The Real Michael Lee

TRML’s Sound Selections #30

Atom & His Package - Redefining Music

Atom & His Package – Redefining Music

Atom & His Package was an anomaly in the punk world. Adam Goren’s one-man show, with drum machines (the “Package”) and his signature nasally vocal delivery SHOULDN’T have worked, but it did. Only active for about seven years, Atom released five studio albums and made a lasting mark on the punk world. His fourth album, Redefining music, finds Atom at his peak. Here he really found his footing and solidified a sound that sounded much more complex than it actually was. The drum machine is more natural sounding, the guitar is much more prevalent, and, most importantly of all, the songs are catchy. Atom’s uniquely sharp observations permeate throughout this album and we see the beginnings of a slightly more mature writing style. Overall, this album is one that will make you think and will have you singing its hooks well after it leaves your turntable.

It’s no secret I’m a longtime Atom & His Package fan. When I heard him back in my junior year in high school, right before Redefining Music was released, he changed my perspective on music. Prior to Atom I was something of a metal head. After Atom, however, I was opened to a whole world of amazing music, which expanded every year since to grow into the very well-rounded appreciation for all music I have today. I actually wanted to feature Atom sooner in my Sound Selections column, but I only recently was able to obtain a vinyl copy of this album (which is my favorite of his). While admittedly some lyrical elements have not aged well, overall I think the record was a benchmark for the late 90s-early 00s punk scene and a truly unique musical offering worth your time.

TRML’s Sound Selections #29

Brainiac - Hissing Prigs in Static Couture

Brainiac – Hissing Prigs in Static Couture

The 90s were a VERY interesting time in music. One of the most interesting bands to come out of that musically turbulent decade was Brainiac. Their pioneering mix of grunge, experimental, and noise rock paved the way for acts like The Paper Chase and Sound Selections alum Whirlwind Heat. Their third (and unfortunately final) studio LP, Hissing Prigs in Static Couture, is a showcase of what they were all about. At this point in their career they had found their footing and hit a solid sonic stride. Hissing Prigs packages cutting guitar riffs with strangely distorted vocals, found audio samples, and sharp synth interjections into a record that keeps you guessing until the very last note.

Admittedly, Brainiac is a new band in my collection. I recently watched the excellent documentary Transmissions After Zero about their short career and was shocked that I hadn’t heard about them until now. Being a fan of noise rock for quite some time, the fact that these guys flew under my radar for so long is almost criminal. My personal favorite track, the one that just grabs you by the ears, is “I Am A Cracked Machine.” It’s the final track on Hissing Prigs… But to me it’s the track that most commands your attention. That distorted vocal intro and the build to musical explosion is perfection. One truly has to wonder, if not for the tragic death of their frontman, just where Brainiac could have taken their sound and how much larger of an impact they could have had on music in general? We’ll never know, but at least we have the gem that is Hissing Prigs in Static Couture.

TRML’s Sound Selections #28

Reptaliens - Multiverse

Reptaliens – Multiverse

Released just this year, Reptailens’ Multiverse is an album clearly influenced by the pandemic. Feelings of being trapped and wishing for more are weaved together with a shoegazey, psychedelic sound. Dreamy vocals float over whimsical guitars and a groovy bass for a collection of tracks that feels light and airy, but are so much more than simple pop songs. Oh, and if you need assistance taking to the air with the Reptaliens’ excellently breezy sound (which shouldn’t be hard), the album comes with branded rolling papers, which will be of more use to you depending on the state where you live.

My first encounter with Reptaliens was their performance of Multiverse’s opening number “I Feel Fine” on the show Wastoids. On the one hand you had this dreamy song about pandemic-driven lethargy, yet on the other there was a person dancing around in a poodle costume. I didn’t know WHAT to make of it, but my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to hear more, so off to Bandcamp I went. (Mission accomplished, I guess?) Poodle dancer aside, Reptaliens offer a solid sound that is great to put on and chill out. They offer enough substance to keep you engaged, but it’s not too heavy and allows you to float along with melodies.

TRML’s Sound Selections #27

Bob Dylan - Desire

Bob Dylan – Desire

Desire, Bob’s 1976 album, is a very collaborative effort that really encapsulates his creative circle into its every bit. From the collage on the back cover, to the Allen Ginsburg-penned liner notes, to the ensemble of talented musicians on every track, this album is more “Bob Dylan and friends” than anything else. Scarlet Rivera’s distinct violin work weaves throughout Desire’s nine tracks and Emmylou Harris’ iconic voice sings harmony to the point where it’s more of a duet than a backing vocal. It’s a freshly brilliant americana offering from the artist who (arguably) brought folk music to the mainstream.

This era of Bob’s is by far my favorite. Blood on the Tracks/Desire, as well as the Rolling Thunder Revue live album, are, to me, peak Bob Dylan. You might not agree and that’s fine. I’m not discounting any of his other iconic albums (the fact that’s pluralized is amazing enough). Bob has had such a long career with many distinct “eras” that everyone will have different opinions on what era is better than another. For me, Desire is great because it’s an album that has a lot of heart and character. It looks out at the world AND peers inside the soul with a sound that holds you firmly in its grasp throughout both its sides.

TRML’s Sound Selections #26

Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Released in 2012, Celebration Rock was Japandroids second album and the one that shot them to indie stardom. It’s a collection of nine tracks that aims to capture the energy of their live performances. While I haven’t seen them live (yet), this album is a firecracker from start to finish. It’s got a solid punk sound tied together with a bit of rock and roll twine for a package that offers a Descendants drive and a Tom Petty jangle. That’s really impressive considering it’s only two guys. For a duo, the Japandroids have a sound that is much fuller than their member count would imply.

I love power duos. I’ve covered others in these weekly reviews and you can safely bet I have more planned. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with my own band-member limitations, but I adore hearing what can be done with only a few people. Japandroids are a shining example of how to create a solid sound with limited resources. There is deceptively little going on in the songs, but they sound full and have an energy that few can capture in the studio as successfully. Each song makes you want to sing along and would kill in a live setlist. It’s well worth a listen and one that deserves a home in your record collection.  

TRML’s Sound Selection #25

B.B. King - Indianola Mississippi Seeds

B.B. King – Indianola Mississippi Seeds

Indianola Mississippi Seeds was B.B.’s eighteenth (!) album. Released in 1970, This album is NOT what you’d expect. Starting off with the stripped down “Nobody Loves Me Like My Mother” it lulls you into a false sense of sameness. “Oh, ok. Pretty straight forward blues…” Then it explodes into the killer “You’re Still My Woman” and weaves and ducks through the remaining seven tracks that sees B.B. deliciously incorporate an orchestra as well as venture into more straightforward rock territory. B.B. navigates these additions and changes with ease, creating an album that’s subtly eclectic yet 100% true to B.B.’s style. It’s no wonder B.B. himself noted Indianola Mississippi Seeds as his favorite release.

I’m probably speaking to the choir here, but B.B. King was a true legend. He was someone that every guitar player is influenced by, whether they realize it or not. His style was studied and imitated by many artists and it’s very likely that your favorite guitarist studied him. I sure have. Hell, I once messed up my shoulder trying to emulate his signature “butterfly” vibrato technique (don’t ask). He was an artist that truly infused emotion into his music and his guitar. George Harrison might have made his guitar gently weep, but B.B. made his truly sing with the whole breadth of human emotion. 

TRML’s Sound Selections #24

Gerald Casale

Gerald Casale – Jihad Jerry & the Evildoers

“Believe what you will… But do not make others eat from your plate…” With those words and tongue firmly planted in cheek, Gerald Casale embarks on a “war on stupidity” via his character Jihad Jerry. Being a founding member of Devo, Gerald builds on his years spent in that band and gives us an album that questions modern times via witty observation and parody. You have songs like “Army Girls Gone Wild” that parodies “red-blooded American” ideals via the infamous soft-core video series. Then you have songs like “Find Out” which do away with parody and take a more direct approach to call out those who will tell you what to think about subjects they really have no business speaking on. All this is done through a sonic landscape not unfamiliar to fans of Devo, albeit much more guitar-driven with a fuller sound that includes backup singers and various horns among the army of instruments Devo-tees are used to.

I’ve been a fan of Devo for quite some time. I saw them live back in ’04 and it was a sight to behold (yes, it included costume changes). Their sound is unique and highly influential. Gerald had a big hand in crafting that sound and his solo effort was a no-brainer to pick up. I hadn’t even heard it prior to grabbing it on Record Store day a few years ago, but I knew it was going to be interesting. I was not disappointed. It’s out there, as one would expect from a founding member of Devo, but it’s also thought-provoking and the issues it critiques are unfortunately still prevalent 16 years later. Maybe it’s time for Jerry to return to his war on stupidity? I don’t know if that’s in the cards, but I do know that this album is a fun and engaging listen and I’m glad it was rereleased, albeit briefly, to be discovered by a new generation of fans.

TRML’s Sound Selections #23

Placebo - Sleeping with Ghosts

Placebo – Sleeping With Ghosts

Sleeping with Ghosts was Placebo’s fourth studio album and was a major turning point for the band both lyrically and sonically. Prior to SWG, Placebo skewed towards angst-driven lyrics with a punky glam sonic aesthetic. However, their 2003 release saw a new, more mature direction for the band with romantic lyrics (not romantic I love you, but more romantic as in looking at and trying to understand love) coupled with a more sonically diverse-yet-cohesive sound. They dabbled in this on their previous release, Black Market Music, but here we see Brian and the crew expertly balance guitar driven rockers with synth sounds not dissimilar to the sound of the new romantic bands of the 80s. 

Here in the States Placebo are not nearly as big as they are in Europe, which is a shame. I first heard of them, as most Americans did, when Pure Morning was the big hit on alternative radio. (I distinctly remember the DJ on Chicago’s Q101 station make the lame joke “Placebo, or Play-sah-bo as the folks in Indiana call them.”) I had at some point also picked up (or borrowed, my memory is hazy) the deluxe edition of Black Market Music (the one with the excellent Bowie collab bonus track), but SWG was the album that really made Placebo click for me. Perhaps it was the more mature lyrical content and writing style or perhaps it was the new sonic directions the group were taking. Either way, I was hooked. I look forward to the day when I can see them live in-person. Until then, however, I’ll just have to enjoy their excellent tunes on the turntable.