Day Nineteen Bonus Track(s): Bad Veins – "Falling Tide" b/w "The Lie"

Dovecote Records ■ DCR 0012/DCR 0011


Released: ??, 2007


Produced by Bad Veins, Justin Baily, Daron Hollowell and Jonathan Fuller
Engineered by Justin Bailey and Johnathan Fuller
Mastered by Steve Girton

A-Side:

  • Falling Tide
B-Side:

  • The Lie

On my previous blog, I had a single poll, really, and it was to narrow the direction of my planned listening, in a more general and randomized sense than the ones I kept here. I matched Wire, the Skids, Dinosaur Jr, Slade and Bad Veins–a pretty weird blend overall, even if all of them are or were rock in some form or other. Dinosaur Jr ended up winning, probably indicative of the people I know. Bad Veins did reasonably well, and I knew at least one person who put in a bote there. I knew the same for Slade, for that matter. I never got around to writing about any of them but Dinosaur Jr (who won)–I just felt too overwhelmed by the volume of material, especially as compared to what I felt like I knew.

As time has gone on, Bad Veins has remained the most “limited”–they’ve released 2 albums and not much more. They were floating around the “legitimately” indie scene (in the sense of limited distribution, low-fame, independent in actual senses of divorce from industry clout) even when I saw them live. They opened for We Were Promised Jetpacks, who I saw completely on a lark, having forgotten the show was even occurring at the time. I ended up having hard cider for the first time (on the recommendation of a friend–via text, no less), but wandered in for the latter half of Bad Veins’ set. I normally show up at concerts at door time, or even sooner. This time, because it was so delayed (not to mention a venue I had never been to or even seen), I was a lot later though.
When I looked up at the stage, I saw two guys in pseudo-military dress with a podium and a reel-to-reel tape player, a rotary phone receiver attached to the microphone stand (leading to its base attached to the podium) and a covering of seeming wallpaper on that podium. One was manning drums, the other at the mic and playing guitar. It was an odd sight, to be sure. That this was the band opening for the post rock-inflected Scots who I knew as openers for The Twilight Sad (who I knew as openers for Mogwai) would have left me confused if the band who preceded We Were Promised Jetpacks when they opened for the Twilight Sad wasn’t Brakes, the English pop/rock band. Still, these were Americans, so I was left a bit confused all the same.
It wasn’t long before the strains of Bad Veins infected me at the show, though. It was catchy stuff, and the “gimmicks” didn’t feel gimmicky so much as creative and vaguely quirky–the telephone was used to distort Benjamin Davis’s vocals much like megaphones are used (and, indeed, he used one of those, too). Sebastien Schultz’ drumming was solid, forceful rock drumming, too, and there was a nice weight to their songs–and the reel-to-reel (nicknamed Irene, I’d later find) gave a more full sound than the pair could have otherwise produced.
I snapped up the only thing they had with them at the show–a 7″ of two songs, paired with a CD designated for the year’s tour (2012) and a download code for their first album (home-typed and printed, clearly!). I had the pair sign it (as you can see) and went on my merry way. The CD was actually composed of songs from their then-forthcoming album, The Mess We’ve Made, while the single was actually a pair of songs from their self-titled first album, released in 2009.
“Dancing on TV” was probably the catchiest song from the show, as well as the lead song on that CD, but that means, of course, it wasn’t on the single itself. The single is still in the same style the band sticks to, though: Schultz on drums and Davis on keys and guitar, singing, in a style that’s unique and somewhat difficult to describe. It’s very strongly enunciated, and quite exaggerated, and seems to carry a sort of hangdog happiness–strange though that may sound. It’s as if he’s drained of energy in a part of the sound, yet the range and modulation he puts into his voice betrays the lie of that notion. It gives them a bit of their own character, and it’s a good and enjoyable character to have.
“Falling Tide” is the louder song, a simple drum machine (tape loop, I’m guessing!) intro that very quickly turns to a real drum and a rumbling bass as Davis sings in that style of his, defining the melody. The chorus throws a spray of keys back at us and kicks in the guitar, but, most important, lets us hear the best part of Davis: his choruses. “I never would have held it back if/I thought that we’d get through”–and it’s that through, dragged through a sliding range of notes and three extra syllables. Absolute singalong in the best sense.
“The Lie” is the lighter companion. A ticking timer starts the track, and then in comes Davis’ voice, extra clear and completely up front, right in front of you in the mix, and only a calm, quiet keyboard line follows him for the entire first verse. The second verse shifts the keys up an octave or so¹, and halfway through adds a looped pizzicato violin. And then we get the chorus: “‘Cause sometimes, sometimes to get by/I believe in the lie”. Davis again is happy to give a single word multiple notes, and Schultz enters, too, as does a bass. A flute section, and the rhythm section get to follow him into the second repetition of the verses, and we get to hear that great chorus again–and Davis finally lets loose the third time through, and you hear his voice at full energy, the entire song coming upward with a faux chorus. The final, long-held instance of the chorus is perhaps the most exciting, and fades to the somewhat hesitant sound of his voice seeming to realize what he’s singing: he has just sung loudly of his habit of getting by by pretending. That little note of reality creeps in and the song falls to a stop.
You know, I’m not going to pretend that I’m in a space where there needs to be some kind of absolute ground-breaking, totally unique element–I’ve never demanded nor always appreciated that, it has to be done right. And so does a catchy song–and Bad Veins do it right, and have done. Given the right exposure they could–and should–get a lot more fans. If the engineer I know who has done sound for them (completely without my prior knowledge, mind you!) can appreciate them in his tendency toward the weirder, darker (and often more country or folk, but edged) kind of things, then that should say something, I think.
Most of the 7″s I have fit into the space one would expect a 7″ to fit in: they are catchy singles that are readily digested and immediate, great to listen to and enjoy as much as you want–not necessarily shallow, but accessible. Bad Veins is no exception, and none of that should be taken as anything but endorsement.

