A selection of some of the finest legacy albums released in 2021, sorted in alphabetical order.
The Beatles – Let It Be 50 Anniversary Edition (Universal)
A selection of some of the finest legacy albums released in 2021, sorted in alphabetical order.
The Beatles – Let It Be 50 Anniversary Edition (Universal)
Jason Molina – Eight Gates (Secretly Canadian)
This article was first published on November 17, 2015. This piece also serves as a loving memory of Neal Casal who sadly passed away on August 26, 2019. Forever love, Neal. Thanks for all your music.
GospelbeacH might be a new acquaintance, but there’s something warmly familiar about them.
Led by singers, guitarists and songwriters Brent Rademaker and Neal Casal, and featuring guitarist Jason Soda, bassist Kip Boardman and drummer Tom Sanford, the band includes members of beloved acts Beachwood Sparks, The Tyde and Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. Just like the music itself, this prestigious collective defies the boundaries of time and style.
GospelbeacH takes us down on a warm and wonderful journey where breezy songcraft meets sunny harmonies, somewhere along the same ways The Flying Burrito Brothers, Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield once tread.
Their recently released debut album, Pacific Surf Line – referring to the replacement of the once-mighty steam engines of the Santa Fe Railway by the modern Pacific Surfliner that now traverses the Southern Californian coastline – forges five creative forces into one steamrolling train of cosmic American music.
We hooked up with Rademaker and Casal for this offbeat Q&A.
* * *
What’s the first thing you thought about this morning?
Brent Rademaker: Why did they try to make 12 Monkeys into a television show?
Neal Casal: Are there waves today?
What’s the best gift you ever received?
Brent: This year my wife bought me a Martin acoustic guitar. Materialistic, yes, but it was my birthday and it came from her so it’s the best hands down.
Neal: A job in GospelbeacH
Who were your musical heroes growing up?
Brent: Chicago, Kiss, Maynard Ferguson and my dad.
Neal: Brian Jones, Randy Rhodes, Sly Stone, Kate Wolf.
In case of fire, what three things would you rescue?
Brent: My wife, my dogs and my Martin.
Neal: My Gibson J-50, my Leica M-6 and my Source 9’10 longboard
Name an album, artist or experience that changed your perspective on music?
Brent: Gram Parsons.
Neal: Peace And Love by Ras Michael and The Sons of Negus
Most unlikely album, song or artist that inspires your own music?
Neal: Aerosmith’s Draw the Line.
Best new song you recently discovered?
Brent: “Something to Believe In” by Tall Tales and the Silver Lining
Neal: “Mrs. Gristle’s Reel” by Nathan Salsburg
Can you share a fun fact about your new album?
Brent: We recorded the name “Lompoc” by over-pronouncing it “Lom-Poke,” and then “Lom-Pock,” as it seems there is some controversy about just how the California city’s name is pronounced. The correct way is “Pock” but the locals say “Poke.” We sing it both ways in concert… oh well.
Neal: We honestly had a good time making it and we’re still friends after it was finished.
Explain your music to your grandparents?
Brent: It’s like what they played on the jukebox at Garbers Tavern in Emden, Illinois in 1974.
Neal: I’m guessing they would have dug it.
What’s your favorite activity besides music?
Brent: I enjoy writing these days.
Neal: Making photographs.
What’s your greatest fear?
Brent: Fear itself.
Neal: Running out of half & half.
What’s a place you’ve never been that you want to go?
Brent: The Bahamas.
Neal: India. I’d like to hear Indian classical music at its source.
What’s your favorite piece of gear on stage?
Brent: I love my thick curly black Vox guitar cable because Mick Jones had one just like it.
Neal: My tuner.
Can you share the recipe to your favorite dish.
1/2 avocado (not too ripe)
1 slice of sprouted grain bread
1 pad of butter (optional)
1 pinch of course sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
apply butter (optional)
spread and smash avocado onto toast
crumble salt and drizzle olive oil
Neal: Capn’ Crunch and milk.
And finally, describe your music as if it were in physical form.
Brent: A red, white and blue vessel full of a golden flowing effervescent magic liquid that brings instant joy to everyone. Oh, wait, that’s a can of Miller Lite… yeah that!
Neal: An eraser.
This interview was first published on May 27, 2016
Following up on their infectious 2013 debut, Toronto’s punk-rock foursome PUP has just unleashed their sophomore full-length. The Dream Is Over (SideOneDummy) is already hailed as ‘one of the most unapologetically over-the-top punk albums in recent memory’ (Sputnikmusic) and ‘more unhinged, louder and much more direct than ever’ (Punknews).
Dealing with straining relationships and a sense of adult disillusionment, The Dream is Over is channeling their energetic and catchy tunes into a raw and honest account of real life.
“I think that a lot of people in their mid-20’s start to feel this sense of disillusionment – realising that maybe life isn’t going to turn out exactly as you’d pictured it. I love touring and playing music more than anything in the world”, says singer and guitarist Stefan Babcock.
“But there’s also this realisation that maybe the romanticised version of this lifestyle I’d imagined 10 years ago has little or no relation to the actual experience. I used to dream about this shit when I was a kid. But I never dreamt about the bad days – waking up in a Walmart parking lot in a van full of dudes, and thinking ‘Fuck, I’m 27, broke, and lonely. What am I doing?’
Opening track “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” is a perfect picture of their current state, on an album packed with songs that bear the marks, bruises and scars of the realities of their experiences, as well as it also captures the sheer joy of their journey. It’s one hell of an album, and we invited drummer Zack Mykula for an Off/Beat Q&A:
What’s the best gift you ever received?
Either the original Ghostbusters playhouse, or the gift of having two Christmases due to my parents’ divorce.
The advice you wished someone would have given you.
“You’d better get a job where you’re allowed to hide your face, son. Cause your particular brand of ugly haunts the senses like the smell of a living dog turd smoking a cigarette.”
Describe your earliest memory that made you want to become a musician.
When I was young (about 3 y/o), and my parents would get sick of my yammering, they’d stick me in the back room with pots and pans and spatulas and I would let fly. Obviously, it sucked for all concerned – but I loved it.
Most unlikely band/artist/song that inspires your music.
What’s the first thing you thought this morning?
“I need an illegal amount of coffee”
If you weren’t an artist – what would you do?
Make beer / drink that beer / repeat / be on a waiting list for a new liver.
What’s your greatest fear?
Falling while walking up concrete steps and shattering my teeth, irreparably.
A genre that you just don’t understand.
Vaporwave. It will be the music that plays while the machines rise up and turn us all into living batteries, putting our collective consciousness in a virtual reality simulation of a comfortable existence.
