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Noising Machine Singles Club: 13

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TRAVIS

“COMING AROUND”

b/w “Just The Faces Change”/”The Connection”/”Rock N’ (Salad) Roll”/”The Weight” (The Band cover)

Released 6/5/00

(Fran Healy)

I used to really love Travis; from 2000 til around 2003, I would say they were one of my favorite bands. I was won over by their second album (the massive U.K. smash The Man Who) and subsequently picked up their debut, Good Feeling. By the time The Invisible Band was released in the summer of 2001, my Traviphile tendencies were at a fever pitch. My friend Ryan and I even went to a Dido concert just because Travis were opening. In the middle of this period of devotion came “Coming Around”, a non-album single released to help ease the wait between records.

Now, the first thing you might notice when you hear “Coming Around” is that it sounds like The Byrds. Not just kind of like The Byrds. Just like The Byrds. My knowledge of guitars is nil, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that’s the 12-string Ricky on the track, the kind Roger McGuinn made famous. But I’ve never let blatant borrowing ruin my appreciation of a good song (Oasis is one of my favorite bands, after all), and almost a decade later, I still really like “Coming Around”. It’s got a good Fran Healy-supplied melody, and I’ve always been a fan of jangly guitars/ Now, it’s sounds like more of a transitional song to me than it did then; the melancholy of The Man Who being replaced by the (perhaps overly) sunny tones of The Invisible Band.

Unfortunately, that change also marked the beginning of the end for my time as an ardent Travis fan. I enjoy Band still (though it’s been years since I listened to it), but I think my affection may be borne more out of nostalgia than enthusiasm. I actually liked 2003’s 12 Memories, though after that my interest in keeping track of Travis faded. I bought The Boy With No Name, but it was out of habit more than anything and I seriously doubt I’ve ever listened to it all the way through. I didn’t even bother to get Ode To J. Smith. Some bands stay with you, and some bands are destined to fall by the wayside. But I still love The Man Who and I still love “Coming Around”…like I said, it was a transition, but I think it still has enough of a sweet spot for me, enough residual TMW qualities to make the cut-off of my Travis love. I also remember listening to it on a plane ride to Japan in the summer of 2000, and anytime a song can take you back to some of the best days of your life, it’s bound to have a positive effect on you.

 

Here’s the video…there’s a giant egg in it:

 

 

 

G.

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Noising Machine Singles Club: 12

U2 - 11 O'Clock Tick Tock (non-album single) [1980]

U2

“11 O’CLOCK TICK TOCK”

b/w “Touch”

Released 5/23/80

(U2)

A lot of people reading this entry probably aren’t big U2 fans. Actually, some of you might actively hate them. But there was a time before all the grand gestures and posturing when U2 was just a band of Dublin high school-age Joy Division obsessives. That’s the time that this single, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” hails from.

“11 O’ Clock” is certainly the U2 song most indebted to that Mancunian post-punk foursome. The single was produced by Joy Division and Factory Records house producer Martin Hannett, and even the sleeve was made by Factory Records house designer Peter Saville . The band first met Hannett during the recording sessions for Joy Division’s most famous song “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which, for U2, must have been like if Ryan Meier could have watched Weezer record “Buddy Holly”, or if I could have watched Oasis record “Wonderwall”, etc.

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Hannett was actually tapped not just to helm this non-album single but the entirety of the band’s debut Boy, an arrangement that fell apart upon the suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis (an event that inspired the song “A Day Without Me”, found on the aforementioned album). Curtis’ death happened soon before U2 was due to record their album and the tragedy left Martin Hannett emotionally unable to begin the album at the neccessary time. Thus, producer Steve Lillywhite stepped behind the console and a long and fruitful relationship between he and the band began, one that continues to this day.

