Category Archives: noiselike

2017: What Is an ‘Ablum’?

So here’s what 2017 looked like to me, musically.

My very favorite albums (in alphabetical order) were the following:

  • The Black Watch The Gospel According to John
  • Brief Candles Retreater
  • Caroline Says 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong
  • The Clientele Music for the Age of Miracles
  • Cotton Mather Wild Kingdom
  • Destroyer Ken
  • Game Theory Supercalifragile
  • Great Ytene Locus
  • Robyn Hitchcock Robyn Hitchcock
  • New Boss Third Sister
  • Novella Change of State
  • Omni Multi-Task
  • Spoon Hot Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by the Game Theory album…since it was an album salvaged from demos, fragments, and stray ideas, a work-in-progress when songwriter Scott Miller ended his life back in 2013. He’d intended this to be a collaborative project, and so it was: with the archival assistance of his widow, Kristine, and musical direction from Ken Stringfellow, a long list of musical collaborators pulled together an album that, miraculously, sounds quite distinctively like a Game Theory record.

My second tier of favorites for 2017 (there’s actually very little difference between these first two tiers):

  • The Bye Bye Blackbirds Take Out the Poison
  • The Dream Syndicate How Did I Find Myself Here?
  • Filthy Friends Invitation (Peter Buck, Corin Tucker, Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch, Bill Rieflin…)
  • Guided by Voices How Do You Spell Heaven? 
  • Ted Leo The Hanged Man
  • Thurston Moore Rock n Roll Consciousness
  • The New Pornographers Whiteout Conditions
  • Robert Plant Carry Fire
  • St. Vincent Masseduction
  • Sparks Hippopotamus
  • Wire Silver/Lead

And just a little below…:

  • Mark Eitzel Hey Mr. Ferryman
  • Grizzly Bear Painted Ruins
  • The Magnetic Fields 50 Song Memoir
  • Monks of Doom The Brontë Pin
  • The National Sleep Well Beast
  • Washington Hebrew (Michael Kentoff from The Caribbean) Washington Hebrew

My end-of-year best-albums songpile, Belgian Whistles, is drawn from the above (see next post for details and links).

The next levels are still really fine records:

Algiers The Underside of Power, Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice, Beck Colors, Benjamin Booker Witness, Dirty Projectors Dirty Projectors, Dutch Uncles Big Balloon,, Fleet Foxes Crack-Up, Guided by Voices August by Cake, Holy Hum All My Bodies, LCD Soundsystem American Dream, Queens of the Stone Age Villains, Lee Ranaldo Electric Trim, The Sadies Northern Passages, Slowdive Slowdive.

Dale Cooper Quartet & the Dictaphones Astrild Astrild, Brian Eno Reflection, The Fall New Facts Emerge, Father John Misty Pure Comedy, Nick Hakim Green Twins, Dhani Harrison In///Parallel, Liars TFCF, Lo Tom Lo Tom, Aimee Mann Mental Illness, Laura Marling Semper Femina, Eric Matthews Too Much World, Momus Pillycock, The Mountain Goats Goths, Sampha Process.

And, honorable mention to: Anton Barbeau Antronica 2, The Mike Benign Compulsion Kid, Big Thief Capacity, Cherry Glazerr Apocalipstick, Crystal Fairy Crystal Fairy, Karla Kane King’s Daughters Home for Incurables, Los Campesinos! Sick Scenes, Maximo Park Risk to Exist, Pixx The Age of Anxiety, The Proper Ornaments Foxhole, Real Estate In Mind, Ride Weather Diaries, Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble Find Me Finding You, Statuesque Accusative, Matthew Sweet Tomorrow Forever, Paul Weller A Kind Revolution.

The best EPs of the year: Anton Barbeau Heaven Is In Your Mind, Cotton Mather Young Life, Cate Le Bon Rock Pool, TC&I (Colin Moulding & Terry Chambers, formerly of XTC) Great Aspirations, Kamasi Washington Harmony of Difference.


(If I didn’t mention it, either I haven’t heard it, haven’t heard it enough, or remain meh on it…)






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A Metronome of Quilts: second 2015 covers mix

The last of my year-end flurry of mixes…this one consisting of the covers I most liked among those I ran into (or became reacquainted with) during the second half of 2015. Here it is: A Metronome of Quilts:

