Category Archives: The TVD Storefront

Graded on a Curve:
The Pretenders,
Learning to Crawl

A couple of days ago, I found myself doing something I haven’t done (no exaggeration) in years: dancing. I dervished about the apartment all by myself, like a lunatic, with the cat looking on from the safety of the bed, wide-eyed with eminent peril. I could tell the poor puss was thinking, “What the devil is he doing?” So I cried, “Listening to The Pretenders, you hairy little fool! And dancing!”

I would not call The Pretenders a great band, per se. A very, very good band, sure. Chrissie Hynde is an excellent songwriter, and has one of the most distinctive voices in rock. Unfortunately, like Badfinger, The Pretenders are just as famous for their tragically high mortality rate as they are for their music. During the 2-year hiatus between 1981’s Pretenders II and 1983’s Learning to Crawl, Hynde saw two band mates, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon, die drug-related deaths. Technically Farndon was no longer a Pretender—Hynde fired him shortly before he died—but still. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde on the subject of orphans, to lose one band member is bad luck—to lose two, sheer carelessness.

Hynde, an Akron, Ohio native, formed The Pretenders in 1978 in London, England, where she was working as a journo for NME and at SEX, the legendary fashion boutique of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. She received a record contract on the strength of a demo recorded with a three-piece band including Phil Taylor of Motörhead, then hired a permanent group including Honeyman-Scott, Farndon, and drummer Martin Chambers. The Pretenders’ first two albums included several hits; unfortunately, while the band was making its bones musically, it members were dropping like flies. By 1983’s Learning to Crawl 50 percent of the original group was dead, leaving just Hynde (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and harmonica) and Chambers. But rather than throwing in the towel, Hynde hired Robbie McIntosh on lead guitar and backing vocals and Malcolm Foster on bass and backing vocals.

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Passport To Stockholm,
The TVD First Date

“My first record shop experience was on my 8th birthday. My godmother used to give me double my age in cash each year—that year I was cash rich with £16 in my pocket and I knew exactly how I was going to spend it.”

“Earlier in the week I had heard an American band on Capital FM (then London’s biggest station)—that band was called the Goo Goo Dolls and the song in question was of course their seminal hit “Iris.” I remember being struck by the acoustic guitars and the vocal. I needed to have this song in my life.

So off I went with my mum to my local HMV (a chain of record shops here in the UK with an iconic logo of a dog sitting next to a gramophone—His Master’s Voice—sadly HMVs cease to exist now). Without really knowing what I was doing I just said to the nearest shop assistant that I was looking for the Goo Goo Dolls. “Singles or albums?” “I have £16?—albums.”

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Graded on a Curve:
4 x Liquid Liquid

In 1980s New York City Liquid Liquid hung at the crossroads of Downtown and No Wave but are more retrospectively notable for unwittingly laying the musical bedrock for an early rap hit and helping to pave the way for both the paradigm of post-rock and the new millennium’s indie-dance agenda. Superior Viaduct’s reissues of the group’s three EPs are hot off the griddle, as is an LP devoted to relevant prior acts Liquid Idiot and Idiot Orchestra. Folks needing all four can acquire them in a special-priced bundle exclusively from the label. Those looking to dabble can buy separately and in stores.

Featuring drummer Scott Hartley, bassist Richard McGuire, vocalist Salvatore Principato, and marimba specialist Dennis Young, Liquid Liquid announced their presence in 1981 with two EPs issued on 99 Records, a home to significant if initially neglected indigenous happenings of the period; Glenn Branca, Bush Tetras, Y Pants, and ESG were all documented on the influential venture of Ed Bahlman.

But not so fast; before Liquid Liquid’s formation the members were part of two related bands, the older of the two being Liquid Idiot. They formed circa the late ‘70s down New Jersey way at Rutgers University and migrated to Gotham to play gigs. The flyers for these events would encourage the audience to bring their own instruments and join right in, and at one of these hootenannies Dennis Young showed up, playing marimba from the floor.

