November 4, 2017

Sixpence None the Richer's self-titled album turns 20


I recently published my best of 1987, and I am working on my best of 2017, but have largely ignored 1997; those albums celebrating 20th anniversaries.  The exception is my #1 album of 1997, Sixpence None the Richer.

After I wrote my 20th anniversary oral history for This Beautiful Mess two years ago, which has been read more than anything I have ever written, I considered a proposal to the 33 1/3 series on the self-titled album. Back in 2015 I did a ton of research, interviewed all the band members about the previous album, wrote a bunch of notes; but concluded I did not have the time, energy, or desire to write a full-length book about the band or album.

However, I saved all my thoughts and writings and a few months ago and picked up on the story. That led to this essay published this week:


I wrote a review when this album was first released in 1997, which can be seen here.
My writing then was poor, but worth looking at for nostalgia's sake.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the disappointment I feel with both of these 20th anniversaries passing and no acknowledgement from the band. In an age with countless reunion tours, crowd-funding for vinyl issues, etc., Sixpence has done nothing. Some of my motivation in conducting all the interviews a couple years ago was to stir up something in the band members themselves to make shows, vinyl, etc. happen. I hope the same with this new essay; I would love for the band to celebrate and not just the fans.

Finally, I do have a best of 2007 post, which was one of the first thorough best-of lists I published. Hard to believe those albums are now a decade old.

October 22, 2017

Best of 1987


Top 20 Albums of 1987

This is my second "looking back" best-of list, which I began last year with 30th anniversaries of 1986 albums. 1986 was a fairly sparse year for me, but 1987 is absolutely loaded.

As I explore these older albums, part of my commitment during the calendar year is seeking out as many 30th anniversary albums as possible to listen to. So many of these albums I am hearing for the first time, at least in full. I turned 11 in November of 1987; what was I listening to that year? Probably Sandi Patti and Larnelle Harris. The only real music I was exposed to in 1987 was in carpools to and from school and swim practice.

Just over half of the albums below I had heard in full prior to 2017. The top 10 as listed below are albums I truly enjoy and listen to with semi-regularity. The top 3 albums are all-time favorites for any year and I have been regularly spinning them for over half my life. Albums 11-20 are excellent and notable, but honestly I doubt I will ever listen to much of any of them again.

1. U2- Joshua Tree
Format owned: Vinyl since 1997

I, just like everyone else in the world, heard many of these songs back in 1987. As nearly half the songs on Joshua Tree received radio airplay, I knew how great the album was very early on. With that in mind, it probably wasn't until until college (began fall 1995) that I heard the album straight through.

My first collegiate track meet was in March of 1997 in Auburn, Alabama. In the long day waiting for my event, I met up with a friend who attended Auburn and we walked to a local record store. Joshua Tree was the first 12" LP I ever purchased. (I previously had ordered 7"s from Tooth and Nail and Velvet Blue Music).

My biggest regret here is that I have never seen U2 in concert. When I was in college a group of my friends saw the PopMart tour and invited me to come along. But as I despised Pop, I turned them down, and said, "I would only go to a U2 concert if it was the Joshua Tree tour." Of course, at the time that implied I would never see U2 perform. Now though this year the band has played dozens of 30th anniversary shows celebrating the album, but I haven't made it to any of them.

As I highlighted in my post on 1987 in January, my favorite versions of many of the songs on this album are from a U2 bootleg recorded in Chicago in 1987.

2. R.E.M.- Document
Format owned: Vinyl and Cassette since 1995

Once again college proved the time I moved from moderate interest in a band to obsession. R.E.M. performed in Birmingham in fall of 1995, and it is by far the best "arena show" I have ever attended. Radiohead opened in support of The Bends.

In preparation for this concert, I went on an R.E.M. binge, and bought 5 or 6 of their albums on CD after owning none. As I have written about previously, I had pretty screwed-up views on the false sacred-secular division growing up in a conservative, fundamentalist Christian environment. With that in mind, at some point in high school I decided it was OK to listen to "secular" music as long as I didn't buy it. R.E.M. was thankfully the first brick to fall in my flawed wall.

For a long time this was my favorite R.E.M. album, but has since fallen to probably #3 or #4. While I do greatly prefer Lifes Rich Pageant, my #1 album of 1986, the improvement in production from 1986 to 1987 is profound and stunning. I prefer the 1986 songs, but Document just sounds so damn good.


3. The 77's- Seventy Sevens
Format owned: CD since 1994

Of the twenty albums featured here, this is the one I have owned and known the longest. I became a 77's fan with the release of 1994's Drowning with Land in Sight, but that same year purchased most of the band's back catalog, including this album.

An interesting fact about this album is that it was released by Island Records, along with Joshua Tree. The rumor in the 77's camp is that had Joshua Tree not been released that same year, the 77's could have become huge and popular. However, this album supposedly was never promoted and got lost in the shuffle.


4. Fleetwood Mac- Tango in the Night
Format owned: Vinyl since 2017

Of bands I have sort of known for 20-30 years, Fleetwood Mac is the one that it probably took me the longest to become a true fan of. I bought Rumours on vinyl in 2010, inspired by the Mates of State covers album that included "Second Hand News". Not long after that I bought the double-CD best-of album.

When hearing the best-of compilation I was honestly shocked by how many of the songs I knew, I just didn't know they were Fleetwood Mac. Then my favorite TV show of all time, The Americans, has used 1980's music so well and taken my love for Fleetwood Mac to the next level. I bought Tusk on vinyl a couple years ago and then Tango in the Night this year.