  1. Anton Barbeau “Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl” (Robyn Hitchcock) 0:00
  2. Continental Drifters “When You Dance I Can Really Love” (Neil Young) 2:22
  3. Paul Myers “I Want to Tell You” (the Beatles) 6:00
  4. Grace Vonderkuhn “Love My Way” (Psychedelic Furs) 9:23
  5. Cristina Quesada “Just Like Honey” (Jesus & Mary Chain) 13:02
  6. Susanna Hoffs “Ghost of His Smile” (Sparklehorse) 15:05
  7. Show of Hands “The Boys of Summer” (Don Henley) 18:09
  8. Casper Iskov “Schizophrenia” (Sonic Youth) 22:14
  9. Field Report “Take Down Your Flag” (Peter Mulvey) 26:17
  10. The Unthanks “Shipbuilding” (Elvis Costello/Robert Wyatt) 29:28
  11. Makrosoft “Losing My Religion” (R.E.M.) 33:09
  12. PMJ ft. Sara Niemietz “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” (Talking Heads) 38:11
  13. Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach “My Little Red Book” (Manfred Mann) 42:09
  14. Of Montreal “Time Will Show the Wiser” (Emitt Rhodes Merry-Go-Round/Fairport Convention cover) 44:34
  15. These United States “To Ramona” (Bob Dylan) 48:16
  16. Mandible “Cousin Kevin” (The Who) 52:14
  17. Popdudes “Kinder Murder” (Elvis Costello) 56:15
  18. Race Horses “No Man’s Land” (Syd Barrett) 59:26
  19. Manishevitz “Free Will and Testament” (Robert Wyatt) 1:01:25
  20. Leo Kottke “Eight Miles High” (The Byrds) 1:05:32
  21. Glenn Mercer “Third Stone from the Sun” (Jimi Hendrix) 1:09:02
  22. D’Cuckoo “No One Receiving” (Brian Eno) 1:15:35
  23. Corinne Bailey Rae “Since I’ve Been Loving You” (Led Zeppelin) 1:20:51
  24. White Flag “Wuthering Heights” (Kate Bush) 1:25:12
  25. XTC “Ella Guru” (Captain Beefheart) 1:29:09

As always (recently)…this is one big mp3 file. If you like any of the songs, please consider actually buying them.

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Winter Songpile 2015: Certified Clean Idol

Favorite songs that came my way during the last three months but which aren’t on albums I own (yet)…Certified Clean Idol:

  1. Ricked Wicky “Temporarily Inane” 0:00
  2. Moonsocket “The Way Is Shut” 2:56
  3. The Feelies “Fa Cé-La” (1977 single version) 6:25
  4. Raccoon Fighter “Mr. Cool” 9:15
  5. A Sunny Day in Glasgow “Jet Black, Starlist” 12:51
  6. Beliefs “1992” 15:40
  7. Very Fresh “Clean Touch” 19:37
  8. Red Krayola “Hurricane Fighter Plane” (1978 re-recording) 23:09
  9. Cotton Mather “Book of Changes” 26:10
  10. Surfer Blood “Island” 29:35
  11. Salad Boys “No Taste Bomber” 33:18
  12. Sheer Agony “Fizzical Lime” 38:12
  13. Eleanor Friedberger “False Alphabet City” 42:24
  14. Bad Bad Hats “Say Nothing” 45:58
  15. Strange Faces “I Saw Your Face” 48:46
  16. Primitive Parts “Miracle Skin” 51:04
  17. Poppy Seed and the Love Explosion “Look at You” 53:48
  18. Lionlimb “Turnstile” 1:00:15
  19. Mitylion “Maybe Tonite” 1:03:42
  20. Field Music “The Noisy Days Are Over” (single version) 1:07:33
  21. Preoccupied Pipers “Minor Doorsteps” 1:12:29
  22. Hop Along “Texas Funeral” 1:14:10
  23. The Black Ships “Dead Empires” 1:18:37
  24. Jesse R. Berlin “Wash Your Boat!” 1:23:36
  25. Alex Chilton “All of the Time” 1:27:19

(The link is to a single, long .mp3, sequenced and segued: if you like any of these songs, please consider actually purchasing them.)



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A Watched Clock Never Boils (the songs of my favorite 2015 albums)

The order here is musically determined (i.e., they’re not in any sort of ranked order). Also: I spent a bit of time getting the levels and segues adjusted – otherwise, of course, it’s easy enough nowadays to find these tracks individually. Given how easy it is to find them to listen to for free, I want to state that these are here to encourage you to actually, you know, buy these records if you like them.

