Monday, October 20, 2008

What's in the Bin? - October 19th, 2008

One of the sheer joys of being in an indie record store is browsing the bins. Just starting somewhere, flipping through things, pulling out items that catch your eye, giving a few of them a test spin. So in the second of a hypothetical series, I've decided to browse the "New Arrivals" bins here at Twist & Shout, pick out a few things, and give them a listen. The nature of used record stores being what it is, I can't promise these items will still be in the bin by the time you get here. But hey, browse the bin anyway. You might find something else of worth.

CD - They Might Be Giants - Apollo 18
Not one of this geek-rock band's well-remembered CDs, probably because it didn't spawn a hit like "Don't Let's Start" or "Birdhouse in Your Soul." And you can probably blame the lyrics - this may be the last time that the Giants were so...out there. But this isn't a CD to be avoided - not by any means. Because whether the band sings about dead people intruding on everyday life in "Turn Around," the biology lesson "Mammal," or the food-related stream of consciousness that is "Dinner Bell," they're delivered with such catchy hooks and great instrumentation that you actually find yourself singing along by the second (weird-ass) chorus. Mixed in with these twisted pop songs are a few quickie bits of calculated oddness ("Spider," "Hall of Heads") which will get you ready for the suite "Fingertips." There, the band quickly runs through twenty-one fragments that were never fleshed out into full songs. So one after another, you get ten-second intriguing tidbits like "Come on and wreck my car" and "What's that blue thing doing here?" The band has said they envisioned "Fingertips" as "the sort of thing you hear during a late-night commercial for Connie Francis's Greatest Hits." Be that as it may, it does make listening to the CD on "shuffle" a truly interesting experience, as all the various "bits" of "Fingertips" are assigned a separate track.

CD - Various Artists - Pure Reggae
Many of us are interested in expanding our musical palettes, but the difficulty usually is "Where to start?" Many people have a modest interest in reggae, but once you pick up a copy of Bob Marley's Legend (or the soundtrack to The Harder They Come), where to next? It's impossible to sum up a genre on one CD (or even a hundred), but this disc does a good job at giving a quick overview. It opens and closes with a couple classic Bob Marley songs - "Stir It Up" and "Exodus" - which should help set the mood for the entire set. Many well-known reggae and reggaesque songs are here - Eric Clapton's take on "I Shot the Sheriff," Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue," Inner Circle's "Bad Boys." There are several undoubted reggae classics - Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross," Desmond Dekker's "Israelites," Lord Creator's "Kingston Town," and "Rivers of Babylon" by the Melodians. Rounding out the collection are more modern (and, to my ears, lesser) numbers by Aswad, Apache Indian and Big Mountain. The disc doesn't flow all that well - you may as well listen to the thing on shuffle - but it does do a good job at providing a "big picture" overview of the genre. Presumably, after listening to this a few times, you not only will know whether you want to continue exploring reggae, but perhaps in which direction. And for that alone, it's worth picking up.

45 - Art of Noise - "Legs/Hoops and Mallets"
"Peter Gunn" was still a few months away when the Art of Noise released this as their first single after leaving ZTT Records. If ever there was a "standard" Art of Noise single, this may be it. A walloping drum sound, a catchy bassline and hook, and minimal vocals (just various readings of the word "legs") combine into four minutes of dancefloor fun. The B-side "Hoops and Mallets" is basically a simple tick-tock beat, with a repeating bassline and an occasional keyboard "wah" on top. Various sounds and a sampled "Couldn't sleep at all" (from Bobby Lewis's "Tossing and Turning"?) add a bit of color. And that's it. But listening to two sides back-to-back, the song makes a bit more sense. As a band that didn't write songs so much as assemble sounds into what passed for songs, the Art of Noise's creative process was somewhat different than most. They'd start with something simple - a rhythm, a beat, a sound. They'd add things, tweak things, take things out. And eventually they'd end up with a "song." Keeping that in mind, "Hoops and Mallets" changes - it's now the "Legs" beat pushed in a different direction, slowed down a tad, different things added. "Legs" from a parallel universe, perhaps. Maybe it was a hit there.

- Mondo Gecko

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