I am still barely scratching the surface with Fleetwood Mac though. I am really only familiar with their work from the 1975 self-titled album until this one (5 LPs.) They have NINE LP's from 1986 to 1974 that I have only heard a few tracks from total. And then I haven't heard much of any of the three LP's they released after Tango.


5. Def Leppard- Hysteria
Format owned: Vinyl since 2000

I first heard "Pour Some Sugar on Me" in 1987 on the radio. My first memory of the song was Auburn Football using it as the theme music for their many 1980's Sugar Bowl appearances. My love of Def Leppard is a strange thing, but what can I say their music is fun!
6. Guns 'N' Roses- Appetite for Destruction
Format owned: Cassette since 1998

Just like everyone, I heard the singles from this album on the radio at the time and riding in around in my carpools to and from school and swim practice. "Sweet Child O Mine" was the first time I ever heard a guitar solo like that. I attended many minor league hockey games in the 90's and anytime there was a fight--which was A LOT---they played "Welcome to the Jungle" over the P.A. Eventually picked this up as a used cassette.
7. L.S.Underground- Shaded Pain
Format owned: Cassette since 1997

I don't remember the first time I heard this full album, but I have very specific memories of seeking out the 30+ LP's Michael Knott had. Even by the mid-90's, many were out of print or nearly impossible to find. I eventually found Shaded Pain in a bargain bin at a Christian bookstore. Looking back, it is the first great Knott album. As I recently read Michail Farmer's blog, Knott (like Bill Mallonnee) was/is prolific but had a problem with quality control. About a 1/3 of those 30 albums should not have been released.


8. Steve Taylor- I Predict 1990
Format owned: Vinyl since 2007

About a decade ago I visited Jerry's Records in Pittsburgh. It is possibly the largest record store I have ever been to, and it had a huge section of "Christian" vinyl. During that visit I picked up ALL of Steve Taylor's 80's albums. Prior to that, I had only heard a few songs from each.

My introduction to Steve Taylor was the seminal 1994 tribute album I Predict A Clone. That album is loaded full of my favorite bands at the time and it is how I learned many of his songs. Also in 1994 a two-disc compilation of Taylor's songs was released that my Dad got free at his work: Now the Truth Can Be Told.

9. 10,000 Maniacs- In My Tribe
Format owned: Cassette since 2008

I have such weird memories about how I acquire music. I got this tape at the newer location of The Great Escape in Nashville. The move happened in 2010, so it was sometime after that date in the new, stale, awful location on Charlotte Avenue.

The Great Escape is possibly my most visited record store ever, as I bought used CD there throughout high school and college. Then later I frequented it when I began collecting vinyl in 2004. My visits became less and less frequent as I was in Nashville rarely, and was then shocked and dismayed when it moved from its unique location into a strip mall.

Back to this album, it is arguably the band's best work. It is at the peak of the time with Natalie Merchant as the front-woman.

10. Starship- No Protection
Format owned: Vinyl since 2009

This album would be spectacular even if it was just "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" over and over and over again. That song has one of the greatest choruses of all time!
11. The Cure- Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me
Format owned: Digital only

From Rolling Stone's original 1987 review: "Even in a year already marked by sprawling, ambitious double albums from Prince and Hüsker Dü, the Cure's new Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me stands out. Like Sign o' the Times and Warehouse: Songs and Stories, this two-record, eighteen-song set is about reaching inward. The Cure is trying to deepen and refine an existing sensibility rather than reach outward to expand it. On previous efforts, guitarist and singer Robert Smith has flirted with everything from conceptually orchestrated studio pop (The Top) to sarcastic dance tracks ("Let's Go to Bed"); now that the Cure has evolved into an actual band, he's able to consummate those eclectic desires. Kiss Me is a breakthrough all right. For the first time, the Cure's music is relatively unfettered by pretension and indulgence, and the results are remarkable."


12. Connells- Boylan Heights
Format owned: Vinyl since 2005

Perhaps the most obscure album on this list, and I was shocked to find a review of it online that the Dirty Sheets blog published in 2011: "One of my favorite moments from the homemade stash of C-60s happened to be the first shot from Boylan Heights. In spite of a line that read, "I delight in my despair," "Scotty's Lament" captured vivid images of angels and windmills that betrayed any self-loathing. With infectious choruses and clanging guitars, it brought to mind another Southern pop act from my tapes who would later strike "green" in a major record deal. Often considered The Connells' answer to R.E.M.'s Murmur, Boylan Heights shares a kindred spirit in legendary producer Mitch Easter. Once again, he's at the helm of a disc that's by turns dark, uplifting and folksy."


13. Jesus and Mary Chain- Darklands 
Format owned: CD since 2015

From Spectrum Culture's 2013 essay on the album: "For those excited by the raw, feedback-laden wall-of-sound of Psychocandy, the arrival of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1987 Janus-faced sophomore record Darklands might have come as quite a shock. The Scottish brothers William and Jim Reid replaced their drummer with a machine — seems he was busy forming a little side project called “Primal Scream” — and then proceeded to confidently write, play and record a melodic, accomplished, darkly-themed pop record more mature than even their critically lauded debut. Crystal production quality, quiet in both mood and atmosphere, was completely void of the crashing, cacophonous drugged out Beach Boys mess that gave them their reputation and acclaim."