Liquid Idiot recorded a 7-inch in McGuire’s living room while still in New Brunswick; offering loose, thoroughly non-pro art-inclined DIY totaling 15 minutes, its nine tracks spring from a framework of guitar and rhythm as clarinet, saxophone, and a cheap organ intermittently enter the fray. Favoring abstraction and repetition over melodious concerns, Liquid Idiot’s beginner’s stabs at free jazz/Trout Mask-era Magic Band/general avant-gardism are likeable if far from mind-blowing. Occasionally, the thrust’s comparable to the Los Angles Free Music Society.

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TVD Premiere: Oh, Be Clever, “River”

Oh, Be Clever’s latest electro epic is a majestic song about overcoming (sometimes potentially self-made) adversity—and we’re pleased to debut it today along with its free download.

“This song is about seeking validation in all the wrong places,” said Brittney Shields, the band’s singer and lyricist. She expounds on this theme over a booming production orchestrated in tandem with the duo’s other member, Cory Scott Layton. A long outspoken advocate for mental health awareness, Shields is refreshingly open and honest about feelings of depression and anxiety. “When we wrote this I was very insecure. I’d do almost anything to get someone to like me. It’s about the feeling you get when you come to terms your flaws and let go of the baggage holding you back.”

While it was from this place that Shields began composing the words of “River,” she did not want to limit its import with a narrative arc, or worse, with an explicit declaration of meaning. She noted that the song starts from a premise, “River is about accepting your flaws and living happily with them.” The band, however, invites the listener to exercise her own interpretive prerogative. “There are a million different ways a person could interpret this song, and that’s kind of the way we want to keep it. Leave it up to your own life experience and the way you relate to it.”

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Graded on a Curve:
David Bowie,
Diamond Dogs

So I was walking down the street in London one time and who do I run into but David Bowie. Give the man his privacy, I think, but in the end I can’t resist saying, “Mr. Bowie, I just want to tell you I’m a huge fan.” To which he replies, “I am a God. You are a repugnant toad and smell funny.” Then waving his hands about in the air for me to disappear, he says, “Shoo, shoo.”

Okay, so that never happened. But if it had happened I’d still be one of the biggest Bowie fans in the world. I rate him the greatest artist of the seventies, during which he didn’t put out a single less-than-great LP except 1974’s David Live. Name me another great musician about whom that can be said. Dylan? Don’t make me laugh. Lou Reed? Hardy har-har. The only band that even comes close is Steely Dan, and they’re not really in the same league and besides, they blew it in my opinion with 1977’s Aja, which they produced to death. Sure, critics had their doubts about 1979’s Lodger, the last of Bowie’s Berlin trio with Brian Eno, but over the years the album has been given a second look and deemed underrated.

Another album that was seriously underrated upon its release was 1974’s Diamond Dogs. Conceived initially as a theatrical production about George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Bowie’s ambitions foundered when the author’s estate said no way, Jose. The concept album that evolved out of that idea is as sketchy as most concept albums, and you need know nothing about Bowie’s ideas about a future dystopia to enjoy the hell out of “Rebel Rebel” or “Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Sarah McQuaid,
Walking into White

Born in Madrid, the multifaceted folk musician Sarah McQuaid was brought up in Chicago, studied in France, and after a lengthy stay in Ireland currently lives in Cornwall, England. Early in 2014 she traveled to Cornwall, New York to record a follow-up to 2012’s The Plum Tree and the Rose; the result is the trimmest release of her career as McQuaid continues to push the boundaries of an engaging and increasingly personal sound. Issued in the UK/Europe this past February, Walking into White is out now on CD in North America through Waterbug Records to coincide with a September-October US tour.

Borrowing a term from the realm of organized sports, or for those who simply can’t abide the playing of games, the performing arts, Sarah McQuaid is what’s known as a triple-threat; that is, she does three things extremely well, specifically sing, play guitar, and write songs, though she initially excelled more at the interpretation of traditional and even centuries old material.

