That is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. It is the world’s largest seed storage facility and was built to withstand nearly any type of global disaster. It contains duplicates of all the world’s seeds in case food production needs to be restarted if the supply is in peril. It is in a state of permafrost so even if all the power goes down, the seeds stay fresh. Crates of seeds are sent to Svalbard from all over the world to be stowed safely and securely in cold, dry vaults. Right, I am inexplicably fascinated with this place, both the building and the premise behind it. I have actually fantasized about what it would be like to work there which is incredibly weird and frankly I don’t understand either. And yes, I have used pictures of this thing as wallpaper. No sunsets or mountains for me, nope, give me a Norwegian seed storage facility built for doomsday scenarios any day. And so yeah, you can research after you read this and join my one person SGSV fan club where all we do is read about and look at pictures of it, as well as watch video tours, for reasons we can’t quite pinpoint.
Hey! It’s time for the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the finest new songs we’ve heard over recent days. They are beautiful starlit anthems to the last and all are currently tied for #1 on the PuR top of the pop chart. You can hear ’em below on Soundcloud or Spotify. I also attached a link for the new Julien Baker album Little Oblivions, which is equal parts intense, rockin’ and tuneful and just plain good.
Welcome to PuR’s Love Crypt, spotlighting the underrated, secretly classic songs & albums that didn’t always get the attention they deserved upon release but are worthy of adoration & a listen. We are digging deep, really deep in this edition to shine a light a couple of forgotten yet wondrous, old diamonds…
Nick Barone: Blues In The City (1987)
As far as I can tell based a bit of research, this is the only music Nick Barone ever officially released. All I know about him is literally this song which I heard by total chance just because I walked into the Vinyl Mania shop back in the day and it happened to be playing. The song features a lyrical reference to California but make no mistake “Blues In the City” sounds like New York City in the ’80s. It’s a sleek hypnotic, electronic groove with a bit of a post punk vibe and some warm guitar stabs thrown in along the way. The overall sound conjures images of cavernous, dusty nightclubs and perilous nighttime walks by the river which is to say, it’s got some chilly city soul running through its veins. Nothing genuinely dramatic happens, the chorus doesn’t overwhelm and it has kind of a demo-ish quality…yet there is something oddly unforgettable about it. It’s one of those ’80s songs I could just plain never get out of my head. Chris Lord-Alge who has worked with everyone from James Brown to Madonna is listed as one of the mix engineers on the sleeve but there is nothing highbrow or expensive about this song, it’s just cool and lost and kind of beautiful.
Eric Eden: I’d Make You Happy (If I Could) (1992)
Eric Eden’s “I’d Make You Happy ( If I Could)” is over the top dramatic-romantic and sits somewhere between vintage Todd Rundgren and a Queen piano ballad. It is one gloriously plush, angsty, string-soaked 5 minutes and home to some pretty swoon-worthy melodic twists. There is some serious pedigree on this track as well in the form of Elton John’s longtime percussionist Ray Cooper and Bowie guitarist Carlos Alomar (!) who also feature prominently on Eden’s entire debut album Grooving Up Slowly where “I’d Make You Happy…” is pulled from. Speaking of which gonna offer up a bonus track in this edition of the Love Crypt from the same album; rainswept Prince-flavored candy “Don’t Cry Out In Tears From The Sky” is even more over the top than “I’d Make You Happy…” and just as sweet. Check it out below.
During the sweet days of summer of 2010, for 2 whole months, I was obsessed the music of ’70s soft rock troubadours Seals & Crofts. 10+ years later and I’m still trying to make sense of it. The jasmine’s in bloom….
For someone who endlessly whinges about how much she hates the term “Guilty Pleasure”, I admit I still feel a tiny challenge when it comes to celebrating the thing I’m about to explain. Come to think of it, “celebrating” might not be the right word, what I mean is it’s hard trying to relate why I liked it, or why I got quite so into it for what turned out to be a pretty short span of time. To be honest I have only the vaguest idea. I think it relates to the general concept of both “childhood” and “better days” and the kind of fantastically remembered notions you have about the past once you get a little distance. But shit, I also just like some ridiculous old pop music.
Right so in the summer of 2010 I became inexplicably fixated on the music of Jim Seals & Dash Crofts aka Seals & Crofts, the ’70s soft rock duo who dominated the AM radio airwaves throughout that decade. They’d been huge back in the day, scoring a handful of truly infectious hits including “Diamond Girl”, “Get Closer”, “We May Never Pass This Way Again” and laid back behemoth “Summer Breeze” (which made putting plates on the dinner table seem like the most romantic thing in all of humanity). Like most people of my generation (X), I was pretty familiar with the aforementioned hits but admit that was solely down to old school osmosis…meaning that every car journey of my childhood was tuned into and soundtracked by sugary sweet AM radio. Thus the malleable little kid brains of my brother and I were exposed to this sweet but sinister musical asbestos on a daily basis as it reverberated through our insanely cliched succession of ’70s family vehicles: the requisite station wagon (kids pinballing in the back), a blue Econoline van (kids pinballing in the back even more violently) and most importantly, our Mom’s white Chevy Nova which had a huge sunflower painted on the side, as commissioned by my hippie Mom, often resulting in my grade school classmates letting me know that “I saw your Mom’s car today” which though I love now, I found unspeakably humiliating at the time.