As for the song itself, it’s not a Joy Division xerox or anything…it definitely sounds like U2. Bono still sounds unmistakeably like Bono, albeit in his early, fake British accent phase. The Edge‘s guitar part is certainly reminiscent of Bernard Sumner‘s, but it also recalls the ringing tones of Keith Levene of Public Image Ltd. And the schoolboy choir vocal break is a technique that their heroes would be unlikely to utilize themselves. Its post-punk influence and muscular performance have made it one of my favorite U2 songs. Curiously, even though it ranks among the band’s top 20 most-performed songs (largely because it was including in almost all of the band’s sets from 1980-1984) and was included on their popular Under A Blood Red Sky live album, “11 O’Clock” remains relatively obscure. It’s never been included as part of a U2 best-of or singles collections, and until last year’s reissue of Boy (on which it was included as part of the supplements), it had never been widely available on compact disc.

Boatband

While it’s unfortunate that “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” has become obscured by the likes of  “Beautiful Day”, ultimately its quality remains remarkably undiminished. If one is inclined enough to seek it out it provides a vision of U2 before the pomp and stadium circumstance, when the band were still an up-and-coming concern and willing acolytes to a more idiosyncratic sound.

Video:

Live at Red Rocks:

And a live version of b-side “Touch”, San Francisco circa ’81:

G.

Noising Machine Singles Club: 11

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SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES

“SWIMMING HORSES”

b/w “Let Go”/”The Humming Wires”

Released 3/16/84

(Siouxsie & The Banshees)

“Swimming Horses” comes from the brief period in Siouxsie & The Banshees‘ existence when Robert Smith of The Cure was the group’s guitarist. Robert and The Banshees already had a bit of history together before he joined on as a full-time member in 1983 – The Cure opened for the then-bigger Banshees on a 1979 tour, a jaunt that saw Robert first fill in on axe duties for the band when their original guitarist bailed halfway through. By 1983, Smith considered his band all-but-finished after the emotional and physically draining tour for the band’s Pornography album the previous year, and though he agreed not to officially call an end to The Cure at the behest of his label boss, Smith was ready to be a background player for awhile. Enter The Banshees, who at the time had lost their most recent of what would prove to be a seemingly endless line of revolving door guitarists. Smith had been friends with Banshees bassist Steve Severin for a number of years and respected the Banshees musically, so the decision to join up and have the weight lifted from his shoulders was a presumably easy one. Except that he had to make it complicated.

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Not happy to just be in the studio with The Banshees, Smith and Severin also decided to record an album of psychedelic pop in their downtime under the moniker The Glove. In addition, The Cure carried on, eschewing the extreme gothic doom of Pornography for the electropop of “Let’s Go To Bed” and “The Walk”, which were released as standalone singles in 1982 and 1983, respectively. Smith would literally travel from one session to the next while working on all of these various projects, grabbing catnaps in the back of the cabs that spirited him away to whatever session was next. This triple-duty left him understandably exhausted. By the time Siouxsie & The Banshees’ Hyaena album was released in June 1984, Smith had scored the biggest hit of his career with The Cure single “The Lovecats”, which charted at #7. The rest of The Banshees and Siouxsie Sioux especially became increasingly concerned that The Cure’s heightened profile would lead to scheduling and other conflicts. And they were right. Having been completely worm down by his work on three musical projects, Robert Smith was sickly ill and visited his physician, who told him that in his current state he was in no state to join the Banshees for their world tour in support of Hyaena. Thus, Smith exited the Banshees, the Glove was resigned to side-project hell and The Cure were free to begin their utter domination of the emerging alternative music movement. Siouxsie still holds a grudge and calls Robert Smith “Fat Bob” in interviews to this day.

siouxsiesmith

But ANYWAY…”Swimming Horses”. Never ranked among The Banshees finest moments like “Spellbound” or “Peek-a-boo”, “Horses” still comes across as a delightfully bouncy slice of psychedelic pop, much in keeping with Smith’s influence at the time. The main piano hook was almost certainly contributed by him, as a very similar sounding line would anchor The Cure song “Six Different Ways”, released on The Head On The Door album the following year. Siouxsie lyrics add acid to this backing, with lines like:

thrown back again to drown
kinder with poison
than pushed down a well – or a face burnt to hell
feel the cruel stones breaking her bones
dead before born

….but with the song’s playful music bed it’s easy to miss these dark lines, and most like the chorus:

he gives birth to swimming horses

….is what sticks with the listener. Though you or I might be interested in a pop song where the chorus mentions the fact that it’s the male seahorse that gives birth instead of the female, the general U.K. public didn’t seem to agree and “Swimming Horses” made little impact on the charts. A shame really, because’s it a nice little song and acts as a good example of the music that came out of the Banshees’ brief Robert Smith era.