While we’re here, there’s actually the video of “Dancing on TV” from the very show I attended, embedded here for your enjoyment:

¹Let’s remember I’m not great at music theory, but that feels right? 
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Day Fourteen, Bonus Track(s): !!! – "Heart of Hearts"

Warp Records ■ WAP 218


Released: February 19, 2007


Produced by Justin Van Volgen
Mixed by The Brothers and Justin Van Volgen

A-Side:

  • “Heart of Hearts”
B-Side:

  • [Silence]

I guess I don’t need to tell you this is a picture disc, unless the sudden shock of colour completely blinded you. I picked this beauty up when I went to see !!! in 2007. And yes, if you haven’t yet gathered, the name of this band is exactly what’s printed on the A-Side up there: !!!. The pronunciation is technically any single syllabic non-verbal noise, and is typically written as “Chk chk chk”–and remember that, it’s valuable information if you want to search for them.

In my alphabetical discovery phase, I went through eMusic’s catalogue in, well, alphabetical order for a while. Back in 2000-2002, they had a very different selection. !!! began it, though, and did so with their debut album, the self-titled !!!. Considering some suggest the band actually broke up, went on hiatus, or otherwise disappeared shortly following its release, it’s hardly a wonder they were such a pain to search for at the time. If all you know is their printed name, it’s not any different now. Punctuation is generally ignored by most search engines, except where it is used as part of their own “lexicon” for clarifying searches. Unfortunately, using quotation marks is no different with Google. Having to use song titles is no way to search for any artist, but when it’s the only way, it just makes you aware of how annoying it is. As such, while I still think of them as literally “!!!” and am disinclined to actually have a thought of them as “chk chk chk”, it has been a boon to have a search term that actually works.
But, I digress.
The band has four albums under their belt now (!!!, Louden Up Now, Myth Takes, from which this comes, and Strange Weather, Isn’t It?), and a smattering of singles and EPs. After the now-defunct Gold Standard Laboratories (responsible for releasing the early Mars Volta material, The Locust, De Facto, The Faint, and a variety of other bands that are familiar to me but only scattered few people I know) released that first album, the band jumped to Warp Records. Honestly, I found this weird. I identified Warp strongly with electronic music, as it was the label of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. In my head, I’d categorized !!! as some variety of funk thanks to songs like “Kookooka Fuk-U” and my then-favourite, “Intensify” (let me just add: single word song titles were not helpful in my searches, nor were nonsense words that might be split up or punctuated in a variety of ways. Thanks, guys.). Of course, I didn’t know much about funk, or post-punk, or the oddly titled genre “dance-punk” (aka “disco punk” and “punk funk”–so at least I wasn’t too far away).
The band has, even if they are not “funk”, always had a groove and a very funky sound–though I’m not sure how I mean “funky”, to be honest. It has that visceral element of funk (like “groove”) that encourages movement, but it’s also kind of weird.
“Heart of Hearts” comes from midway through third album Myth Takes, and starts out with two palm-muted guitars, one consistent, though high and sharpened, the other intermittent and nervous. Low end seems to try to force its way in, a drum seeming to be pounded in the background, even as the hi-hat rhythm plays along in the foreground, gathering up to a consistent beat. The bottom end drops in suddenly and the entire song lets loose. Nic Offer’s too-cool vocals (never sung without a sense of humour–he actually stopped the show I was at to question why no one was laughing at his knowingly terrible dancing, and seemingly taking it seriously instead of having fun). The bass line and the boom-bap drums are insistent and propulsive, while the guitars hide in the high end and add nervous energy, alongside the hi-hat that hisses just enough to tie them both together. Sharon Funchess appears as guest vocalist for the bridge, a touch that adds the feeling that the song is rooted in music from decades earlier. The song moves, the song grooves, the song makes you want to dance (even if, like Nic, you can’t). Sharon chants “Heartof, heartof, heartof, heartof” and her breathing becomes more impatient and rises in volume until the entire song drops–you think it’s over, but it comes right back, with the guitars now swirling and chasing each other around in the air, echoing and reverberating around, the rhythm section untouched. There’s another brief break as the song seems to be forced through a funnel, leaving only odd electronic noises over steady bass kicks. And then the hi-hat rhythm comes back, but it’s an open cymbal now, and the bass doesn’t come back. The hat tightens and then the drop back appears and–the song immediately drops to zero volume and ends.
This was a great choice for a single, no question. Myth Takes may be my favourite !!! album anyway, (not to be missed, too, is the “Brothers Mix” of the song, which originally appeared on the bonus disc included with initial presses of the album on CD–which wouldn’t have made a bad b-side here!). But the song exemplifies everything good and great about !!!, and it’s even pressed on not only a super-pretty slab of vinyl, but one that manages to exactly fit the feel and beat of the song as it spins, the way the lines splay and imply movement in multiple directions as it spins adding to the experience in an unusual way. You can actually see a bit of what I mean (the differing directions, at least–implying the record is almost turning in opposing directions or being used to scratch) in this shot:
I’m going to close with one more annoyance: I actually can’t tag this post with the band’s name. The character is excluded from tag options. Dammit.

