Sound Selections

TRML’s Sound Selections #6

Paul Simon - Paul Simon

Paul Simon – Paul Simon

Paul Simon’s second solo outing (and his first post-Garfunkel) is one of the most solid folk albums ever. Yes, it’s largely acoustic, but it’s not completely acoustic AND varies folk styles to make it so much more than just a dude and a guitar. And the songwriting… Talk about a masterclass in song structure and storytelling. I mean, Simon WAS a songwriting teacher at NYU in the early 70s, so I’d say he knows a BIT about good songwriting. This album contains a few of his greatest hits that are still on radio rotation to this day: “Mother and Child Reunion” opens side one with a world feel that’s rounded out with an americana sound. Side two opens with the supremely catchy “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” which besides being an extremely FUN song, is a killer guitar jam. Beyond the radio hits, you’ll find gems like “Duncan,” which is a quieter number (yes, dude with guitar) that really flexes Paul’s songwriting chops. I also recommend “Paranoia Blues,” which (as the name implies) is a bluesy number that’ll really have you tapping your toes.

This album is definitely my go-to album for when I have a hankering for some Paul Simon tunes. “Me and Julio…” is one of my favorite songs of all time and is definitely one of my top picks for an acoustic guitar jam song (Bowie’s “Andy Warhol” being another). It’s also a good album for me to throw on when I just want SOMETHING playing and can’t really decide what. It’s like an old pair of jeans: well worn but it fits PERFECTLY.

TRML’s Sound Selections #5

The Sugarcubes - Life's Too Good

The Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good

Did you know that before being well-known as a solo artist, Bjork was in a rock band? If you’re a regular reader of this then the answer is very likely “yes.” (I assume my audience supports their Bjork.) But, if you are new to the TRML scene (yes, it’s totally a scene now because I say it is) you might be wondering what, possibly, could Bjork in a band sound like? Well, think if the B-52s took acid, cranked up their amps, and really let their hair down. Then you’d be close. The Sugarcubes first album, Life’s Too Good, is an avant-garde power pop romp with songs that range from fun and witty to heartfelt, with song compositions that keep one’s attention and never lets the listener get bored. And yes, as with her solo career, Bjork’s amazing voice is very much on display as a key instrument, clearly helping to define the sound of the band.

It will surprise no one when I say I’m an avid Bjork fan. However, it might surprise you to know I didn’t discover The SugarCubes until a good while after I had made a deep dive into her solo work. To me that is a good thing because this album, while excellent, is not what I’d call a gateway into her solo works. Why? Because it’s too rock oriented and not nearly experimental enough. While yes, there are some bits of experimentation in the music, you’re not going to find things like a mic’d-up tray of salt here. But that’s fine. The pop world wasn’t quite ready for that yet. But what they WERE ready for is a collection of quirky rock songs that look back while at the same time push forward into what would be a VERY interesting decade of music. 

TRML’s Sound Selections #4

Neil Young – Trans

Trans is an album that answers the burning question: “What if someone gave Neil Young a vocoder?” Sure, the opening track is light country jam that’s par for the course for Neil’s output thus far (i.e. up until 1983). However, that track is nothing more than a ruse to lull the unsuspecting listener into comfort before the rug is pulled out from under them. “Ah yes, good ol’ Neil. This sounds right.” You might think. But NO! The Second track comes in and leads the listener on a weird techno journey through Neil’s neon world. Now it’s synth and vocoder everywhere. EVERYWHERE (also rockin’ guitars). He’s using more vocoders than Kraftwerk even. In fact, it’s almost like he heard Kraftwerk’s Computer World (which came out two years prior in ’81) and said “I wanna do THAT.” Now, track one on side two is also a “safe” song in the form of a quasi-retro rocker, but once that’s out of the way it’s back to the vocoder, baby! Ok, MOSTLY back to the vocoder as side B contains two non-vocoder songs, but we can let it slide because the third non-vocoder song is quite solid. This is an album that was WAY ahead of its time. I’m sure many Neil fans were shocked to hear this when it first came out. Nowadays stuff like this is pretty common and you can hear the influence of this album in acts like The Faint, who have taken this sound and updated it for a new era.   

I was first turned onto this album by my buddy Jeff Soule, whom I worked with on my Synthetic Man single. He mentioned my song reminded him of this album. I hadn’t known this album existed and, upon seeking it out and hearing it for the first time, was blown away. It’s strange and it’s rockin’ and it’s a fun listen from start to finish. Kudos to Neil for really breaking from genre conventions and putting together this weird experiment for the world. 

Other acts around this time were also experimenting with synth, but leave it to Neil to go whole hog and make an album like Trans. It’s an oddity for sure, especially considering all his other works, but it’s an oddity that arguably broke ground and paved the way for synth rock as we know it today.  

TRML’s Sound Selections #3

AM/FM – Getting Into Sinking

Getting Into Sinking is an album of perfectly crafted folk-ish emo-ish tunes. I say “ish” because it never goes full-on folk or emo but pulls itself back just before it crosses that line. The songs are acoustic-centric, but also incorporate loads of electric to create a moody yet hopeful feel. Lyrically the songs are quite often about love or relationships, but aren’t all crying-in-your-blueberry-muffin sad. They’re more “awkward youth” emo versus “I’m sad. Everything is sad” emo. “It’s also an album with something of a mellow vibe, almost chill, which is hinted at in the album artwork of the band hanging out on a beach. Oh! I also have to point out the neat album “looping” feature which, if allowed to restart automatically, segues the end of the last track into the beginning of the first track. This obviously doesn’t work on vinyl, but instead the segue parts act more like the ends of a bow, tying the whole album up into a neat little package.

I’m not sure when exactly I learned about AM/FM. I believe -and don’t quote me on this- that I saw them at a show opening for Atom and His Package (Brian Sokel is Adam’s good friend and now bandmate and is 1/2 of AM/FM). However, my memory of that concert is a bit hazy so I’m not sure exactly who all I saw that night. I do know that I learned about them via Atom in the early 00s, so there’s that. The vinyl version you see in the image is actually the second copy of the album I’ve purchased. Back in the day I had a CD copy, but that got scratched too badly and is now full of skips. I then stumbled upon the then-unknown-to-me vinyl copy tucked away in the punk section at a local record store. I was thrilled to have it again, especially on vinyl!

For me, this album is one I love to throw on when I want a nice relaxing album in my ears. I used to listen to it on snowy mornings while riding the train into the city to my college. It just pairs really well with falling snow. Maybe it’s the sleigh bells? I dunno. It just works, though. Definitely give it a listen and see for yourself.

TRML’s Sound Selections #2

Iggy and the Stooges: Raw Power

This album… This f*%#$ing album… If you haven’t heard it, what are you doing with your life? Go, now, and listen to it. I’ll wait…
Done? Ok. Good. We can begin.
Raw Power was what ended up being the final Stooges studio album. In this, their third album, they perfected the sound and FEELING of their music, which was picked up upon and, only a few years later, would heavily influence the punk scene. It really is “raw” and brings the “power” from start to finish. That statement might seem trite, but you know I’m not wrong… And that opening line! “I’m a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm” has got to be the best opening line in an album practically ever. Grab the audience’s attention then take them on one hell of a ride! It was also produced by David Bowie, but his actual involvement varies depending on who you ask… 
If it’s not clear by the above, I obviously REALLY like this album. I mean, I own THREE copies! My personal recommendation is to listen to the original mix on vinyl if possible. On CD or digital the distortion lacks warmth and a lot is lost in the translation. In ’97 Iggy tried to remix it for CD to replicate how it sounds on vinyl, but, while adequate, it just doesn’t work as well. Then in the early-10s they re-remixed it BACK to the vinyl mix for CD and it REALLY didn’t work. But now, thanks to the resurgence of vinyl popularity, you can enjoy it the way it works best. (Incidentally, the vinyl version I own includes both the original and ’97 mixes.) There’s also a bootleg of a mix billed as Iggy’s pre-Bowie mix. Admittedly I haven’t heard this version.
So there you have it. This is one of my favorite albums of all time and I feel if I’d be doing it a disservice if I didn’t mention it early on in this new Friday music-blurb-thingy I’m doing. Thanks for reading and keep those ears open!

TRML’s Sound Selections #1

Whirlwind Heat – Do Rabbits Wonder?

Trying a thing where I talk about an album a week every Friday…

For the inaugural post, I wanted to Highlight a really fun album from 2003. Whirlwind Heat’s Do Rabbits Wonder? is a an album that straddles the precipice of the absurd while strapped to a rocket. The sound is verging on anarchy while still maintaining something resembling order. Its overall sound is very garage rock (they were part of that scene in Detroit and this album was produced by Jack White), but has a sprinkling of experimental throughout. Oh, and their song titles are colors. So you gotta read the liner notes to learn anything about the songs.

I first heard of this trio when they opened for Beck on his Guero tour. I was hooked that night. Their stage presence was phenomenal. After the show I went to the merch booth and, knowing nothing of their discography, bought their followup EP, Flamingo Honey, which is only 10 minutes long. I later tracked down Do Rabbits Wonder? as I knew there had to be more than just the EP. Since then I’ve enjoyed this album over and over, each time finding something new to like about it.

It’s definitely worth a spin, especially if you’re into that raw garage rock sound.