14. Prince- Sign O the Times
Format owned: Digital only

From Consequence of Sound's 30th anniversary essay on the album: "Words can never take the place of the man, Prince, but we will try. Sign o’ the Times is Prince at his most complete, under control yet completely out of it, doubling down with his most notable batch of music to this point. If ever an album illustrated the diversity and gifts of Prince, this is it. But to understand and appreciate Sign o’ the Times, one must look at every ingredient accrued over a long and difficult period of time in Prince’s career.

This was an album made through distress and alternate directions, and its production gives off the sense that Prince might not have been clearheaded about its development. At least not in any linear sense. Prince had parts and ideas everywhere, vying for a place on the album, and only the strongest bits survived. In short: Times is Frankenstein’s monster — were the monster fabulously funky and more inclined to get down. Well, maybe get a little nasty too…"

15. Michael Jackson- Bad
Format owned: Wife owned CD when married in 2004

Quincy Jones, producer of Bad and most Michael Jackson work, did a recent interview about this album and it gives some interesting background: "All the turmoil [in his life] was starting to mount up, so I said I thought it was time for him to do a very honest album writing all the songs. I suggested that for Bad. He did all but two songs. I made a mistake on the duet with him and Stevie ["Just Good Friends," written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle]. That didn't work. But "Man in the Mirror" sure worked. Siedah [Garrett] was one of my 13 songwriters. I had a meeting to ask them for an international kind of anthem to make yourself a better person. And she wrote "Man in the Mirror" with [Glen] Ballard. That did not stop. That baby did it. It was the biggest song from the album. And they were all big – we had five Number One records."

16. George Michael- Faith
Format owned: Wife owned CD when married in 2004

From Sputnik Music's 2005 review: "Faith accurately displays Michael's versatility in performance, songwriting and arranging. As with any pop album the listener needs to recognise the emphasis is not always placed on creativity or originality, but instead on catchiness and image. When an artist can blend the two extremes and create a unique and inspiring album that still shifts units and brings them the ching ching they must be lauded."


17. The Crucified- Nailed
Format owned: CD since 1994

Tooth and Nail released the Crucified's two demo cassettes on CD in 1994 for the first time, and that was my introduction to the band. I had no idea of the context at the time, and didn't know how long the band had been around and that in 1994 they were no longer active. I can't even imagine what it would have been like to hear this when it was released when I was 11!
18. Leslie Phillips- The Turning
Format owned: Vinyl since 2006

Of all the albums in this list, this is the one most deserving of more listening time from me. Honestly, I have barely spinned it since buying it on used vinyl a decade ago. J. Edward Keyes wrote an excellent essay on it through his An Athiest's Guide to Christian Rock blog. His words are better than mine: "What gives the record its enduring power is the fact that it’s an honest depiction of an individual actually wrestling with faith instead of merely accepting it." The song "Carry You" from this album was later covered by Sixpence None the Richer on their Tickets for a Prayer Wheel EP.


19. The Replacements- Pleased to Meet Me
Format owned: Digital only

From Rolling Stone's original 1987 review: "Pleased to Meet Me, like nearly everything in Westerberg's oeuvre, is about not fitting in, about square pegs surrounded by nothing but round holes. What distinguishes Westerberg from the misfits populating his songs is his uncanny ability to speak for the tonguetied, articulating their aspirations and insecurities with intuitive sensitivity, boozy whimsy and straight street talk — leavened with a little poetic license."


20. The Smiths- Strangeways Here We Come
Format owned: Digital only

The Guardian had this to say a decade ago for the album's 20th anniversary: 'Strangeways is the sound of the sorry end of a truly great musical partnership and of a beautiful friendship crumbling away in front of the mixing desk. Morrissey seems to be commenting on this with the album's only recurring theme, death. Nor is it coincidental that I Won't Share You is its last fond goodbye.

Johnny Marr thinks Strangeways is The Smiths' masterpiece. And Morrissey agrees; "Well, it is. We're in absolute accordance on that. We say it quite often. At the same time. In our sleep. But in different beds."'





October 7, 2017

What if Lu had lived? Top 25 Poor Old Lu Songs

As you may have noticed, I have started naming my top 25 lists:
Please Don't Kiss MeTop 25 Sixpence None the Richer Songs
For the Love of Guitar; Top 25 Aaron Sprinkle Songs
Don't Be Defeatist; Top 25 Eisley Songs
Farewell Walla; Top 25 Death Cab for Cutie Songs
Farther Than I Can See; Top 25 Thrice Songs

If you are familiar with the artists, the titles don't need explanations. The same can be said for the title of my Poor Old Lu list, but I'll elaborate. It is of coursed based upon the Lu song "What if Uncle Ben Had Lived?" which of course is a Spiderman reference. The song didn't make my top 25 from the band, but that theme is a frequent one for me: "What if ______ (fill-in-the blank with a band) had made more music?" So, what if Poor Old Lu had continued as a prolific band for the last 20 years?

Collage I made in 2007 from memorabilia I had gathered. I used two t-shirts, three 
magazine ads, Cornerstone programs, a note from Jesse, an envelope from Jesse, 
the band's mid-90's mail order form, and two stickers. 
(The 7" was not Poor Old Lu FYI, just a junk old red vinyl 7" found in a garage sale.)

Pretty fascinating to think about it, because most bands are not able to do that. The only collaborative bands that are truly able to continue indefinitely are ones that make a lot of money. Of course in this day and age "solo" artists can record and release as much as they want to, but they only will if they are able to find the time to do it. Most of my favorite bands were only truly "active" for a short time, because...life. People move, get married, change jobs, etc. I rarely see or talk to many of my friends from 20 years ago. So it is pretty rare for a band to continue to make music after that has happened. Poor Old Lu's final LP was in 2002, and their 2013 and 2014 singles were treats that I'll hope for more of in the years to come. Jesse Sprinkle was recently interviewed on the Labeled Podcast about Poor Old Lu's break-up, and not surprisingly, he had nothing interesting to add.