G.

 
 

Top Of The Pops performance, circa ’84.

Noising Machine Singles Club: 10

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SUEDE

“WE ARE THE PIGS”

b/w “Killing Of A Flashboy”/”Whipsnade”

Released 9/12/94

(Anderson/Butler)

“We Are The Pigs” was the first single from Suede‘s second album, 1994’s Dog Man Star.  Prior to the release of “Pigs”, the band’s guitarist and co-songwriter Bernard Butler departed due to various inter-band tensions, leaving the remaining three members (vocalist and other co-writer Brett Anderson, bassist Mat Osman and drummer Simon Gilbert) to finish the record and to find a replacement. By the time promotional duties for DMS commenced Suede had found their new axe-man through a demo tape submitted to them through an ad placed in the New Musical Express. Richard Oakes could peel off Butler’s glammest riffs or deftly play his predecessor’s most delicately finger-picked melodies, and could do so at the ripe old age of 17, which was how old he was when offered the spot in Suede. Pretty crazy.

Oakes’ first duty upon joining the band was to appear in the promotional video for “We Are The Pigs”, miming along to Bernard Butler’s playing. The video does an excellent job of dramatizing Anderson’s description of paranoid urban wasteland set to Butler’s ominous yet rollicking musical bed. As you can perhaps ascertain from the lyrics…

Well the church bells are calling
Police cars on fire
And as they call you to the eye of the storm
All the people say “Stay at home tonight”
I say we are the pigs we are the swine
We are the stars of the firing line

And as the smack cracks at your window
You wake up with a gun in your mouth
Oh let the nuclear wind blow away my sins
And I’ll stay at home in my house

I say we are the pigs
we are the swine
we are the stars of the firing line

But deceit can’t save you so

We will watch them burn

“We Are The Pigs” was a single unlikely to have much chart success. But as a statement of intent, and as a taster of the dark, foreboding Dog Man Star, it worked brilliantly. To hear a group of children happily chanting “We’ll all watch them burn” over the sound of a crackling fire in what turned out to be a top 20 single is a wonderfully subversive moment, and it helped align Suede with the darker undercurrent than much of what Britain was listening to in the fall of 1994. It makes perfect sense that the band would tour Europe that year alongside Manic Street Preachers, who had just released their own pitch-black opus in the form of The Holy Bible. The next albums by both bands would find surprising mainstream favor, but at the time they were exiles from the land of Britpop.

Richard Oakes would remain with Suede until their breakup in 2003; Anderson and Butler briefly reunited as The Tears and released one album entitled Here Come The Tears in 2005. More on those later…

The great video:

…a live performance from ’95:

…and a video for one of the single’s great b-sides, “Killing Of A Flash Boy”:

Singles Club: 9

815tp7cd

ASOBI SEKSU

“THURSDAY”

b/w “New Years”

Released 2006

I first heard about Asobi Seksu (Japanese for “playful sex”) in 2004 thanks to that great source of Asian pop culture info, Giant Robot. Reading about how the band was influenced by the shoegaze sound and that frontwoman Yuki Chikudate alternated between English and Japanese singing made me interested in hearing them, and when I picked up their first album soon after at Record Collector in Iowa City I wasn’t disappointed. Flash forward to 2006 and Asobi’s second album Citrus. Citrus did exactly what a sophomore record should do; namely, it built upon what made its predecessor so great while also showing signs of growth via new styles and directions.

One of the standout tracks on Citrus was “Thursday”, which was selected as the first single. Like a lot of shoegaze, the lyrics are all but indecipherable (to these ears, at least) and also like a lot of shoegaze, it doesn’t matter. It’s more about the tone and the texture anyway, and as Yuki’s voice ascends on the airy chorus, the feeling of longing and unrequited emotion is almost palpable. Her ethereal voice floats above the pristine aural landscape created both by her keyboard layers and compatriot James Hanna’s swaths of guitar bliss.

