Weekly New Wonders Playlist !

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We are working hard over here to put together our BEST SONGS OF THE YEAR PLAYLIST but that won’t get in the way of calling out the latest and greatest in new stuff…okay that is a lie, it totally did which is why there hasn’t been a Weekly New Wonders Playlist for the past couple of weeks. As a result this one here is pretty overfed and so it may require both the commute to and from work, and/or the entire wash and dry cycle to listen to in it’s entirety…but I swear it’s worth it as features some exceptional pop music, promise. And with that here it is…you can listen on Spotify or Soundcloud and please note, lists are slightly different as not all songs are available on each service, so take a peek at both so you don’t miss anything.

Soundcloud is here :

Spotify is here:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/esperanza19/playlist/7aNhnt0SvZy1pWEfotYvCQ

Backworlds we’ll go: Paul D’Amour on the Origins of Lusk’s Free Mars

Alicia Berbenick is a writer and musician from Brooklyn. She has an unnatural obsession for weird shit that she constantly needs to get down on paper. Here’s a story of one of those obsessions.

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It was April of 1998. I was at the tail end of my middle school years and all I cared about was music—new music in particular. One night I couldn’t sleep, so I snuck downstairs to the living room to watch MTV (which was outlawed in my home). 12 Angry Viewers was on, a show that only lasted two years but sought to introduce people to more subversive music. It was there in the early hours of the morning that my pre-teen self fell in love with a track named “Backworlds” by the supergroup Lusk. The video juxtaposed childhood innocence and nostalgia with blood-sucking, explosive violence. The song was equally jarring, luring me in with a poppy keyboard loop of an earworm, then exploding into this beautiful psychedelic chorus before it corrodes into uncomfortable, repetitive shouting. I’d never heard anything like it. The record was called Free Mars, a title that really spoke to the fiery, weird parts of me that felt suffocated by the world. I saved up, bought it at The Wall, and put it on repeat for the next 20 years.

It is a collage work of sounds pieced together by two brilliant musicians with the help of so many of their talented friends. To fans, Free Mars is one of the most underrated and overlooked records of the ’90s; yet there is little-to-no information out there about how the record was made. I wanted to see if I could get at the root of why it was so life-changing for some and passed up by too many, so I reached out to Paul D’Amour. D’Amour is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer and producer. Most fans probably remember him for his writing and signature bass sound on Tool’s Undertow. At the start of our conversation he mentioned more than once that “no one ever wants to talk about [Free Mars].” But beneath those comments, I thought I could hear the sound of a proud parent.

“Backworlds” won high ratings on MTV’s short-lived jury style show 12 Angry Viewers, giving it heavier rotation on the channel.

 

Let’s take it back to 1993. Tool was on tour promoting Undertow with Failure as an opening act. D’Amour became friends with their front-of-house soundman, Chris Pitman, as well as Failure’s bassist, Greg Edwards. The three (plus Ken Andrews of Failure) would mess around by playing pop songs during their down time, which led them to produce a covers record under the name Replicants. It gave D’Amour a taste of what it was like to explore other musical avenues and, during the writing stage of Ænima, D’Amour quit Tool. “I really just wanted to have some fun and not have rules, you know?” D’Amour said. “Playing in Tool, as far as [being] creative, there were too many rules in that band. The guitar player did the guitar player thing and the bass player did the bass player thing.” As great as the band was, having creative freedom was more important to him.

Fortunately the head of Volcano (Tool’s label at the time) recognized D’Amour’s talent and allotted him a budget to create something new. D’Amour wasn’t sure what it would look, feel or sound like yet, but he knew it would be a complete departure from Tool—something experimental and really out there. “Replicants kind of spurred the creative connections between [me, Chris and Greg]. I wanted to bring in another person, so I brought in Brad Laner from Medicine. He’s a great rhythmist and his guitar sound is pretty unique as well.” The four of them began jamming together, switching instruments and conjuring strange melodies. “Originally I kind of wanted to do more like a loopy, more arty thing. Not necessarily even songs” says D’Amour. “I just thought we were going to jam and make some loops and  turn it into [something] a little more loose and psychedelic; like some of those early PiL records.“ The one thing that was clear: this record would be made with zero rules—from committing to first takes down to the harpist’s wild laugh, lingering after a track.

