Posts Tagged ‘albums’

My Music Calendar

Turn, turn, turn, spin, spin, spin.

Certain music comes to mind at certain times of year, which is no surprise for a merry-go-round mind like mine. I am glad it is in tune with the seasons and not just completely random. Several years ago I noticed similar inclinations for the types of books I want to read at certain times of year, so I made a “book type of the month” that has gone well since then. Maybe I’ll make another post sharing that sometime.

This will be updated from time to time.


Shelleyan Orphan, We Have Everything We Need, spring awakens this their last album continues to grow on me.


Split Enz, the romance begins afresh


The Church, Uninvited, Like The Clouds, loud spring torrents and freshets

The Jesus & Mary Chain, Darklands, april skies, yes i’m happy when it rains



Shelleyan Orphan, Century Flower, a contender for first album I associate with a season, summer flies buzzin’ bees, heavenly.

The Trash Can Sinatras

Split Enz, Bic Runga, The Go-Betweens, the romance continued so long ago now…

Sly & The Family Stone, there’s a riot goin’ on! Never more true.


The Smiths

Morrissey, Viva Hate

The Church, priest=aura



The Zombies, Odessey & Oracle, see my previous post for the history of this.


Shelleyan Orphan, Humroot, quiet, close autumnal beauty


The Church, Seance, the Beardsley-esque cover image, it must be autumn soon


The Church, Untitled #23, as we near the end

R.E.M.’s Murmur took hold this year, as it often does in hazy, witching days in fall or late summer.

Herman’s Hermits Blaze, too, hit the spot with its rich music and blots of yellow gold and raw gray-green turf on its cover.

Sixpence None The Richer, Sixpence None The Richer, like clockwork every most beautiful month of the year


Echo & The Bunnymen, cool, slicing apocalypse

The Sundays, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, gray on grey on grey on gray


The Ocean Blue, The Ocean Blue, this may be the first album that always kept popping up at this time of year. When streets are ice crystalled after fallen snow, that is the time I think of this. Really frigid winter days.

Babacar, Babacar, a little slip of this Caroline Crawley free-form before we slip into…

Shelleyan Orphan, Helleborine, a summer holler in winter, ending in crystal Shelley


The Cure, I have vague memories that I listened to The Cure in winter first, on those cold cold days just before Christmas on tapes given to me by my sister and her friend, also informed by another friend for whom The Cure was her fave. All cozy and cats and poetry and cold and blankets.

Ian McCulloch, Candleland

Der Bingle




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No Doubt: Return of Saturn

An album listen. A rough record of my thoughts while listening.

Ex-Girlfriend: Guitar strings, then a driving beat. Smart, sharp, but romantic and vulnerable. So this album begins, with its mysteries to me when I first listened to it, a decade after it had come out. But it brought me back to when it came out, when Gwen Stefani and I (of similar age) were similarly looking at our futures. She had plans, me I had never really paid much attention to nailing things downand I suppose that’s what this album and lead-off song are all about, one person with a clear wish for settling down, the other not feeling as much urgency despite wanting the same thing. Here’s the bridge, a little of the whine of Tragic Kingdom when she’d enamored me with “I’m Just a Girl” and “Spiderwebs” in the mid-90s, just five years before this leap.

Simple Kind of Life: Super transition to this crunchy song. This is a new No Doubt and the band is going along with her lyrics, not ska-ing it up constantly, which made Tragic Kingdom a hit or miss. Gwen at her most vulnerable and honest. Who wouldn’t want just the simple kind of life? If we’d opted for that, would we be happier now, would we have been happier then? “I’m covered in shells,” I love that cryptic image. “Oh, I always was the one with all the love, you came along, I’m hunting you down / Like a sick domestic abuser looking for a fight,” I love those lines. She understands young love in its all its aspects. I love how she adds that “oh” between lines. Gorgeous layers of sound, drum fills, her voice at its finest. It’s all really simple enough, this song, but No Doubt had and never has surpassed it. How she turns over different modulations of the refrain at the end, “A simple kind of life….”

