Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #551:
Greta Gertler & Peccadillo – Nervous Breakthroughs
Recorded mostly in the late 90s but not available outside Australia until 2004, this is a lush, sweeping classic of chamber pop and art-rock. With her sometimes stratospheric high soprano voice, sizzling keyboard chops and playful, unpredictable songwriting, Gertler comes across as something of a down-to-earth Kate Bush (hard to imagine, but try anyway). With a rock band and string section behind her, she veers from the Supertramp-style pop of Happy Again and the vividly anxious Highest Story to more austere, windswept pieces like Away and the quirky I’m Not a Lizard, and even a blazing Russian folk dance, The Hot Bulgar. The bitterly triumphant, intensely crescendoing Moving Backwards is the real killer cut here, although all the tracks are strong. With its killer chorus, Julian should have been the big radio hit; there’s also a boisterous Aussie football song, and the bouncy, Split Enz-ish Charlie #3. Mysteriously absent from the blogosphere and the sharelockers, it’s still available at cdbaby. Gertler has since taken her game up yet another notch as leader of the symphonic rock crew the Universal Thump, whose current album in progress is every bit as good as this one. You may even see it on this list someday.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #553:
Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology
A caustic, wickedly tuneful concept album about musicians’ struggles to reach an audience in the last dying days of the major label era, 2009. Treat of the Week scathingly chronicles a wannabe corporate pop star’s pathetic fifteen minutes of fame; the deadpan 60s Britpop bounce of Discount Store masks its sting as an anthem for the current depression. The Next Best Thing, with its slow-burning crescendo, looks at people who’re content to settle: the funniest song here, Apologia is a faux power ballad ballad, a label exec’s disingenuous kiss-off to a troublesome rocker who dared to fight the system. The classic here is City Of… a cruelly spot-on analysis of music fandom (and its Balkanized subcultures) in a Toronto of the mind; Street Team, a spot-on, Orwellian look at how marketers attempt to create those Balkanized audiences; My Alleged Career, an alienated distillation of how Bryk’s music was probably received in the corporate world. The rest of the cd includes a pretty ballad, a musical joke, and the ironically titled closing cut, Whatever, a bitter piano ballad: “Whatever doesn’t kill me can still make you cry,” Bryk insists. Mystifyingly, this one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s streaming at Spotify and it’s still available at Bryk’s site, where you can also hear the whole thing.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #562:
The Modern Lovers’ first album
We’re trying hard not to duplicate the two best-known “best albums” lists on the web, but this one pretty much everybody agrees on. Recorded in 1972 (back when Jonathan Richman still had an edge, before he turned into a parody of himself), not released until 1976, enormously influential and still a great party album after all these years, it’s a mix of scurrying second-generation Velvets vamps and poppier janglerock. The iconic one here is Roadrunner (memorably butchered by the Sex Pistols). Richman may have held hippies in contempt (the hilarious bonus track I’m Straight), but he goes in that direction on Astral Plane. Otherwise, he’s cranky and defiantly retro on Old World and Modern World, hauntingly poignant on She Cracked and Hospital, LOL funny on their cover of John Cale’s Pablo Picasso (who really was an asshole), and only gets sappy on Someone I Care About. The early zeros reissue comes with a bunch of bonus tracks which include the Boston classic Government Center but otherwise aren’t up to the level of the John Cale-produced originals. Extra props to the band for contributing members to both the Talking Heads and Robin Lane & the Chartbusters. Here’s a random torrent.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1.Saturday’s album is #598:
The Jayhawks – Sound of Lies
Wounded angst has never sounded this romantic – or tuneful. From 1997, it’s the Minneapolis band’s most rock-oriented record, their only real classic. It’s frontman Gary Louris’ record all the way through, rich with jangly guitars, judicious piano and crystalline, three-part harmonies, more Beatles or Big Star than Nashville. The Man Who Loved Life is a majestically bittersweet homage to living intensely. They match that towering, angst-ridden ambience with Sixteen Down, Think About It, Haywire and the gorgeously sad foreshadowing of Trouble. Big Star manages to blend unbridled hope and cynicism, with a big, tongue-in-cheek guitar break. The most stunning track here is Dying on the Vine, a crushingly intense theme for anyone who’s ever been rejected, Marc Pearlman’s insistent, staccato bassline anticipating Louris’ pessimistic lyric: “I’m dying in the shadows.” The quieter tracks include the irresistibly bouncy It’s Up to You, the vicious Poor Little Fish (a dis for a spoiled bitch), drummer Tim O’Reagan’s bucolic Bottomless Cup and the pensive title track. Here’s a random torrent.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #599:
Angie Pepper & the Passengers – It’s Just That I Miss You
The greatest voice ever to come out of Australia, Angie Pepper was the frontwoman in the late 70s janglerock band the Passengers, an edgy, wickedly tuneful band who would have been famous beyond their home turf had the master tapes for their one album not gone AWOL. For years, the only Passengers album was a 1986 release of tinny but still gorgeous rehearsal recordings; this 2000 reissue collects the original late 70s masters along with Pepper’s first 1978 Aussie hit, Frozen World (written by her husband, Radio Birdman mastermind Deniz Tek) plus additional material originally released on Tek’s 1988 Orphan Tracks collection. Pepper can say more in a wary bent note than most can in a whole album, best exemplified in the righteous rage of Last Chance, when she finally, finally cuts loose at the end. There’s also the sultry, Doorsy Miss You Too Much; the garage rock stomp No Way Out; the early new wave Love Execution, and the haunting pop anthems Face with No Name and My Sad Day among the thirteen tracks here. Pepper (and her talented daughter Hana) continue to record and occasionally play live along with Tek. Here’s a random torrent via Striped Sunlight.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #625:
The Act – Too Late at 20
Before Nick Laird-Clowes had the easy-listening radio hit Life in a Northern Town with his chamber-pop band the Dream Academy, he fronted this ferocious, sharply literate, Elvis Costello-influenced two-guitar new wave rock band with David Gilmour’s kid brother Mark playing lead. Their lone 1981 album is a masterpiece of catchy tunes, snarling guitar and restless lyricism. “I belong to the ones that got away,” Laird-Clowes asserts on the album’s best track, the resolute escape anthem Long Island Sound – but by the end, it’s hard to tell whether he’s singing “I belong” or “I’m alone.” That moment is characteristic here. Zero Unidentified is about as exhilarating as a three-minute song can get: it won’t take no for an answer. Get It While You’re Young has an uneasy undercurrent beneath the ecstatic two-guitar powerpop intensity, while The Art of Deception salutes the cheaters amongst us, Clash-style. There’s also the sizzling, upbeat Sure Fire; the reggae-tinged, cynical Protection and Skip the Beat; and the surprisingly tender Touch and Go. Only one dud amongst all this fun. Issued on the same label that would put out Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot out the Lights only a few months later, it’s been out of print for decades. Here’s a random torrent via Powerpop Criminals.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #636:
The Jesus & Mary Chain – Darklands
Angst-ridden atheist post-Velvets powerpop from 1986. It’s the only really solid album the band ever did, a template they tried to fit into many times afterward without nearly as much success. Much as the idea of putting an album by a rock band propelled by a drum machine on this list is pretty abhorrent, it’s hard to argue with the catchy death-obsessed title track, or the stark, gorgeously bitter defiance of Deep One Perfect Morning, the strongest song here. There’s also the hook-driven, overcast goth-pop of Happy When It Rains and April Skies; the brisk, stomping Down on Me; the Stoogoid garage-punk of Fall; the poppiest number here, Cherry Came Too and a couple of impressively successful attempts at ethereal grandeur, Nine Million Rainy Days and About You. Here’s a random torrent.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #639:
Champagne Francis – I Start to Daydream
Other than an extremely limited-edition acoustic ep, this 2006 album represents the entirety of this blissfully tuneful, catchy Brooklyn janglerock/powerpop trio’s recorded output. Imagine the Lemonheads if they’d stayed in college and majored in something interesting, and you have an idea what it sounds like. Frontman/guitarist Brian Silverman has a wit to match his supersonic chops, from the hilarious faux Steve Vai tapping solo on the album’s most surreally catchy number, Waterskis, to the crushingly deadpan anti-trendoid satire Our Parents Had Money. Burned to the Ground captures a drunken late-night party more vividly and captivatingly than that scenario would let you believe; the rest of the album slips in and out of focus artfully and entertainingly, from the opening track, Old Vampires, through the riff-rocking Done So Secretly and the inscrutably High Comedy and Walter. Too obscure to find at the sharelockers, but all the tracks are still streaming at the band’s site, and it’s still available from cdbaby.
This is why live shows are where everything is happening. Ward White’s new album Done with the Talking Cure is urbane, and funny, and lyrically intense, but onstage Tuesday night at Bowery Electric he and an A-list of New York rock talent brought the monster to life. There was plenty of nuance, but it was good to see White cut loose with some righteous wrath. Jeremy Chatzky nonchalantly swung the Taxman bass riff as White jangled and clanged his way through the title track; with his signature deadpan ease, keyboardist Joe McGinty tossed off a quote from Dreaming by Blondie toward the end of the brutally cynical Change Your Clothes. “I could do it in the dark, I could do it in my sleep,” White crooned – he was talking about crawling out a window. Drummer Eddie Zwieback gave the gorgeously bitter Radio Silence a backbeat cushion for White’s corrosive lyrics and McGinty’s sizzling, allusive organ work. We Can’t Go on Like This had a sultry, decadent, bolero-tinged slink, aloft on violinist Claudia Chopek’s hypnotic string arrangement, augmented by frequent Botanica collaborator Heather Paauwe on violin and Eleanor Norton on cello.
Following the sequence of the album, White sank his fangs into Accomplice. “One of those narratives that sounds menacing, I’m not entirely sure what’s happening but it’s not good,” he explained. Live, the combination of McGinty’s circus organ and White’s Strat was all that and a lot more, and it was about here that he started crooning less and snarling more. They took it down to just the strings and vocals for Be Like Me, a withering chronicle of disingenuousness. “This song may…be about how I feel about New York City, but it’s also some kind of pretentious metaphor,” White sneered sardonically. “Whichever offends you less, don’t go with that one,” he encouraged the crowd and followed with Pretty/Ugly Town, the least cloaked of all of his attacks tonight, this one taking aim at at a clueless, trendy girl. “Everything is poison if you swallow enough, so be careful what you put in your mouth,” White sang as it opened, somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Roger Waters.
The next song, 1964 may be a thinly veiled swipe at fashion slaves, but its irresistibly cheery mod-pop had the crowd bouncing along, all the way through McGinty’s sarcastic wah-wah synth solo. Then they brought it down with the morose, drugged-out ambience of Who’s Sorry Now, switching to stark yet funny with the “damaged metaphor” of Family Dog and then to ferocious with the album’s closing track, Matchbox Sign. White supplied some useful background: “It’s a term used in the psychiatric event book to describe delusory parasitosis: ‘Take me home tonight!'” he laughed. “People are convinced that they’re infested with insects and parasites…desperately itching and scratching and trying to prove to the medical community that they’re real. Morgellons Disease is one of the more common ones…Joni Mitchell has come out in public as saying she’s infected,” White explained to considerable applause. The strings gave some relief to the exasperated narrator through his drive somewhere – the hospital? – with his crazy passenger.
It was too bad to miss the opening acts. Jim Allen, who a few years ago fronted a killer Elvis Costelloish outfit called the Lazy Lions, has gone back to the Americana stuff he did so well earlier in past decade; after his band, McGinty was scheduled to play a set of his own stuff.
Since the mid-zeros, Brooklyn songwriter Ward White has quietly and methodically been putting out brilliantly lyrical rock albums. An incisive lead guitarist and nimbly melodic bass player, he’s made some waves lately, touring with Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby and getting some long-overdue NPR exposure. His new album Done with the Talking Cure is brutally hilarious, and may be his best one yet. It’s definitely his most diverse: although it’s got his hardest-rocking songs – he’s never played better, handling all the guitars and the bass here – it’s also his most surreal and mysterious. Claudia Chopek’s string arrangements are pure genius: they’re lush yet completely unpredictable, a perfect fit with the songs’ devious twists and turns. And yet, this is White’s most direct album, most of the songs here clocking in at less than three minutes. White handles all the vocals as well, with lots of harmonies, airing out his Jeff Buckley-esque upper register. Behind him, Joe McGinty (with whom he made a terrific psychedelic pop album in 2009) plays keys, along with Chopek’s violin and viola, Julia Kent’s cello and Eddie Zwieback’s drums.
The understatedly uneasy title track kicks off with a fluid Taxman bass riff, its narrator eager to jump back into the fray since his “arms were Gregor Samsa’d to insect feelers overnight.” The first of several sweepingly orchestrated numbers, Change Your Clothes paints a surreal wee-hours scenario: its sarcasm barely held in check, it may be the most genteel song ever written about wanting to crawl out a window in the middle of the night. Radio Silence is an absolutely spot-on sendup of WASP uptightness set to a delicious backbeat pop tune: “It’s really not a compromise til everybody’s miserable/But zero’s not divisible,” White laments. “It’s a tragic disease, the kind that keeps you well and never sick.”
The strings sweep in again on We Can’t Go on Like This, a richly allusive, barely restrained exasperation anthem with Jimmy Webb touches. Then White brings back the backbeat with Accomplice, something akin to Luke Haines with a Connecticut accent, complete with a creepy circus bridge straight out of Black Box Recorder. White has been called a “musical John Cheever,” a comparison that strikes home in the cruelly sardonic, string-driven Be Like Me (as in “Disgusted with the way things are, embarrassed by how they were and frightened about how they’ll be”). He drops the allusions and goes straight for the jugular with the irresistibly funny/harsh Pretty/Ugly Town, a kiss-off to a trendy girl who will do anything to “succeed.” Then he brings them back in full force with 1964, an equally amusing anti-trendoid broadside disguised as a sweet bouncy pop song utilizing every vintage keyboard in the Joe McGinty museum.
Who’s Sorry Now perfectly captures a morose, drugged-out ambience, White’s voice drowning in watery Leslie speaker waves: “I always drink to forget, I wish I could forget to drink more often…got all this time to kill before I take my pill, and the medicine has all the fun.” The album closes with Family Dog, sort of the anti-Weezy as dog metaphors go, and The Matchbox Sign, pulsing along on a Wilson Pickett bassline anchoring another of those detail-packed mystery stories he writes so well. What else is there to say: the songs speak for themselves. Another masterpiece from a songwriter who will someday – if there is a someday – be pantheonic. You’ll see this high on our list of the best albums of the year when we finally get around to putting it up. Ward White plays the cd release show for this one on April 19 at Bowery Electric at about 9:30 on an excellent bill with Jim Allen’s country band starting the night at 7:30, followed by the Joe McGinty Seven at 8:30.
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