To elaborate, 1997’s debut When Two Lovers Meet examined trad Irish sources and offered a fine balance of focus between the strength of McQuaid’s playing and the power of her voice, hitting peaks in the unaccompanied six-minute “Táim Cortha Ó Bheith Im’ Aonar Im’ Luí” and “The Parting Glass,” a closing duet with the esteemed Irish vocalist Niamh Parsons.

Backed by additional guitar and ukulele, cello and fiddle, keyboard and double bass, and those Irish standbys whistle and pipes, the sound is far from monochromatic, a circumstance abetted by the sole original composition. “Charlie’s Gone Home” is a decidedly more contempo folk proposition reminiscent of a ditty heard on the countertop radio while visiting the apartment of one’s favorite fifty-something hippie librarian aunt for Sunday brunch.

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Graded on a Curve: Nirvana, Nirvana

In 1991 a Pacific-Northwest three-piece changed the direction of the record industry, securing a spot in music history as the spearhead of Grunge. In 2002 a self-titled album attempted to sum up their essence; rather than electing to represent the trio’s actual range, Nirvana is dominated by chart entries, a handful of non-surprises, and a (then) previously unreleased track. On August 28 it’s available on LP through Universal as either a 45rpm 200gm double or a 33rpm 150gm single, each with accompanying download.

To obtain a full grasp of how well Nirvana succeeds in offering a tidy retrospective of an important, oft volatile, and enduringly polarizing act required getting reacquainted with their discography from ’88 to ’94. With time spent the verdict is in: first hitting racks roughly 8½ years after Kurt Cobain’s suicide and a little over a decade removed from the band’s unexpected runaway success, Nirvana ultimately falls short of top-tier.

This assessment comes not by any fault of the group but through unimaginative assemblage and a problematic title. Leaving the occasional sarcastic usage aside, the words Greatest Hits summarize an objective truth, and the use of Best Of, while potentially arguable, is a nomenclature making its intentions plain. The eponymous treatment employed here is merely ambiguous.

If the purpose behind Nirvana was to encapsulate its subject’s breadth and heights on one record the results don’t meet the goal. Far too safe to accurately embody the Best, it essentially flirts with Greatest Hits; perhaps the term was just considered tacky when applied to retail achievements stemming partially from a perceived lack of calculation and even borderline disinterest.

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Jack Tempchin:
The TVD Interview

Jack Tempchin is a product of a time when songs were expected to tell stories, and the songwriters who were masters of storytelling were sought after as aggressively as any first-round quarterback.

Tempchin’s tunes have taken root in so many minds, and have lifted so many hearts in the decades since he wrote “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and “Already Gone” for the Eagles. The prolific songwriter’s music continues to fill arenas and sell millions and millions of albums for others. It’s been all about the songs, not the man. Despite the fact that Tempchin performed his music to audiences around the world for years, and despite the fact that he’d written hits for (or with) musical luminaries like Emmylou Harris, Glen Campbell, Tanya Tucker, Tom Rush, George Jones, and Tom Waits, the limelight has always been elusive for Tempchin—as have record deals.

That all changed when he was approached by Blue Élan Records who offered him his first contract since Clive Davis’ Arista Records in the late ’70s. That sparked something in Tempchin, and a backlog of songs came pouring out. “I was so excited that somebody was going to care whether I recorded something or not,” Tempchin tells TVD in our chat with him. So many songs were unearthed and so many more were inspired by this label’s confidence that his two-record deal turned into a three-record deal, with no signs of stopping.

Tempchin released an EP, Room to Run, in May to tease his creative “explosion.” He followed it up with a thematic and poignant LP (released on Friday), Learning to Dance, which is his first album of new studio recordings in over eight years. His enthusiasm is massive when it comes to songwriting, as evidenced both in the lovely new album and through his songwriting “inspiration campaign” at GoWriteOne.com

“It’s impossible to overrate the importance of songs,” he says. There’s absolutely no argument from us. 

