Category Archives: The TVD Storefront

Graded on a Curve:
P.J. Proby,
Three Week Hero

When it comes to bizarre, eccentric, and just flat-out inexplicable rock stars, it’s hard to top P.J. Proby (aka Jett Storm, aka Orville Wood, birth name James Marcus Smith), the wild Houston-born master of vocal histrionics who never made much of a dent in the American pop charts, but was (and still is) a legendary figure in English music circles. I’d heard the name, but I never thought to check Proby out until Ian Hunter, in his Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, called him, “The ace punk of all time,” adding, “His own worst enemy, so what. P.J. Proby’s the greatest—he’s a fuckin’ pirate in this world of drudge. Wherever you are P.J., the world needs you now.”

Those words were written way back in 1972, but the world still needs P.J. Proby, because if there’s one thing he isn’t, it’s predictable. Over the course his 50-plus-year career Proby has released more outrageous—a word that hardly does his schlock-ridden catalogue justice—songs than perhaps anyone in the history of rock, and he has proven over and over again that there’s nothing he won’t do for a hit, or because he just fucking feels like it.

Proby began his career in the late fifties under the name Jett Storm, but both his acting and singing careers stalled in his own country so he set his sights on England. There he changed his stage name to P.J. Proby, perhaps because England already had a Rory Storm, who in a weird coincidence also briefly adopted the stage name Jett Storm. And before long Proby found himself a bona fide pop star with a series of saccharine, string-laden hits, including overwrought versions of “Somewhere” and “Maria” from West Side Story. He also appeared on the 1964 Beatles TV special and was given a song by Lennon and McCartney that they’d intended to include on “Help!” but could never get quite right.

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Mia Dyson,
The TVD First Date

“I distinctly remember the smell of trawling through my parents’ record collection throughout my childhood—the slightly musty, old paper flavour of discovery.”

“I thought Howlin’ Wolf must be the coolest guy to have a record cover that just said ‘This is Howlin’ Wolf’s new album. He doesn’t like it. He didn’t like his electric guitar at first either’. Who is this guy??—my 10 year old brain asked.

Growing up in Australia, so many of my favourite records were by artists who came from so far away and seemed so exotic and there was no internet for me to go find out every damn last thing about them and ruin the mystery. I love vinyl for that mysterious quality it embodies. It’s like the music and the artist live inside the wax, but you can never quite get a hold of them. You can have your moment with the needle but once the album ends, where does the music go?

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Graded on a Curve:
Mary Lattimore &
Jeff Zeigler,
Slant of Light

Mary Lattimore is a harpist of numerous credits and considerable ability. Jeff Zeigler is a busy recording engineer and capable multi-instrumentalist. On Slant of Light, due out next week via the venerable constancy that is the Thrill Jockey label, these two first-rate Philadelphians come together to produce a worthy duo statement. Abstract yet approachable while expansive and concisely focused, Lattimore and Zeigler’s successful collaboration is a solid effort holding promise for the future.

Ironically for an instrument that can be such a formidable beast to lug around, the harp’s long history has been dominated by delicateness of tone. Many have played it, including the appropriately-named Harpo Marx, naturally to his own tuning, as a few notables have sought to broaden its range; one of the more recent practitioners is Mary Lattimore.

Over the last five years or so Lattimore has been quietly chalking up a heavyweight list of collaborators. Amongst them: Fursaxa, Kurt Vile, Sharon Van Etten, Jarvis Cocker, Meg Baird, and Thurston Moore, whose 2011 solo LP Demolished Thoughts provided my introduction to the harpist. However, it was her membership in The Valerie Project that foreshadowed Lattimore’s eventual musical breadth.

Succinctly, The Valerie Project’s sole ’07 release was an alternate score to Jaromil Jireš 1970 Czech film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, an enduring cult movie derived from the 1945 novel of the same name by Jireš’ countryman Vítězslav Nezval. Comprised of ten Philadelphia-based musicians including Fursaxa leader Tara Burke and directed by Espers’ Greg Weeks, The Valerie Project is accurately assessed as a prime byproduct of last decade’s u-ground folk-rock experience.

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Surface Noise:
Martin Denny,
Quiet Village

Have you ever discovered a genre of music previously out of your range of musical vision and gotten a bit fixated? This very thing has happened to me on more than one occasion. I’ve gotten on “kicks,” whether it was early country, reggae, or Norwegian black metal. I come across a style of music and become enthralled, and for a while I need to immerse myself in it. Once again, i found myself flipping through records during my weekly pilgrimage to Som Records in DC. I spotted a record, and suddenly it was 1996 all over again.