Without further ado…

  1. Deerhunter “All the Same” (Fading Frontier) 0:00
  2. The Chills “Aurora Corona” (Silver Bullets) 3:04
  3. The Corner Laughers “The Girl, America” (Matilda Effect) 7:31
  4. The Orange Peels “Wintergreen” (Begin the Begone) 10:24
  5. Dutch Uncles “Accelerate” (O Shudder) 14:41
  6. Lower Dens “Sucker’s Shangri-La” (Escape from Evil) 17:58
  7. Beauty Pill “Exit without Saving” (Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are) 22:51
  8. Cheatahs “Colorado” (Mythologies) 26:31
  9. Swervedriver “Autodidact” (I Wasn’t Born to Lose You) 30:08
  10. The Black Watch “Pershing/Harvard Square” (Highs and Lows) 35:04
  11. The Figgs “Late Nights and Early Flights” (Other Planes of Here) 38:04
  12. Courtney Barnett “Dead Fox” (Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit) 42:26
  13. The Dodos “Bubble” (Individ) 45:59
  14. Destroyer “Midnight Meet the Rain” (Poison Season) 49:09
  15. Of Montreal “Empyrean Abattoir” (Aureate Gloom) 52:34
  16. Father John Misty “The Ideal Husband” (I Love You, Honeybear) 57:06
  17. Sleater-Kinney “Bury Our Friends” (No Cities to Love) 1:00:40
  18. Viet Cong “Bunker Buster” (Viet Cong) 1:04:02
  19. Wilco “Random Name Generator” (Star Wars) 1:09:57
  20. FFS “Johnny Delusional” (FFS) 1:13:44
  21. Chris Stamey “Dear Valentine” (Euphoria) 1:16:54
  22. Robert Forster “A Poet Walks” (Songs to Play) 1:20:03
  23. Richard Thompson “Long John Silver” (Still) 1:24:57
  24. Regular Einstein “Jimmyville” (Chimp Haven) 1:28:53
  25. Sam Cohen “The Garden” (Cool It) 1:31:33
  26. Shmu “Diamonds” (Shhh!!!!) 1:35:18
  27. The Fall “Black Door” (Sub-Lingual Tablet) 1:38:01
  28. Robert Pollard “You Only Need One” (Faulty Superheroes) 1:39:45
  29. Blur “Thought I Was a Spaceman” (The Magic Whip) 1:41:57
  30. Low “No End” (Ones and Sixes) 1:48:09

(Coming next…Winter 2015 songpile, and second covers mix of 2015)

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2015 favorite albums

Here’s my annual round-up of my favorite new albums from 2015. Full-length studio albums only: not EPs (well, except at the bottom where I list a few), not live albums, not compilations…

The top few

  • Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
  • Beauty Pill Beauty Pill Describes Things as They Are
  • Blur The Magic Whip
  • Cheatahs Mythologies
  • The Dodos Individ
  • Sleater-Kinney No Cities to Love
  • Chris Stamey Euphoria

The next few

  • The Black Watch Highs and Lows
  • Sam Cohen Cool It
  • Destroyer Poison Season
  • Father John Misty I Love You, Honeybear
  • FFS (Franz Ferdinand & Sparks) FFS
  • Robert Forster Songs to Play
  • Low Ones and Sixes
  • Lower Dens Escape from Evil
  • Swervedriver I Wasn’t Born to Lose You
  • Wilco Star Wars

Still very, very good

  • The Chills Silver Bullets
  • The Corner Laughers Matilda Effect
  • Dutch Uncles Shudder
  • Of Montreal Aureate Gloom
  • Robert Pollard Faulty Superheroes
  • Regular Einstein Chimp Haven

Next tier

  • Deerhunter Fading Frontier
  • The Fall Sub-Lingual Tablet
  • The Figgs Other Planes of Here
  • The Orange Peels Begin the Begone
  • Shmu Shhh!!!!
  • Richard Thompson Still
  • Viet Cong Viet Cong

Still pretty damned cool

Beach House Depression Cherry; The Black Ryder The Door Behind the Door; Kathryn Calder Kathryn Calder; Deradoorian The Expanding Flower Planet; Dick Diver Melbourne, Florida; Dungen Alles Sak; Ezra Furman Perpetual Motion People; Grooms Comb the Feelings through Your Hair; Albert Hammond Jr. Momentary Masters; Invisible Familiars Disturbing Wildlife; Jaill Brain Cream; Tommy Keene Laugh in the Dark; Mac McCaughan Non-Believers; The Mountain Goats Beat the Champ; The Orange Humble Band Depressing Beauty; Jim O’Rourke Simple Songs; Panda Bear Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper; Ricked Wicky King Heavy Metal; Speedy Ortiz Foil Deer; Statuesque Introversial; Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell; Vinyl Williams Into; Wire Wire

Some other good ones

B and Not B Popular Pastimes; Beach House Thank Your Lucky Stars; Belle and Sebastian Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance; Mikal Cronin MCIII; Lana Del Rey Honeymoon; Drinks (Tim Presley & Cate Le Bon) Hermits on Holiday; Freedy Johnston Neon Repairman; The Mantles All Odds End; Laura Marling Short Movie; Mini-Mekons & Robbie Fulks Jura; Mercury Rev The Light in You; Momus Turpsycore; Mount Eerie Sauna; Pop 4 Summer; Regal Degal Not Now; Shriekback Without Real String or Fish; Ken Stringfellow & Holly Muñoz The Record; Suuns & Jerusalem in My Heart Suuns and Jerusalem in My Heart; Tame Impala Currents; They Might Be Giants Glean; Unknown Mortal Orchestra Multi-Love; Waxahatchee Ivy Tripp; Paul Weller Saturn’s Return; Yo La Tengo Stuff Like That There; The Zags The Zags