Bathwater: Notwithstanding the performance that brought me this song, cue up Sanjaya on AI, this one hangs with the previous two in a gorgeous hat trick. Comical, music hall, yet still touching and effective for all its ooky, okay gross, chorus image. Yes, we do really feel that way when in lovewe’d wash in their bathwater. In fact that may be the clearest sign of love, being more than willing to more than tolerate others’ bodily functions and fluids. Gwen is once again led down the primrose path, not thinking about the future, thinking through what dating this person would be like, would it come to anything, would it just work out somehow despite everything? The comical girl voice at the bridge, it’s junior high all over again. She’s almost tripping over the complex alliteration here, but it’s working as the song traipses to its final chorus. The little girl voice returns again as she relishes her wash in nostalgic disregard, like a kid with a serious crush.

Six Feet Under: The hat trick that starts the album ends, and this song’s alright, but nothing special, a return to the old No Doubt. Good beat, the melody and lyrics not quite up to the previous three. Would the album return to form or is this another case of a 50/50 album like Tragic Kingdom50/50 being what I call an album that is half great, half virtually skippable. There are a fair number of these even in the albums I’ve kept, and it shows how hard it is to make a great cover to cover album.

Magic’s In The Makeup: An instant return to the first three super songs, amazing! Her voice pretty again, sentiment open, vulnerable, trying to overcome her girlhood ways. “I’m a chameleon,” how fun to sing along with that. “Makeup’s all off, who am I, the magic’s in the make up, who am I?” What a chorus, what a chorus! (I always thought she was saying, “Makeup’s all wrong,” also good) The magic in the makeup on her face, the making stuff up in her mind about who she really is and what she really wants. What is her true make-up? Again, amazingly touching, and the chorus and voice and accompaniment all work together startlingly well. Lovely modulations of the lyrics and melody. “I wanna be the real thing,” and she wants the real thing when it comes to love and relation to the world as well.

Artificial Sweetener: Sister of the previous, a little more aggressive, more sexual. “The return of Saturn,” amazing to sing along with. The mystery of the phrase before I learned what it referred to. Still, not knowing exactly what it meant, there was a menace to it, fitting for the raw assessment of her life, the “second guessing,” and the artificiality of all she does and has done. “I’m only sure that I’m not sure.”

Marry Me: Another contemplative little tune, confessing again her humble, conventional side. I had this too, I have it, I never cried out to be an artist, but here I am in my current situation with those writerly dreams at least half my humble ambitions. Echoing her earlier self, teasing to remind us of her first hit song, beginning a verse singing “A girl in the world…” Echoing when she wasn’t thinking who would be the one to marry her, but proclaiming her grrrring independence in that song that grabbed me: “I’m Just a Girl.” Nothing wrong with wanting a conventional life and still freedom to choose our way, independent identity even in a close relationship. She is both the woman of “Marry Me” and “I’m Just A Girl,” and maybe that’s why everything seems askew in her experience of this world.

New: Immediately catchy, starting with the chorus. Caught up in the immediate rush of “different than the former,” has she abandoned the wishes of the previous slew of songs or is this new guy the one who will fix up the mess of wishes that has become her life?

Too Late: Churning guitar, then back to the wistful, whimsical Gwen, wanting to parade her new love from the previous song (apparently about her Bushy future and now past husbandthis song fittingly begins like a famous Bush song). Again “Fulfillment just adds fuel to the blaze,” hard to pick out, fun to sing, more alliteration. Her wordiness is fun on this album and she had it in Tragic Kingdom too. The butterfly lines, gorgeously described. Is it another relationship that will end without marriage, in sheer disappointment after initial fervor? She can’t get past the indifference that can come after lust is sated. It seems so. :(

Comforting Lie: Another wonderful melody for her to play her voice on. Great, frantic chorus. So fun to sing along with “Oh build a bomb and blow it away blow it away ” ending with a lovely guitar bit back to the verses. On and on and I would love it. And it seems the reationship of the previous few songs is gone in dramatic fashion, with a joy in blowing it up. Sort it out, toss it away, just give up, but she can’t decide…. “I’m feeling weak, yeah……” Amazing how the album keeps yielding such precious moments to feel and sing and revel in.

