting sound, one that is clearly influenced by early 60's production which carries over prominently to tracks like "Crutch Came Slinking" and "Chicken Blows" which both feature poppy vocal harmonies. The heavy punk influence on Same Place has carried over to this album too, with tracks like "Squirmish Frontal Room" and "Mallard Smoke" benefiting heavily from the muddy production. Another song of note is the original version of "Tractor Rape Chain", which musically bears no resemblance to the Bee Thousand version but does contain the famous chorus lyrics near the end. Back to Saturn X is an essential missing piece to the GBV puzzle and clearly bridges the gap between the two distinct phases of early GBV.
Note: All album covers in this series are not the actual covers. They have never been made available, so I am designing the covers myself from old band photos and collages from around the same periods as the albums.
The following is the first in a series of aborted GBV albums posts that I will be making in the coming weeks.
Anyone who has even the slightest familiarity with Guided By Voices knows that Bob Pollard is an ultra prolific song writer. Bob himself has admitted on many occasions over the years that part of this is due to his own impatience. He doesn't like to dwell on single song for very long because he is anxious to move on and a by product of this is that he is constantly second guessing his approach to album sequencing during the song writing process. There isn't a single GBV album that didn't exist at some point as some other sequence, many times with completely different songs. Bee Thousand famously went through 6 different album sequences and at one point even existed as a double album. The Bee Thousand that eventually went to the pressing plant has almost nothing in common with the original Bee Thousand sequence (for more info on that, check out this page)
During a few points in GBV's history, Bob became so dissatisfied with a finished product that he ended up scrapping an entire album and starting over again. The first example of this was what would've been 1988's "Learning to Hunt" sandwiched between GBV's second album Sandbox and their third album Self Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia. While it is true that Learning To Hunt's sequence did have a few songs in common with their third album, I think that most would agree that they are very different albums with Learning to Hunt definitely being the weirder of the two. Bob has stated in interviews that in hindsight he wishes he would have released LtH instead but to date the album has not been officially released in this sequence. The songs have however been released slowly over the years spread across many GBV rarities compilations and we are now able to piece together the album ourselves. Because the songs have trickled out slowly, they have unfortunately been subjected to slightly different mastering and one track "Soul Flyers" seems to have come from a second generation source rather than a proper master tape. Until Bob decides on an official release, this is the best we have for now, but it is still a very interesting look at a lost piece of GBV history. Check the comments page for a full track listing and source info.
Coming up next: 1992's Back To Saturn X