A book that you wish everyone would read.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Make up a fake story about the title of your new album.
“The Dream is Over” is actually “Dre A.M. is Over”, and it’s a concept album about the tragic cancellation of Dr. Dre’s new, critically lauded but criminally under-appreciated morning show.
This article was first published on April 22, 2016
Wire has had a huge influence on modern music, ranging from alternative rock (REM, Sonic Youth), hardcore punk to post-punk revivalists (Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party) and Britop (Blur, Elastica).
Since their inception in the days of punk, forming in London in 1976, Wire has constantly evolved and transcended musical trends almost like no other. Their first three albums, Pink Flag (1977), Chairs Missing (1978) and 154 (1979) are all rightfully considered post-punk masterpieces, and established Wire as a driving force in British art-rock setting them apart from both peers and influences. They had a five-year hiatus in the early 1980s, as well as a lengthy one in the 1990s. But as much as Wire constantly manages to reinvent themselves sonically, they refuse to call it a quits, and their previous studio efforts has been remarkably strong.
Wire have also managed to keep the core of the band more or less intact, still based around Colin Newman, (vocals, guitar), Graham Lewis (bass) and Robert “Gotobed” Grey (drums). Guitarist Matt Simms joined around 2010. Here, each band member has selected a life-changing album favorite.
Todd Rundgren – A Wizard, A True Star (1973)
“Life-Changing” is a difficult thing to be precise about, I experienced the Beatles (well the 60’s in general actually) in real time at an age when I was too young to have any cynicism and unable to understand the sub-text (but totally got the magic). David Bowie & The Velvet Underground soundtracked the moment when I started to have independent means, a rite of passage to adulthood, even if that was only from holiday jobs! And 1976/1977 would have sounded very different had the Ramones not existed. I could have chosen from any of those and many more but instead have gone for a record I bought in a sale in a record shop in Winchester when I was on my Art Foundation year.
Todd’s A Wizard, A True Star is a record that is hard to categorise. On one level it didn’t sound like anything else at the time (especially in its use of synthesizer) but on another level there’s quite a lot of him doing his blue-eyed soul thing and there’s even a cover of a song from the Wizard of Oz! The first side (which opens & closes with “International Feel”) ranges between peerless beauty, out & out silliness and virtual un-listenability all in pretty quick succession but it’s the way that the opening of “International Feel” grabbed my attention like nothing ever had before which has stuck with me. A synthesizer bong followed by the aural equivalent of something reaching escape velocity that opens out into a great keyboard riff over which a drum fill builds and then we are off. By the time the song segues into “Never Never Land” we are only 2:50 in and half of that length is intro & outro!
I didn’t really understand how records were made when I first heard this album but you could hear it wasn’t necessarily the sound of a band playing. There’s some kind of quality from it that you get from fiddling about in the studio which I felt drawn to. Rundgren is a great songwriter but not everything here qualifies as songs (and I mean that in a good way) plus there are at least 5 covers on this album. It’s bewildering and somewhat unexpected. There is a sense that although he’s serious about the work he doesn’t take himself even slightly seriously. As well as a songwriter Rundgren is also a great guitarist (& bass player) and a fantastic singer. He could have made a career out of any of those but chose instead to fiddle about in the studio and make something unexpected. What’s not to admire 🙂
Neil Young – After The Gold Rush (1970)
The album, I have chosen is After The Gold Rush by Neil Young released in August 1970, his solo commercial breakthrough.
I heard pre-released tracks first, late at night on Radio Luxemburg played by Young’s fellow Canadian DJ David Kid Jensen. I was knocked sideways by the album’s astonishing variety, wide emotional landscape and dynamic power… From the delicate love ballad “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” to the aggressive anti-racist rant of “Southern Man”, through the magic realism of “After The Gold Rush”. A passionate blend of melody and words, economically arranged, delivered unswervingly by Young and a band containing Stephen Stills, Nils Lofgren and Jack Nietzsche.
After the Gold Rush gave me thrilling, sustaining food for thought.
Robert “Gotobed” Grey:
Cream – Wheels of Fire (1968)
In 1968 when this came out, I would have been 17. I had their first two albums so already a Cream fan but this went way beyond what they had done before and it had a live half, for someone who had never seen a band live this seemed so exciting, especially as it had a 15 minute drum solo on it, what could be better, 15 minutes of pure drums!
Also “Crossroads”, I was not aware that it was a Robert Johnson song at the time it just had this raw, surging and driving sound.
This was definitely not pop music, trumpet, glockenspiel, tubular bells, cello, bizarre lyrics, “Pressed Rat and Warthog” recited by Ginger Baker.
Ginger’s drumming in general but especially on this affected me more than any other drummers it was so diverse, imaginative it just sounded like he would never run out of ideas.
GROUPER – Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill (2008)
This record contains a world for the listener to get happily lost in for ages; melodies emerge and dissolve, atmospheres come and go and the effect overall is very special. It was the first Grouper LP I’d bought but having since picked up all the others over the following years I feel all are essential listening.
It’s influenced me to have confidence in quiet and the combination of noise and beauty and to explore the creation of immersive sound over a side of vinyl.
This interview was first published on March 22, 2018
Sara Shook and her army of Disarmers made a huge impact with their critically acclaimed 2017 debut album Sidelong. Shook immediately got recognised for her uncompromisingly honest songwriting and strong, passionate voice. Rolling Stone called her “a natural-born punk in love with the brutal honesty of classic country” and No Depression honored her for “forgoing gender stereotypes, and offering her voice up as an unapologetic, take-me-as-I-am woman who won’t hold back.” Sidelong is made with a rowdy confidence superior to far more established acts, and Sarah Shook entered the spotlight as one of the most important new voices in new country music.
Like she’s been there all her life.
Now the North Carolina band are set to release their sophomore effort entitled Years. It’s being described as a move from getting people’s attention to commanding it, with sharpened songwriting, deepened sound and roll-up-your-sleeves attitude drawing inspiration from artists such as the Sex Pistols, Elliott Smith and Hank Williams.
We took the opportunity to chat with Sarah Shook about her coming album.
Hi Sarah! Congratulations with your new album on the way, we’re really looking forward to it. What do we get and what’s it about?
Thanks so much! Years will be out everywhere on Bloodshot Records on April 6th. We’re lookin’ at 10 new songs delivered with the same heart and punk resilience found on Sidelong.
So what was your initial idea for Years? Did you have a clear idea when you first started writing songs for them album?