Suspension Without Suspense: Clever title and wonderful working through of the chorus, the story of her life and this album as she wrestles with finding what she really wants and falling into traps along the way. I’ve had a relationship or two or like this: “We get so far and then it just starts rewinding, and the same old song we’re playing it again, suspension without suspense, intention without intent.” I find myself singing this couplet often. We can’t get any further in this relationship, it’s stuck, it cannot build any higher, but I don’t want to lose it, why can’t things stay the same?

Staring Problem: Instant turn-off once one starts to notice it, and maybe starts skipping it, but why skip a weak tune on a top-tier album? I got over skipping it and kinda like it now. It has a goofy fun to it, especially with her little piped-in voice in the background of the break, itching to fight saying crazy stuff and that little girl voice joining her in the chorus, and then the shouts at the end. “Predisposed cat fighter.” Seems shorter than its 2:44 and the gamelan ending way cool, shades of my 1998 first experience of that music, not long before this album came out!

Home Now: Jam-type (well, Style Council and Crowded House too) beginning with station waiting room announcement voices, maybe she is hitting the road. Seems like the final song of the album, but it’s not. Only downside is the intervening of the old No Doubt and its a-melodic ska stuff in the break. It’s catchy and weird here, a semi-weakness of an awesome song. These last two songs again somehow return this album to genius. so well over half of the songs are top top tier with nearly all the others good to very good. “What you givin’ up for me, what shall I give up for you? I love the “shall.” Wondrous chorus, delayed: “If you lived here you’d be home now.” Sweet voice, driving chorus to the extreme with the layering and keyboard stabs, guitar lacing around the affair. Horns, “casual light days, part of the furniture,” guitar lacing again. Could go on another ten minutes musically, with more chorus please please.

Dark Blue: Enticing title and use of “dark blue” in the lyrics, giving a cosmic tone to Return of Saturn. Cool harpsichord, it’s too bad you’re so sad, “Unlike you I had it easy, you’re dark blue.” I never did catch that first phrase; I thought it was a garbled “moonlight blue.” Suburban, nice family me and Gwen vs. whoever she’s with and his dark blue past. Wanting to heal her loved one. So much love to give and no one to give to…

Piano Coda, Too Late: The Cardigans did this, Madness too in a way, but not so affecting as here. But here it lets her be alone with her thoughts, and I’m alone with mine.

As I said before, nothing else captures the feel of that time for me even though I didn’t know the album then. The late 90s, when I wound down grad school and found new work and then struggled subconsciously to settle down, trying to get over and get started with things that didn’t work out. Truly staggering. Time travel through one of the most important albums of my life.


Saturn from 1996 to 2000, by NASA Hubble








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There was a time when reading about music was enough to set it in your mind and eventually lead to a purchase, songs unheard.

The Jamwho emulated much and in turn produced much to emulatewas probably my first example of this. I still remember the thrilling ride all the way up the tedious highway to Woodfield Mall to visit a music shop that had such alternative/British stuff. I bought the cassette of their second album, This Is The Modern World, and listened to it on the drive home.

It was the first scrap of music I’d ever heard by The Jam, but reading about them I had to check it out; I had decided they were for me. Thought of as a rushed, mediocre second album, it remains a favorite for this association, not to mention the music being damn good too. Critics. Interesting knowing what the first song you heard by a band was: “The Modern World” in this case.

In the mid 2000s, I read snippet (p)reviews of albums or concerts by CSS and Blonde Redhead. The former was a cheeky comet in the night that holds up pretty well (the album’s still in my “best albums” storage case). Blonde Redhead, the beginning of an intoxicating latter-half-of-my-life relationship. (More on them another day, for sure.)


Cansei de Ser Sexy, with clipped art that intro’d me to the group.