In 1996, I was working at the gone but not forgotten Tower Records. Capital Records released the first of many highly successful CDs in what was called the Ultra Lounge series. I popped the disc in the store’s stereo system late one night and was amazed at what I had just discovered. Artists like Lex Baxter, Yma Sumac, Martin Denny, and more all finding fascinating ways to invoke a mood.

The timing was right for this release—lounge music was enjoying a resurgence, influencing modern acts like Combustible Edison and Japan’s Pizzicato Five. Lounge music was featured in soundtracks to movies like Swingers and Four Rooms, and suddenly what was disregarded for years as “easy listening” was cool again. Capital saw the opportunity and took it, releasing over twenty volumes of Ultra Lounge, plus special editions and multiple Christmas albums.

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Graded on a Curve:
God Help the Girl, OST

Many song-based soundtracks aren’t much more than just a clump of tunes the director happened to like. The God Help the Girl OST however is impossible to pry from the movie that gave it life, in this case a full-fledged musical crafted by Belle and Sebastian principal Stuart Murdoch. Both the film and its 2LP counterpart are imperfect specimens significantly bettered through stylish daring.

God Help the Girl began in the midst of last decade, an endeavor matching Stuart Murdoch’s songs to female vocalists Catherine Ireton, Celia Garcia, Brittany Stallings, and others as Belle and Sebastian served as backup band. Along with some singles a self-titled LP was issued in ’09; many of those songs figure in Murdoch’s recently released film of the same name, now sung by actors Emily Browning, Olly Andersen, and Hannah Murray.

Talk of God Help the Girl as an exercise in unbridled twee is greatly overstated. To wit, this version of “Act of the Apostle,” like the original found on Belle and Sebastian’s ‘06 LP The Life Pursuit, is nearer to yé-yé and ‘60s TV variety show lushness than to the fragile innocence of twee; amidst boldly arranged strings/horns the guitar and Browning’s voice gradually blossom into a decidedly sophisto-mainstream affair complete with big leg-kick theatrics effectively highlighting Murdoch’s Musical conception.

By contrast, “I Dumped You First” offers acoustic strum and Alexander’s vocal accented by backing shouts and handclaps; it’s a likeably humble little number but more importantly is exactly the sort of ditty, both in style and value, that Alexander’s character would pen and perform in the context of the film (in real life he’s part of the band Years & Years).

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TVD Ticket Giveaway: Orenda Fink in the city and venue of your choice

“When I was growing up in the Fink household, once the sun began to set, it was time to party. The conversation and laughter (and beer) would begin to flow freely as my mother prepared elaborate home cooked southern meals.”

“We would gravitate and orbit her like the sun, my father and sisters and I. So naturally, the kitchen was where we kept the record player and hifi. The backdrop to these nightly parties was always music. Loud music. Bluegrass, old country, rock and roll. The later it got, the louder it got, as records were passed from hand to hand. These records—studied, revered, and sometimes even hated—were the soundtrack to my childhood.

I’m not sure that anyone has had that experience with my records, but it is important to me to make sure they are released on vinyl just in case. Because there are some things that an MP3 can never be, and one of those is family.”
Orenda Fink

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Needle Drop: Olivia Henry, “Forbidden”

Olivia Henry’s seductive neo jazz is exactly the kind of blue-eyed-soul needed to get the soirée started. Sounding like a cross between Sara Bareilles and Erykah Badu, Olivia scats and powders her songs with colorful vocals and kittenish lyrics while her A-List band fills in the groove with Dap-Kings-esque excellence.

Henry dishes out her new single, “Forbidden” like a songbird plucked from the Jazz Age—primed for the sexually liberated millennium. It is a fascinating play on a retro aesthetic that reaches back, past the reformatted sounds of Lana Del Ray and Amy Winehouse, grabbing rich musical threads from the roaring twenties. The track itself, recorded in pristine high definition, filters the past through electric rock distortion and hard-hitting hip hop drums. It is an intoxicating brew that lends the flirtatious lyrics a more modern backdrop.