I didn’t have a theme in mind on a conscious level, but in retrospect Years is a breakup album, written while still in the midst of the worst swings of the relationship with a few songs penned from my ex’s point of view. My songs are all based on personal experience, empathetic experience, and general impressions and observations about myself and others in my life.
Can you share some info about the recording process and working with this material in the studio?
We track everything live so the months leading up to the four day recording session were jam packed with rehearsals and pre-production fervor. There’s a special and intense connection within the band when the heat is really on and we’re all fully aware if even just one of us fucks up we have to start the entire song over. Tracking live captures that intensity and its sort of do or die sentiment.
What would be your preferred setting to ultimately enjoy the LP?
On a mountain in a hot tub with a handle of whiskey and my bandmates.
What can you tell about your background and your roots, and how do you think your upbringing has shaped your songwriting in any way?
Growing up poor has a way of making one tougher, smarter, and more resourceful, because you don’t have much of a choice. You can sink under the weight of poverty or blast out of it skyward like some kind of crazy phoenix.
I was homeschooled from 1st grade through 12th grade graduation and in a very sheltered environment you get to spend a lot of time alone with your thoughts; you tend to get to know yourself pretty well. Self awareness is a big deal.
How would you pair Years with a meal or beverage?
I don’t eat animals or animal products so I would have to go with some kind of killer vegan tacos I think. And definitely coffee, whiskey, beer, tequila, or Topo Chico, all acceptable beverage choices.
Comments on the political climate in the states these days, and does the current administration affects your songwriting in any way?
We’re in dire straits here in the states. A lot of issues are coming to a head and it seems like the two party system is imploding, people are angry on both sides and everybody needs to calm down, talk less, and listen more. We got a lot of work to do and we’re not gonna get much done when we’re treating legitimate issues (that have a palpable impact on real live actual human lives) like a pissing contest.
Which three albums would you bring and why (never mind the lack of electricity) if you were to spend a year on a deserted island?
Master Of My Make Believe by Santigold.
Passover by the Black Angels.
Nevermind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols.
And finally, if your music was a physical object what would it be?
It would be a big ass flag with a tiger on it. To unite all the tiger hearts around the world.
The Cramps | A Date With Elvis | Big Beat 1986 |
The last great The Cramps album, A Date With Elvis arrived five years after Psychedelic Jungle. It has far better production than their previous efforts, contains some of their finest tunes and is as raw, wild and wicked as you want The Cramps to be. They enjoyed a minor hit with “Can Your Pussy Do the Dog”, and the album also includes the single “What’s Inside a Girl”, the Eastern-tinged gem “Kizmiaz” and my personal favorite “Cornfed Dames”.
A Date With Elvis is a entertaining and highly exciting mix of sexual obsession, vintage b-movies, 50s rock ‘n’ roll, equally an homage to their heroes as an immediate classic in its own rights.
Treat Her Right | Tied to the Tracks | RCA 1989 |
I saw Morphine live once. It was in the mid ’90s in my college town, where they were like a super big deal at the time. Deservedly so I must say, the Boston-band sure made some good good good albums with just the right mix of hipster jazz coolness and alternative rock flavor. Until Mark Sandman tragically passed away from a heart attack in 1999, while on stage in Italy. Before Sandman started up Morphine, he was part of Treat Her Right (as was drummer Billy Conway) This is their second album, and they share many of the groovy, sexy elements we came to know from Morphine, but with a bit more focus on the blues rock side of things. I’m not the biggest fan of that part to be honest, but tracks like “Junkyard”, “Hank” and “King of Beers” sure got an irresistible swing. Revisiting this made me think that I never actually heard their debut album from 1986.
Greg Sage | Straight Ahead | Enigma 1985 |
Oddly enough I discovered Greg Sage a bit before Wipers. They were soon to become one of my all time favorite bands, but this was the gateway album. Straight Ahead was an astonishing effort in 1985, and it sounds as timeless and brilliant today. Arriving two years after Wipers’ iconic ‘Over the Edge’, this is a far more sparse, somber and acoustic piece of work. J Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr) later covered “On the Run” on his first solo album, and he expressed how “Straight Ahead sold me on the concept of acoustic guitar. I didn’t think too much about acoustic guitar before, but Greg Sage somehow made it ok.” The songs itself are not that far from Wipers’ modus operandi, especially present on the upbeat side 1, compared to more gloomy flip side. They’re equally brilliant to me, but I still got a soft spot for the depressive and gothic folk sounds of side 2, including “Astro Cloud,” and “World Without Fear.”
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds | Kicking Against the Pricks | Mute 1986 |
I was partly attracted, partly alienated by Nick Cave and his bad seeds. Unquestionably drawn into the dark world of cigarettes, seduction and sin, but also a bit scared off by the sharp dressed badasses as pictured here on the front and back cover. Nick Cave, Blixa Bargeld, Barry Adamson… I mean these were obviously someone not to mess around with. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds had an aura of the adult world; all I could do was peak inside.
I was already a huge fan back when I bought their third album is a collection of cover songs. It also taught me a thing or two about the American songbook, and I particularly fell for Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” made famous by Gene Pitney. But the whole album was just a treasure chest in my early days of music discovery.
Pixies | Doolittle | 4AD 1989 |
I bought Doolittle not too long after I’d purchased Surfer Rosa. It was a warm summer’s day in 1989, and it’s fair to say that Pixies made the soundtrack not only to that one but to basically every summer ever since. It’s been 30 of them down the line and counting, and it still fails to disappoint.
This is a perfect album in my book; the pop hits (“Here Comes Your Man”, “Wave of Mutilation”, “Monkey Gone to Heaven”), the noise blasts (“Tame”, “Crackity Jones”), the irresistible gems (“Debaser”, “Mr. Grieves”, “Gouge Away”, “Hey”), the whole album is so jam-packed with classics it even surpassed their debut (how is that even humanly possible). This meant something when you were 16-17 years old. Doolittle sliced my eyeballs wide open and made my heart explode into a thousand pieces. Still looking for ways to put them all back together again.
Government Issue | Crash | Giant 1988 |
I haven’t listened to Crash in ages, but it all comes back to me now. “Better Than T.V” was actually one of my teen anthems back in the days, and yeah, it still sound as sharp after 30 years. The whole album does, really, characterized with crisp production by guitarist Tom Lyle, great songwriting, and really tight playing all over. This album shows how eclectic and melodic GI became towards the end of their career, just check out “Connecticut” or the title track (lead vocal by bassist Jay Robbins, who later formed Jawbox). Government Issue (1981-89) are obviously of historical importance as one of the original hardcore punk bands, for being highly influential in the evolution of post-hardcore, and personally they turned me on to the whole DC scene. Singer and only steady member John ‘Stabb’ Schroeder died of cancer in 2016.
