The Real Michael Lee

A somewhat folksy singer/songwriter/what-have-you who likes to write catchy little dittys for the world to enjoy.

TRML’s Sound Selections #38

TRML's Sound Selections #38: Beastie Boys - Ill Communication

Beastie Boys – Ill Communication

The Beastie Boys’ 1994 album Ill Communication is OUT THERE. It’s not a rap album, it’s not a rock album, it’s not a funk album, nor is it a jazz album; It’s a strange and brilliant combination of all the above. The only descriptor one can truly agree upon is that it’s a Beastie Boys album. In their fourth full-length release, the New York trio honors their punk roots while simultaneously paying homage to all who influenced them to date. You have the opener “Sure Shot,” which is a fairly standard rap offering, go straight into the full-blown Hardcore “Tough Guy.” It’s a stark juxtaposition that continues throughout the remaining 50+ minutes of the album, with the Beastie’s, who largely eschewed samples for live instruments, exploring, experimenting, and frankly, just being themselves.

One of the many things I love about this album is how it doesn’t play it safe. It takes you on a wild journey through a world of musical genres and it doesn’t care if you get whiplash along the way. And the single, Sabotage… That song (and its accompanying video) reminds me of so many good times, which include once trying to recreate the video’s iconic over-the-hill car jump, perfectly timed to that song, in a crappy hatchback. Ill Communication is an album that at times warrants cranking the volume and at others chilling out at a more mellow level. Every minute is well worth your time and it’s a must in any album collection.

TRML’s Sound Selections #37

TRML's Sound Selections #37: Flat Duo Jets - Go Go Harlem Baby

Flat Duo Jets – Go Go Harlem Baby

The Flat duo Jets were the guys who put the “power” in “power duo.” Their second album, 1991’s Go Go Harlem Baby, is an amazing example of how two people can sound like more with 16 tracks that range from thoughtful old-school rock and roll to blistering rockabilly. Frontman Dexter Romweber’s raspy howls and gritty searing guitar bring a hip edge to each number while drummer Chris “Crow” Smith’s bombastic beats drive each number. They truly proved that a little goes a long way. You don’t need fancy studios or top-of-the-line equipment, you just need to grab what you got and kick butt.

As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of power duos. I came upon the Flat Duo Jets when I was researching new power duo bands to listen to (I really do love that format) and they absolutely blew me away. Right after I first listened to Go Go Harlem Baby I wanted to restart it from the beginning because I felt I missed something and NEEDED to hear it again. It has such an amazing energy that it took two listens back to back to take it all in! It’s no wonder these guys are listed as a major influence by so many modern indie rockers. They sure have left their mark on me and I recommend giving them a spin because I’m sure they will do the same to you.

TRML’s Sound Selections #36

TRML's Sound Selections #36: The Damned - Damned Damned Damned

The Damned – Damned Damned Damned

The Damned’s 1977 debut was not only their first album, but it was THE first album of the UK punk scene of the 70s. What stands out about the Damned’s debut is it’s a solidly built punk album. Rat Scabies’  highly energetic drums combine with Cpt. Sensible’s tight bass rhythms to drive the songs speedily forward, while Brian’s killer guitar adds an edge and Dave’s darkly energetic vocals tie it all together. It’s a combination that, while only lasting two albums, created a template that would go on to influence the hardcore and goth rock scenes.

The punk scene of the 70s spawned a LOT of iconic names. But for me, The Damned is a prime example of solid and FUN punk rock. Not only did they bring a sense of musicianship (which the scene got a lot of flak for seemingly not having), you also had (and still have) a cast of characters on stage. Dave’s vampire punk made you look twice while Cpt. Sensible brought a distinct contrast to Dave with his antics and his colorful outfits (which is perfectly portrayed on the back cover). This has served them well over the years as, after a few stops and starts, they are still kicking out their goth-tinged brand of punk to new generations of fans. They’re a band that every bit deserves a place in punk history as well as a spin on your turntable.

TRML’s Sound Selections #35

TRML's Sound Selections #35: Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand

It’s early 2004. It’s a fresh new year and you flip on the radio. Undoubtedly you hear this catchy number from a hot new indie group from Scotland. In fact, you CANNOT escape Franz Ferdinand’s hit single “Take Me Out.” The reason being, well, it’s GOOD… because it’s well crafted, just like the rest of their self-titled debut. Right out of the gate Franz Ferdinand solidified themselves as a mod powerhouse who can craft tight rock songs with jangly guitars and killer hooks. On top of that, Alex Kapranos has a knack for witty lyrics that sprinkle a bit of humor into the mix. It’s a winning combination they have managed to maintain yet keep fresh with each new album since.

As mentioned above you could not escape Franz Ferdinand in early 2004 (and AGAIN in 2005 with their next album). They’re a band that I listened to quite a bit back in the day, but they fell off my radar for a few years. Now I’m back to enjoying their music regularly with a new perspective. As a songwriter myself I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation for Franz Ferdinand’s ability to deliver tightly structured songs with an energy that carries even through the quiet parts. But even without the technical analysis it’s hard to not enjoy their brand of rock. Franz Ferdinand is a very hip spin and their tunes are borderline earworms that you’ll find yourself humming for days. 