When you performed at The Troubadour in May, was that the first time you’d played all this new music live?

Yes! I hadn’t done any of those songs, and it was the first time I’d performed without playing guitar, too. [Laughs] This album was produced so differently, that I didn’t think about having to do the stuff live until I finished the album. And it turns out I couldn’t—I needed a whole band to pull it off. I rehearsed for quite a while with those guys because it was a first for me, standing up there and playing without doing my guitar.

Of course the second half of the show, I was doing my hits—stuff I had done before. Being back at The Troubadour and having all those people there… it was great to be there again.

When was the last time you’d played there?

Oh, let’s see… it was about five or six years ago when Timothy B. Schmit had a solo album that he was promoting, and I opened the show for him, just by myself at The Troubadour, and that was pretty great.

Hey, I noticed you interviewed Paul Williams. That’s pretty cool.

It was! He was such a fun person to talk to.

You know, I’ve known Paul for… we wrote a song together many, many years ago and we’re still workin’ on it. [Laughs] Man, he’s done so well. He’s so cool. That was a good article—thank you!

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Graded on a Curve: Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Bluejeans & Moonbeams

Every Captain Beefheart fan knows that his releases Unconditionally Guaranteed and Bluejeans & Moonbeams marked the nadir of his career. Desperate attempts at commercial success, both LPs met with critical opprobrium and horrified the good Captain’s fans. Even Beefheart, aka Don Van Vliet, his critical cred in ruins, come to regret them; he labeled them “horrible and vulgar” and urged fans to take them back for a refund.

Remember that ’60s TV show Branded starring Chuck Connors, who played a soldier in the Wild West? Who, wrongly convicted of some crime, had his shoulder epaulettes ripped off and his sword broken in half during the opening credits, which ended with him standing stoically outside the closed fort gates, facing the grim prospects of surviving in the savage wilderness the best he could? Well that’s what happened with these albums. They were branded, given the bum’s rush, and left shivering in the rock wilderness, while Beefheart fans tried their level best to forget them.

But nothing attracts me like a spectacular disaster, which is why I’ve watched every Irwin Allen film like 38 times. So I was eager to listen to Bluejeans & Moonbeams, which is generally considered a bigger fiasco than Unconditionally Guaranteed, or the Titanic even, because Beefheart’s Magic Band fired him in disgust after Unconditionally Guaranteed, leaving him to round up a whole new Magic Band that was around only for Bluejeans & Moonbeams. What’s more, the untaught Beefheart, who had always counted on a musical director to realize the sounds he heard in his head, was forced to do without one on Bluejeans & Moonbeams. And finally, he was still seeking commercial success, which entailed his curtailing many of the quirks and idiosyncrasies that made his music so intriguing in the first place.

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TVD’s Press Play

Press Play is our Monday recap of the new—and FREE—tracks received last week, provided here to inform your next trip to your local indie record store. Click, preview, download, purchase.

GUIDES – Pictures On Pictures
Kitty Finer – No-One Needs To Know
Connie Constance – Euphoric
Clones of Clones – Somebody Else
Viola Beach – Swings & Waterslides
Charlie Belle – Petting Zoo
Stevie B Wolf – Nothing But A Name
Chastity Belt – Joke
The Jaguar Club – Hard Cider
Daniel Pearson – I Still Believe

TVD SINGLE OF THE WEEK:
New Desert Blues – Summer Skin

Hezekiah Jones – The Dark Heart’s Out
Whiskerman – Cardinal City
Diego Davidenko – I and You
Psymbionic & Of The Trees – 2 Wicked
Micky Blue – Champagne Reign
Go Periscope – Silver Wings
Mr. Pauer – Pasión (feat. Dama Vicke)
Cody Simpson – Livin Easy (Leeyou & Danceey Remix)
Gater – Everything We Do
Rozes – R U MINE (SteLouse Remix)

3 more FREE TRACKS on side B!

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