Imitation Life | Scoring Correctly at Home | New Rose 1988 |
I didn’t know much about Imitation Life when I bought this album in 1989, and I don’t know much now 30 years later. They were apparently based in Los Angeles, played pretty hard hitting, straightforward rock ‘n’ roll, leaning towards both power pop, jangle rock and pub/garage rock. Almost like a west coast equivalent to The Del Fuegos or The Replacements, they also share some similarities to the Aussie scene at the time (Sunnyboys, The Triffids, Died Pretty et al). On this, their sophomore album I believe, they included some great guests like Peter Case (The Plimsouls), Steven Roback (The Rain Parade) and John Easedale (Dramarama), and it’s fair to assume they were part of the flowering LA circuit at the time. Scoring Correctly at Home is not exactly a ’80s lost masterpiece, but it’s a good time all right, and front man and main songwriter Alan Berman sure had the skills to write a catchy tune or two. “Already Spoken For” and “Sad Man” are among the standout tracks here. Glad I got this one, and wonder what happened to Imitation Life.
Barracudas | Drop Out With The Barracudas | Voxx ,1982 |
It took me awhile before I realized this was not an American ‘60s group, but actually a British band way out of time. Drop Out With The Barracudas look and sound like something from the mid-’60s, but crosses many musical eras and geographical origins on its way.
The album cover presents four smiling young men in summer clothing and with surfboards under their arm, heading towards the eternal waves of the California beaches. The illusion is further substantiated by song titles such as “Summer Fun”, “California Lament” and “On the Strip”. But The Barracudas didn’t belong in the California sun, but in London’s dark underworld. In short: Front man Jeremy Gluck left home country Canada and Ottawa as 18-year-old, landed in the middle of the punk’s mecca in 1977 and started as a writer in Sounds. During a concert he met on the Swiss Robin Wills. They started a friendship based on a common retro-romantic interest in Beach Boys, Flamin ‘Groovies, Peebles records, surf rock, garage punk and flower-pop. And it was precisely this unforgettable cocktail Gluck and Wills mixed into what was to become The Barracudas. The band was formed in 1979, complete with a short-lived rhythm section consisting of David Buckley (bass) and drummer Nicky Turner. The Barracudas found a niche between the up side and the down side that proved to be strikingly effective, and they handled both with equal ability for razor-sharp songs without ending up as a novelty, retro act.
Great Plains | Colorized! | Diabolo 1989 |
Great Plains existed in the 1980s, formed in 1981 and disbanded in 1989, they released a couple really wonderful albums and EP’s – particularly their 1984 full length debut and near forgotten, near classic Born in a Barn. Great Plains went under the radar for most people, which is a huge shame because they were such a great, lovable band and in many ways indie rock pioneers. They should’ve been underground superstars for sure, but I guess their sound kinda fell between two or more chairs. They were clever and smart, and played some sort of lo-fi, new wave-folkish jangly garage punk. Lead singer Ron House’ (who went on to form Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments) high pitch desperate, joyous vocal style is an acquired taste, but certainly gave Great Plains a distinct flavor. When I listen to their songs today I can hear relations to local stars like Pere Ubu, and also The Soft Boys, Modern Lovers, The Clean, XTC, early Green On Red, The Feelies, Tall Dwarfs (actually, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if they hailed from New Zealand instead of Ohio).
I bought this album in 1989 without knowing anything about Great Plains really, but soon enough learned that ‘Colorized!’ was a greatest hits collection from a career without any major hits. Well, they sure became classics in my book, especially the personal favorite and organ fueled “The Way She Runs a Fever”, but also “Serpent Mound”, “Dick Clark” and of course their ode to president Rutherford B. Hayes. Oh yeah, Great Plains were something else indeed.
Meat Puppets | Mirage | SST 1987 |
The fourth full length from this beloved Arizona trio is a wonderful effort. For each album the Kirkwood brothers – and drummer Bostrom – continued to evolve from their punk roots and embrace a wider musical approach. Mirage is a sprawling album of psychedelic country and funky western, still remarkably coherent sounding and their most well produced album thus far.
Stuck between the landmark ‘II’ album and their commercial 1994 breakthrough ‘Too High Too Die’, it’s easy to ignore the complete Meat Puppets’ catalog from the 1980s. They are all semi-classics in my book, but since Mirage was my first Puppets album, I still have a special soft spot for this here baby. It’s a mirage from desert suburbia all right, an invitation to a different place. Nothing there to see, suddenly from nowhere, things that shouldn’t be. I’m still on the lookout.
Droogs | Kingdom Day | Music Maniac 1987 |
Droogs formed in Los Angeles back in the early 1970s, around the time when ‘A Clockwork Orange’ made a splash in the cinemas all over the world with ‘droogs’ being the dystopian gang of thugs as central figures. Droogs the band dropped several garage rock influenced singles in the 1970s, and made their album debut with Stone Cold World in 1984. By then bassist Dave Provost (The Dream Syndicate) had joined their ranks, and the band added some more dynamics and psychedelic flavor into their sound.
Kingdom Day is a raw, authentic document from a band with just enough layers of variation to stay interesting throughout a full album. Droogs never got the same attention as other contemporary LA acts at the time, but kept going strong for about 20 years after this one. They called it quits in the early 1990s, as yet another sadly under-appreciated band.
Alt-country progenitors and Paisley pioneers the Long Ryders recently dropped their first new album in 33 years, Psychedelic Country Soul. It’s a triumphant return to form and their finest effort to date.
The Long Ryders (formed in 1981 in Los Angeles) are often cited as the missing link between Gram Parsons and punk rock. They were closely connected with the ’80s Paisley Underground scene (the Bangles, the Dream Syndicate, the Rain Parade), and widely considered as one of the forerunners of the alt-country genre. With their full-length albums Native Sons (1984), State of Our Union (1985) and Two Fisted Tales (1987), the Ryders became critical darlings with a dedicated following — especially in Europe. The band decided to call it quits just as U2 asked them to open for them on the U.S. wing of their Joshua Tree tour. But now, more than 30 years later, The Long Ryders are finally back.
I spoke with frontman Sid Griffin about the album they always wanted to make, recording in Dr. Dre’s studio and the Paisley Underground scene. Plus, he graciously shares the story of the fabulous the Long Ryders — album by album.
How did you approach the songwriting and the recording process this time around?
Due to the Internet, we were able to demo all our song ideas and send them to each other. This proved crucial, as no one in the Long Ryders lives anywhere near another Long Ryder. Greg lives in Los Angeles, Tom lives east of Chicago, Stephen lives in Virginia on the East Coast and I live in Europe. So the Internet allowed us to learn the songs we decided to record long before we saw each other face to face.
We met in L.A. and had two days of rehearsals. Producer Ed Stasium wanted three rehearsals, but there simply was not time. In fact, Larry Chatman promised us seven free days in Dr. Dre’s studio and on the Wednesday I knew we were not going to finish in time, so I went to Larry’s office behind the band’s back and begged for an eighth free day. Which Larry graciously gave us.
The Long Ryders recorded as live as possible with everyone looking at everyone else in the big room at Dr. Dre’s studio. The Foo Fighters had been in there a few weeks earlier due to a malfunction at the studio at Dave Grohl’s house. It is a great sounding room and Dre’s engineer, Lola, was a big help, too.
There were some percussion overdubs at Ed’s home studio near San Diego by Greg Sowders, and Stephen overdubbed some keyboards in Virginia, but that was it. Ed mixed it at his home studio and BANG! The Long Ryders were back in the game.
Did you feel any kind of pressure making a comeback album like that?
No. Why would we feel pressure? I told the guys before we started recording, ‘If this album sucks, we do not put it out… simple as that.’ And the guys agreed with me. We also figured if we only cut half a good album we would put out an EP and if we only cut two or three good songs we would put out an Internet single or a Record Store Day single on vinyl and that would be that. So by knowing we were not going to release lousy or even mediocre product, we left with no real pressure on us at all.
You’ve said that this is the album ‘you’ve always wanted to make.’ What were you looking for in the first place?
The Long Ryders wanted Psychedelic Country Soul to reflect who we were, who we are now and how we got there. Hence Stephen McCarthy coming up with such a marvelously appropriate album title. What you read on the outside of the package is what you get inside the package with our music, dig?
And somehow this new album represents us, top to bottom, more accurately than any of our previous albums. One might think Native Sons is the definitive Long Ryders album, but this one is. It’s got it all: rough and ready rockers, two bittersweet ballads, some crazy, totally out-there psychedelia, country riffs, bluesy riffs, heartfelt vocals. It even has my dear friend Kerenza Peacock from the Coal Porters on violin sweetly sawing away and our old gal pals Debbi and Vicki Peterson from the Bangles adding the most ice-cool harmonies this side of the Beach Boys.
What more could a Long Ryder want?
Except being just a bit older and wiser, what has changed the most being in the music industry today?
The Long Ryders have seen the music industry change a great deal. We have noticed the consumer always, always, always goes for the ease of musical delivery and not the best sound quality. So Neil Young’s Pono and also WAV files are not that big a deal to the majority of listeners.
And while vinyl is on the rise, it and CDs or indeed any hard copy format will never again see the huge sales of the past. Not when a consumer can tap a few buttons and hear the music in seconds. Therefore most people have long dismissed going to a store to buy physical product, and that is a shame as record shops were such temples of community and bohemianism and fun.
A number of bands from the 1980s L.A. scene, also known as the Paisley Underground scene, have recently reunited and released new material. How did you relate to the term Paisley Underground back in the days?
Michael Quercio [of the Three O’Clock] coined the phrase ‘Paisley Underground’ in an interview with The L.A. Weekly back in the day, no one in the press thought of it. The real Paisley Underground is and always was the Salvation Army who became the Three O’Clock and of course the Rain Parade, the Bangles and the Dream Syndicate. No one else. You will note these are the exact four bands who are included on the recent Yep Roc album of Paisley Underground bands doing other Paisley Underground bands’ material.
Then the Long Ryders and Green on Red were included, which was nice. After all, we were all friends, we all knew each other, we all attended the other band’s gigs, and played music that was at least vaguely related to the other acts’ music. As time went on, True West, way up in Davis, California, were added to the Paisley Underground and Naked Prey out in Arizona were added to the Paisley Underground and then half of the 1960s-oriented guitar bands in southern California were Paisley Underground bands! It was really out of hand.
The camaraderie of the original four P.U. bands was diluted and then diluted further. Bands were called members of the Paisley Underground and none of us in L.A. knew who on earth they were.
So, originally, it was just the four bands I mentioned above and no one else. And yes, it was a real, organic thing and not some baloney created by the media. To this day, to this second, I am fond of all the bands above, very happy to be friends with them, and very aware how lucky I was to not merely be in a popular band but part of a popular, groundbreaking scene. One almost, I say almost, as influential as Memphis in 1954, Liverpool in 1963 or New York City in 1977. It was a wonderful time.
How would you describe the 2019 live version of the Long Ryders?
Technically, we are better than ever. I am as serious as a heart attack here when I say this. Stephen McCarthy on guitar is a genius player. I was there when Chris Hillman told Stephen he was the only guitarist he ever heard who played Clarence White’s riffs correctly! Tom Stevens is a brilliant bass player, the best bass player of my age group, the equal of Mike Mills. Greg Sowders on drums and me on whatever are audibly better players today than we were then.
Our playing and singing is better than ever, as is our songwriting, and you hear evidence of this on the new album, Psychedelic Country Soul. The Long Ryders remind me of a prizefighter making a very successful comeback. Oh, sure, the youthful dash and verve are long gone, true, but the technical know-how and cunning thinking that experience has blessed us with are present in great abundance.
I feel like we are only getting started!
And on that promising note, we will let Mr. Griffin guide you through their marvelous recording history, album by album.
This five-song EP came out in late 1983 and brought the Long Ryders immediate notice. Its success at college radio made us a band to watch and one that was considered influential right from the start.
The stark front cover caused heads to turn at The Gavin Report and Billboard, as the Long Ryders looked so unlike the synth-pop acts of the era. And our music was updated 1960s guitar rock & roll, with ‘roll’ as important as ‘rock,’ all due to the sweet production of Brian Wilson’s 1970s engineer Earle Mankey.
The pounding title track, the psychedelically mesmerizing melody of ‘And She Rides,’ and the Lovin’ Spoonful styled whimsy of ‘Born to Believe in You’ set out the parameters for the Long Ryders straight away. Yet it was Stephen McCarthy’s ‘You Don’t Know What’s Right, You Don’t Know What’s Wrong’ that became a signature song and a signpost pointing to Americana and alt-country, two phrases that did not exist in 1983 and that were not yet a musical genre on radio or in print.
In summer 1984, Los Angeles hosted the Olympics. The public was warned frequently about traffic gridlock. The Long Ryders found out A&M Studios was available at a rock-bottom rate, as there was concern no act would want to record during the tourist invasion of the summer Olympics.