Poor Old Lu was only truly active for around a decade, and I am thankful that they were because I have never heard another band like them. I hate comparisons in general in music (RIYL, etc.), but with Poor Old Lu comparisons are impossible. They formed in Seattle during the grunge era, but they are far from grunge. Friends and collaborators indirectly started emo, but they are definitely not emo. Poor Old Lu is completely original and experimental rock band that stunned me at the time, and are blowing me away right this minute as I listen to songs I have heard hundreds of times.

I have so much respect for Poor Old Lu and (the very few) bands like them that are only willing to exist and perform as the original line-up; in this case Scott Hunter, Aaron Sprinkle, Nick Barber, and Jesse Sprinkle. I have written at length about how important I feel collaboration is and how I believe it leads to the best in all fields. All four members are gifted and have done so much outside Poor Old Lu.

Scott sings and plays guitar, and went on to front the short-lived This Diminishing West. Nick wrote and sang lead on a couple of Rose Blossom Punch Songs, and has also played bass for Jeremy Enigk, Fair, Subways on the Sun, and numerous other bands. Jesse played drums in Demon Hunter, Dead Poetic, Morella's Forest, dozens of other bands, and also has released countless solo albums in which he sings and plays most all the instruments. And then I break down all of Aaron's projects here.

All the comments below that are in italics are from Poor Old Lu lead singer/lyricist and are quoted with permission from the official Poor Old Lu website. Two of the songs--"Drenched Decent" and "The Great Unwound"-- didn't have liner notes, so I reached out to Scott Hunter to write them for this post. So they are published here for the first time.

Top 25 Poor Old Lu songs
25. "Hope For Always" from the 1994 Sin LP
'Perhaps our song with the highest "twang factor", Hope For Always was consistently a good concert song. Maybe it was the very fast tempo, the praise-ful "cry" in the lyrics, or the western theme. Who knows. This song has always been very different from other Lu songs... and that's ok.'

("Hope for Always" at 4:00)


24. "Closing Down" from the 1996 A Picture of the Eighth Wonder LP
"The last song on '8th Wonder', it was intended to be such -- a last song. Was it intended to be the "final" track for Poor Old Lu? Who knows. It was, however, a good way to end the album. If I had my way, I would make the final build at the end of the song even more dramatic."

23. "In Love With The Greenery" from the 1993 Mindsize LP
'Definitely the oldest song on the album, it was originally recorded on our first album (1990), In Love With The Greenery, when we played under the name BellBangVilla. In 1989, we traveled to Germany for a mission trip with our church. On one of the areas that we drove past a few times were written the words (in spraypaint) "I Love You, All I'm Saying, Pretty Baby, La La Love You". So this song was originally called "La La Love You". We found out before our releasing album that these lyrics came from a Pixies song, which was fine with us. Unfortunately, we found out that that song was also called "La La Love You", which was not fine with us. The song name was eventually changed to just "Love You". I always hated that name. Before Mindsize was released, we changed the name of this song to "In Love With The Greenery".'

22. "Ring True" from the 1994 Sin LP
The A-Zone radio show in Nashville introduced me to Poor Old Lu, and "Ring True" and "Bliss Is" were the two songs I heard first; radically different and convinced me to go out an buy Sin immediately, and then Mindsize a week later.

"'Ring True' is probably the most "intentionally" worshipful song that Lu has. Written just before recording 'Sin' (and finished up in the studio), it is probably most notable for its raw sounds, catchy groove, and the fact that Aaron sings lead vocal. 'Ring True' happened to be one of the most successful singles that Lu ever released and was always a fun song for live shows.

Though 'Ring True' features Aaron on lead vocals, the lyrics were still written by Scott (who wrote all of the Poor Old Lu lyrics *except* 'Army Guy', which was written by Nick and Aaron). Shortly before laying down the vocal tracks, Aaron was facing some writer's block and asked Scott to the lyrics, if possible. 45 minutes later, or so, 'Ring True' was ready to sing."

21. "Slipknot" from the 1995 Straight Six EP
"Of all the Poor Old Lu songs to show up on Napster in great number, this one did. I always found that strange until I heard that there was also a band called Slipknot. I can only imagine all those people who downloaded this song thinking it was the other band! Very amusing.

As the brief text in the album cover eludes, this song is directed primarily towards the topic of 'indifference'."




20. "Crowded" from the 2002 The Waiting Room LP
"'Crowded' was born musically from something that Nick created, and it's one of my favorites on this album.  Although fairly mellow and "acoustic", I think it fits well.  For some reason, when I listen to this song, though, it sounds to me as if I had a cold during the vocal tracking.  Hmmm.  Strange.  Also, Nick helped me write the bridge vocal line on this song.  Thanks, Nick!

You'll notice a very strong sense of "being pulled" in the words of this song -- whether it be our eyes, our devotion, our priorities, or what have you.  The title, 'Crowded', is chosen accordingly, and there is a claustrophobic feeling in our lives at times, as we can feel overwhelmed by all that is going on."

19. "Sickly" from the 1994 Sin LP
Most Lu fans probably have this song in their top 5, but I personally feel like Lu songs should be at a higher bpm. Great lyrics, and better live than on record, but never grabbed me as much as other people.

