Posts Tagged ‘Alternative Rock’

The Connells: Stone Cold Yesterday – The Best of the Connells

Saturday, September 10th, 2016

Connells_StoneColdYesterdayBest-of an 80s/90s college radio favorite

There was a time that melodic guitar rock music was a mainstay of college and alternative radio. During that time, the North Carolina-based Connells were a hardworking band whose career hit a commercial peak in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with a string of singles that included “Something to Say,” “Stone Cold Yesterday” and “Slackjawed.” But their most lasting mark on listeners ears came with the belated European success of the nostalgic “‘74-’75,” and its memorable video (since updated, Up style). In all, the group has released eight albums and two EPs, and worked with numerous noted producers, including fellow North Carolinians Don Dixon and Mitch Easter.

Although they continue to perform sporadically, their recording career effectively ended with 2001’s Old School Dropouts. This first-ever best-of collection cherry-picks sixteen tracks from across all of the group’s albums except the first, Darker Days, and last. The group’s music is impressively timeless, as Doug MacMillan’s vocals still cast a spell on the introspective lyrics, and the guitars, bass and drums retain their punch. The song list is programmed for listenability rather than chronology, but the effect, even with the switch from Rickenbackers to Fenders and the introduction of a keyboard player, was fairly consistent. If you can’t help but sing the chorus of “‘74-’75” you’ll find a lot more to like here. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Connells’ Home Page

Escondido: Walking With a Stranger

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Escondido_WalkingWIthAStrangerSophomore album trades desert spaces for studio layers

The lonely trumpet that opens Escondido’s second album suggests another round of Lee Hazlewood-Ennio Morricone mashups. But the sparse, DIY live sound of their debut has given way to heavier, more studied productions here, and though vocalist Jessica Maros can still strike a mood of detachment, she’s pushed by the music to a fiercer emotion. Think of Debbie Harry fighting her way out of a momentary lapse into ennui rather than Hope Sandoval getting lost in it. The opening “Footprints” includes chanting that echoes the tribal weight of Adam & The Ants, and the album’s first single, “Heart is Black,” is as insinuous as the addictions it essays.

This is a decidedly more modern album than 2013’s The Ghost of Escondido, but the trade from desert spaces to studio layers hasn’t sacrificed the duo’s mystery, nor obscured the power of their duet singing. The twanging riff and ghostly vocalization that introduce “Idiot” set up a kiss-off whose lack of anger adds to the sting. Maros and her multi-instrumentalist partner Tyler James manage to make music that’s fragile and strong and disaffected and focused all at once. Maros can say she’s over it, but the melody says otherwise, and James’ subtle (and not so subtle) touches of keyboards and trumpets point in both directions.

The album’s title is taken from the song “Apartment,” recognizing the estrangement that can grow alongside familiarity. It’s that sort of duality that colors the album’s betrayal and recriminations, and the music’s intensity draws from the conflict. The grounding in 90’s alt-rock gives the album muscle, but the duo’s country and western (as opposed to Country & Western) roots carry the songs to an original place. Fans of Mazzy Star will be hooked, as they were for the debut, but just as quickly find themselves transported byond. Maros and James each bring something unique to their pairing, and paired, they’re mesmerizing. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Escondido’s Home Page

The Neats: 1981-84 The Ace of Hearts Years

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

Neats_1981-84AceOfHeartsYearsReissue of seminal Boston post-punk guitar band

The Neats were something of an anomaly within the early-80s Boston music scene – failed to hew exclusively to any of the punk, pop, roots or garage ideals of the time. Their trance-inducing rhythm guitars shared a greater resonance with the Feelies, Dream Syndicate and early REM than their Beantown brethren. They would later evolve away from this sound for 1987’s Crash at Crush, but their original musical vision was captured in a single, EP and album for the legendary Ace of Hearts label. All of that, plus a pre-Ace of Hearts track for Propeller, and four previously released post-album tracks (#19-22) are collected here for the first time in digital form.

The disc begins with the 1982 EP Monkey’s Head in the Middle of the Room, whose opening track “Red and Gray” is a microcosm of the group’s charms: electric guitars that intertwine rhythms, counterpoints and melodic overlays, a driving rhythm section that perches on the edge of anxious, and vocals that break from their post-punk passion for transcendent moments of melody. The instrumental passages aren’t as jittery as those of the Feelies, but have a similar quality, and Eric Martin’s vocal alternately punctuates the rhythm and wanders introspectively across the beat. The EP closes with the superb instrumental “Pop Cliche,” suggesting a backing track from a post-punk version of the Byrds.

The EP was voted fourth best in a strong year for pop EPs (not even mentioned in the poll are the Three O’Clock’s Baroque Hoedown, the Bangles self-titled EP and the Lyres AHS 1005), securing the group another release on Ace of Hearts. Their 1983 self-titled album (tracks 8-16 here) didn’t differ startlingly from the EP, but as the nine new tracks demonstrate, the EP’s groove was far from played out. There’s overt psychedelia in the tail end of “Sad,” and the organ of “Sometimes” and harmonica of “Do the Things” add some garage flavor, but the recipe remains largely the same as the earlier release. The album (like the EP), garnered a lot of college radio play, and the band’s tours showed how well the new material worked on stage.

The album’s single “Caraboo” was backed by a dinner-dance styled cover of the standard “Harbour Lights,” with Martin’s vocal treated to a megaphone effect. The organ-laced “Six” is included from the 1981 four-artist EP, Propeller Product, and features a staccato vocal that was touched by punk. The CD’s final four tracks were recorded in 1984, though apparently never before released. They’re hard driving, as good as anything the band recorded before, and would have made a nice EP to cap the group’s stay on Ace of Hearts. Nearly all of this material (save “Cariboo” and its flip) sat unreissued for years, and is now thankfully available on one handy disc. If you can’t find it for sale here, try direct from Ace of Hearts Records. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

The Neats’ Home Page
Ace of Hearts Records