Choosing the legendary Henry Lewy as producer (Joni Mitchell, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen), we moved into A&M Studios before Herb Alpert had time to deposit our check and started work. Psychedelia was toned down save the atmospheric ‘Close to the Light’ and country, bluegrass and Sun Records rock & roll was emphasized. ‘I Had a Dream’ made a great, great single in Europe and Elvis Costello signed us to his Demon label in London.
We were becoming an American answer to Rockpile, and soon Native Sons was the #4 album on the College Radio/Indie charts. Back then, this meant radio airplay, record sales and positive reviews in every newspaper in the country.
State of Our Union
Our March/April 1985 tour of Europe saw us greeted like Caesars returning to Rome after foreign conquest. We holed up in London’s Columbia Hotel as label after label visited us, each anxious to sign us and put us at the top of the charts. We went with Island Records’ London office as the great Nick Stewart, the man who signed U2, had the best rap.
We recorded in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, with Will Birch at the controls and Neill King engineering, both experienced music industry veterans. A cook was on hand to feed us our culinary requests and a large keg of beer was placed at our disposal. The recording went well, but mixing proved a chore with the first mix having hit technical difficulties. The album was remixed at R.G. Jones in south London by Neill King, Will Birch and I, the band having flown home as scheduled. Yet from this worrisome hassle emerged ‘Looking for Lewis and Clark,’ our pulsating signature song.
Two Fisted Tales
Back to A&M Studios in Hollywood, which was Charlie Chaplin’s old studio in the 1930s. Our producer was Ed Stasium (the Ramones, the Smithereens, Jeff Healey Band) and he crafted a radio-friendly record that did not sacrifice our Americana/alt-country principles one iota. Ed drilled us and rehearsed us like the U.S. Marine Corps, even down to deciding kick drum patterns. It was terribly exciting. I thought we were going to be the next R.E.M. by Christmas.
We were now with Island Records USA and those Noo Yawkers were thrilled when they heard what we had cut. NRBQ’s ‘I Want You Bad’ was the lead-off single with ‘Gunslinger Man’ a powerful follow-up release. Two Fisted Tales contains more Long Ryders songs that were covered by other acts than any other record we made. We were indie rock stars and Hollywood heroes in our L.A. neighborhoods. Life was sweet.
Psychedelic Country Soul
(Cherry Red 2019)
After thirty-three and 1/3 years (!) the Long Ryders returned with a brand new studio album, an album most fans are calling our very best one. On our last tour in 1987, we befriended Larry Chatman, a dear pal, and Larry never forgot it. Flash forward 30 years and Larry is now Dr. Dre’s main man. Larry offers us a week’s free studio time at Dre’s in L.A. as repayment for our helping him 30 years earlier. We immediately accept this extraordinarily kind offer.
Exchanging demos via the Internet, we decide which songs to record. Ed Stasium is back in the producer’s chair and the sound, the feel, the vibe of the record is largely down to him. We worked 16-hour days and accepted no visitors to the studio. It was time to live up to whatever legend had grown up around us in three decades, the Founding Fathers Of Alt-Country and so forth.
Vicki and Debbi Peterson from the Bangles sang on several songs. My dear friend Kerenza Peacock played violin like the world class virtuoso she is indeed. Featuring our best songs, each specifically written for this project, everyone brought their ‘A’ game. Psychedelic Country Soul is our best written album, our best sung album, our most thought-out album, and I think our best sounding album in pure sonic terms. It hit #1 in the UK’s Official Alt-Country/Americana chart shortly after its release.
I am very proud of it and very proud of the guys in this band.
My album collection, presented in chronological order from when it was bought from January 1988 – revisited one at the time. This is the first batch from 1989.
Jesus Chrysler | This Year’s Savior | Toxic Shock 1988 |
I knew next to nothing about Jesus Chrysler when I bought this LP, and can’t tell much more about them 30 years later. But now we’ve got Google. Not much is shared about Jesus Chrysler though, but they were from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, toured a bit with fellow Toxic Shock label mates Hickoids (more about them later), John Peel fancied their powerful tunes – and then they apparently disappeared at some point with this sole LP as their only legacy. There are no single hits here, but heck, this is one packed album of infectious songwriting, a good sense of humor and just about the right balance of hardcore punk and power pop. They used to be labeled as ‘hardcore pop’ by Toxic Shock – such a beloved label – and that’s just about right. (PS: Search led me to a Jesus Chrysler from St. Paul, but that’s a completely different band).
Elvis Hitler | Disgraceland | Restless 1988 |
Rockabilly punk from Detroit with lots of redneck humor, kinda like a mix of Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper and Nine Pound Hammer with a dash of The Cramps. ‘Disgraceland’ is one wild and ferocious ride, never too serious, and far less offensive than the band name suggests. Song titles like “Cool Daddy in a Cadillac” and “Hot Rod to Hell” says it all, and make sure not to miss “Green Haze” – a hilarious mash up of the lyrics to “Green Acres” with the melody of “Purple Haze”.
The Reivers | End of the Day | Capitol 1989 |
The Reivers made some of the finest southern pop of the 1980s, starting off as Zeitgeist a couple years earlier. ‘End of the Day’ is a warm breeze of an album, gravitating around the gracious interplay between singers and guitarists John Croslin and Kim Longacre. Not quite jangle pop, nor southern gothic, even if their name is taken from a William Faulkner novel. The Austin, Texas band created a lush, gentle and mature pop album here, timeless in style and tone. The album cover sets the mood; this is one for those long, hot summer nights out on the porch.
The Pogues | If I Should Fall From Grace With God | Pogue Mahone 1988 |
He was a drunkard that almost lost it all, but Shane MacGowan is also such a tremendous songwriter and The Pogues were an astonishing band at the height of their career. And never did they sound better than here – under the firm guidance of producer Steve Lillywhite. ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’ has it all; the wild fury from their live shows, brilliant lyrics, and some of their most memorable tunes (the Christmas evergreen “Fairytale of New York”, once perfectly nailed by The Guardian “as good an example as any of MacGowan’s unerring ability to locate the romance in ruined lives”). Also including the Middle Eastern tinged “Turkish Song of the Damned”, politically charged “Streets of Sorrow”/”Birmingham Six” and their epic Irish-American emigration anthem “Thousands Are Sailing.” This is a classic album from start to finish, and the finest The Pogues ever made.
