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Of Rehashes and Reissues

By Mike Hotter

Spur

Spur of the Moments

Storied 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 music.

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 album.

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.

 

Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles II

The 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.

—David King

 

Moby Grape

Live

Moby 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.

There’s 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.

—David Greenberger

 

Smashing Pumpkins

Teargarden by Kaleidyscope 1: Songs for a Sailor

So 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 tell.

—David King


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