Sorry got off track there but that was some f-ing car. Now to be clear, I genuinely enjoyed some of the songs I was exposed on those car rides. Not usually enough to sacrifice allowance money on, but enough so that I might possibly sing along to them under my breath as they wafted through the Nova, like for example the Captain & Tennille’s “The Way That I Want To Touch You” (hell yeah) or the Eagles “One Of These Nights” (ni-hi-hi-hi-ights)…but as open as I was to a good hook, Seals & Crofts aka S & C, never quite managed to capture my attention. Not only was I not moved by the songs ( the lowest common denominator), they also didn’t meet my crucial, non-negotiable young girl in the heat of pop music infatuation standards i.e. they didn’t rock and they weren’t young and cute.
Seals & Crofts 3 biggest hits all peaked at the # 6 position in the Billboard Pop Chart. 666. Just sayin’.
Yet there I was in our year of 2010 eagerly rooting through their entire recorded catalogue on iTunes like a freakin’ Smithsonian archivist, painstakingly cherry picking songs that sounded cool and stuffing them into a playlist. And like a kid who prefers the packing peanuts to the actual gift in the box, I found myself way more interested in exploring the deep cuts I’d never heard than the familiar hits. Once assembled, I proceeded to listen to this approximately 10-12 song “Ultimate Seals & Crofts Playlist” every day. On the daily train ride to work. While riding loops around Central Park. As I was washing the damn dishes. For all of July and August. It was like a ’70s AM radio themed version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers wherein some soft focus, earth shoe wearing, incense cone burning, hang-gliding, Chevy van driving, ambiguously spiritual, herbal essence shampooing, Tab drinking muthaf*cking ghost had moved into my person and taken control. What triggered this ? The hot July days ? Memories of catching fireflies in the backyard as a kid ? What the holy hell was happening ?
Look, we can’t talk here, meet me in the next paragraph…
I need to get factual for a minute but I swear I’ll be brief. That up there⬆️ is the inner sleeve of S & C’s 1974 album Unborn Child featuring the lyrics of the title track. They were written by Lana Bogan, wife of the duo’s recording engineer Joseph Bogan and then set to music by S & C. The song was actually released as a single but due to the controversial nature of its subject matter many radio stations refused to play it (especially as it came in the wake of the Roe v.Wade decision in 1973). And so it only got as high as #66 on the Billboard pop chart ( wait, 66). Still S & C were popular and “hot” enough at that point that the album itself landed in the Top 20 and ultimately went Gold.
Okay so I have a confession to make. About a year before my official S & C infatuation began, I had actually purchased an LP of theirs…it was, yup you guessed it, the infamous, aforementioned Unborn Child. It cost $1 and I bought it along with a pile of other cheap records from one of those NYC street vendor guys who sell old albums out of crates on the sidewalk. My first reaction upon seeing the album title and perusing the lyrics of the song it had been named for on the inner sleeve, was a hearty “what the f*ck“. To be honest, knowing how popular S & C were at the time of Unborn Child’s release, it kind of pissed me off. It seemed downright insidious, packaging this particular sentiment on an album released at the peak of their fame, knowing those who’d been seduced and won over by the sweet hits the previous year would just buy it based on history. Anyway, it didn’t matter that it was already 35 years old, I just couldn’t let it slide. And so I bought it as a curio, a historical object, a weird ’70s artifact to be incredulous about with music nerd friends. I bought it because because it made me (gently) angry. I know that seems weird and counterintuitive as f*ck but there you go. I’d like to think we’ve all done things like that ( uh, right ?), like bought an elderly book with debunked ideas or a piece of hilariously misshapen fruit just to have, to be amused or astounded by, or to make your friends laugh or whatever. And that’s literally all it was to me, this thing I could wave around every few years and say “have you ever seen this?”. I admit never actually listened to it, not until a year later in 2010 when the S & C obsession took hold of me. All of which is to say yes, that sleeve pic above is of my own actual copy.
My deeply ingrained disdain for the song ( and album title) didn’t derail my Seals & Crofts Summer Love Experience though. We had a difference of opinion yes but I mean, I didn’t necessarily agree with everything my beloved Prince sang or said over the years so slack was cut. S & C and me, let’s just agree to disagree.
This line up is nuts for more reasons than I can list.
Thankfully someone had the good sense to document this incredible event for posterity. Want to see Dash Crofts in a fetching white suit and shades looking exceptionally rock star like and view some truly inspired interpretive dance by denim clad audience members soundtracked by “Diamond Girl”…yeah you do, so please, if you will, cast your eyes here. In addition I recommend you watch this vintage intro to a TV broadcast of the C-Jam here because the last couple of minutes are pure gold. And one last thing, Jim Dandy to the rescue. Truth be told, watching the audience enjoying the C-Jam is way more fun than watching the actual show. It’s an endless sea of sun-visors, jeans and mustaches…Linda’s and Susie’s…Mike’s and Tommy’s…and though we can’t technically see it, home to a no doubt staggering amount of weed.
“I’m not dumb Lindsay, I know what high people look like. I went to a Seals & Crofts concert last summer !”