Yo La Tengo | President Yo La Tengo | Coyote 1989 |
Third album from the band that has yet to release a bad one is a mini LP consisting of both studio and a couple live recordings (from CBGB’s). It’s a short one, 30 minutes long, but packed with their signature sound where hushed down indie gems meets noisy guitar excesses. This can be exemplified by side 2, with the mind-blowing and lengthy version of “The Evil That Men Do” and a sweet take on Bob Dylan’s “I Threw It All Away”. ‘President’ was my first encounter with a band that I’ve never tired of, always returns to and that continues to impress to this very day. After 30 years they’re like old friends, and in many ways they are. I still vote for them.
Violent Femmes | 3 | Slash 1989 |
Violent Femmes’ near perfect debut album turned out to be a blessing and a curse. Capturing the essence of youth with immediate and clever folk-pop anthems, the album is a forever classic that any band would have trouble matching. But all of their 1980s albums are actually well worth hearing, including this one, their fourth and awkwardly titled ‘3’. This time around, Violent Femmes returned to their stripped down roots, but with slightly less memorable songs than on their previous efforts. However, “Nightmares”, “Fool in the Full Moon” and hauntingly beautiful “See My Ships” and “Nothing Worth Living For” are great additions to their catalog.
Sidewinders | ¡Cuacha! | San Jacinto/Diabolita 1989 |
I’m pretty sure I bought Sidewinders right off the bat based on their Tucson whereabouts and close connections with Giant Sand and the folks down there. Rich Hopkins does excellent guitar work throughout the album, Scott Garber guested on bass and Eric Westfall was involved with the production. I also remember how I just fell for the band name, the cover art and the title. They spoke to me. It’s been awhile since I put this one on, but it still sounds so damn good. Sidewinders operated in a rather characteristic 80’s guitar rock landscape, not too far from the LA-scene and names like The Dream Syndicate, True West and The Long Ryders; a little bit jangle, a little bit dusty country-rock and a little bit blistering pop-punk. Back then bands could juggle around; try out different stuff while finding their way. ‘¡Cuacha!’ is packed with great tracks on both sides, side 2 is even better than the first, including a lengthy version of “What She Said.” Sidewinders later became known as Sand Rubies, and they’ve been involved in varied stuff over the years. Make sure to pick up their first album if you ever stumble upon it. Another lost classic from the 1980s.
Waxing Poetics | Manakin Moon | Emergo 1988 |
Waxing Poetics was (or is, I believe they’re still up & running…) a Virgina four piece leaning towards tight and catchy Southern indie/heartland rock (think House of Freaks, Drivin’ N Cryin’, The Del-Lords). For the sophomore album ‘Manakin Moon’ they cleaned up the sound and let the guitars rock harder and more prominently than on their power pop debut (produced by pals Mitch Easter and R.E.M’s Mike Mills) – a slight stylistic change you’ll notice on the back cover shot where all four are dressed up in black leather jackets. My favorites here are the solid, powerful ballads like “Father, Son & Ghost” and “Downstairs,” where the great voice of lead singer David Middleton really shines. The LP also includes a somewhat surprising (and good) cover version of Brian Eno’s “Needle in the Camel’s Eye”.
The Texas Instruments | The Texas Instruments | GWR 1988 |
Punks from Texas are something else, not being afraid to show off their eccentric preferences and cowboy roots. Just like the power trio The Texas Instruments. These guys sure know how to rock while staying true to their heartland hearts. Their first album is a great collection of songs, unpretentious no-nonsense style. If you like Meat Puppets, True Believers and Minutemen this is the missing link. The album includes a couple covers – Woody Guthrie’s “Do-Re-Mi” and Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”- that aren’t super necessary but adds some context to their sound. And works as reminder that it must’ve been a whole lotta fun to witness this band in their heyday. Their debut LP was originally released on Rabid Cat in 1986, this is the UK version dropped a year later – same cover and same songs. Produced by SST house producer Spot.
Cowboy Junkies | The Trinity Sessions | RCA 1989 |
Created in Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity, this album surely captures a holy spirit. Recorded with the band gathering around one microphone, the album is made up of truly wonderful originals and some equally great cover songs, including Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and Velvet’s “Sweet Jane.” Performing in a hushed tone, quiet vocals and gentle instrumentation, this is intimate music made in a big room revealing even the smallest of details. Most albums lose some spark after awhile, this one is not of them. The album sounded timeless already at the time of its release, and still invokes an otherworldly feeling. ‘The Trinity Sessions’ was released in Canada in 1988; this international was released a year later. Cowboy Junkies have continued to make great albums up until this day. Make sure to check up on their full catalog.
My album collection, presented in chronological order from when it was bought from January 1988 – revisited one at the time. This is the final round from 1988.
Green On Red | Here Come The Snakes | Red Rhino 1988 |
What comes after the blues? Green on Red went down to Memphis to figure it out, and teamed up with producers Jim Dickinson and Joe Hardy at Ardent. Only a duo at the time, leaving Dan Stuart and Chuck Prophet as core members, this album digs deep down in the American soil of country, blues and rock & roll and ends up somewhere between The Rolling Stones and Neil Young, where the three songs at the tail end of the album shines particularly strong. Here Come The Snakes might lack the youthful innocence and camaraderie of their previous efforts, but it sure adds another value. Something more severe.
The band members reconciled some years later, but dark shadows looms over Green on Red at this point in their career.
Various artists | Welcome to Comboland | Making Waves 1986 |
North Carolina must’ve been a joyous place to live in the 1980s, judged by the friendly atmosphere and cheerful indie presented on this compilation. Or perhaps it’s just a reminder of less cynical times, a time of less tension and a more laidback attitude. Or maybe it’s because of Don Dixon, being largely responsible for producing many of the bands presented here. His jangly signature sounds permeate the album of twelve artists from the state. The Connells are probably most remembered of these bands today, however, I urge everyone to grab a copy of this sampler. Just for you to enjoy forty-two minutes of Southern hospitality, including prime acts like Southern Culture on the Skids, Fetchin’ Bones and The Spongetones.
Naked Prey | Naked Prey | Down There 1984 |
The 1984 debut album from Tucson outlaws Naked Prey is a raw and ragged exploration of an acid drenched southwestern mythology at the crossroads of garage rock and country punk. Fronted by the one and only Van Christian, with lovely guitar work by David Seger. Produced by Dan Stuart, Steve Wynn and great cover shot by Scott Garber, this is a supergroup in my book.
Giant Sand | The Love Songs | Demon 1988 |
We are all things at different times. This album made such an impact on me that I convinced my pal to buy a ‘66 Barracuda. I still remember how we cruised down the road under a fingernail moon, while the pine trees transformed into cactuses, counting stars like neon lights from down the mud to way up sky. The car eventually got sold, but the The Love Songs still thrones up there as a one of my dearest favorite albums of all time. ‘Your passion is like world war three/my defense is a crumbling NATO.’ I mean, what’s not to love?