In the beginning, the four would meet and lay down tracks at the famed Alley Studios in North Hollywood; a place known for its early ’70s connections to artists like Three Dog Night and Jackson Browne and would later host musicians like Tom Petty and Kurt Cobain. “We were living around the corner [from Alley], so we just popped in one day and sorta got friendly with them. All the walls are just padded with blue jeans ,” he laughs. “And there’s layers of resin on the walls. It’s one of those places where you know shit went down in there.” But as Edwards and Laner became busier with other projects, D’Amour and Pitman gradually took the reigns as co-producers. “We started bringing in some other people, like Danny [Carey] from Tool, and Kellii Scott from Failure [to play drums]. We brought in a friend of Chris’s, [Dana Wollard], who was an amazing cellist and we had a harp player, [Patti Hood]. [Chris and I] basically took the ball and ran with it with what originally started in the Alley.” The two set up their own mini recording studios and, using more affordable ADAT machines, were able to finish the record.

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As far as influences go, D’Amour drew from a few places. It’s been said that this record was a concept album revolving around Iain Banks’ novel The Wasp Factory. This isn’t completely true. “I don’t think, as we were creating, that we were thinking about that book,” he says. “It just sort of made the rounds in my circle at the time. It was dark and transitory. Certainly, the imagery was really powerful.” If anything, the “Backworlds” video (directed by Len E. Burge III and D’Amour) is loosely based on a traumatic scene from the novel. In addition, D’Amour was heavily into reading old paperback sci-fi novels, so much of his lyrics would revolve around that brand of futuristic otherworldliness. In terms of influences, he was listening to a lot of Richard Davies’ work—particularly the Cardinal’s 1994 self-titled record. In both records you can also catch the influence of Beach Boys’ harmonies (another of D’Amour’s mentions). But where both of those influences were lighter, almost positive in contrast, Free Mars is an unpredictable carnival ride, bordering on the horrific, filled with dark corners of discovery and technological mystique.

As far as writing sessions went, whoever was available would get together and jam. A melody would bubble up to to surface and they’d write around that, usually with Pitman and D’Amour left to build off of what was recorded in The Alley. “We spent quite a bit of time with our harpist and the cellist,” he says. “So there’s a lot of great layers in there with them.” We’re talking about the kinds of layers that sometimes you only catch on your 86th listen, where a new sound will seem more present than before—a guitar solo floats over the top of that melody you’d previously focused on or some old haunting operatic sample peeps out from underneath rollicking keys. When asked which song was his favorite, D’Amour named “Mindray”.  “I wrote all the lyrics and really put some thought into that [song]. I think that one was like, all right, we’re done with this whole ‘jamming’ thing—let’s just actually focus and get real.” One listen to the track and you’ll hear its reverberations through the rest of the album. A sluggish drum shuffle takes you on a meandering journey through sweeping harp, layered orchestral keys and wailing guitars. The vocals capitalize on that Beach Boys harmonic influence, but are turned strange through an oscillating pedal effect.

“I think Mindray is probably my favorite…that one definitely set the tone for a few other [songs].” – Paul D’Amour

 

Other tracks borrow in one way or another from this loopy underwater vibe, both soothing in effect and paranoia-inducing in its darkness. The record runs the genre-bending gamut of sounds; from soaring epics like “Free Mars” and “Doctor” to the infectious pop found on “Backworlds” to a heavier kind of art rock on “Kill the King”. Yet a strong thread of addictive melodies prevents this record from ever feeling disjointed.

The title Free Mars and CD’s artwork and Digipak® design, too, borrowed from D’Amour’s interest in Sci-Fi paperbacks. “I had a huge box of them. I tried to mock some of those early print styles and some of the ways they used those old illustrations.” Free Mars would be nominated in 1998 for a Grammy for Best Recording Package (alongside Ænima). Both lost to Titanic: Music as heard on the Fateful Voyage, which, it’s worth mentioning, used a similar illustrative design to Free Mars.

Lusk would go on to do a short tour in small clubs, complete with Patti Hood on harp and Chris Wyse on upright bass. Unfortunately, this is where Lusk would come to an end. “Some rich dude bought our record label and he just drove the whole company into the ground in a matter of months. We’d had huge tours booked but we couldn’t do that without more support. Other labels were possibly interested, but [the head of Volcano] wouldn’t return anyone’s phone calls. [Chris and I] couldn’t do anything. It took the wind out of the sails of the project.” Though funding couldn’t save Lusk, we at least are left with a record that was born out of complete creative freedom and a rebellion from over-production. A record like this simply could not happen again…maybe that’s why its fans still obsess over it.

Today Free Mars isn’t on Spotify and, during this interview, D’Amour mentioned he had to make a few calls to fix the listing in iTunes. Fans can still find CDs on Discogs as well as a few LP pressings out there.* And the album lingers in our minds in other ways—like the recent report that another mine appeared in the Seattle Bay area, close to where D’Amour and Burge filmed the video for “Backworlds.” He laughs and confesses, “The mine from that video? We just left on the beach and it caused all kinds of trouble.” The mine that was found this past August was apparently from a 2005 Naval exercise and, though it was inert, still caused a little scare for the locals. Talk about resurfacing. As for what’s next, D’Amour and Pitman are currently working on a new project. It won’t be like Lusk, he says, but it will be something completely new and heavier. You can watch for it, along with all his score compositions for upcoming projects, on D’Amour’s website.

*Ed. Note: If you want the complete record, including “My Good Fishwife” and the secret track “Blaire’s Spiders”, you have to buy the CD or digital version. Those two tracks are not on the LP.

 

Weekly New Wonders Playlist !

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Look at that billboard. When “Blue” was new. 1971. Wow. I imagine it was probably really cool to be driving along and look up and see that in the distance back then. Pretty sure I would’ve greeted it out loud upon passing. And so Joni turned 75 this month and if that’s not a good enough reason to throw more worship at her don’t know what is. Anyway, here we are and here is the latest installment of Weekly NewWonders featuring heartbreakingly fine new music from truly fine bands. You can listen on Spotify or Soundcloud but please note lists are ever so slightly different as some songs are not yet available on Spotify and some are not yet available on Soundcloud. Listen to both so you don’t miss anything. It’s a good one.

Soundcloud:

 

Spotify:

Weekly New Wonders Playlist

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Welcome to the latest Weekly New Wonders, a small gathering of some of the finer new music from the past week or so. You can listen on Soundcloud or Spotify but please note: the Spotify list is a bit longer this week due to some stuff not being available on Soundcloud as of this writing so listen to both for maximum discovery.

Soundcloud:

Spotify:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lawrence Rothman “Decade”

The perfect pop entree into Lawrence’s just released and exceptionally fine “I Know I’ve Been Wrong But Can We Talk ?” mini album, “Decade” is a lush locomotive of heartache, about how the past can color the present and resembles an imaginary collaboration between Tears for Fears and Naked Eyes. It manages to be both infectious and wistfully sad and, well, it’s a real beauty.

IV League “Lose Me”

Soundwise “Lose Me” has that alt 80’s kinda vibe, a little March Violets , a little Divinyls, plus, moving forward from those people, a bit of Hole circa “Celebrity Skin”, as in it’s all tuneful guitar line and massive chorus… but it also has a little something extra, namely Bella Venutti’s ridiculous voice. Massive, pleading, and here maybe asking everyone around her to hang in there with her while she figures shit out, it’s a force of nature. And do yourself a favor and check out their glorious pop fuzz fest from earlier this year, “Superstar” below, it’s a tornado.

 

Rahkii “Zoom”

Whoa. Okay, this is cool for a myriad of reasons. For one, and it’s a big one, it’ll remind you of something definitively great, specifically Erykah Badu in her 90’s “Baduism”era. Also, part of the video takes place in a library ( I secretly wish all videos did) which is, in and of itself, beautiful. “Zoom” is infectious and sweet sass end to end, filled to the gills with soul and style, and all that along with Rahkii’s voice and charismatic presence add up to one of the best soul things to hit this year. I swear, it really is. More please.

Weekly New Wonders Playlist !

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Axl Rose was (in)famous for his being pathologically late for Guns N’ Roses shows back in their early 90’s heyday. As in your ticket might’ve said “Guns N’ Roses Civic Arena 8pm” but you wouldn’t actually be hearing “Paradise City” until maybe midnight. This was (allegedly) because he needed mental preparation time before shows, as he had to be in a particular head before he could go out to perform. Until he knew he could complete the show, could confirm that he could in his mind, he couldn’t officially start it. I am not defending this behavior, it was all kinds of f-d up and resulted in a lot of mess. Which is to say I “Axl Rose’d” on the Weekly New Wonders Playlist over the past 2 weeks, as in there hasn’t been one until now. Yeah, stuff got in the way, but no worries for here is the latest and greatest all ready to perform. As a result of the delay it’s a slight bit longer than usual (a lot of raindrops can fall in 2 weeks) so you can you use it to soundtrack your trip both there and back . And you can listen on Spotify or Soundcloud. And please note the usual : lists are slightly different as in all songs aren’t available on both services, so yeah, PLEASE check out both for maximum coverage, don’t want you to miss anything. Take me home…

Soundcloud:

Spotify:



 

“That’s Their Pet Sounds” : Rick Springfield “Working Class Dog” (1981)

Mission statement:

No matter who we are in this absurd, brief, and messy life we can all lay claim to a peak, a shining moment where we were the best we could be, where all the stars aligned and we fuckin’ delivered the goods.

