Pitchfork is a week away, so let’s celebrate a birthday of someone who is headlining there next Friday. Issac Brock is not just the frontman for Modest Mouse — he also plays banjo. Moreover, he and his band paid their dues in the indie rock world, eventually breaking through with mainstream success with the hit “Float On”. Heck, he even got the great Johnny Marr to join the band for a spell. All the while, the band maintained its credibility. Maybe Isaac will find some time to come to the CHIRP Record Fair at Pitchfork (if not, you all should come out to it). So let’s help Isaac celebrate his birthday by grabbing the ol’ iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
Tiara — Expert Eyes (Chained To The Crown): This Ohio band is akin to bands like The Kingbury Manx and New Radiant Storm King, making good indie rock songs with solid melodies and hooks. The only thing these bands don’t have is a real upfront vocal personality. But the quality of the songs and performances make them a joy to listen to. This is a sweet mid-tempo song with nice jangling guitars and a slight Velvet Underground influence (think “Sweet Jane”).
Comsat Angels — Ju Ju Money (Waiting For A Miracle): This is an early recording of a song that ended up on the band’s Fiction album and is a bonus track on the reissue of their debut. The first Comsat Angels album is a post-punk classic, with spare bass and guitar soundscapes augmented by prominent drums creating a constant sense of tension. Some songs have an air of exhaustion and resignation to them. That’s true of this track too, but it has a fuller sound than what’s on the debut and this recording points to where the band would go on its next two efforts, which are also terrific.
Was (Not Was) — Spy in the House of Love (What Up, Dog?): One of two hit singles from Was (Not Was)‘s third album. Although the first two albums had some wonderfully catchy pop tunes, they were both eccentric enough that they didn’t have much commercial potential. Moving to Chrysalis, the band decided to cut more straight R & B flavored songs, and reduce the wacky factor. This is a solid tune, but the late ’80s production dates it severely.
Nick Lowe — People Change (At My Age): Lowe’s past few albums have been clinics on how to write a song, drawing from his depth of knowledge about country, rock and soul music. This song tilts a bit towards the R & B side, with a simple message, a nice bounce and a true economy — no notes are wasted. He’s making the best music of his career right now.
Anton Barbeau — Stewart Mason (Guladong): This Bay Area oddball writes catchy pop songs with twisted lyrics to match his offbeat voice. This song is bass driven and rhythmic, paying tribute to the music writer and former label owner (and my online pal), though only Stewart could vouch for the accuracy of any of Anton’s lyrics. A short, snappy fun song.
The Bears — Save Me (Rise and Shine): A lot of music fans hoped that this band, which combined Adrian Belew with members of the great Ohio rock band The Raisins might turn into America’s version of XTC. Unfortunately, the band split after two albums (though they later reunited a few years ago). Still, The Bears released two albums of high quality rock that bore the influence of The Beatles and various psych-pop bands, but had plenty of its own personality. One thing that was great about The Bears is that Belew did not dominate. All of these guys could sing and play and they complimented each other so well.
Rockpile — Now and Always (Seconds of Pleasure): Nick Lowe strikes again! Rockpile played on both Lowe’s and Dave Edmunds’ albums for a few years, with Terry Williams on drums and Billy Bremmer on lead guitar. When they finally did their own album in 1980, it was highly anticipated and a lot of folks were disappointed by the final product. Critics thought it was alright, but they wanted classic. Well, time has been kind to the album, and the relaxed, friendly vibe, and the mix of pub rock and pop works really well. This is a Lowe tune that sounds like a long lost Everly Brothers song.
The Kinks — Last of the Steam Powered Trains (Village Green Preservation Society): While most of this Kinks’ classic fits the pristine pastoral template, this is a bouncy blues number. This is probable one of the lesser songs on the album, but its simplicity is truly a virtue. Moreover, Ray Davies displays his whimsical side, and that’s never a bad thing.
The Nomads — Frying Pan (Showdown! 1981-1993): A typically forceful garage rock band from this Swedish band. The Nomads operate under the theory that there’s no garage rock song that can’t be improved with some more raunchy guitar. Often, they are right.
Fleetwood Mac — Silver Springs (Rumours): This Stevie Nicks tune was the b-side of “Go Your Own Way”. When Rumours was given the deluxe reissue treatment back in 2004, the Mac decided to tack this song onto the original album. This wasn’t a good idea. This is a lesser Nicks’ tune, pleasant but not up to the high standard of the album. It does have a nifty slide guitar solo from Lindsey Buckingham.