75 Percent Less Fat: No. 44

There will be no more Catholic album than No. 44, the Hold Steady’s sophomore disc, Separation Sunday.

The band is fronted by Twin Cities native Craig Finn, previously of the band Liftr Pullr. Finn’s sing-speak method of delivering his vocals is unmistakable. Just as his habit of telling stories that run through not just entire albums, but leap from disc to disc.

On this one, story focuses on Holly, short for Hallelujah. Like many of his characters, she’s a troubled young adult living on the fringes, turning tricks and taking drugs. Along the way we meet an equally sordid cast of characters. Her story culminates with a visit to Mass, where she crashes into the congregation on the album’s strongest track.

Highlights: Your Little Hoodrat Friend, Charlemagne in Sweatpants, a story of a pimp that references Springsteen, Jane’s Addiction and, of course, Lionel Richie; Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night; and How a Resurrection Really Feels, on my shortlist of best album closers, along with The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, White Trash Heroes and Vapor Trails.

 

Important Information:

Name: The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday

Released: 2005

Record Company: Frenchkills Records

Running Time: 42:11

Track Listing:

  1. Hornets! Hornets!
  2. Cattle and Creeping Things
  3. Your Little Hoodrat Friend
  4. Banging Camp
  5. Charlemagne in Sweatpants
  6. Steve Nix
  7. Multitude of Casualties
  8. Don’t Let Me Explode
  9. Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night
  10. Crucifixion Cruise
  11. How a Resurrection Really Feels

 

 

75 Percent Less Fat: 45

On a blog that’s devoted mostly to baseball, a Joe Jackson mention is typically going to be a reference to the sport’s tragic anti-hero, the Say it Ain’t So guy who was given a permanent ban for conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series.

But this isn’t Shoeless Joe we’re talking about. Rather, it’s a Joe Jackson with some dandy footwear on Look Sharp! The exclamation point knew what it was talking about.

The debut album from the Englishman was a revelation from the first single, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” even if it made little wave upon its initial release. A subsequent pressing caught on, however, and was viewed, then and now, as a classic. Jackson’s debut disc was a magical blend of punk zip and pop sensibilities, with a healthy dollop of humor.

Though he followed this one up with the similar, I’m the Man, Jackson’s career was marked more for its chameleon nature, with the pianist dabbling in various styles over the years. And though he would argue strongly against it, he never surpassed his maiden effort.

Highlights include the lead track, One More Time; a slam on media infantilism 30 years before it became a regular thing in Sunday Papers; the delightful Happy Loving Couples, and the speedy closer, Got the Time.

 

Important Information:

Name: Joe Jackson, Look Sharp!

Released: 1979

Record Company: A&M

Running Time: 36.28

Track Listing:

  1. One More Time
  2. Sunday Papers
  3. Is She Really Going Out with Him
  4. Happy Loving Couples
  5. Throw it Away
  6. Baby Stick Around
  7. Look Sharp!
  8. Fools in Love
  9. (Do the) Instant Mash
  10. Pretty Girls
  11. Got the Time

 

75 Percent Less Fat: 46

A very significant change of pace from our last entry, though an LP released at relatively the same time.  It’s The Connells’ Fun & Games.

I can remember one of the first times I heard something from the album. And it came in a most unexpected place. I was working at my first job, in a small newspaper in rural Indiana. Back in the press room, Something to Say was coming off the tiny boom box, and I asked who the hell was playing “that?” It seems one of the layout staff was a fan of modern/alternative/indie. I quickly made a tape of her tape, and a Top 50 entry album was found.

The Raleigh, N.C., band put out eight studio albums over the course of 16 years, many of them near-equals with Fun & Games. The run from Boylan Heights in 1987 through Ring in 1993 was about as good a stretch of jangle rock recorded this side of Athens.

Frankly, it always surprised me that Ring didn’t deliver the band a much larger audience, given it was released as radio stations were seeking out modern rock tracks following the rise of Nirvana and the glorious, long overdue demise of hair metal. Perhaps if Fun & Games had enjoyed such timing, it could have brought the band the wider acclaim they truly warranted.

Highlights here are opening song Something to Say, the guitar work grabbing the ear from the very first note; the title track, which begins whispery before breaking into classic jangle; and the uptempo Upside Down.

 

Important Information:

Name: The Connells, Fun & Games

Released: 1989

Record Company: TVT

Running Time: 45:20

Track Listing:

  1. Something to Say
  2. Fun & Games
  3. Sal
  4. Upside Down
  5. Fine Tuning*
  6. Motel
  7. Hey Wow
  8. Ten Pins
  9. Inside My Head
  10. Uninspired
  11. Sat Night (USA)
  12. Lay Me Down

*CD-only track, so not on my original version.

75 Percent Less Fat: No. 47

It would be foolish of me to suggest that anything but Daydream Nation is Sonic Youth’s masterpiece. The 1989 release is in the Library of Congress, for crying out loud. But just recognizing its cultural and artistic impact doesn’t automatically make it my favorite record from the band. That honor belongs to the follow-up release, Goo.

As with many of the albums you’ll find on this here collection, Goo was my first Sonic Youth disc, purchased shortly after its 1990 release. I’m sure I got hooked by the lead single Kool Thing in heavy rotation on 120 Minutes and jumped at the full LP.

While a little more accessible and melodic than its predecessor, Goo remains the band’s characteristic abrasiveness and experimentation. I always felt the album would have served as the perfect soundtrack to a Tarantino flick, though I don’t think he’s ever listened to anything that wasn’t made between 1970 and 1979. Instead, it had to settle for being the perfect soundtrack to mowing the lawn. It was my go-to tape to play in my Walkman when I was cutting the grass back in our second home in Greensburg.

Highlights here are Kool Thing, featuring a guest appearance from Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Tunic (Song for Karen), which tracks the tragic story of Karen Carpenter, and Dirty Boots.

Important Information:

Name: Sonic Youth, Goo

Released: 1990

Record Company: DGC

Running Time: 49:23.

Track Listing:

  1. Dirty Boots
  2. Tunic (Song for Karen)
  3. Mary-Christ
  4. Kool Thing
  5. Mote
  6. My Friend Goo
  7. Disappearer
  8. Mildred Pierce
  9. Cinderella’s Big Score
  10. Scooter + Jinx
  11. Titanium Expose

 

 

 

75 Percent Less Fat: No. 48

I was hesitant to include the next entry on the list given I just discovered it before Christmas. But then I said screw. I want to keep listening to new music for as long as I can, and not just replay the old favorites. In that case, I ought to include the best of the brand new.

I stumbled upon the group in late fall, when I heard the single Eden on Inhailer, which has become my go-to online radio station over the past few months. On first listen I immediately wondered “Who is this?” which is what I’m always looking for in a song, and a radio station.

The band is Makthaverskan, a Swedish quartet. The album is III, but don’t judge an album by its unoriginal title. The music blends post-punk edge with some dream pop atmospherics, a mixture I find consistently irresistible. Fronting it is Maja Milner, a young woman who delivers searing, impassioned and occasionally profane vocals from start to finish.

Highlights here are the aforementioned and ironically named Eden,  the pleading Leda, and the confused Siren.

Important Information:

Name: Makthaverskan, III

Released: 2017

Record Company: Run for Cover Records

Running Time: 38:06

Track Listing:

  1. Vienna
  2. Leda
  3. In My Dreams

 

  1. Witness

 

  1. To Say It As It Is

 

  1. Eden

 

  1. Siren

 

  1. Front

 

  1. Comfort

 

  1. Days Turn Into Years

 

 

Music in the Air

I am not a city kid. For all of my 50 years, save one month, I have lived in either the suburbs, the exurbs or the nothing resembling an urb. And that one month was merely spent crashing on college buddy Brian McManus’s couch in an apartment complex near the intersections of 65 and 465 on Indy’s south side, not exactly a gritty urban jungle.

And for the most part, I don’t regret having lived a life outside the urban centers. I like green grass and trees and places to roam, both when I was young lad myself and as a location to watch the kids grow.

But one of the things I’ve always envied about city life was the presence of street performers. When I visited New York growing up or my more frequent jaunts to Chicago now, I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated these pop-up public performances. Whether it was a ratty old guitar player, a well-dressed gent playing classical music on a violin or just some kids banging out staccato rhythms on makeshift drums, I love that major city streets often come with a soundtrack. Which is why I was so genuinely excited a few months back.

Cormac and I were making an early evening run to Town and Country for some groceries. When I stepped outside my car, I heard some sweet jazz music wafting through the misty air. I looked around until I found the source of that sound, a single man playing his saxophone, accompanied by a wireless speaker at his feet.

Huh? What the hell? When did we get a street musician?

I walked over to the man, listened for a while then threw a few bucks in his jar. A few weeks later, on a rush job trip to the same supermarket, I saw him again, standing on the small sidewalk equidistant between the pet and pool stores and the brightly lit Verizon building and neighboring Dunkin Donuts across the road. Sadly, I didn’t have time to stop.

Since then, I’ve been hoping to see him again. Finally, today, it happened. He was back in his now-familiar locale. I grabbed my phone to shoot some video. I also got his number, to find out a little more about this welcome addition to the Portage public sphere when I wasn’t on his time.

His professional name is Carmello Saxxx. He’s played his sax around the country for nearly 20 years, but who calls the Miller section of Gary home. He still plays gigs at nights at various local clubs, and sets up shop around Northwest Indiana on other days like he did here. I welcome all Portage residents to keep an ear out for him when they visit the Town and Country lot, if they haven’t already.

During the time I was watching and listening Tuesday, I saw two cars stop in front of him, the drivers reaching out to pass him a few bucks for his efforts. That’s been consistent with his treatment in our city, he says. “The support I’ve received and the response has been really encouraging,” he told me of his experiences playing here. I hope it continues, to keep him coming back.

Portage has grown tremendously since our family relocated here a dozen years ago. We’ve got the Region’s best movie theater, an outstanding park on the lake shore where a steel mill once stood, some great trails (that, I hope, will eventually connect us to the park). The new fire station is a gem, the police station has made good use of the mostly empty university building and Founders Square has shaped up nicely. Hell, we’re now creating our very own downtown out of thin air.

But for my money, few things say, “Hey this is a cool place to live,” better than being able to hear great music where car horns and associated clatter were all that previously snapped the silence. Bless you Carmello.

Video here.

75 Percent Less Fat: No. 49

The two Johns provide Album No. 49 with their 1990 release, Flood. They Might Be Giants, a name taken from a 1971 George C. Scott film, is the outfit founded by Massachusetts-born, Brooklyn-reunited John Linnell and John Flansburgh.

Unlike many artists on this list, I caught TMBG from the very beginning. I was just getting into college/modern/alternative rock in 1986 when the boys released their self-titled debut, featuring the 120 Minutes mainstay that hooked me, Don’t Let’s Start. They followed that with the fine Lincoln release. Later, they’d add some more studio albums, some educational albums and the theme songs to both Malcolm in the Middle and Higglytown Heroes. But they truly peaked with their third release.

Flood found TMBG at the apex of their quirky powers, with a mix of the funny and the strange and a delicious cover that would be unexpected from anyone but them, Istanbul (Not Constantinople). Hell, the album’s got both a theme song kicking it off: Theme from Flood (Why is the world in love again? Why are we marching hand in hand? Why are the ocean levels rising up? It’s a brand new record for 1990. They Might be Giants brand new album, Flood) and a song named after the band, and yet neither comes off as hubristic as Bad Company being Bad Company for the entirety of their days,  or Wang Chung requesting the rest of the world Wang Chunging for just a single evening.

Highlights: Lead single Birdhouse in Your Soul; Twisting, featuring references to the DBs and fellow goofballs Young Fresh Fellows; and my personal favorite, We Want a Rock, which spoken aloud sounds like it would be found on many of the metal albums it was sharing the time period with, but is just a simple song about wanting a rock to tie some string around.

Important Information:

Name: They Might Be Giants, Flood

Released: 1990

Record Company: Elektra

Running Time: 43:24

Track Listing:

  1. Theme from Flood
  2. Birdhouse in Your Soul
  3. Lucky Ball & Chain
  4. Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
  5. Dea
  6. Your Racist Friend
  7. Particle Man
  8. Twisting
  9. We Want a Rock
  10. Someone Keeps Moving My Chair
  11. Hearing Aid
  12. Minimum Wage
  13. Letterbox
  14. Whistling in the Dark
  15. Hot Cha
  16. Women & Men
  17. Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love
  18. They Might Be Giants
  19. Road Movie to Berlin