“Forbidden” is off Olivia’s debut, “Sessions” which was recorded with renowned British producer Chris Hughes. With Olivia providing the raw material in the form of smart, well-crafted songs, Hughes milks Henry’s classically trained voice into a stunning 4 song EP awash with sexy and nostalgic R&B—with just the right amount of edge to translate into the language of mainstream pop.

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Silver Ships,
The TVD First Date

“Music was my first true friend and my longest running.”

“I was always a little kid who felt different and had a lot of trouble getting along at school. Maybe first grade I found my friend in a stack of wooden fruit crates that held a collection of what looked like a whole library of little golden books showing their worn spines to curious eyes. I pulled them out one at a time and looked at how they were made. Some opened and even had pages, just like the little books I knew. Some had bizarre images, some were just pictures of people.

The black disc was obvious, I’d seen them in old Betty Boop cartoons. I put one on I was sure was a kids record. The band had bright-colored coats, there were flowers all over the cover. It was Sgt. Pepper. I found all the power buttons and put the needle on the album. It sounded like madness. There was screaming, words that confused me and weird different things coming from each side of the headphones.

It scared me but I had questions. I wanted to know how things work and had a history of taking things apart and this music thing was no different. I tried to imagine how they made these sounds, what instruments could possibly sound like this. I kept pulling records and trying to figure out what made the music tick. I’d do this anytime I thought I could get away with it.

Eventually I grew older and I would share what I found on these records with my parents, as if they had never heard their own records before. I felt like this music belonged to me. I didn’t hear it at school and I didn’t hear it on the radio. I’d go to thrift stores and record shops and buy things if I recognized a label or band member’s name, or if it had a cool cover and go home and discover something new all over again. Tapes were not cool at school anymore. I needed a CD player to avoid peer ridicule, but at least there were a lot of cool re-releases I could find easier now.

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TVD Premiere: Gareth Dickson, “Jonah”

Gareth Dickson treads a similar sedative sound as acoustic wunderkind Nick Drake; deep and dreamy vocals paired against dissident finger picked melodies in strange tunings. Dickson achieves this otherworldly sound with a quiet confidence that possibly stems from touring the world with such luminaries as Vashti Bunyan, Devendra Banhart, Coco Rosie, David Byrne, and The Incredible String Band.

Progressive without coming off as pretentious, Gareth’s new single “Jonah” wanders through several odd tempos into a deep sea of heavenly ambience. His vocal and guitar work are executed with a perfected weirdness that is both hypnotic and familiar. When the final strums of the song echo into the ethers, an intimate crowd is heard clapping in the studio—a reminder that “Jonah” is from Dickson’s new live album entitled Invisible String.

Invisible String is the follow up to 2012’s Quite A Way Away which found some substantial success within niche, experimental circles. The new live set was recorded in Istanbul, Caen, and Reims during the 2012/13 tour for Quite A Way Away and is imbued with the romantic and haunting nature of traversing the old world with new eyes.

Our full review of Invisible String is here.

Gareth Dickson Official | Facebook

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Graded on a Curve:
Helluva Band

My favorite story about Angel, Washington, DC’s glammed-out, all-white spandex retort to Kiss, which seemed poised for superstardom in the mid-seventies (giant billboards on the Sunset Strip, selection by the readers of Circus magazine as the Best New Group of 1976, and tours of the great American arena circuit with the likes of Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult, Journey, and Rush) is pure Spinal Tap.

The band, with some major financial backing from Casablanca Records mogul Neil Bogart, had developed one of the most elaborate stage shows in rock, a fantasia of smoke, magic, and mirrors that led one wag to suggest that the band might be better off staying home and sending its props on the road. One gimmick involved the band appearing magically on stage one by one in puffs of smoke, to be introduced by the face on the giant Angel logo—which none other than Ian MacKaye pointed out to me is ambigrammatic, meaning it reads the same when turned upside down as when viewed normally—that served as the band’s backdrop.

One night, as Punky Meadows, Angel’s guitarist and the most androgynous pretty boy in a band full of androgynous pretty boys, told me: “Of course, all we were doing was coming up through trapdoors from beneath the stage. Well, one night, the big talking head introduces [drummer] Mickie Jones, and Mickie isn’t there. We’re looking at each like, ‘Where the fuck’s Mickie?’ Turns out his trapdoor got stuck. And all those stoned kids in the audience are going [Meadows sucks on an imaginary joint], ‘That’s really weird, man…'”

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