TRML’s Sound Selections #34

TRML's Sound Selections #34: Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West

Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West

I had originally planned to do this album in a later installment in the series, but with the unfortunate passing of MM’s drummer, Jeremiah Green, I felt I should bump it up on the list to honor a man who helped create one of my favorite albums.

Modest Mouse’s second album, released in 1997, is a collection of 16 (15 on the CD version) tracks that originally put the band on the map of the indie music scene. The songs on this album are multi-faceted and have a sort of cinematic quality, as each feels like a vignette with each change in tone/rhythm a new scene in the episode. They each feel unique without feeling disparate, combining the somewhat manic garage rock of their first album with more complex (and yes, still manic) numbers with an ear for uniquely utilizing different musical styles. This all amounts to an album from a band who had their eye set firmly on the path ahead of them and wasn’t about to be held back by anyone’s expectations.

The Lonesome Crowded West doesn’t FEEL like it was released over 25 years ago. It feels right at home in 2023 as it does in 1997. And while many would likely point to their NEXT studio album as the one to listen to (because yes, The Moon and Antarctica is an amazing album), I personally love the variety and sheer RAWNESS of The Lonesome Crowded West. It’s a record that hasn’t aged a day and is right at home in any modern record collection. 

TRML’s Sound Selections #33

TRML's Sound Selections #33: Tropical Gothclub - Tropical Gothclub

Tropical Gothclub – Tropical Gothclub

With a name like “Tropical Gothclub,” it’s hard to pin down just what to expect. But Dean Fertita’s first solo outing (after a career in multiple bands as well as playing backing musician to many famous names, some of which are Sound Selections alums) is a neon freak-rock endeavor with nods to his past collaborators peppered throughout its 37 minutes. It bleeds cool with interesting guitar tones in conversation with psychedelic organ and a rhythm section that drives each song with a nimble-yet-solid beat. All this combines with Dean’s double tracked vocals (and the occasional vocoder, because why not?) for an interesting experience that’s retro new wave, yet modern indie rock.

Dean is a musician who I’ve apparently been listening to for YEARS but was unnoticed because he’s always been overshadowed by his collaborators. He’s worked with Queens of the Stone Age, Beck, Iggy Pop, Jack White and was in The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs among many other bands. That’s embarrassing to say, as he’s a very talented individual. I really hope we get more Tropical Gothclub in the future, as this album is right up my alley and is every bit as interesting as its eye-catching neon cover art suggests.

TRML’s Sound Selections #32

TRML's Sound Selections #32: John Denver & The Muppets - A Christmas Together

John Denver & The Muppets – A Christmas Together

When you think about John Denver, I’m guessing the first thing that comes to mind is “folk singer” or “humanitarian” and not “frequent Muppet collaborator.” Well, he was all those things, and in 1979 he and friend Jim Hensen graced the world with the first of TWO Denver/Muppet holiday specials called A Christmas Together. The soundtrack to the special is an interesting listen outside of the context of the TV special. It bounces around from zany to sweet and incorporates a smattering of musical styles that are as varied as the Muppets are quirky, with numbers like the Beach Boys’ Little Saint Nick existing on the same side as a rendition of Silent Night that comes complete with German-language verses. All the while John Denver acts as a sort of ring leader, fronting many of the numbers and showing off his amazing vocal talents throughout.

The Muppets inhabit a weird pocket of pop culture and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who DOESN’T like them. They have persevered through multiple downturns in popularity and always find a way to return to relevance. Part of their staying power are the guests/collaborators they’ve worked with over the years. With his fuzzy friends by his side, John helped curate a selection of holiday tunes that’s fun for everybody and, despite the lack of context of the TV special, holds up surprisingly well thanks to the lasting legacy of the Muppets.

TRML Live 12/20/22

Yeah… It’s been awhile, I know. But I popped in to the Hambones Open Mic last night to sing a few tunes and even sneakily play a bit of a new song I’m working on.

TRML’s Sound Selections #31

Siouxsie and the Banshees - Juju

Siouxsie and the Banshees – Juju

Born from the punk revolution of the 70s, Siouxsie and the Banshees became leaders in the emerging goth rock scene of the 80s. Along with contemporaries Bauhaus and (despite what Robert says) The Cure, Siouxsie brought a dark edge to music and helped create a lasting genre. Their fourth album, Juju, was released in 1981 and really sees the band truly gel, landing on a sound that would carry them to great success. After experimenting with a more electronic sound on their third album, the group enlisted a full-time guitarist (John McGeoch) who rekindled the fiery edge in their music. Besides amazing guitar work, Souxsie’s refined vocal delivery adds a hint of menace that pairs nicely with the Budgie’s dark, plodding drums that trudge throughout Juju’s nine tracks. It’s a stellar album and a perfect jumping on point for anyone getting into this band or 80s goth rock in general.

Even though Juju is probably the best intro album to Siouxsie and the Banshees, it wasn’t my first album of theirs. No, Peepshow (another amazing SatB album) was my first real taste of Siouxsie and the group’s brand of goth rock. However, while I love that album, Juju is the one I come back to the most. Its distinct guitar work, vocals, songwriting… Well, EVERYTHING, makes it an album that is well worth frequent listens, as each time I hear it I find something else to love. It’s one of the best albums of the 80s and a must for any record collection.