Jane’s Addiction | Nothing’s Shocking | Warner 1988 |
So, this was pretty mind-blowing stuff 30 years ago. It’s not quite as shocking today, but the cover art alone, the conjoined twins with their heads on fire, sets the tone for an ambitious and powerful album. Jane’s Addiction managed to unify punk, funk and metal into something cutting-edge and timeless. Nothing’s Shocking paved way for so much of the grunge craze to come, but this is smarter, more arty and engaging than most of them.
Thin White Rope | In the Spanish Cave | Frontier 1988 |
In the Spanish Cave is a tad brighter and varied than its predecessors. Ranging from almost joyous tunes (“Mr. Limpet”) to bulldozing guitar assaults (“It’s OK”), it features their most beloved song, the epic desert anthem “Red Sun.” In a thorough review celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013, The Quietus points out how they created an alien take on the unfathomable vastness of the American landscape and its effects on the nation’s psyche, and how they used this landscape, not as representing a sense of freedom, but as an area of something uncanny and unsettling, summing up the album as a “potent, fantastical window onto a malign new phase of the American Dream.” Needless to say, this is one of my favorite albums of all time.
Creedence Clearwater Revival | Cosmo’s Factory | Fantasy 1970 |
‘They’re selling independence/Actors in the white house/Acid in digestion/Mortgage on my life..’ With all their standards and ballads on daily adult radio rotation, it’s often easy to forget how insanely cool CCR actually was. “Ramble Tamble” sounds like something The Cramps and The Dream Syndicate could’ve cooked up together a decade later, with the breezy mid-section as one of this album’s standout moments. But there’s a lot more gold here; “Run Through The Jungle” and the lengthy “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” are particularly great – and most of the other songs are established as beloved rock classics.
Hüsker Dü | Candy Apple Grey | Warner 1986 |
Signing a band like Hüsker Dü on a major label must’ve been a rather bold move back in 1986. But in hindsight this was a prophesy of new times for American alternative guitar rock, and soon bands like R.E.M, Dinosaur Jr. and The Replacements moved from indies to major – without losing their former edge. The Hüskers was constantly developing from underground punks to something far more diverse and mature, and in many ways Candy Apple Grey is the culmination of a journey they’d started on with ‘Zen Arcade’ only two years prior. It’s nothing but amazing to look back at their astonishing intense production and rapid progression, and no wonder they were about to burn out and implode just a year or so later. Candy Apple Grey gives us some of their finest songs, including “Don’t Want To Know If You’re Lonely”, “Sorry Somehow” and acoustic “Hardly Getting Over It.” What a truly great band they were.
True West | Hollywood Holiday | New Rose 1983 |
True West belonged to a group of likeminded 1980s Los Angeles bands dubbed ‘Paisley Underground’, along with The Dream Syndicate, The Bangles, The Long Ryders, The Rain Parade and others. It’s a shame that they’re largely ignored today, cause not only were True West the quintessential paisley band, a missing link between ’60s garage rock, trippy psychedelia (they do a mighty fine version of Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam”) and Televison (check out “It’s About Time”), this album holds up very well compared to many of their peers efforts and is a lost classic of ’80s guitar rock. A little while ago I named Drifters (1984) their masterpiece, but after another couple of listenings to Hollywood Holiday I must reconsider that statement. Man, I’d completely forgotten what a tremendous album this is, from start to finish. I love the frantic guitar work between Russ Tolman and Richard McGrath on the almost Gun Club-like “I’m Not Here” and songs like “And Then The Rain” and “Throw Away The Key” would’ve been hits in the hands of R.E.M. Hollywood Holiday is produced by Russ Tolman (he later went on and made a great, still ongoing solo career) and The Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn. They knew each other very well as members of The Suspects, the short lived band they shared with Kendra Smith, later in the first incarnation of The Dream Syndicate and Gavin Blair, lead singer of True West.
Thin White Rope | Exploring The Axis | Frontier/Zippo 1985 |
Thin White Rope never really fit into the categories used to brand guitar dominated rock in the 1980s. They were too harsh to be labeled as jangle, too loud for the emerging alternative country movement and too dark to fit into the flowery Paisley Underground. Just as close to Television, Bauhaus and Joy Division than their more successful contemporary counterparts in ’80s American underground (R.E.M, The Replacements, Pixies), Thin White Rope’s desert psychedelia was a far more vast and difficult creature to cast. Out of time back in the day, they are timeless in hindsight. Thin White Rope immediately introduced their main modus operandi. The first song off their first album, Exploring the Axis, is something of a surreal country-noir story entitled “Down in the Desert,” about a guy called Karl who headed south and came back changed by his experiences in the desert. (“Karl came back and he works and he smiles/But if you look closely there’s still something scared in his eyes…”) Based out in the Northern California university town of Davis, Thin White Rope often returned to the desert as a recurring trope in their songs, both emotionally and musically. “Soundtrack,” from the same album, also laid a sonic foundation for what to come later; their ability to let an austere tune about alienation (“Windshields are like TV screens/I’m not involved at all”) explode into a ferocious assault as a sneering Guy Kyser goes full Mad Max (“She throws firebombs on the highway/Glass splashing and bushes burning”), revealing a band with a constant underlying rage – a beast they sometimes tamed, sometimes let loose.
Oh yes, they held us in a firm grip out on that ledge, but one also softened with beautiful melodies and a sense of melancholia and human kindness; elements that would be more prominent later on in their career.
The Dream Syndicate | Ghost Stories | Enigma 1988 |
Ghost Stories is the fourth and final studio full-length album from The Dream Syndicate, until they finally returned after a 30-year long hiatus in 2017. Fronted by lead singer and songwriter Steve Wynn, The Dream Syndicate managed to keep a consistent and recognizable style all through the 1980s, but every album has its own distinct personality: The untamed ferocity of the 1982 debut, an album they’ll always be measured against, the grandiose and ambitious sophomore show, and their underrated third album, when they came out of the grey with upbeat breeziness. Produced by Elliot Mazer, ‘Ghost Stories’ ties together all this greatness into an album that sounds better and rocks harder than ever before. Wynn once described the album to me as “dark, noisy, and bratty but its also quite self-assured and not undone by production – neither too little nor too much.” He forgot to mention that the songwriting is ace throughout, there’s not a weak track here and Ghost Stories is one mighty, classic slice of 1980s guitar rock. Just hear the opening verse and try to turn off: “Every cloud has a silver lining/Every down has an answer, I know/But in my heart there’s no light shining/Just emptiness and faded glow/Raining down on the side I’ll never show…”