"'Sickly' was written entirely in the studio over the course of a few hours. The guys (Aaron, Nick and Jesse) began to jam on a moody song in the main room while I (Scott) tried to work out a suitable melody and lyrics. Without much warning 'Sickly' was born. Very moody. Slightly aggressive. Quiet and loud. 'Sickly' remains one of my very favorite Lu songs - partly because I think it's a good song, and partly because of how mysteriously it came to be. Coupled with 'My World Falls Down' on the tail end, 'Sickly' has also been a favorite concert song. An equally moody video for 'Sickly' can be found on Poor Old Lu's 1995 video cassette, 'Sit & Stare'."



18. "Hello Sunny Weather" from the 1996 A Picture of the Eighth Wonder LP
"This song is probably most notable (to me) for being very much *below* my normal singing range. The out-of-range vocals reminds me, I suppose, of 'Untitled' off of The Cure's 1989 release Disintegration, an incredible album. It works, I suppose, and that's what matters.

I've never been accused of writing a whole lot of love songs, and rightfully so. 'Sunny Weather', I suppose, is as close as I've gotten thus far. This song was actually written for my wife, but I never told her ... she figured it out later on."

17. "Slow" from the 1994 Sin LP
I couldn't disagree with Scott more about this being a filler track! Love the bass groove and Aaron's bgv's on the chorus.

"This song is probably one of the 'filler' tracks on 'Sin'. It wasn't a single. It wasn't much of a concert hit. In fact, this song was rarely mentioned at all. Why is that? Who knows. Maybe it's just not that good. It was one of the rare mellow tracks on 'Sin'. Slightly dreamy and somewhat playful. Aaron came up with some good background vocals, and Nick's bass line quite nice. I suppose 'Slow' just helped round out the album. We'll leave it at that.

This song is very much written with 'emotions' in mind - literally. Some lines refer to colors. Some lines refer to common feelings that we have."

16. "Revolve" from the 2002 The Waiting Room LP
"I don't remember where 'Revolve' ended up in the writing process.  Probably somewhere in the middle.  I just remember this song "appearing" one day during our sessions, and that was that.  A natural opener for the album, if you ask me, and somewhat quintessential "Lu".  Otherwise, it's very much a "power pop" track, with a radio-friendly 3:45-ish time to match!"

15. "Complain" from the 1994 Sin LP
"I don't remember where this song came from... it was just 'there'. Though a number of the songs off of 'Sin' were written in the few weeks before recording started, this song was among those that were veterans by that time, and, in fact, we even recorded a rough demo for 'Complain'. One of the notable items in this song is the two different lead vocal track sounds - one normal (and full sounding), while the other is very "mono" and slightly distorted. This wasn't only fun to do, but also created a "ask a question" and "give an answer" vibe to the various verses. On the last verse, of course, the tracks are switched so that the answering track is then "asking the questions", so to speak. There's something deep there, I imagine...somewhere. I still feel that this was the best song to start the album with. It's rough, strange, and hard to put your finger on... like much of 'Sin'."

14. "Drenched Decent" from the 1993 Browbeat; Unplugged Alternative compilation LP
For the first decade I used the internet, drenchedecent was my screen name on message boards, and login name on just about all websites. Like I said above, this is brand new commentary from Scott Hunter on this song:

One of those songs that never landed on a true Poor Old Lu album, "Drenched Decent" was solicited by our record label for an "unplugged album" that they wanted to release.  That was about all we knew.  We wrote and recorded this song ourselves, and left all electric instruments at home--save for the bass.  The masterful flute was written and performed by a long-time band friend, and may be the most striking piece of the track. The result was surprisingly upbeat and different from our norm--leaning toward whimsical, and light.  When it was later released on the "Brow Beat" compilation, it stood out with it's very stripped-down and playful sound.

The title "Drenched Decent" actually existed before the song--from a short list of names that we considered before finally landing on Poor Old Lu.  The lyrics, however, are a calling--plain and simple.  A calling to take hold of the relief, grace, love, strength, and peace that is right in front of us.  "Now leave your cup and won't you come on in" is a challenge beyond simply tasting for immediate effect, but rather finding yourself awash in the filling of God.

13. "Bliss Is" from the 1994 Sin LP
"It seems that every Lu album had at least one "upbeat and funky" track. "Bliss" is one of those. Though we were never known to be a funk band, we did seem to have an edge where that style could be found now and then - and it was especially fun during our live shows. The gritty bass track is certainly one of the most notable aspects of this song... that and the groovy break-it-down solo type part. A good album song, and a great live song! (Side note: the title "Bliss Is" is strangely close to the title of an Ocean Blue song, "Bliss Is Unaware". I'm pretty sure that my brain took the title from that song, though I didn't know it at the time. Oh, well.)

Lyrically, I'm surprised that this song didn't receive more criticism. It is fairly brash and in-your-face, but also quite true - at least for the time. What's it all about? I'm glad you asked. "Bliss" was written about family. My family, to be exact. I grew up in a good household with loving parents, two older brothers, so on and so forth. We all got along quite well, actually, but after moving out of the house I realized that we had some serious communication problems. In essence, not communicating when needed ("on the floor, out the door, clean the slate")."



12. "Chance For The Chancers" from the 1996 A Picture of the Eighth Wonder LP
"Certainly one of the most haunting, melodic songs that we ever wrote. I was personally completely taken by it the very first time that I heard the music, and I couldn't wait to write lyrics. The title comes from the song 'Honeydrip' off of Ian McCulloch's solo album "Mysterio". Like much of our "8th Wonder" album, this song was written entirely in the studio during our 2-week tracking session."




