Rush “Subdivisions” One band.One song.

 

Rush. Progressive rock legends. Loved by millions. Nearly 40 Gold, and Platinum records to their name. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members…but alas, for me their appeal’s been elusive. I’m not happy to say this. After seeing the admittedly excellent documentary and career retrospective, “Beyond the Lighted Stage” a few years ago, I absolutely wanted to like them, the whole story had been so compelling, and cool, I thought yeah, I’m finally getting this….but minus the tale, and the visuals, just listening to them on the headphones, I felt nothing. Was not transported. Had no epiphany.

This hopefulness was nothing new, this attempt to love, feel, and understand Rush. Several years prior to the documentary, I’d been similarly swayed to give them another chance, after witnessing the unbridled Rush passion of Nick Andopolis on “Freaks and Geeks” ( best TV show ever). His complete, and utter worship of them, playing along on his 29 piece drum kit , passionately, and horrifically to “Spirit of the Radio”, and later defending their genius to his ex-girlfriend’s Lindsay’s Dad, made me think, yes, there’s something to all this, I want to feel like this too…and with that, I hopefully cued up their mega “Moving Pictures”album…but again, nothing.

Nick-neil peart

“Neil Peart is the greatest drummer alive !”…say no more Nick, turn that shit up…

Why continually try when these attempts have never worked ? Well, it’s all because of one song ,”Subdivisions”, from 1983. I kind of love it. For real. That song alone is what’s fueled this eternal optimism. It’s fat, melodic synthesizer line, and darkly, perceptive lyrics about suburban teen alienation spoke to my young, angst-ridden ass, as deeply as my most beloved band at the time, the Smiths did. It was my “Manchester, so much to answer for”, except of course my Manchester, was the considerably less historic, austere, damaged, and romantic patch of unbridled suburbia known as, uh,…Long Island. Anyway, this song understood my feelings. It got me. I lived it.

In the High School Halls

In the shopping malls

Conform or be cast out

Yes, Rush, yes, I geekily nodded, and thought. “Subdivisions” release in 1983, coincided with MTV’s growing prominence, and, as a result, the video was on constantly, with it’s overt, and completely literal suggestions of alienation, and bullying, both of which are dealt with by our outcast representative watching Rush sing the song on TV, and playing a video game at the mall. Here it is, in all it’s glory:

 

You know when you’re so into a song that you have a playlist solely devoted to it, featuring every ( decent) cover version of said song imaginable ?  Bueller ? Bueller ? Bueller ?…anyway… while you might be spoiled for choice as far as versions of say, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”, or, lord help us, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, when it comes to “Subdivisions”,  there is struggle. There’s a real dearth of decent cover versions …still, the best one is exceptionally good, and that’s Anita Athavale’s 2007 version. It’s not available on any of the usual music streaming homes, or on YouTube in a conventional way…as in the only way to hear it, is by watching a grim, un-ironic, lost love letter to a deceased shopping mall in Cleveland, complete with a “1976-2009” graphic at the end, that it soundtracks. Seriously though, Anita strips it down to it’s bones, and it’s pretty great. Here it is :

…there’s one more joyful thing to share regarding this band. In the aforementioned “Beyond the Lighted Stage” doc, the elephant in the room is addressed candidly, and awesomely…that being that the Rush audience is obviously, and overwhelmingly male. It’s become kind of a running joke, and is best encapsulated in this scene from, wait for it, “I Love You Man”. Watch Rashida Jones, as Paul Rudd’s beleaguered girlfriend experience the Rush effect in real time. It’s perfect.

Can I tell you something, after writing all this I’m seriously considering giving Rush another try, I mean, maybe it’ll stick this time….

 

 

Inge Van Calkar “Lucky Charm”

This begins with an unmissable nod to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and is basically a pretty swell piece of old school, 90’s style alt-rock, complete with the timestamp of a line, “we’ve really got it going on”.

And it brought to mind this pretty fabulous thing below, by Leona Naess, from 1999, which is absolutely worth revisiting.

 

Jack River “Fool’s Gold”

Want a fat, cynical, perfect pop song, filled with bits of Weezer, Gwen Stefani, and vintage Madonna that will immediately take up residence in your head for the rest of the day, and maybe longer ? Yeah you do…

Aislinn Logan “So Loud”

Belfast singer/songwriter Aislinn Logan has a transcendently stunning voice, and this track, off her debut EP “Lost or Gone”, showcases it to perfect effect. A simple circular melody, bookended with the hollow, faceless sounds of a train station, the mood is weary and sad, and the whole thing is pretty damn beautiful.

Warik “Zoom Out/Changed @ Once”

Welcome to the weird, woozy, and wonderful world of Warik, where you are perpetually  dizzy, and high, and everything is the color of rainbows. Quirky, and melodic, occasionally sounding as if they were recorded underwater, both of these tracks are culled from his new “In My Lens” EP, and are unquestionably a drug in, and of themselves. Thank you Warik.

Blaenavon are here…

It is June, which in the land of music blogs, means lists.  Specifically “Best Albums So Far This Year Now That We’re Halfway Through” lists. Guessing you’ve seen a few of those these past weeks, but don’t worry, gonna sidestep attaching a list here, and just offer up some love for one particular thing, that should’ve appeared on a lot more of these aforementioned lists…actually it should’ve been on all of them : Blaenavon’s, “That’s Your Lot”. It’s a unicorn, it’s singularly special, it’s one of the best albums of 2017, and here’s why….

blaenavon-1024x683

What is Blaenevon ? Well, it’s a lot of things at the same time, beautiful, preciously mannered vocals ( “wept” is pronounced whep-P-T around here), and epic, instrumentally unhinged coda’s, it’s prog, and britpop, it’s full of hooks, and angst, and admissions. It’s where dangerous schoolgirls, and Ziggy Stardusts share cigarettes, make regretful confessions, cry, and make out….seriously though, this is not hyperbole : all of that is really, really in there. Go see them live, and I swear it will all make sense.

There’s much to love on “That’s Your Lot”, from the ethereal swirling beauty of “Ode to Joe”, dedicated to eccentric sixties musical genius Joe Meek, and his futuristic vision, to the circular guitar refrains, lush “oohs”, and booming bass of “Swans”, to the exquisite falsetto pop in “Take Care”, to what is surely the #1 song in an alternate universe right now, “Orthodox Man”. Basically it’s a bunch of killer singles neatly disguised as a debut album.

There are a lot of gorgeous, fully realized songs living on “That’s Your Lot”, all worthy of attention, and full headphone submergence, so give it a listen below…hey, you might even fall in love, and what could be better than that ?

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/6BjZX96z3VRpwLHgA6BOVP

 

 

 

Blue Endless Abyss “Dead Glamour Dance”

I kept waiting for this song to start, you know, in the same way you wait for a Cure song to start i.e. couple of minutes of instrumental intro build-up, and then boom, Robert Smith dramatically crashes in, and gives you a bear hug. Anyway, it never started. It just moved forward in a subdued, straight Krautrock line until nearly 4 minutes had gone by. Played it again to see if I’d missed anything. Then again. And now thinking there may be a subliminal message in there somewhere, because before I knew it, it had played 10x in a row, so something is unquestionably happening here, and it’s something good.

Parker Longbough “Hall Pass”

Yes, that guitar riff is a little “Song 2” by Blur, but make no mistake, this song is it’s own man, all nasal vocals, and swagger, and world weariness. The featured lyric says it all: “people always wanna know about the trips to the bathroom, people always said that you had a strange aura about you”. That’s this one in a nutshell, and it’s mighty fine.

 

Patricia “Rain vs. Sunshine”

Patricia is the brainchild of multi-media artist Jacolby Satterwhite, and this is not so much a song, as it is a meandering sketch, which I mean in the best possible way. It’s a beautiful one, truly evoking an air of lonely, nighttime streets in downtown NYC, in the eighties. Part of what creates that specific feeling, is the incorporation, of the hook line from Taana Gardner’s 1981 dance/club classic “Heartbeat”, in the most delicate, and desolate fashion. This is “Quiet Storm” for solitary space aliens.

Valerie Carter is worth remembering…

It’s hard to know what to say about Valerie Carter, the singer-songwriter who died in March of this year, at the too young age of 64. Probably the best way to describe her career, is as one of those woulda/coulda/shouda situations. The nearest she got to having a hit record was when her cover of “Ooh Child” played over the closing credits of the bonafide cult classic of suburban teen ennui from 1979, “Over the Edge”. Her career focus was mainly singing back-up for people like James Taylor, and Jackson Browne, while occasionally contributing songs to other artists like Earth, Wind, & Fire. She recorded 2 promising solo albums in 1977, and 1979 respectively, the first of which was produced by her musical soulmate, the late Lowell George of Little Feat…but after those releases, it was literally crickets in terms of her solo output : she didn’t release another album until 1996.  Her time in between was spent touring with the aforementioned James, and Jackson, and providing backing vocals on a myriad of albums, by other artists. The biggest of the latter, was soft rock flamingo Christopher Cross’s self-titled debut album, which sold 5 million copies and was the Grammy Album of the Year in 1980. And so while a lot of people were exposed to her beautiful, soaring, full of longing voice on the album’s duet “Spinning”…they didn’t necessarily register that it was her, Valerie Carter, sublimely lifting it off the ground ( and she totally does, listen above), they were just, you know, playing the Christopher Cross album, and basking in it’s west coast sunset glow ( by the way, it’s a pretty nice glow, and no one should be embarrassed for liking it, so go on then, bask).

It appears the last years of her life were challenging, as she battled substance abuse issues, got arrested twice as a result in 2009, and was ultimately sent to rehab. Yeah, it’s sad, but know what, she was an incredible singer, in possession of a truly transcendent, and soaring voice, and she should’ve been famous, and she died too young, and it’s not too late to discover, and give over to the loveliness she offered, because damn, she was just so great. Take a listen….