Welcome to “That’s Their Pet Sounds” our semi-regular feature where we endeavor to spotlight, and celebrate a heretofore maybe uncool, often unjustifiably underrated, sometimes polarizing, not as acclaimed as they should be, or “what the hell?” artist’s grandest artistic achievement i.e. their greatest album.

*“That’s Their Pet Sounds” is named after the Beach Boys landmark 1966 LP which is universally regarded as one of the greatest albums ever made but yeah, you probably knew that.

And with that here’s an artist frequently dismissed as a teen idol who defied odds and opinions to make a truly seminal power pop album…
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Rick Springfield’s BEST ALBUM : 1981’s “Working Class Dog”

Background: By the late seventies Rick Springfield was in a state of desperation. At this point he’s released 3 studio albums of okay pop rock with middling success and is maybe a teen idol past his prime. Even though music is his passion, bills have to be paid, so he auditions for an acting role on “General Hospital”, the soap of the time ( pathetic anecdote break : I rushed home from school every day for this thing and somehow disciplined myself to not start my daily school persecution crying session until 4 pm, when the show was over, that’s how invested I was ). He gets the job. Meanwhile he signs with RCA and starts making another record in earnest, newly inspired by the power pop guitar crunch pervading the LA clubs at the time, particularly from bands like the Knack. Yes, you are witnessing the phenomenon known as stars aligning.
Okay so in 1981, a lot of shit happens. Rick is starring on the still top-rated “General Hospital”, and his new album, “Working Class Dog” , is officially out in the world. If that weren’t enough,   “Jessie’s Girl”, a truly rockin’ piece of ear candy off the album has begun picking up steam on the radio, and it’s corresponding video is soon all over MTV. The song ultimately hits #1 on the Billboard chart. Now as great as “Jessie” is, and lord it is, there’s no reason to believe Rick is anything but a one hit wonder, another teen idol from the factory. At that point, pop history was littered with similar scenarios. People that, while yeah they made records, they were also TV stars, and were thereby automatically not regarded as credible musicians ( David Cassidy being the prime example). Didn’t matter that Rick was musician first and an actor “just because”, he automatically got tarred with that brush…but something weird happened and turned that whole notion on it’s ear. See, “Working Class Dog” turned out to be good, like really good, as in one of the finer power pop albums ever made. Seriously. Something that could hold it’s head up next to Badfinger’s “No Dice” and “Straight Up” or anything from Cheap Trick’s 1977-79 golden era. Why wasn’t he mentioned in the same breath as those guys at the time ? Well, Rick was a teen idol, a branded man, and all the nerdy, pseudo cool, music know it all guys who liked the aforementioned bands couldn’t bring themselves to like something all the girls were crazy for, because it had to be shiz if girls liked it. Yes. Ironic considering power pop’s roots in the Fab Four but there you go. Beatles. Stones. Same scenario. Girls loved and recognized them first and at some inevitable point, their amazing-ness couldn’t be denied. As of 2018, I can honestly say the most knowledgable and passionate male power pop heads I know, the ones that worship Big Star, The Raspberries and Flamin’ Groovies all think “Working Class Dog” kicks ass.

Why it’s his Pet Sounds :

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“I just made a seminal power pop album girl”

Rick is one of those guys that has good songs on every album. You can trust him to give you at very least 1 or 2 within every release. He’s reliable like that. Unlike, and it kills me to say this, Neil Young and Paul McCartney who at this point just can’t be trusted. Fact is if you like Rick, and continue to buy his new albums, you will be rewarded in some way.
Out of all 17, and counting, of Rick’s studio albums, “Working Class Dog” is the deepest, the punchiest, the most consistent. It’s the one.
It goes something like this:
There are 10 songs on “Working Class Dog”and they are all good.
Every one has a killer hook and sounds like a single.
Every chorus in every song is impossibly sticky and cannot be removed once they’ve suctioned themselves to the inside of your head.
Also, every song is about girls.
Since the early seventies, bands overtly influenced by that early Beatles sound and song construction were filed directly into the category that came to be known as power pop. And oh man, music writers of a certain age, gender and genetic make up love them some power pop. It is a religion. Their irrational/earth shattering love for this sound is no different than that of the BTS fan army of today ( If you don’t know about BTS, go have a Google). The most obvious way this love manifested itself in the pre-internet era was in the consistent attention bestowed upon power poppers in the music press i.e.almost any band that made this kind of music got lauded and showered with good reviews and features back in the day, even though their overall popularity usually didn’t warrant the attention and they were all pretty much guaranteed to be cult bands forever. There was something about this particular sound that struck a chord with hardcore music nerds. It was pop, but self-referential and smart and clever, with guitars all over it. It was romantic music for boys.
“Working Class Dog” is the absolute epitome of great power pop and in a 2018 musical world where the concept of what’s cool and not cool no longer exists, where it’s just about loving songs as singular digital entities, no matter where they came from, all that old baggage about “it’s for girls” can finally go straight in the garbage where it always belonged.