Also: best EPs of the year

The Besnard Lakes The Golden Lion; Cheatahs Sunne and Murasaki; The Decemberists Florasongs; LA Font Hangtime Vol. 1; Sharon Van Etten I Don’t Want to Let You Down

(Later: playlist for best tracks from the bullet-pointed albums above)


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yet more 2012 (the end)

As has been the case for the past several years, I end up making 7 separate playlists covering the year’s music, with 25 tracks on each (and the occasional bonus track), for (at least) 175 tracks total. Here they are (none of that fancy last-name-first or disregard-articles stuff – I am too lazy…also, asterisks are covers):

  • A.C. Newman    Do Your Own Time
  • Adrian Belew    Me and My Arrow    *
  • Aimee Mann    Gamma Ray
  • All Tiny Creatures    Sleepless    *
  • Andrew Bird    The Crown Salesman
  • Arrica Rose    Tragedy    *
  • Arrington de Dionyso’s Malaikat dan Singa    Perawan Berawan
  • Beach Pigs    Catch Up in the Sun
  • Beachwood Sparks    Forget the Song
  • Bear In Heaven    Sinful Nature
  • Beauty Pill    This Is the Hidden Track
  • Beck    Pink Moon    *
  • Beirut    Santa Fe
  • Blessed Feathers    Hey! All You Floridians
  • Blue Epic    A Man Needs a Maid    *
  • Boris    Flare
  • Brian Ray    The Tears of a Clown    *
  • Bruce Cockburn    Incandescent Blue
  • California Wives    Marianne
  • Carolyn Mark    Not Like the Movies
  • Cate Le Bon    Puts Me To Work
  • Communist Daughter    Not The Kid
  • Constants    Sunrise
  • David Bronson    The Turns
  • Dead Leaf Echo    Act of Truth
  • Death Cab For Cutie    World Shut Your Mouth    *
  • Destroyer    Leave Me Alone    *
  • Dirty Projectors    About to Die
  • Divine Fits    I Was Born in a Laundromat    *
  • Divine Fits    Would That Not Be Nice
  • Drive-By Truckers    This Fucking Job
  • Elephant & Castle; Tune-Yards    En Memoria
  • Elliott Smith    Figure 8    *
  • Eternal Summers    Millions
  • Ex Cops    James
  • Father John Misty    Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
  • Father John Misty    Do You Realize??    *
  • Father John Misty    This Is Sally Hatchet
  • Field Mouse    Falling (Twin Peaks Theme)    *
  • Field Music    Don’t Pass Me By    *
  • Field Music    Is This The Picture?
  • Field Report    Taking Alcatraz
  • Field Report    Captain Video
  • Gangi    Railways Nos. 1-27
  • Garland Jeffreys    Eggs
  • Garrison Starr    Between the Devil’s Rain and a Dying Language
  • Glen Campbell    Jesus    *
  • Great Lake Swimmers    Before They Make Me Run    *
  • Grizzly Bear    Yet Again
  • Helvetia    Rybro
  • Holograms    Chasing My Mind
  • Hospitality    Rikki Don’t Lose That Number    *
  • Howth    Wind Blows Cold
  • Hush Arbors/Arbouretum    New Scarab
  • Ida    Golden Hours    *
  • Iggy Pop    Low Life
  • Indians    I Am Haunted
  • J. Robbins    Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend    *
  • Jaill    Perfect Ten
  • Jason and the Scorchers    Absolutely Sweet Marie    *
  • Jay Farrar; Will Johnson; Anders Parker; Jim James    Old L.A.
  • Jeff Lynne    Strange Magic
  • Jesca Hoop    Ode to Banksy
  • Jim O’Rourke    Pictures of Adolf Again    *
  • John Cale    Scotland Yard
  • John Wesley Coleman III    A Clown Gave You a Baby
  • Johnny Bertram and the Golden Bicycles    Miracle
  • Johnny Marr    The Messenger
  • Jonathan Coulton    Todd the T1000
  • Jonathan King    A Modest Proposal (Swift’s Song)
  • Jonathan King    A Free Man In Paris    *
  • Joshua McCormack    Terminal Velocity
  • Julian Cope    Non-Alignment Pact    *
  • Jumbling Towers    Our Rehab Neighborhood
  • Juniper Tar    Via Chicago    *
  • Kelly Hogan    Constructive Summer    *
  • Ken Stringfellow    Shittalkers!
  • Lambchop    Gone Tomorrow
  • Lana Del Rey    Video Games [live on Letterman]
  • Levek    Girl in the Fog
  • Liars    WIXIW
  • Lilys    Well Traveled Is Protest
  • Lower Dens    Candy
  • Madmixmustang    From the Heart of Glass [Blondie vs. Philip Glass]   *
  • Malka Spigel    See It Sideways
  • Mark Eitzel    Oh Mercy
  • Maximo Park    Waves of Fear
  • Melody’s Echo Chamber    Crystallized
  • Melody’s Echo Chamber    I Follow You
  • Melody’s Echo Chamber    Some Time Alone, Alone
  • Michael the Blind    Who Is She?
  • Milk Maid    Do Right
  • Minimal Compact    Lay Lady Lay    *
  • Mock Suns    Cabinessence    *
  • Moons    Waves at Night
  • Motel Beds    Ladder Dancer
  • Mount Eerie    Ocean Roar
  • Mrs. Magician    There Is No God
  • MV & EE    Too Far To See
  • Nada Surf    See These Bones
  • Nada Surf    Teenage Dreams
  • Old Bricks    Anthem
  • Opossom    Blue Meanies
  • Oscar & The Majestics    I Can’t Explain    *
  • Ozone Baby    Let’s Pretend We’re Spies
  • Parquet Courts    Borrowed Time
  • Paul Brill    The Royal Oui
  • Paul Weller    Dragonfly
  • PS I Love You    Saskatoon
  • Punch Brothers    Just What I Needed    *
  • Pure Bathing Culture    Ivory Coast
  • Radiation City    Find It Of Use
  • Rebecca Gates and the Consortium; Rebecca Gates    Four Sticks    *
  • Rebecca Gates and the Consortium; Rebecca Gates    Lease and Flame
  • Rebecca Zapen    Addicted To Love    *
  • Rhett Miller    I Believe She’s Lying    *
  • Rhett Miller; Jon Brion    Cynthia Mask    *
  • Richard Buckner    Lost
  • Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians    Eight Miles High [rough mix]    *
  • Rosie Flores    Working Girl’s Guitar
  • Saucer    Shaken Baby Syndrome
  • Scott Walker    Phrasing
  • Sean0Sean    Don’t You Worry About a Thing
  • Sean0Sean    Living Room
  • Sera Cahoone    Naked
  • Sewing Machines    This Must Be the Place    *
  • Sharon Van Etten    Leonard
  • Shawn Lee    No Surprises    *
  • Shearwater    Breaking the Yearlings
  • Sia    Paranoid Android    *
  • Sic Alps    Glyphs
  • Silver Dapple    Soleil …lectrique
  • Snowmine    The Hill
  • Soundhog    Whole Lotta Helter Skelter [Led Zeppelin vs The Beatles]    *
  • Sparkle Jets UK    Above the Clouds    *
  • Stevie Jackson    Where Do All the Good Girls Go?
  • Strolling Scones    May This Be Love    *
  • Suckers    Chinese Braille
  • Superhumanoids    I Wanna Be Sedated    *
  • Swearin’    Kenosha
  • Teenage Fanclub    Like a Virgin    *
  • The Ampersands    Golems in Waves
  • The Cribs    Come on, Be a No-One
  • The Darcys    Peg    *
  • The Hathaways    Johnny Killed Susan
  • The Hidden Messages    Stalemate
  • The Holmes Brothers    I Want You to Want Me    *
  • The Maccabees    Go
  • The Mommyheads    Skinny White Uptight
  • The Monkees    Love Is Only Sleeping
  • The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart    Jeremy    *
  • The Phantom Family Halo    White Hot Gun
  • The Pharmacy    Dig Your Grave
  • The Raveonettes    My Tornado
  • The Young    Don’t Hustle For Love
  • thenewno2    Make It Home
  • Those Darlins    Screws Get Loose
  • Title Tracks    Turn Your Face
  • TKTTSM    Eyeyeye
  • Tom Jones    Bad As Me    *
  • Toy    Left Myself Behind
  • Toy    Colours Running Out
  • Ty Segall Band    I Bought My Eyes
  • Unicycle Loves You    Dropout Boogie    *
  • Union Avenue    Should I Stay Or Should I Go?    *
  • UV Pop    No Songs Tomorrow
  • Vinyl Williams    Harmonious Change
  • Vinyl Williams    Stellarscope
  • Violens    Der Microarc
  • Violens    Unfolding Black Wings
  • We Are Augustines    Book of James
  • Willie Wisely    Sunrise    *
  • Wolfmen    Needles In The Camel’s Eye    *
  • Writer    Hot Days
  • Zig Zags    Wastin’ My Time
  • Zula    Make Contact
  • [unknown]   “endless celestial sex”


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gimme noise!

A few months ago, my friend John Sharples drew my attention to a Kickstarter project featuring a band he was producing, Out of Order, a trio of young women. He included a link to a demo track—and I was intrigued enough to donate. The band easily met its Kickstarter goal—two of them, in fact—and now the album, Hey Pussycat!, is out.

Hey Pussycat! cover

And hey: it doth rock, and for a straightforward punk recording, there’s also a good amount of variety and sonic detail. (Here’s a video for an alternate mix of “Impossible to Please.”) Since John produced, I thought I’d ask him about his role in getting Out of Order’s sound from stage to studio.

Jeff Norman: So how did you discover Out of Order?

John Sharples: I first saw the band several years ago, when they were still quite young—fourteen or fifteen? The singer Lydia’s father, Sal Weex, is a musician friend of mine, and he would bring them around to clubs who were OK with underage performers, and have them open for bands we knew. I was highly intrigued. For one, they had a striking look, the hardcore punk thing, back then. They were actually a little intimidating. But also, adorable. Anyway, even though they were just starting out, I could tell they really had something. Through all the thrash and noise—and they love the noise, no doubt!—you could hear hooks, melodies, and very inventive arrangements. And they could sing, really sing. So, I was hooked. I wanted to produce them.

Out of Order, 2004

Out of Order, 2004

The only problem was…they already had a producer! Sal had been their mentor. He’s a great musician and songwriter in his own right. I respected Sal, and so I never introduced myself to the girls. And occasionally I would say to Sal, “Hey, if you ever need a producer, or co-producer, I hope you’ll think of me!” And he always said the same thing back—”Thanks.” And nothing. Not no, not yes, just “thanks.” So I would wait…another six months, another year. “Hey, Sal, don’t forget me!”…”Thanks.” And nothing. This went on, literally, for years.

Finally, last summer, they asked me to produce them! I guess Sal felt he’d been mentoring them for so long, maybe introducing a new personality and new set of ears would shake things up. I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy.

JN: Was this their first time in a recording studio?

JS: No, they’d recorded an EP, around 2008, I guess. Sal produced and it was very good—but it was a bit of a rush job, and Gilliey, the bassist, wasn’t on it. She was temporarily unavailable. Sal played bass and Lydia overdubbed the harmonies, it was all quite good, but it wasn’t Out of Order. For me, the magic ingredient of the band is the combination of Lydia’s and Gilliey’s voices, and the way Gil’s bass plays off of Lyd’s guitar parts.

JN: I noticed the vocal thing, actually—Lydia’s got that real snotty punk-rock voice going on, but Gilliey’s voice is a little less petulant but just a bit more wounded rather than defiant. It gives the band a bit more dimension—sorta similar to the way Townshend’s vulnerability played off Daltrey’s macho in The Who.

JS: Hmm, that’s a good comparison. All of the harmonies and backing vocals on the album are Gilliey, as opposed to having Lydia double herself. That is something I always insist on. I like backing vocals to have a different personality and sound from the leads.

JN: Although Lydia can do that herself pretty well in a sense—in “Rosy” she sings nearly the same lyrics in the verses, but she ratchets up the intensity each time…even though she begins pretty intense. That track has a good set of backing vocals too – is that Lydia and Gilliey doing both backing parts?”

JS: No, I’m pretty sure all the backing vocals on Hey Pussycat! are Gilliey. There may be a little bit of Lyd in the backing vocals on “Secret.” But you mention the vocals on “Rosy”…I think that is a stupendous vocal performance, like the sound of someone having an emotional breakdown. And it’s the first take. When it was over, I remember everyone just sitting in the control booth in stunned silence. In pre-production rehearsals, Lydia had been holding back, but she knew exactly what she wanted to do for the recording.

JN: That’s really impressive! And I love that sort of story…where the singer’s sorta laying back, conserving her (or his) energies, and then it’s time to record, and…wham! 

So, back to the guitar/bass interplay comment you made before: with a trio, it’s crucial that the bass player do more than just bash out roots and fifths—there’s some real nice interplay between the bass and guitar parts.

JS: That was the first thing I noticed about their music. The guitar and bass are usually doing completely different things and yet it sounds right all together. Same with the drums, really, no one instrument is preeminent, they each take turns going a bit flashy! It’s a very democratic sound. But the bass was very  important to me. As you may have noticed, Gilliey is quite a good bassist. Very fast, very nimble, usually she’s using all four fingers and thumb…fairly dazzling to watch, reminds me of Entwistle. Anyway,  I wanted people to really be able to hear the bass and appreciate it. Did you know there are four bass tracks on every song?

JN: Four? (And yet, it sounds nothing like Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom”…)

JS: Yes, but it’s all one performance. It was just processed four different ways: as she was tracking, she was recorded onto two tracks: direct, and direct through a distortion pedal. Then, we re-amped the direct signal twice: through a traditional Ampeg bass rig, and through an old, distorted blues guitar amp, creating two additional tracks. That way we had a lot of flexibility in mixing as to what kind of bass sound we wanted for each song. Oddly enough, I think the only track we never used was the direct!

JN: When you were recording, were there any records in particular you had in mind as models for the kind of sound or impact you wanted the Out of Order record to have?

JS: Well, I met with the band initially, and they asked me what I had in mind for them. And I said, well you already have a lot of fans and I assume you got them through your live shows. Why don’t we just make an album that is basically your live show, with a minimum amount of overdubs. And they thought that was a good idea. I was thinking about my two favorite debut albums: Cheap Trick’s first, and AC/DC’s High Voltage. Those are basically the bands’ live shows captured with studio clarity, with subtle, strategic overdubs placed here and there to put the icing on the cake.

JN: So were the basic tracks done live, all three of them playing together, old-school rock-style?

JS: Yes, they were all playing together for the basics, although of course guitars, bass, and vocals, those usually get a lot more work after the drums are captured. The drummer, Erin – I’m just so proud of her work. She’s a monster.

When you are working with a power trio, it seems the first major question is always how to approach the guitar. Just one guitar? Or multi-tracked? Early on, it was decided to double track Lydia’s guitar on every song. But I did not ask her to break up her parts, like, into rhythm and lead parts. The first thing I learned about Out of Order is the only way to screw them up is to try to change them. What seemed to work best was to have her play her basic live-show guitar part, and just…do it twice! But with two very different set-ups. Two very different guitars, two different amp configurations. That’s why the feedback qualities are so completely different between the two guitar tracks. That’s one of my favorite things about the record, how the feedbacks play off each other. Like on the verses of “Secret” for example. The lead vocals are subtly double-tracked in a couple of places, and almost all of the backing vocals are double-tracked. But apart from those things, the album is a pretty faithful re-creation of their live set.

JN: So with both the guitars and the bass, you essentially allowed for multiple parts without having to mess around with actual, multiple parts – cool! About the guitars: I hadn’t consciously noticed that – but I think that’s one of the things that made the record sound interesting to me – there’s a depth to the sonic texture, and having two very different guitars playing the same part would be part of that.

JS: It’s a good headphones record!

JN:  Let’s talk about some specific moments on the record. I notice a lot of the tracks bleed over into the next by way of feedback—is that an idea you borrowed from the band’s live shows?

JS: I guess you could say that. That just came about naturally. There was always a ton of feedback at the starts and the ends of their tracks…it’s impossible to avoid, Lydia’s amp settings are so hot. I had to cut a lot out. I didn’t want to—I would have gone crazy with it, but…saner minds prevailed!

JN: Shades of Neil Young & Crazy Horse…I think it’s Weld, where the songs all seem to end in at least a minute of feedback! 

JS: Yeah, I really love that kind of thing. Anyway, I thought cross-fading the tracks was kind of an obvious idea, and I like how it suggests a live show, it keeps the energy up, really keeps things moving along. The tricky part of that, these days of the dreaded mp3, is you have to deal with discrete tracks. But I think we did well enough.

JN: Well, if you actually broke the tracks in musically logical places, you’re ahead of a lot of label-funded releases—I don’t know how often I end up going into Audities or whatever and moving a second from the end of one track to the beginning of the next…. Frankly, I don’t think most mp3 listeners care much about finished beginnings or endings (said the guy who nowadays listens to music mostly on mp3s…).

JS: Yes, Scott Anthony, the mixing and mastering engineer, and I took a lot of care to place the track breaks in the place that made the most musical sense.

JN: You mentioned Cheap Trick and AC/DC—while both predate punk, both bands’ high-energy take on melodic rock was clearly a strong influence on a lot of early punk bands. So even though at first I was surprised you were producing this – given the sort of Beatle-y, kinda psychedelic pop sound of your own work (I Can Explain Everything) and the Circus Guy record (The Lovely Luna)—they’re not that far apart, really. And my favorite track on I Can Explain Everything (“That’s Just Part of My Charm”) is more or less punk rock too. And of course, the Clash were just a hell of a melodic band—so were the Ramones.

JS: Right! That’s why I was dying to work with Out of Order. To me, they are the model of the great punk band from my day, just like the ones you mention: hardcore impact, but with melodies, singing. Musical mayhem! But, as to what you were saying, I know that some people didn’t think I was the right person to produce this record. This one guy I know, Tom, a real hardcore punk fan I’ve known since the late ‘70s D.C. punk scene, he loves Out of Order, he like cornered me at one of their shows, just before we started recording. He said “Look, Sharples, don’t be screwing them up with all your fruity production ideas!” And I said “Hey, all I’m going to do is point the mikes at them and make sure they’re in tune, and hit record!” Tom just glares at me for a second and says “They sound good when they’re OUT of tune!” But the thing is, the last band I was in, The Spunk Lads—who, by the way, backed me up on “That’s Just Part of My Charm”—was a punk band. So was my first band, actually. So there!

JN: Plus which, speaking of Beatle-y: point mikes, hit record is how their first few records were done anyway. But even so, there are parts of your background—aside from the punk thing—that suggest you’d be a good fit: your work on Mary Lorson’s early demos, with Paula Carino, and Erica Smith—you seem to have a knack for working with female songwriters. So that suggests you’d do a decent job.

JS: I mean, it’s up to others to judge how I did, but I think I was a pretty good choice. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of super-talented female artists in my life, and I really like the female voice in rock music.

JN: And even though a couple of tracks leap into some old-school super-fast hardcore tempos, there are also some nice pop touches—for example, on “Don’t Do That,” the handclaps and tambourine. Is that the hand of the producer we’re hearing there, or was that the band’s arrangement idea?

JS: I added very little to the arrangements. The percussion, handclaps, bass-piano on “Don’t Do That” and a couple of other touches—yeah, that’s a me thing, but that’s about it. The crazy thing, Jeff, is this album arrived fully formed, pretty much. It’s the band, and some influence from Sal, of course. Look, I believe in a lot of pre-production. Weeks before we started recording, I started going out to the band’s rehearsal space weekly to work on things. But to be honest, there wasn’t much for me to do, especially compared to some other projects I’ve worked on. They had it together. I just helped tighten it up.

I’d say my contribution ended up being mostly in the recording stage. If something wasn’t working right, if we got stuck, if we needed to drastically change direction, if somebody got upset…I seemed to have a good sense of where to go. I was very happy I was able to contribute that to the proceedings. I felt like a coach, like Bela Karolyi! [Jeff realizes he has to Google this – John’s way more of a sports fan] But to be very clear, this is Out of Order’s record, big time. All three of them are highly opinionated and strong-willed when it comes to their music. They know exactly what they want and don’t want. As a producer, that can be a pain in the ass when you disagree, but we rarely did. I find it’s actually preferable to work with an artist like that, rather than someone who doesn’t know what they want, or doesn’t care.

John Sharples and Gilliey de Silva, 2012

John Sharples & Gilliey de Silva, 2012

JN: I like the sequencing of the record: within what’s clearly a punk-rock framework, the sequencing keeps it from being at all monotonous—of course, the fact that the band gets in, says its bit, and gets out in under a half hour helps! Anyway, how much work went into sequencing the record?

JS: Ha! Well, I guess that’s another area where I contributed! I’m really into sequencing, always have been. I felt strongly that the sequence had to be the way it is. You need to break up the two-beat and the four-beat numbers, and “Don’t Do That,” the one slower number, has to be track number four. I mean, it just has to be, you know what I mean? You need a breather after the 1-2-3 attack of the first three, they’re so manic. Also, I still sequence for vinyl. Like, I think of the first five songs as side 1, the rest is side 2. “Rosy” has to be track five, has to end side one, because it’s so devastating, right? It’s funny, but I think that’s the way all rock records need to be sequenced still, even though we don’t have sides anymore. Does that make any sense?

JN: Absolutely—I mean, regardless of format, if you’re listening to a whole album, it should flow in a coherent manner…and there’s no reason to throw out 40, 50 years of practice just because now you don’t have to get up in the middle of a CD or an MP3 playlist to turn anything over. You still want that give and take, ebb and flow—fast and slow, loud and soft, etc. And sequencing’s crucial: I have some records that drag terribly because they’re poorly sequenced (c’mon: five songs in a row in E minor?)—that’s true even with a record that lasts only half an hour.

JS: Yes, Hey Pussycat! is only 30 minutes long! Isn’t that incredible? Who else can do ten songs so full and rich in a half hour? Costello? The early Beatles? That’s about it. Not Guided by Voices, they have a lot of song fragments. And you know what’s crazy about the musical economy of the record? Did you notice that a lot of songs have not only a verse and a chorus, but also a nice long instrumental section? One that is often musically different than the rest of the song? Now, that’s value for your dollar! How were they able to pull that off, and still have ten songs clock in at under 30 minutes? I actually don’t know.

JN: Any last thoughts on working on this record?

JS: Yes, I want everybody to buy it!! Heh…I thought the recording engineer, Ross Bonadonna of Wombat, and the mixing-mastering engineer, Scott Anthony of the Viewing Room, both did amazing jobs. I don’t think either of them had much experience with thrash and metal, which Out of Order sometimes aspires to. Ross tends to do a lot of jazz and avant stuff, and I think Scott’s great work is with his wife, Rebecca Turner, which is kind of country-folk-rock. So I liked the fact that they don’t trade in some of those thrash/metal recording clichés.

JN: That’s probably why I like it…as you know, I’m pretty much allergic to metal. Well, post-seventies metal—on occasion I get nostalgic and throw on an old Black Sabbath song…

JS: I’m with you there, Jeff, though I’m a Blue Öyster Cult man myself…. [Jeff would interject that he likes BÖC just fine but doesn’t think of them as metal…] But I chose Ross and Scott mostly because I know them very well, and with such a young band it was important to me to work with people I trust. But you know what? For young musicians having their first or second time in a recording studio, they were surprisingly pro. First, second, sometimes third takes, and then they’d nail it. I’ve worked with session guys who can’t nail it that fast!

JN: Probably made easier by the decision to treat the record as a sort of studio take of their live shows.

JS: Well, sure, because the arrangements were already honed. Look, I don’t know if the band will “make it” in the music business, whatever that means anymore, but they have as good a chance as anybody. There’s no reason they can’t. Their songs are smart, but accessible, they are great singers, they can all play the hell out of their instruments, and they look good. Other than luck, what else do you need?

Out of Order

Out of Order, 2012

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2012/07/19 · 2:03 pm