11. "All Pretty For The T.V." from the 1993 Mindsize LP
"We had recorded this song once before at Innovations Music & Media, where Straight Six was recorded. It was rough, but pop-y. At the time, this was probably our most exciting song and, in fact, quickly became a crowd favorite. Eventually, we would have friends 3NP join us on stage for a hip-hop style interlude in the middle. The album version features sound-bites taken from Swirling Eddie's video "Spittle & Phlegm", at our request.

With notions of televangelism sprinkled throughout the lyrics, this song hits on the dangers of self-serving ministries, focused more on money than on the Lord, and its effects on those who believe in it. The other message refers to television itself. The idea being that much of what people do is based (wrongly) upon what they see from television."



10. "Friday To Sunday" from the 2002 The Waiting Room LP
One of my favorite Easter songs, and the song is unashamedly about Jesus' resurrection.

"Another song that I wished had begun less abruptly, but we were running out of time while tracking this album.  That said, I really love the "delayed" electric guitar lines during the second verses.  Also, the "bongo"-styled drum parts during the bridge was masterminded by Aaron, and works out pretty well.

More story-driven than most Lu songs, 'Friday To Sunday' really sprung out of a long fascination I've had with the crucifixion account found in Matthew 27:54 where we see some of the guards at the crucifixion itself declare, "Surely this was the Son of God".  I've often wondered the lives of those guards was like from that point on.  From there, this song really follows a parallel path of the disciples themselves -- once convinced that Jesus would 'set things straight', and then finding themselves watching him up on a cross.  What were those three days -- between the crucifixion and the resurrection -- really like?  How hopeless and confused did they feel?  What doubts flooded their minds?  Finally, though, they find that the 'stone is rolled away' and a new chapter begins."

9. "The Great Unwound"; 2013 digital single
Such a great song, but such a tease. At the time we were all hoping for more Lu, but sadly not the case. They did release a Christmas song a couple years later. And those are sadly the only Lu songs on Bandcamp.



New commentary from Scott Hunter:
This track stands apart and unique from all other Poor Old Lu songs, yet is quintessentially "Lu" in nature.  It was written and recorded in an effort to raise money for Paradise:Uganda--one of Jesse's passions--and began simply as a studio jam session with Aaron and Jesse laying down scratch tracks.  Nick and Scott ended up in the studio a few months afterward to record their parts, but the lyrics and melody were not born easily.  In fact, it took another year before Scott was content with his parts of the song--most of which were recorded in non-studio locations, including a friend's church office and his mom's living room.  The female backing vocals from our friend, Jen Hirschman, make this the only POL song with such a feature. 

The lyrics are perhaps more difficult.  There is a sadness to them that reflects some personal crises during that time.  Rather than a baptismal-type calling of "join me here, the water is fine", it's written from the outside-in.  It asks "why make those choices when the weight is so much to bear?"  The reply is summed up at the tail of the chorus: "So breathe in deeply, my son.  I swear I've won.  This need not be the sum of the one I've called My own."  It begs the listener to consider that our failures do not define us, but rather our responses to them.

8. "Cruciality" from the 1993 Mindsize LP
Another one of the last songs written for "Mindsize", it became our first real single (though 'More' was the first official single, it was not promoted as such). Within a few weeks, Cruciality hit #1 on one of the popular Christian charts. During a show in Irvine, CA, our record label presented us with a plaque to commemorate the event.

7. "Rail" from the 1996 A Picture of the Eighth Wonder LP
"Definitely not the usual way to start an album, but by this time we were doing things our own way, and not for booming record sales. The song was written as is (long intro and all), but the decision to put it at the beginning of the album came later. We weren't concerned. If anything, 'Rail' has a definite vibe of The Cure, one of our favorite bands growing up (except Jesse). 'Rail' still remains as one of my very favorite songs.

This was a difficult song lyrically. I struggled for some time with the chorus. Not writing it, mind you, just accepting that it was "ok" to sing that. At this point, all of us except for Jesse were married. When you get married (or engaged) it often throws you for a loop... and this song shows some of that. The first few lines (Jesus tie these hands...) speak of the wrong decisions that I had made in my previous relationships. Relationships that should never have been. I ended up hurting a lot of people, including myself."

6. "Digging Deep" from the 1995 Straight Six EP
This song is what actually led me to discovering Sunny Day Real Estate. Somehow I was not aware of them until after they broke up for the first time.

"Always one of our more popular songs. I suppose that is because it features our long-time friend, Jeremy Enigk, who also sings with Sunny Day Real Estate. Aaron, Nick, Jeremy and I played together early on, if you can call it playing! We had fun. Since this song was written to be a duet, we thought it would be great to sing with Jeremy again. And so we did. Jeremy changed the lyrics slightly on the bridge (artistic license, I suppose), but it came out rather well. He also dreamt up the great background vocals!"

5. "Where Were All Of You" from the 1994 Sin LP
"As one of the successful singles off of 'Sin', 'Where Were All Of You' may be one of the most representative songs of what Poor Old Lu's sound is like. Aggressive. Dreamy. Deep. Poppy. Something like all of that, but mixed up and jumbled around. This song is especially notable for the driving bass line and very effected vocals. In 1998, a special re-mix was made for the album 'Chrono'."



4. "For The Love Of My Country" from the 1995 Straight Six EP
"The thing that sticks out about this song, of course, is the very quiet beginning until it really kicks in. A lot of fun. As was the rest of Straight Six, this song was written entirely in the studio as we spent a month writing and recording. The song is boomy, repetitive, strange and catchy. The background vocals on the chorus are strangely memorable, though not recorded particularly well -- somewhat fitting for the whole album, rough and disjointed. In the long run, 'Country' ended up being a good show song."



3. "My World Falls Down" from the 1994 Sin LP
"Arguably the most popular Lu song - at least in concert. 'My World Falls Down' was always a slight notch up in the 'distortion' department than most of our stuff, but still fit very well. The beauty of this song might lie in its aggressive nature that soon tapers off. It is at times sing-songy, but then turns to flat out screams. Come to think of it, this song is strangely complex. I doubt very much that it fits the mold for the perfect pop single, yet it works quite nicely. Some have commented that this song is, perhaps, "perfect". I don't know about that, but it's still a lot of fun to listen to and play.

At its very core, 'My World Falls Down' deals with a common struggle of knowing wrong, but doing nothing about it."

("My World Falls Down" at 57:45)


2. "Receive" from the 1996 A Picture of the Eighth Wonder LP
"As I look back, 'Receive' is one of the most complete and well-rounded songs we had. Unfortunately, we only played a handful of shows after "8th Wonder" was released, so it never became a huge concert hit that it normally would've been. The times that we were able to play it were great. I've also felt that 'Receive' is one the most representational songs for the typical "Lu" sound."

1. "The Waiting Room" from the 2002 The Waiting Room LP
As I began writing this list, I never expected a song from The Waiting Room to be #1, as Sin and A Picture of the Eighth Wonder are by far my favorite Lu albums. But this song has only gotten better with age, and this album no longer seems disconnected from the earlier Lu stuff, as it did at the time.

"What can I say about this song?  First of all, it is probably in the top 5 of my favorite songs we've written and recorded.  I find it haunting and beautifully arranged.  In fact, I'm at times shocked that it came out so well.  Secondly, we've never had a 'title track' before, but it would be hard to find one more fitting that this.  From the slow beginning, to the late, wailing guitars, this song has a wonderful escalation to it, and was a great way to wrap up this album.  Some of my favorite parts?  I love the rim shots before the first verse, the bass line during the verses, and the double snare hits as you enter the last verse.  Also, this bridge is without a doubt one my favorites amongst our collection -- particularly the whispering background vocals.  Like the track 'Today', this song pretty much taxed me on my vocal range -- both high and low."





August 24, 2017

LP covers with Old English/Blackletter typefaces

Taylor Swift has a new album on the way in November. Since no music has been released yet, I am obsessing over the album art:


The first comparison I thought of when I saw it?


Then someone on Twitter sent me this:


I have since been digging for more, and found those below. Comment if you find another and I'll add it here:









July 14, 2017

Wolf Alice live in Pittsburgh

After discovering Wolf Alice in June of 2015, they have been my favorite band of the last two years. Ellie Rowsell (lead vocals, guitar), Joff Oddie (guitar, synths, vocals), Theo Ellis (bass, vocals), and
Joel Amey (drums, vocals) create the perfect example of what I am looking for in music these days: creativity, diversity, intensity, and originality.

I have come ever so close to seeing them twice, once in London a week after I was there, and then last fall in Zurich (1.5 hour drive from my home in Germany), only to miss out because of a work conflict. When I planned my month-long trip to the States this summer, I was thrilled to discover their U.S. tour coincided with my visit to Pittsburgh.


Created with flickr slideshow.


To sum it up, Wolf Alice put on the best live show I have seen in years. Specifically, their show was the best concert I have been to since the Sunny Day Real Estate reunion tour in 2009. That is saying a lot, because I have seen many of my favorite bands in that 8-year span (Thrice thrice, mewithoutYou, Mineral, etc.).

I can't remember the last time I have been to a concert in which the live versions of the songs were radically better than the studio versions. Wolf Alice's debut LP, My Love is Cool, is my #1 album of 2015. I have listened to that album countless times, and yet the live performances of the songs I thought I knew inside and out revealed new layers and energy.

Not only did the show feature the best songs from My Love is Cool, this tour is especially unique because Wolf Alice is debuting songs from their upcoming second album. Visions of a Life releases on Sept. 29 and you can pre-order it here.

Sadly, I was not allowed to bring my SLR into the venue, so my iPhone 5 photos leave much to be desired. I shot one video of a new song, embedded below, and a few photos. My only other complaint about the show were the few and poor merch options. Both shirts were fairly hideous, and I had planned to buy one. I also would have loved to have a poster for the tour, but none existed. The only other thing for sale was the debut album which I already own in multiple versions.


The band opened up with new single, "Don't Delete The Kisses", which was the most mellow song of the night. (I shared this song in my previous blog post.) They transitioned into "Bros", which is in the bottom third of Wolf Alice songs, but was much heavier and interesting live.

The most exciting, energetic, and chaotic (controlled chaos) part of the set came next, with "You're a Germ" and the first single off Visions of a Life, "Yuk Foo." Both of these songs were made for live performance, as they are sing-a-longs and intense. Here is a performance of "You're a Germ" from 2016 that gives one an idea about how the crowd reacted last night:



"Lisbon" was 5th, and since first hearing it a couple years ago, I knew it would be a strong live track with its dynamics. I had researched setlists before attending, so I knew the title track from Visions of a Life would probably be next, and I was prepared to film it (below). As you will see, it is long, epic, and has the band branching into even newer, heavier territory.

\

My favorite Wolf Alice song, "Your Loves Whore" followed, and it gave me chills. I wasn't sure they would play it as they have only done so at about half their tour dates this summer. "Blush" followed, the lone inclusion from their older EP's. More fans filmed this song than any other last night, and I have always thought that this song would be a better opener on My Love is Cool than "Turn to Dust" is. Edit: found a video of "Blush" filmed from another fan at the Pittsburgh show (below)



The ninth and tenth songs in the set were two more new tracks, and had the band branching out into even broader territory. The strength of this band has been variety since the beginning, and as the band matures they are somehow even becoming more diverse. Both of these new songs are fairly brief, and "Beautifully Unconventional" sounded so much different than most of the bands songs that in my notes I wrote "cover song?" (It isn't.) I didn't know the name of "Formidable Cool" until this morning when I Googled the lyric that Ellie repeated, "I knew it was all an act!"

"Silk" is one of the most unique songs the band has recorded, mostly quiet, but builds to an explosion of sound and gorgeous harmony. The final third of this song is my favorite one minute of music the band has released. "Fluffy" followed, another one of my least favorite songs from the band, but is far better in the live setting as it is another sing-a-long and really gets the crowd moving.

Besides the new songs, the song that most impressed me from the show was "Giant Peach", the final song in the set before the encore. The song was radically better live, and was so freaking heavy! I forget about the song when listening to the album, but if I am fortunate enough to see Wolf Alice play again, it is probably the song I will look forward to the most; it shook my bones! Here is a great performance of it I found on YouTube, but every time I see music live I remember one of the most important parts of the experience: not only do I hear the music, I feel the music.



The band returned to the stage for a one-song encore, "Moaning Lisa Smile". This was the band's primary single from their debut album, and once again not my favorite, but once again translated well to the live setting. The band interacted with the crowd more on this song, and it was a ton of fun:


July 12, 2017

New music to listen to this week: Lo Tom, Waxahatchee, Wolf Alice, Jeremy Enigk & more

2017 continues to be a surreal year in music for me. At this point there might already be 10 albums that have been released that surpass my favorite from 2016. I hope to write more in-depth analysis at some point, but for now I'll just continue to share...

Lo Tom (Bazan/Martin/Walsh/Many) officially releases this Friday, but vinyl has already arrived and the LP is streaming in full on Stereogum:



Waxahatchee's new album also drops on Friday, and is streaming in full on NPR. I can't embed it here, but here are the couple songs that are on Bandcamp right now, and the rest will show up on Friday. This could end up being my #1 of the year depending on what Wolf Alice does...


The second single off Wolf Alice's September album was released last week, and it is phenomenal. The first two tracks couldn't be more different. I am seeing them play tomorrow in Pittsburgh, the most excited I have been for a show in years...


The third and final single from the new Manchester Orchestra album, which comes out later this month; it is more rock than the first two, but all three show tremendous maturity:


Another second track off a September album, Mogwai debuted a new song:


Soccer Mommy was a random discovery a couple months ago and the first couple of tracks from the August album are streaming on Bandcamp and fun:


Jeremy Enigk has a new album Ghosts coming in August, and while no studio tracks have been released yet,  this live performance for KEXP last week includes the new song "Ancient Road". The new song is the last one (starts about 16:00), following four songs from Return of the Frog Queen:


The new HAIM album is out! So good, and perfect for the summer. Here is a live song from SNL:








June 17, 2017

Top 15 LPs of the first half of 2017 and the best 15 still to come

This is a follow-up to my January post in which I predicted the top 30 albums that would be released in 2017.

Top 15 albums of 2017 released as of June 17:

1. Allison Crutchfield- Tourist in this Town


2. Eisley- I'm Only Dreaming


3. The New Pornographers- Whiteout Conditions


4. Overcoats- Young


5. Spoon- Hot Thoughts


6. Charly Bliss- Guppy


7. Big Thief- Capacity


8. The Shins- Heartworms


9. football, etc.- Corner


10. Cayetana- New Kind of Normal


11. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister- Planetarium


12. Jesca Hoop- Memories are Now


13. Wild Pink- Wild Pink


14. David Bazan- Care


15. Deb Talan- Lucky Girl

Top 15 albums that will definitively be released in the second half of 2017:

1. Wolf Alice- Visions of a Life


2. Waxahatchee- Out in the Storm


3. Manchester Orchestra- A Black Mile to the Surface


4. Rainer Maria- S/T


5. Jeremy Enigk- Ghosts


6. Stavesacre- MCMXCV
(first track from crowd-funded release has been shared with supporters only)

7. Mogwai- Every Country's Sun


8. Lo Tom- S/T


9. HAIM- Something to Tell You


10. that dog.- TBA


11. Arcade Fire- Everything Now


12. Stars- TBA


13. Emily Haines- Choir of the Mind


14. Ratboys- GN


15. Fleming and John- TBA


June 7, 2017

New songs to listen to this week and one to avoid

Wolf Alice

No music from it yet, but Wolf Alice has a new album coming very soon and they are previewing one track at a time through lyrics and images on their social media accounts. In January I wrote that a new Wolf Alice album had the potential to be my #1 album of the year.


 Waxahatchee  



 Rainer Maria  



Alvvays  






Prophets of Rage (Warning: explicit lyrics. But the song is important in today's political environment and the word, while offensive, is used appropriately.)