In the fall of 2006, my band Beati Paoli were lucky enough to play on the same bill as Asobi Seksu at the Vaudeville Mews in Des Moines. Like many Des Moines shows, attendance was poor but Asobi still put on a great show. Yuki had these fake cats placed on the equipment (presumably the same ones on the cover of Citrus), and towards the end of the set she told a story about cats that was kind of weird and awkward. I’m guessing it was nerves. The music itself was very loud and very good, as shoegaze should be. Afterwards, one of us asked the band if they wanted to stay at our house that night, which they did. It’s not as if Asobi Seksu is The Beatles or something, but it was still kind of strange to have this band that’s fairly well-known and respected in certain circles sleeping on our floor. The band were nice but definitely kept to themselves that night, which is fine. It’s not like they knew us or anything, so I didn’t expect us to become best friends. I got the impression they were pretty shy people, something I can definitely relate to. Right before they left the next day, Yuki ran back into the house and, in an endearingly awkward manner, handed Ryan a copy of Citrus as thanks for letting them crash at our place.

Since then, Asobi Seksu have lost two members and is now a duo comprised of just Yuki and James. They released their third record Hush in February of this year, and while it has a lot to recommend it, Citrus is still my favorite and “Thursday” remains one of their very best and beautifully melancholic moments.

Video:

Singles Club: 8

bethere

UNKLE featuring IAN BROWN

“BE THERE”

b/w “THE KNOCK-ON EFFECT”

Released 2/1/99

(Davis/Brown)

Kind of an interesting case, this one.  Throughout its 15 year existence, UNKLE has largely been comprised of Mo’ Wax Records founder James Lavelle and whoever else is around at the time. UNKLE’s first formation revolved around Lavelle and future DFA co-head Tim Goldsworthy; its second major incarnation featured Lavelle and Josh Davis a.k.a. DJ Shadow.

The group’s debut album Psyence Fiction was released in 1998 and featured collaborations with artists like Thom Yorke, Richard Ashcroft, Badly Drawn Boy and Mike D., among others. One vocalist that did not appear on the album is former Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown, yet the second single released to promote Fiction features his rough Northern tones. Originally presented as an instrumental entitled “Unreal”, with Brown’s words and vocals on top the song became “Be There”.

On a personal note, this particular single changed my musical life, and therefore my life in general. I imported this single (like so many others) through sirendisc.com, but purely for its b-side, a remix of Psyence Fiction‘s “The Knock (Drums Of Death Pt. 2)” done by Noel Gallagher of Oasis. I had picked up Fiction when it came out the year before and really liked it (especially “Lonely Soul”), but I was certainly not an UNKLE completist. I was, however, an Oasis completist, and in these distant days before filesharing and hi-speed, sirendisc was usually my only way to get the UK-only releases that Oasis and so many of my other favorite bands put out.

The aforementioned remix, entitled “The Knock-On Effect”, was a pretty good effort and incorporated elements of the Led Zeppelin sound Noel was obsessed with at the time (it’s also probably the only time Noel Gallagher, DJ Shadow, Jason Newstead and Mike D. will ever appear together). But on my way to this b-side, I listened to “Be There”. It started like “Unreal” did on the album: dreamy keys underlined by ominous strings until the beat kicked in. So far, so same until about 40 seconds in when that voice comes in.

Now, Ian Brown doesn’t have a technically great voice. He’s a personality singer. And for whatever reason, as he sang the lyric of “Be There”, I was captivated. I was aware of The Stone Roses, knowing them as an influence on Oasis, and I was vaguely familiar with their single “Love Spreads”, which was a moderate U.S. hit. But for whatever reason, as of early 1999, I had yet to investigate them. It was a real moment of discovery for me. The next month I was at the CD Warehouse on Merle Hay Road in Des Moines, and bought The Stone Roses’ debut (as well as Modern Life Is Rubbish by Blur). It really changed my life, and influenced the way I sing, the way I write lyrics and the way I look at the world. Hyperbolic maybe, but true for me. And it may not have happened without “Be There”, a great, great single in its own right.

Audio:

And a severely truncated live version on Top Of The Pops circa ’99:

G.