Quote from Millie ( Freaks and Geeks Episode 13)
Listening to Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace album or watching its companion documentary of the same name doesn’t require that you follow her same faith or even practice any religion ( except maybe worshipping Aretha herself, hallelujah). Experiencing both of those aforementioned things is a visceral experience, the emotion expressed transcends specifics, it’s about a feeling. Before you get crazy, I am not about to compare listening to freakin’ Aretha to digging into S & C catalogue. It’s just easier to explain this next stuff by using the Amazing Grace experience as an example. Okay so while I was digging into the S & C discography I inevitably delved into a bit of the duo’s history and discovered they were longtime devoted followers of the Baha’i Faith. There are references to its tenets within the lyrics of some songs, not aggressive, but definitely in there if you’re looking. But it didn’t color my listening experience, didn’t come across as proselytizing. What I’m getting at is, like The Queen’s Amazing Grace the music of S & C is more about a feeling for me, evoking things that aren’t necessarily religious…like when we used eat outside at McDonald’s as kids and throw fries to the birds on hot ’70s Saturday afternoons. Does that make sense? It’s a feeling.
“Cause You Love” is a wake up call directed at all of humanity that is as gentle as being hit with a pillow stuffed with cotton balls and I love it.
What did I discover on my journey into the S & C discography? Well, Crofts’s voice had a quirky, occasionally cartoonish quality and sounded best when it was singing in harmony with Seals, who himself generally took the lead. And though things were sometimes cloudy lyrically, it never really rained, which is to say even the saddest, most serious Seals & Crofts songs were brimming with melodic optimism. Sure the aforementioned “Cause You Love” offers that times are “heavy” and “hard” but it still sounds like blazing sunshine. Yeah, “Baby Blue” is a song about leaving someone to go play the field but its melody is so joyful, its sentiment so polite and empathetic that it makes behaving like a restless bastard sound like flying a multi-colored kite. I liked how laid back plea for closeness “Million Dollar Horse” employed an actual “chk” sound in and around the chorus to represent a tiny bit of spur kicking. And while “Desert People” is specifically related to the aforementioned Baha’i faith and features the lines “so let your sweet rain fall on me, for I am dying, we’re desert people and we’re in pain, but we’re still trying”, it also sounds like something you’d listen to while driving to the freakin’ beach. “I Keep Changing The Faces” describes going from partner to partner and justifying the action because our protagonist is “in love with love” but its groovy Doobie Brother-esque backdrop makes him sound like the sweetest lounge lizard alive. And even though “If and Any Day” drips with regret and craves assistance from above it still sounds like the theme song of a ’70s movie about rollerskating at Venice Pier. Yup, songs by Seals & Crofts are fueled entirely by the fumes of a straight up unadulterated ’70s summer breeze.
If it’s cool enough for the THE GREATEST then clearly it’s cool enough for us all.
A summer fling. That’s really what it was, my Seals & Crofts obsession. A sort of sweet memory that lives mostly in the rearview. While I still have a handful of tracks in rotation and occasionally play ’em when the mood strikes, I haven’t indulged anywhere near as much as I did that July and August, haven’t felt the urge to hit play on the old playlist.
As a child I kept a scrapbook of celebrity obituaries and admittedly maintained only a tenuous relationship with the concept of “carefree” and “happy”. This kid who lived down the street was constantly referring to me as being “mad at the world”. And it used to piss me off (if only I’d known the word pragmatic back then I could’ve defended myself properly). I think in some weird way my infatuation with Seals & Crofts was related to that. They were like the sonic embodiment of the innocent carefree ’70s kid days and some particularly elusive feeling I wanted to grab a hold of and apply retroactively. That innate musical lightness and laid back groove they peddled seemed particularly in sync with that time or at least felt “as one” with it in my mind. Truth be told, it was f-ing fun, randomly becoming obsessed with a band from days of yore for reasons I both totally understand yet totally don’t. The whole experience was weird as hell…and I highly recommend it and wish it for everyone. Gonna close this out with something that’s never gonna get old because yeah, just have to…
That’s late, heroic, sacrificial, stray Soviet space dog Laika (1954-1957) as depicted in an extraordinarily weird and in retrospect somewhat disturbing drawing I did about 10 years ago. I’d become completely obsessed with her story for a bit, reading books, watching docs and ultimately applying a sticker with her picture onto my computer ( like you do) where she still lives today. This drawing actually gives me the creeps but I genuinely meant for it to be a “tribute”.
But HEY, welcome to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring finest songs that have crossed our path over recent days. They are lush and sweet, tuneful and otherworldly and are all surely tied for the #1 spot in the charts over on Earth 2. You can hear ’em on Soundcloud or Spotify below fellow space dogs. Rock on…
NYC has been hit with a lot of snow lately. Coincidentally I’d already been toiling away on a drawing of a snowman when the weather took this turn. He’s just part of the nerdy Genesis Illustrated Lyrics book I’ve been making for “fun” (representing the song “Snowbound”) but his appearance was oddly well-timed. NYC is the absolute worst place to land if you are an actual snowflake (you are gonna get dirty and be disrespected the moment you make land). I can also confirm there are currently a lot of half finished, headless and abandoned snow-people in Central Park. I was going to include a picture but thought it might be too sad and disturbing, so yeah please enjoy this ice crystal-ed ballpoint snowguy making a snow angel instead…Know what else ? It’s time for the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST, featuring the absolute finest songs we’ve heard over recent days. Not sure what was in the water, but this week’s playlist is generally pretty rockin’, offering up a lot of power-introspection, a little crying on the stairs, a mad nod to history as well as several mentions of California. It’s all awesome and you can listen below on Soundcloud or Spotify. Rock on…
“SexyBack”. “To the left, to the left, everything you own in the box to the left”. Stadium Arcadium. Welcome to the candy coated, bombastic and horny sound of 2006. In the heat of my daily grind at one of the gargantuan music superstores I was then employed at, these were the sounds that endlessly filled the air. Here’s the weird thing about being a music lover that works in a music store; sometimes by the end of the day you hate music, especially if you’ve spent the previous 8 hours listening to stuff you weren’t necessarily into. This means that once you get home you sometimes don’t want to listen to music at all. You crave quiet. White noise. Dead air. John Cage’s 4’33” on repeat. Peace. It was then, in that noisy year of 2006 that a band called Midlake entered my listening life.
One day that summer, I was rummaging through a box of new promotional cds, stuffing them into the player and “auditioning” them to figure out how much we should order (utilizing the supremely selfish and misguided human algorithm of “do I ever want to hear this again?”). This is how I stumbled upon The Trials Of Van Occupanther, the second album by Midlake, the sublime band who were to lead me to one of the most beloved musical finds of my whole nerdy life.
With its acoustic guitars, sweet harmonizing and overt ’70s singer-songwriter flavor (mountains, forests, rabbits, young brides all present and accounted for), Trials sounded utterly out of time, a complete left turn away from what was happening in mega shiny pop world. It was melodic and poetic and resembled the kind of thing your cool babysitter would listen to back in the day (ed.note, we had some cool, music-head sitters as kids including one who sweetly, insidiously tried to turn 9 year old me into a Deadhead but failed).Trials was the sound of a band turning their backs on modern civilization, walking steadfastly off the grid and into the woods…and as such I just plain loved it.
Think I’ll head home…
Not long after it’s release I read an interview with the band’s since departed singer-songwriter Tim Smith. In it he said something that piqued my interest beyond all reason:
“My favorite is a guy named Jimmie Spheeris. I always bring his name up because he’s not well known at all and it’s seriously my favorite album of all time, for the last four years. It’s called Isle of View. It was made in 1971. He put out five albums and then he got killed in a motorcycle accident. Yeah, it’s a brilliant album. It’s really beautiful. It’s still my favorite after so many years now”.
Jimmie Spheeris ? The name rang no bells. But I loved Midlake and if Tim Smith loved this Jimmie Spheeris guy then maybe just maybe I’d like him too. I tracked down the aforementioned Isle of View and discovered that yes it was both beautiful and kind of brilliant, an epic-spiritual-hippie-romantic piece of genuine singer-songwriter art. It was idyllic and outdoorsy, even a little “proggy” in places and relentlessly melodic all the while. And, added bonus, this Jimmie Spheeris also possessed a ridiculously fine and sensuous voice. Yup, the sonic connection between Isle of View and Trials was clear and palpable and I was instantly, eternally grateful to Tim Smith for enlightening me .
Once I’d “found” Jimmie Spheeris it didn’t take any hardcore sleuthing to get more in-depth information. Turned out there was a lovingly curated website as well as a Facebook page both of which offered up extensive factual history as well as a personal remembrances from bandmates, friends and fans. The short story went something like this: he was signed to Columbia records by Clive Davis on the recommendation of the wondrous Richie Havens, had issued 4 official albums in his lifetime but never achieved real mainstream success though he regularly appeared as the opening act for a slew of name artists throughout the ’70s ( everyone from Kenny Loggins to Cheech and Chong to The Moody Blues). His parents had run a traveling carnival when he was a child where his father had been murdered, he was was bisexual (or gay, sources differ), at some point he’d become involved with Scientology and in the midst of recording what was to be his 5th album was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 1984 at the age of 34. On top of all that, turned out his sister was renowned film director Penelope Spheeris of The Decline of Western CivilizationI & II and Wayne’s World fame.
Jimmie Spheeris toured hard…
I know that’s a lot to take in. And there are enough twists and turns within the Spheeris story that the mere idea of encapsulating it into a single paragraph is ridiculous. But this thing you’re reading is not meant to be a comprehensive history. It’s really just a humble invitation to anyone previously unaware of Jimmie to investigate and to start their journey at the main, most important point of entry, the music itself. It’s also just an unabashed, loved up validation of what longterm fans have known forever and 21st century acolytes like myself have blessedly discovered along the way, which is basically that Jimmie Spheeris was f-ing amazing.
Isle Of View (1971)
Carole King’s Tapestry, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and CSNY’s live recording 4 Way Street all hit the # 1 album spot in 1971, the year Jimmie’s debut album Isle Of View was released. And listening to Isle in the context of what else was popular, it doesn’t seem all that different. Its songs were as tuneful and addictive as what was offered up on the aforementioned beautiful behemoths and you could easily imagine someone driving their VW bug to the record store and happily walking out with both Harrison and Isle Of View under the arm of their suede fringe jacket. Remember earlier when I said things get a little proggy ? Yeah that happens pretty fast, like on the opening track “The Nest”, a quiet/loud epic, all urgent strings, piano flourishes and crazy rock flute plus bonus awesome note twisting ( can’t beat Spheeris singing “unlock the tray-sure of stolen play-sure”). Isle Of View is melodic, utterly pragmatic and optimistically new age and sees Jimmie playing the role of both folk-rock hippie Nilsson (“Seeds Of Spring”,”For Roach”) and wistful acoustic balladeer (“Monte Luna”, “Come Back”). The album’s centerpiece is “I Am The Mercury” a monumental worship tune that morphs from a rainy day acoustic ballad into a stadium rock song, all thunderous drums, swirling strings and soaring falsettos, to true steamrolling effect.
Fun fact: the album was produced by Paul Leka who composed “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”. One last thing ! In 2011 singer Kim Guy did a pretty sweet, shimmery gothic version of “I Am The Mercury” that is absolutely worth a listen (here).
Okay, gonna say it. This is my least favorite Spheeris album, home to only 3 songs I play on a regular basis. It the most dated sounding full length in the discography with nearly every track timestamped “70s” in some brazenly boldfaced way. It features some especially ostentatious flute playing (“Shirtful of Apples”), flanged out guitar soloing (“Open Up”) as well as a bit of marginally cringey kitsch ( the title track, “Sweet Wahina Mama”). I also detest the cover art. But please don’t let any of that put you off for there is some unquestionably good stuff to be had within TOTDK, namely “Streets of the Harbour” which sounds like the world’s leeriest, foxiest John Denver song, the beauteously hazy acoustic ballad “Keeper of the Canyon” (which feels like it wandered straight off Isle Of View) and “Moon on the Water” a warm, slow moving epic with some straight up “Fire and Rain” style drum action courtesy of the very man responsible, Russ Kunkel. This album is by no means bad ( Jimmie never made a bad album), but when compared to the other in the discography, it runs a tiny bit behind. Onward…
During a radio interview with KOFM in Oklahoma City in 1975, Jimmie said that he owned two horses (one being an Appaloosa) and that he lived at the beach (“I go swimming every day”). He also said he was “much more into the concept of artistic creation than money” and that he especially connected to the advice his longtime friend (and genius) Laura Nyro used to to tell him about creating music; “It’s just a feeling“. He then elaborated on her one line wisdom nugget; “it’s not so much the lyrical content or the musical notes being played but the spirit, the feeling in back of it. That’s my goal, to be able to really emote freely and totally’.
And that kind of nails the sound of The Dragon Is Dancing right there. These songs are straight up running around naked on a sunny beach. They are racing down the shoreline on their Appaloosa’s, wild as the wind and feelin’ it. Dragon sees Jimmie moving in a decidedly more pop direction, the sweetly tuneful “Tequila Moonlite” and jaunty heartbreak on the beach of “Summer Salt” being the most sugared up and singalong ready. And the latter half of the album is absolutely f-ing sublime i.e. there’s a lot to love and lose yourself in. There’s stunning, skeletal, nostalgic piano ballad “Lost In The Midway”, assertive Neil Young-esque rocker “Eternity Spin”, the aforementioned sweet “Salt” and the swirling acoustics of “Sunken Sighs”. “In The Misty Woods” unspools with genuine hypnotic beauty and features both an alluringly breathy vocal and the sound of gulls and waves crashing to further ensure you are where this album needs you be mentally if not physically. “Blown Out” is forthright and punchy, a declaration of dark obsession with a big fat chorus as well as a pre-cursor to the sound Kenny Loggins very successfully began serving up on his own solo albums just a couple of years later ( oh yes, read about that here). The piano led closer, ballad “Blue Streets” is one of the all-time finest songs in the Spheeris canon, all melancholy, lush and lonely, it’s the perfect note to end on. And have to stress one more time, that Spheeris voice is positively swoon-inducing on like, every damn song.
Fun fact:The Dragon Is Dancing was produced by the late Henry Lewy with Paul Lewinson. Lewy engineered and assisted in the production of a stream of Laurel Canyon classics including Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon, Blue and Court and Spark, Neil Young’s Harvest and Judee Sill’s only 2 studio albums. His CV is just your basic standard mind-blowing. That pedigree is all over Dragon and another reason why the album holds up so well today. Legend. Also, Jimmie’s back tattoo was real.
You know how Sgt Pepper sounds just like it looks ? Well Ports Of The Heart sounds just like it looks. It is the aural embodiment of suntan lotion and burning rays (with a little summer rain thrown in because you know, lifesucks sometimes). Ports is where Jimmie Spheeris goes full on pop to glorious effect and is home to the most woulda/shoulda/ coulda been hits. It’s also a prescient precursor of the fabled West Coast sound ( read about that here and here) that was about to flood the U.S. pop and AC singles charts. In other words, Ports is radio ready melodic end to end. But while there is infectious ear candy to be had namely in the form of “Captain Comes Cold” and “Sweet Separation”( which may remind you of the Dragon album’s “Tequila Moonlite”), Ports is by no means a party album, it’s more of a long, languorous stroll with a couple of fireworks thrown in along the way to break things up. The peacefully paced tracks are exquisite to the last; Dark, hot and historic “Bayou Eyes”, glistening pop hymn of rebirth “Child From Nowhere”, gentle nod to higher love “It’s You They’re Dreaming Of”, the simultaneously cryptic and revealing “So Darkly Fall the Shadows” and the seriously loved up “Whirlpool” are all wondrous things. These songs are the kind of gorgeous, immersive shiz you put on when you need to calm the hell down or just feel too much in the world and want to escape. There are also a couple of sentimental covers on Ports of evergreen oldies “It’s All in the Game” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, both of which are, you know, okay. If they weren’t included it wouldn’t have affected the quality of the overall album one iota, Ports would still be a beautiful thing.
Fun fact: Perhaps you can surmise it from the album cover but yes, Jimmie was tall, 6’4″ to be exact.
Spheeris (recorded in 1984, not released until 2000)
Jimmie Spheeris was killed in Santa Monica, California by an drunk driver while riding his motorcycle on the Fourth of July in 1984. He was returning home after finishing work on what turned out to be his final album. Spheeris wasn’t officially released on cd until 2000, 16 years after it had been completed.
The list of established artists who put out substandard music in the ’80s in a desperate attempt to sound modern is endless. Dylan, The Stones, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, CSN and on and on. But this “forced” shift into modernity with its fat synths and effects doesn’t sound remotely unnatural or awkward coming from Jimmie on the Spheeris album. It never sounds like he is acting out the sad old “fake it ’til you make it” adage. Nope, the songs and production make it clear that he has totally embraced the “future sound” (and far more seamlessly and believably than his old school counterparts). And oh yes, there are some absurdly fine and frothy tunes to be had within Spheeris, the best being synthesized epic “Hear It”, a plush and heavenly thing featuring some badass enormous Phil Collins style drum injections, and the groovy, Thomas Dolby-esque “Jungle Sweep”. Honorable mentions go to the seriously Prince-ly “You Will Be Coming Back”, “You Got” (kinda Devo meets early Madonna), “You Must Be Laughing Somewhere” ( a tip of the hat to ’80s era Joni Mitchell) and “Eyes”, an eerie ballad that sounds like it wandered off a slick ’80s crime-thriller soundtrack and straight onto this record.
Still if you are not a fan of the processed and echoey sounds of the ’80s then you might not be into what Jimmie and co are doing here ( I love it but I get that not everyone does, yup). Thankfully there are a couple of tracks to sate you if you crave more of that old school Jimmie sound. If you are a traditionalist then mournfully gorgeous tearjerker “Three In Venice” will be right up your alley as will the sticky, endearingly rockin’ “Decatur Street” (which is also home to a Hook with a capitol H).
Fun fact but mostly FYI: 2000 also saw the release of a live cd, recorded in 1976, called An Evening With Jimmie Spheeris. It’s a cool curio but not essential unless you are a mega-fan. Much as I love him, I don’t actually listen to it very often and generally stay barnacled to the studio albums. An Evening is not available on the streaming services as of this writing but a few tracks have found their way to YouTube. You can check out the live version of “I Am The Mercury” here.
Who is Jimmie Speeris? At every record shop I ever at worked at in days of yore, we would sell truckloads of Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue. New people were discovering this 50+ year old record and Miles himself every single day. And I always thought, how cool is that, that something as old and established as Kind Of Blue can still be new to someone, can still blow someone’s mind a trillion years later. Anyway, what all those years of watching people discover music taught me was that it doesn’t matter where or when you came in. Songs, albums and bands find you when they sense you are ready to welcome them. It’s not science, it’s just some fortuitous, otherworldly force that hits the switch and says “now”. And isn’t that the best ? To know that there’s still a wealth of great stuff from the past to discover in addition to all the new stuff coming down the pike? When I get wind of an R & B song from the early ’70s that I’ve never heard, I am as thrilled as toddler tearing ass to the gift pile under the tree xmas morning.
I discovered Jimmie right when I was supposed to, not too late, definitely not too early but right on time. And I’m genuinely grateful to all the hardcores that kept the flame burning ( without whom…) and psyched for anyone who is about to discover this guy for the first time because he was, is and will continue to be pretty damn awesome. “Unlock the tray-sure of stolen play-sure”, hell yeah.
New month, new deranged ballpoint drawing. More importantly welcome to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the most lustrous and brilliant songs that have crossed our path in recent days. You can listen on Soundcloud or Spotify below and I swear I’m not being hyperbolic here, they are all really good.
In regards to the blog, since my mega-housecleaning of its environs last week I’ve been writing all kinds of demented, self-indulgent tributes to pop music people and things so look out for some goofy new stuff this coming week.
One last quick thing! In addition to the members of the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS, I want to give a shout out to the new album by The Staves, Good Woman because it is damn good. While I have included tracks from it within the aforementioned WONDERS playlist, I strongly encourage you to listen to the whole album…in fact, know what, I’ll attach the links to it below to make it easier. Rock on friends…
Kanine Records have brought some truly amazing artists into the spotlight over their nearly 20 years of life, from Chairlift to Grizzly Bear, to Weaves and The Natvral. Lio captains the Kanine ship with his wife Kay and the anthemic phenomenon known as Britpop changed his life. Allow him to epically illustrate and explain…
Britpop was not just a phase, for me it was a gateway that lead to a strong love for music with a Touch of CLASS.
In 5th and 6th grade my music knowledge pretty much consisted of whatever my Pops played on our family turntable. He had a huge record collection with a wide range of stuff including records from the Beatles, Stones, the Who, Herman’s Hermits, Eric Clapton, Musical Youth, Donna Summer, Lovin’ Spoonful, Hendrix and Bruce Springsteen as well as Disney Soundtracks. By the way, I still have all of those soundtracks and they are great, my personal favorite being the “Mickey Goes Disco” lp.
This album went platinum so Lio wasn’t alone in his worship.
But it wasn’t ’til the summer between 6th grade and 7th grade that I truly got inspired by music on my own. I spent the summer with one of my best friends and his family in Stuttgart, Germany. Our days consisted of skateboarding, eating gummy bears, talking about girls and trying to do our hair cool. And at night we spent our time listening to the Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, INXS and OMD and dreaming about being invited to the disco that his older sisters snuck out to at night.
When summer ended, I came back to the States and hit 7th grade with a newly spiked New Wave haircut, purple baggy pants, long green army jacket and high top Vans. I thought my skate buddies would be stoked to hear what I’d been listening to all summer in Europe. They were not. While I’d been away they’d all become obsessed with American Punk Rock and made it clear they thought my favored stuff was truly wimpy. Truly wussy.
Kevin, one of my best skate buddies at the time, was really into the Misfits, Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, 7 Seconds, Agent Orange and Black Flag so we’d spend a lot of weekends in his room listening to just that stuff. Though I admit I kind of began to love all of those bands musically, I still didn’t have a complete connection style-wise with what they were all about. It was like I was missing something.
Then in 8th grade, something happened. I heard The Cure, The Smiths, Joy Division and Echo and The Bunnymen (still my fave band to this day) for the first time and felt an instant connection. Yes, they all had a dark undertone to them, but their music actually made me feel hopeful.
The love you found must never stop…
Luckily, one of my other skate buddies had succumbed to these these sounds as well. Since he lived over an hour away, I’d take a bus to his every weekend and skate around downtown with him by day then soak up the newest bands coming from the UK on his cassette stereo at night.
9th grade hit and I found a new love, namely the Wax Trax label. I was into the whole style of the scene they represented, from the cool dark clothes to, most importantly, the heavy synth beats they churned out. Frontline Assembly were my favorite band on the roster but I also especially dug Revolting Cocks, Ministry, and My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult…yet once again, especially after I started going to their shows, I felt that I was not entirely aligned with what they were thinking as in everyone into the scene seemed ultra-aggressive, dirty and unhappy.
See, I was spending my days in beautiful Florida, waking up to looking out my window at orange groves, then skating all day long in the sun. And so the aggression of the scene didn’t relate to my life, I mean I was not an angry teenager, I was still searching. Then in 10th grade something even bigger happened to alter my musical landscape. It was a TV show. Yes, really.
MTV’s 120 Minutes was on from 12am-2am every Sunday and hosted by this guy Dave Kendall. They would play the coolest new music from around the world, which back then was referred to as “alternative”. We used to call girls that were into it “Alter-Natives”, as those were the cool girls. I could never stay up that late and so I would set up my VCR to record it and the next day my sister and I would watch it after school. It was a ton of work as you had to fast forward through a lot of commercials and bad interviews but it was worth it to see an amazing new video from a band like Blur.
Here is 120 Minutes host Dave Kendall literally changing people’s lives in the late ’80s.
And that is where I first heard of the Charlatans, Lush, Stone Roses, Sundays, Inspiral Carpets, Soup Dragons and the Jesus and Mary Chain. I felt a strong and instant kinship with these bands. They had a punk spirit, great tunes and great style. It was love.
At that time Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and other U.S. bands were big on the scene but I couldn’t relate. I mean to me, Kurt Cobain looked like a homeless guy and sang about wanting to kill himself. I was like damn dude, life is great, just enjoy it.
Don’t get me wrong, I felt like an outsider as a teenager, like a lot of us do, but the way the Charlatans described it in ‘The Weirdo”, well that was what it was about. They spoke my language. It celebrated life and the fact that it was ok to be different. In other words, different was cool. Being happy was cool.
Fast forward to 1994. I had been hungrily following the UK music scene courtesy of the old NME magazines that I found at various record stores in Florida and Atlanta. Usually I would have to read year old issues, but I didn’t care as that was my only connection to what was going on in the UK. And hey, remember, there was no internet in the mid ’90s.
I was entranced with the UK music scene : it seemed like a magical place. I talked so much about wanting to go to London that one summer that I ultimately convinced my Dad to take us there. My sister, Mom, Dad and I stayed in London for 3 whole weeks. I was in heaven. The mission for my sister and I was to hit as many record, clothing and shoe stores as possible (Dr. Martens were hard to come by in Florida, so of course we couldn’t leave without picking up some).
Lio on his mission to bring all of London home with him.
I remember there were posters of Oasis all over town. We ourselves peeled a huge Blur Parklife subway poster off a wall. It had a big picture of a beer in the middle and so I naturally loved it and had to have it (p.s. I still have it, and it’s since been displayed in bunch of different apartments I’ve lived in). We also bought as many music magazines as we could as they were also hard to get in the States at that time. Within those magazines I discovered even more cool, new bands to get excited about. Pulp. Suede. Echobelly. Shed Seven. Placebo. Sleeper. The Auteurs. Marion…and on and on.
Once we returned home, I was stuck by myself listening to this new crop of music from the UK as my skate buddies were now firmly, officially stuck in Punk Rock land. Cool for them but by then I was hanging Morrissey posters on the wall. I can remember a few parties at my house where I had to witness my drunk friends actually spitting on my Moz, Primal Scream and Elastica posters. Spitting. The one and only band spared from their hatred was Supergrass who they thought “rocked” and “had jams”. Once again, I felt separated because of my music taste…but I didn’t care. I had this little, happy place of music in my head, from a “magical land” and it was far, far away from boring flannel and torn jeans and the negative sounds that went with them.
A tiny piece of Lio’s collection. Also, has there ever been anyone cooler than Justine Frischmann (no).
The rest of my college years I spent all of my time saving up money to take trips up to Atlanta to see the occasional British band play and raid Wax n Facts record shop for all of their British Imports. On one crazy trip I ventured up to see the band Gene and got to meet Martin Rossiter, the singer, in person hours before the show. At that time I dressed in a pretty similar style to the guys in these British bands I loved, so much so that the night of the show I was having pints in the upstairs bar and one of the bouncers grabbed me and said “Dude it’s show-time you gotta go downstairs and play”. He then ushered me past the door guy into the room. I didn’t even have time to react. I just let it happen. I was so excited that he thought I was in the band and that I got in for free to see one of my favorite English groups play. I took a picture of Martin singing that night and to this day it hangs in my office framed. Gene’s “Olympian” was the song that got me through many hard years in college and is still there for me every time I need it. Their self-titled debut album remains one of my favorites of all time and I never get tired of listening to it.
After that show, we went to an underground club called MJQ that specialized in MOD/Britpop. I walked in the door and instantly, I was in heaven. Everyone was dressed super Mod, Britpop and cool. No flannel shirts or torn up jeans or dirty hair anywhere. Everyone dressed up to come out and party and dance to their favorite bands. I was stoked. It was heaven. Right then I knew I had to move to Atlanta, just as soon as I finished college in Florida.
Lio is totally psyched to be amongst the “Common People” like him.
Once I migrated to Atlanta, I managed to score an apartment across the street from my new, beloved Brit/Mod club MJQ. I would spend hours after work listening to my favorite new singles from the UK while watching the early birds go into the club. Then at 12am my buddies would pile into my apartment for pre-drinks and we’d all walk across the street like a gang into the club, ready to dominate the dance floor. Each year I would save a ton of money so that I could venture to the UK to buy mountains of records (and they had to have the “Made in UK” stamp on them, that was important) and see bands. I went to the Reading and Leeds Festivals twice, T in the Park and some other amazing ones. It was a great thing to see the bands that you love, in their homeland, where the people “really got the music”. After spending years in Atlanta, I realized that there was more out there and ventured up to NYC, driven by my strong love of Britpop/Mod Culture. Once there, I started my own club night called “Crashin’ In” (named after The Charlatans song) to share my musical love, which lasted well over 13 years. I even worked in an indie record store called Rebel Rebel that specialized in carrying UK band imports so that I could be closer to the music that I love (and spend my weekly paycheck with way too much ease).
And so you see, Britpop was not just a phase or a fad, not for me it wasn’t. It remains my inspiration to this day and that will never change.
Lio in his “record room” aka heaven.
Lio’s made an INSANE playlist featuring his most beloved Britpop and Britpop adjacent tunes. Check it out on Spotify below ! Plus enjoy a bonus YouTube playlist with the songs that aren’t available on Spotify but are part of Lio’s essentials !
I did a bit of blog house cleaning this week (understatement). I added more descriptive Topics, deleted vague/redundant ones and then moved posts under their correct umbrellas. I fixed and/or deleted broken links and tried make things look more consistent. I desperately attempted to correct the avalanche of incorrect punctuation and grammar that I’ve allowed to run wild on the site (uh, that’s an ongoing project). In a couple of cases I edited some poorly expressed emotions. Basically I just tried to make it easier and more intuitive to navigate PuR in all its unbridled insanity/hyperbole. It is by no means perfect…but I hope it’s at least a few centimeters better.
Every week I post the WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST on Soundcloud and Spotify so you have a choice. But since I’m in clean up mode, there are a couple of factoids regarding each service I just wanted to make you aware of:
All the WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLISTS in the history of PuR (!!!), dating back to 2017, are available on my Soundcloud page if you ever want trawl through the pop history ( I 100% approve of such crazy behavior). Just click on the new playlist below to get to the page.
And just a note that the old WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLISTS are not archived on Spotify, only on the aforementioned Soundcloud. Things can get cluttered on Spotify so it’s easier to just keep reusing the same template each week.
If you want to read additional hyperbolic scribbles from me, I also write stuff for Cover Me, the home for everything in the cover version universe. There you will find news, features and a bunch of awesomely talented writers who make me sound even more amateurish than I do here on PuR. I attached a link on the homepage under “blogroll” or you can use the link here)! If you’ve ever wondered why I f-ing curse so f-ing much here on f-ing PuR it’s because I’m not allowed to do that kind of thing on Cover Me which is definitely for the best.
Hey, HEY wake up we’re finally here!
Welcome to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST starring the finest new songs we’ve heard over recent days. They are all as lustrous and beautiful as a sky full of both stars and fireflies. Listen below with love…
The odds of seeing not one but 2 discarded pink bears in less than 24 hours in 2 NYC locations miles apart has to be akin to those of winning Powerball. While there is some sadness here, I like to think that now that these bears have done their karmic earthly penance, they are ready to move on to a better place. And Bear # 2 is so dirty it’s clear he’s seen some shiz & has earned his freedom. Of course as a lame human I am wondering if there is some cryptic message they are trying to send & am pretending it’s a mystically good one that will show itself over the next day or so. Speaking of good, welcome to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the absolute finest songs we have heard in recent days. They are all exquisite, embraceable heart barnacles.You can listen on Soundcloud or Spotify below. Dreaming of the pink bears…