The Songs:

  • Rick wrote 9 of the 10 tracks. There’s lots of talk about appeasing Daddy (hers and Rick himself) and “little girls” that are alternately dirty or scared “like you”.
  • The one track he didn’t write,“I’ve Done Everything For You”, is …well okay it’s a Sammy f-ing Hagar song from 1978…but in the same manner in which Aretha Franklin stole Otis Redding’s “Respect” and made it her own forever, Rick took complete possession of this song. As in his version completely crushes the original. (Disclaimer: I am in no way inferring that Sammy is like Otis, I am just referencing the circumstance. Otis is a God, while Sammy remains and will always be a man.)
  • This album is romantic in the same way hanging out in a suburban 7-11 parking lot late, late at night ( cheap pun alert) and cruising the main strip of road in town hoping by chance to see your unrequited love is romantic. It feels eternally young and single-minded and all emotions expressed within it are as urgent as a fire alarm. It runs all the lights and is very, very horny.
  • The first 8 tracks are hook laden pocket anthems and each one to the last features an  impossibly infectious chorus. Though the competition is fierce, gonna say the one in “Love Is Alright Tonite” rules the hardest. As a side note, “Love…” soundtracks the most manic and crazy scene in cult classic “Wet Hot American Summer” and is hard to detach from that once you’ve seen it but they really do take it to yet another level of greatness.
  • For years I thought Rick was singing “You can keep your cheddar” in “Daddy’s Pearl”. I reasoned “cheddar” was some kind of slang way to say cheap opinions/gossip which made sense in the context of the song. It sounded kind of clever and weird. Plus he rhymed it with “better”. Years later found out what he is saying is actually “chatter”and was disappointed. Listen for yourself and decide but I think “cheddar” is the way to go.

 

  • “Inside Silvia” is a lust ballad. It is 100 % literal. When Rick sings “there’s one harbor where I’m safe and warm”, the “harbor” to which he is referring is Silvia herself. All the metaphors are literal on this album. I swear that is not a contradiction.
  • There is also a straight up Lynyrd Skynyrd guitar solo that wandered in off the street and somehow got lost in “Red Hot and Blue Love”. It is phenomenally disconcerting but it works in what is the most “experimental” song on the album.
  • There’s really nothing left to be said in regards to “Jessie’s Girl” at this point. It’s a classic pop song, full stop, some people love it, some people are sick of it…but it lives and will continue to do so long after we are gone.

In Conclusion:

 37 years have passed since “Working Class Dog” was released. And Rick is still out there touring and recording like a truly driven man. This thing sold 3 million copies and had 3 top ten singles and will probably never be included on any of those “Greatest Albums of All-Time” lists…but who cares what the critics say. It’s an absolute diamond, it’s his Pet Sounds.

*One more thing ! While there have been an extraordinarily large number of crap rock memoirs thrust into the world over the years, Rick’s own  “Late, Late at Night” from 2010 is not one of them. The story does not resolve itself in the last 50 pages with descriptions of joyfully taking kids to school, cooking vegan feasts or daily one on one martial arts training sessions with an esteemed master guru like the kind that regularly surface in todays rock memoirs. Rick’s story is ongoing, unresolved and human. The book is one of the most compelling, dark, sexually charged, honest and self deprecating music autobiographies you’re ever gonna read and so highly encourage you to do so.

Hear it here:

or here:

Weekly New Wonders Playlist

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This weeks new music is a little on the mellow and short side for some reason, just happened that way, but hey we all need a break once in a while right ? And so here’s a soundtrack of the newest to recline, tune out, and contemplate the cosmos to. You can listen on Spotify or Soundcloud BUT recommend choosing the latter this week as a few songs are not on Spotify as of this writing !

Soundcloud:

Spotify: