Rehashes and Reissues
of the Moments
indie label Drag City has set itself up as a sort of underground
version of Rhino Records in recent years, digging through
the rock & roll vaults and reissuing albums it deems to
be unfairly neglected. The Chicago-based label follows recent
successes (Death’s . . . For the Whole World to See
and Gary Higgins’ Red Hash) with the vinyl-and MP3-only
reissue of Spur of the Moments, an album from an interesting
psychedelic rock band from Southern Illinois who plied much
the same musical furrow as West Coast contemporaries Buffalo
Springfield, Moby Grape, and Anthem of the Sun-era
Grateful Dead. What we have here are 11 tracks of well-played
and well-sung hippie rock, with plenty of groovy guitar picking
and group harmonies influenced by both the Beatles and country
While it is quite remarkable that Spur were doing much of
the same work as the more celebrated Flying Burrito Brothers,
there is nothing here that will stay with you—the songwriting
is fine but journeymanlike. If you were to download one track,
it would have to be “Tribal Gathering/We Don’t Want to Know,”
a 14-minute epic that starts out as a jam-rock version of
Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” morphs into a surprisingly heavy
groove about halfway through, then ends with a nice rave-up
that sounds like it owes quite a bit to Moby Grape’s first
One thing that detracts from the overall enjoyment is the
lackluster sound quality. The liner notes make clear that
Spur come from the garage end of the psychedelic spectrum,
but even so, there is a difference between lo-fi recording
and what we have here, which is a fine recording made dull
by the use of what sounds like third- or fourth-generation
source material. Despite these faults, this album should please
anybody who can’t get enough late-’60s guitar rock.
first time I heard Crystal Castles, the Palladia channel was
showing footage of their set at some Hipsterpalooza-type festival.
The sound sucked, and the image of a young girl in a short
skirt throwing a tantrum over beats and keyboards reminded
me of an angry Ashlee Simpson. But something stuck; it was
too noisy to ignore. On checking out their self-titled debut
I was delighted to hear them sample Death From Above 1979
on the opening track. And then I got it: Crystal Castles are
video-game noise merchants who drop fat beats, and sometimes
lead singer Alice Glass just has to go out there and freak
out over it all. Track by track, the band jump from ultra-ugly
to dance-floor beauty. Imagine Justice, minus God but with
an angry punk chick, or Skinny Puppy without the horror shtick.
On Crystal Castles II, the group find more continuity.
They aren’t averse to shocking, and when they do it makes
complete sense. It’s not just about the noise: Glass shrieks
over gorgeous songs and coos over ugly ones. “Doe Deer” sounds
like an audio seizure; “Baptism,” like torture on the dance
floor; “Celestica, ” even-mannered dancepop. “Vietnam” is
violent tremor with broken samples of Glass that float and
then explode. Sometimes Glass is the front woman, other times
she plays backup to the stabbing synth lines and spastic beats.
Either way, it works. It’s punk for the video-game generation;
dance music for the ADD set.
Grape’s spectacular flame-out is an often-told tale in the
annals of rock music history. It’s not hard to imagine its
elements of good and evil, bright expectations, dashed hopes,
and madness becoming a bedtime folk tale in centuries to come.
Their 1967 debut remains a sterling example of a great album
from any era, ever, period. That is how most people know them,
but for a brief couple of years, with the original lineup,
they were also recognized as a ferocious live band. It is
said that when Stephen Stills heard the group’s three-guitar
front line he decided that was the recipe he’d use for what
became Buffalo Springfield.
an immediacy to this lovingly compiled Sundazed set, which
draws from five different performances. It includes their
very brief opening set at the Monterey Pop Festival as well
as five songs recorded in Amsterdam after Skip Spence left
the fold. (The latter have previously surfaced on murky bootlegs,
but they positively sparkle here.) The real excitement is
right at the top of this disc: seven songs recorded at San
Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom in 1967. You don’t even have to
be Steve Stills to want to take their idea and run with it.
A crack rhythm section, an entire quintet of fine writers,
smartly braided guitar parts, and casually masterful harmonizing
on top of it all.
by Kaleidyscope 1: Songs for a Sailor
the whole non-reunion thing didn’t work out for Billy Corgan.
The band failed to explode again; the bombastic, Sabbath-inspired
major-label release bombed; Corgan got nasty when fans asked
for the hits at the band’s comeback shows. Some might have
hung it up, but Corgan—who’s recently been writing music for
Courtney Love and Jessica Simpson—has grandiose designs of
staging a music-industry- and self-saving, Internet-released
concept album. Needless to say, it’s a little far-fetched.
The 44-song project is set to be released in four-song EPs
that will be made available free on the Smashing Pumpkins
website, or in physical form; eventually, the gigantic package
will hit stores.
But what about the music? Either Corgan has been listening
to what the kids like (Death Cab for Cutie, the Mars Volta,
some of that faux glam-revival stuff) or he’s just fallen
back on the classic-rock section of his vinyl collection,
because Songs for a Sailor rocks—but with great restraint.
Corgan breaks out the solos but without the searing distortion,
as if grunge never happened. Album opener “Song for a Son”
sounds like a keyboard-dominated “Stairway to Heaven,” but
Corgan’s vocals kill the song: He’s reaching for a pomp he
can’t seem to find. “Widow Wake My Mind” combines pop melodies
with understated prog riffs; it’s one of Corgan’s better pieces
in the last decade, though not particularly gripping. These
four songs recall the opening to the Pumpkins’ semi-legendary
double-disc Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
This could be the warmup to an epic, or it could be Corgan
grasping at relevance through classic sounds. Only time will