It’s hard to capture how many singles and albums were dreamed of and bought thanks to the Encyclopedia of British Beat Groups & Solo Artists of the Sixties by Omnibus Press. I learned of The Flowerpot Men, a zippy Salvation Army Band, and true obscurities like Beau Brummell (“I Know Know Know”) and Bruno (who produced “a brace of singles”). There was Forest with their “gentle, swirling music”an only partially applicable description of their brace of albums.

There were cool low-tech images: a gorgeous pelvic-thrust of a picture of Elkie Brooks (still never listened to her music) and a dot matrix masterpiece of a laughing Freddie Garrity.


Record catalogs had an effect too, with names of songs sticking in my head and often ending up purchased and revolving on my record playerthe only way to hear the lyrics to these tantalizing scraps of music history. There was really no other way to hear an obscure song unless you wanted to pester a local DJ who just might have a dusty record lying around somewhere. And what if the song was embarrasingly bad?

And then there’s songs you’d hear on the radio. Usually one song was all it took, and maybe a little sampling in the record shop. It was acquiredpurchased, or a copy obtained from a friend. Ahhhh, good old days.

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Well, it happened, and it had been such a long time since it had happened.

A couple of weeks ago, our current malaise brought me out into Google street views to walk around old neighborhoods I’d lived in and visitedincluding Australia, where I once took a fateful trip. Although there was a lot of nostalgia in the air during all of those virtual street visits, the feeling didn’t come to me with full force at that time.

The other day, though, I put on Temple of Low Men by Crowded House, and lay down to stretch, or was I standing to play air guitar? “I could feel you underneath my skin / as the wind rushed in, / sent the kitchen table crashing / she said nobody move.”


But it happened. “I Feel Possessed” came on, its pulsing, quavering opening. And by the time I got to the third song, “Into Temptation,” the feeling had settled in and stayed with me for the whole album. Images from my trip to Oz, with my special welcoming committee of one “crazy Aussie/Indo rep” waiting the other side of the customs gauntlet. I’ve never felt that way before or since; no poems written since the aftermath of that era played itself out.


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It might have been, “You opened up your door / I couldn’t believe my luck / you in your new blue dress / taking away my breath” that really drove it home, zapped me from above and within. “Into your wide open arms  / no way to break this spell.” The warmth I felt then from her, and the warmth I gave her.


Lying back listening, standing up singing along, my mind drifting during the lesser songs that make the excellence of the album even greater sometimes. As it played, there were a bunch of thoughts and feelings, but what predominates is loveit was a pure feeling of love for this person and that time, all happening to me at that moment, and that’s not a bad thing. “Not asking for anything / I just want to be there when it happens again.”


“As I turn to go / you looked at me for half a second.”

More photos here.

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One of the cooler conservation organizations out there, the Center for Biological Diversity, sent me a postcard with a beautiful red fox looking at me with the poem “Keeping Quiet” beside. It’s by Pablo Neruda and I hope you’ll read it and mull it over, maybe even recognize it as your natural state, one that seems to have been forced upon many people these days who are so used to unceasing hustling. Without going on about it, I had never read this poem before, and it perfectly reflects the way to combat this gospel of profit margin, of anthropocentric growth, of getting ahead that so pervades human endeavor.

Speaking of celebrating the profitless, have you voted in the Signac puzzle piece poll yet?

I’ve been spending some more time with Divine Discontent by Sixpence None The Richer, listening more closely and associations that were vague now register.

There is the Crowded House cover, track 4, and one that brings to mind Alanis Morissette (5), early late Beatles (10), Bacharach or Alpert (11), and not sure, but someone (12), all delivered with Leigh Nash’s rich vocals and Matt Slocum’s rich orchestration and deft (along with Sean Kelly) guitar playing.

As usual, the best songs are the ones penned by Slocum alone. There’s even a developing “hat trick,” as I call a wonderful succession of three songs that lead off the somber festivities: “Breathe Your Name,” “Tonight,” and “Down and Out of Time.” This last is my favorite song at this point, and one Nash also contributed to.

Slocum’s songwriting remains at the high level of their big hit album, and his vulnerability and confessional knowledge of his own weaknesses remains as well. “I’ve Been Waiting” hooks you in and takes the breath away. “Down and Out of Time” captures some of the song that began their previous album“We Have Forgotten” has this lashing out: “don’t go, I’ll shoot you down.” “Down and Out of Time” says, “I aim my cannon at you ready or not / You’re gonna feel my pain like it or not.”

There’s no nicer song to sing along with. And it’s perfect for this time when so much is grounded and, despite all the pain for so many, there is much to be found in exactly thatbeing grounded. “Perhaps this earth can teach us / as when everything seems dead / and later proves to be alive.”

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One to grow on

I remember little public service announcements for kids with the above title back in the Afterschool Special and Snipets days. This post is about Divine Discontent, an album by Sixpence None The Richer that recently grew on me, melding into my mind in a big way.

I’d been going through albums while working the Signac puzzle, often picking lesser ones in my collection I’d not listened to in a while. These kinds of filler albums are pleasant enough, and sometimes they hurdle themselves into the other category, that of featured listen where I start singing along to every song. Such is Divine Discontent. It’s one of those albums where the song titles aren’t even clear or material, where each song seems like the beginning and finale of the album, beautiful dramas unto themselves. The exception is the respectful cover of Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” which luckily fits in pretty well. I found myself catching interesting, touching elements in each and every song as I worked on my puzzle.


Sixpence’s eponymous album, from which their hit “Kiss Me” was harvested, is an all-time fave, one I pull out and enjoy every fall. It’s an album with high peaks and a couple of lulls; but it sets a mood immediately and carries it forward throughouta rare thing. And now something rarer, another album by the same group that almost matches it, the same combination of writing by Matt Slocum and singing by Leigh Nash. Gorgeous avian cover art too.

I have albums by Shelleyan Orphan on a regular seasonal rotation, playing the same one each spring, summer, &c. I wonder if I might end up doing the same for Sixpence None The Richer now that I have fall and spring covered. Have they become a major group for me? We’ll see. It may take a good while, but I’ll be checking out Lost in Transition, The Fatherless & The Widow, Tickets for a Prayer Wheel, and This Beautiful Mess to find out.

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I sometimes stop to think how amazing it is that the words of Julius Caesar have survived history, that we can read his descriptions of his notorious and celebrated maneuvers in the Gallic frontiers and Roman power politics. Leonardo’s notebooks, a biography of a Byzantine emperor written by his daughter, the revelatory Records Written In Silence of a Korean noblewoman of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these have survived for us to relish as experiences of past thought and deed.

Listening to Mental Notes, the first album by Split Enz, it occurred to me that we might be listening Phil Judd’s experiences of bipolar disorder chiseled into a record groove. Judd was one of two lead songwriters and lyricists for the band at the time, the other being Tim Finn. The whole album from side one’s “Walking Down A Road,” “Under The Wheel,” “So Long For Now,” to side two’s “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Titus,” and “Spellbound,” to the last incessantly repeating groove of “Mental Notes” ringing in our ears and Judd’s head—suggest this notion. Maybe it’s true, maybe not, but it’s an affecting lens through which to experience the album and the band’s early history, with guitarist Wally Wilkinson leaving the group due to agoraphobia, and Judd apparently so stressed from touring and the other travails of band membership that he started tearing his hair out—hence his baldness in the masterpiece “Sweet Dreams” video.

I’m not sure why this never occurred to me before. Look at their other early album names: Frenzy, Second Thoughts, Dizrythmia. All were recorded while Judd was with the band, or his influence still strongly felt, before Neil Finn (hard to imagine anyone saner) came to dominate the songwriting and image. Noel Crombie’s harlequinesque stagecraft always suggested clownishness, a fun, safe representation of insanity. But what it really shows is a jubilant, lip-smacking sugar pill of mental illness—Judd’s defiant lost-one’s-mindedness recorded on record and film.

And some of Split Enz’s earlier songs reveal the same: “For You” and “No Bother To Me,” which has seldom left my head these past couple of weeks:

It’s no bother for me to beg, I was sane
My eyes are red and my head’s in pain
It won’t hurt me to say what I mean
My throat is blistered but my hands are clean
And I’m just your long lost love and
I’d love you still but I’m not able
They won’t catch me if I can help it
Just hold me down if I have a fit
And I think I’ll be alright now
Say that I’ll be normal some day
Say that I’ll be normal some day
Say that I’ll be normal some day
Now they laugh and teach me how to pray


By good fortune, we have this video of the above song, preceded by my favorite of their performances on their catchiest of tunes, “Maybe.” The stage performance is as demented as they come; the transcription is muddled, like a filmstrip from its era, the ones we’d see in elementary school. What better luck in capturing the band’s depiction of mental illness?

The spirit lived on, notionally at least. Tim Finn was the more happy-go-lucky one, with the sweeter voice, as opposed to Judd’s bleating, which he was forced to re-record on at least one occasion (viz., the two versions of “Titus”). In “Without a Doubt,” “Haul Away,” and even the disturbing “Charlie,” Finn is depicting an approximation, an outside-looking-in, decorous view of depression, melancholy, violence, madness. The spirit remains to some extent, the viscera have fled.

Judd’s later efforts seem more medicated and strained, again portraying not embodying his edge of insanity. His group Schnell Fenster’s “Sleeping Mountain” is a great song, hinting at pent-up, uncontrollable energy, but it is his resurrection of the long ago demo’d “Play It Strange” on his 2014 album of the same name, that really captures that Mental Notes era. You can listen to, and purchase, that touching, masterful song here. It gives me great comfort in this time when I seem to play it strange down my own path, while the world goes its own strange way.


Cover of the album “Play It Strange” by Phil Judd. ©2014, Phil Judd and Bandcamp

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Unexpected Shades

On the strength of a scratchy 45 of mine, “Midnight Blue,” I’ve been drawn into the world of Melissa Manchester, yes, the height of 1970s riding-around-with-my-mom-in-the-car radio. I’ve learned a lot. Manchester co-wrote “Midnight Blue” and “Whenever I Call You Friend,” and long before the 1980s brought “You Should Hear How She Talks About You” and other minor chestnuts, was recording albums in classic singer-songwriter style–Home to Myself, Bright Eyes, Melissa, Help Is on the Way. She not only a singing, but playing piano, writing many or most of the songs on her albums, often with long-term writing partner Carole Bayer Sager.

I picked up a two-CD, four-album set featuring these albums and started playing it in the background of my typing doings, noticing when “Midnight Blue” came on, when she did a good cover of “Dirty Work,” and occasionally had my ear perked with other pieces of songs. I started hearing shades of piano I never expected, minor keys, quiet playing in the dark, something as set in another world, or at least a rare home of her own, her quiet corner of NYC.  “Easy,” “Jenny,” “Bright Eyes,” “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore.” These songs caught me, and reminded me of one of my favorite albums of all time.

There are only a few albums that have instantly made me feel I had entered another dimension, another world, another landscape to explore. These three always spring to mind: 1977 by Talking Heads, Murmur by R.E.M., Mental Notes by Split Enz. This last came out in 1975, just after the first two Manchester albums I listed, and the same year as the third. Mental Notes has elements of early Genesis, but it really is a thing unto itself. And I guess now I can add there’s a bit of Melissa Manchester, those moments of quiet piano. If you listen to the stylings of Eddie Rayner and Tim Finn on “Time for a Change,” you’ll hear a touch and more of what she was playing. In the quiet corners of one the best albums ever recorded–the latter halves of “Stranger than Fiction” and “Under the Wheel,” and times when they segue into rollicking beats–you might hear her.

What would it be like if Bronx-born Melissa had been the Split Enz keyboardist? I discovered the great Akiko Yano in a mental/Wikipedia exercise, starting with a thought and looking for a pianist to fill the spot. I am glad I stumbled into Melissa Manchester in a similar way, albeit backwards–starting with a hit song and surprisingly finding a corner of her musicianship I’d never expected.

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