Day Eight Point Bonus Track(s): Barry Andrews – "Rossmore Road" b/w "Win a Night Out with a Well-Known Paranoiac"

Virgin Records ■ VS 378


Released: September, 1980


Produced by Barry Andews and John Strudwick

A-Side:

  • Rossmore Road
B-Side:

  • Win a Night Out with a Well-Known Paranoiac

NOTE: I don’t normally review singles (or most EPs, live albums, etc) but I’m going to use smaller releases to take up time when I feel like it.

I found this single when I was out hunting around on Record Store Day last year, and grabbed it only because Barry Andrews was originally keyboard player for XTC.
I’ve found that 7″s in general have their own kind of community (45cat is a database exclusively of 45rpm 7″ releases, primarily going only through the 1980s or 1990s in terms of what it contains) and tend to have cult followings–especially for artists who lack full album releases, and Mr. Andrews didn’t release an album with exclusively his name on it for another 23 years after this single came out. There are some cool songs out there that never got released in any other fashion (I do have one of my dad’s copies of Chris Hodge’s “We’re on Our Way” b/w “Supersoul” that was released on the Beatles’ Apple Records), so it always makes this kind of thing a bit fun.
Anyway, Barry left XTC after the release of Go 2, their second full length, and possessor of one of my favourite album covers ever, unsurprisingly designed by Hipgnosis, who designed many a classic album cover. The album was a bit peculiar in that it marks the only occasion that the band ever released an album with songs explicitly written by someone other than frontman Andy Partridge or co-conspirator, bassist Colin Moulding. Those songs–“Super Tuff” and “My Weapon” were written by Barry Andrews, who was trying to find his voice as a songwriter, but was somewhat wrestled out of the band by the paranoid Partridge (who feared he might lose control). They were odd songs, not sounding like most of the band’s output even to that point, and not the greatest by any stretch. I grabbed this single because I thought Barry might turn out differently without the strictures or expectations of an XTC record to constrain his songwriting.
It turns out I was right. “Rossmore Road” and “Win a Night Out with a Well-Known Paranoiac” are both interesting songs, with a sound a bit like a slightly over-“hip” band in a club, with a walking bassline in the A-side behind woodwinds–but also strange electronic noises. Barry describes Rossmore Road (apparently in Marylebone, London) in a sing-song fashion, joined in chorus by others when he sings the name of the road, until the song builds and explodes into a heavily punctuated and more full sounding chorus, which repeats “All humming now” to describe the amenities located in and around the road itself. 
“Win a Night Out” apparently got actual radio play, and is a much stranger song, though it sounds much like another band in a small club in the way I envision (perhaps inaccurately, but based primarily on television and movies in the 1980s and 1990s, usually in semi-period settings from earlier decades, like 1990’s Dick Tracy), but is dominated by Barry Andrews speaking out his notion of nights out with the theoretical winner, each of which goes off in strange and dark, awful directions. They’re all punctuated by a group of voices singing “Win a night out!” which Barry finishes for them, adding a bit more singing for those moments, but continuing primarily to operate his voice by rhythm.
This isn’t a release you’re going to stumble into, so give it a listen here: