This week’s recommendations range from a virtually unknown group of postal workers to a king of the experimental genre to an actual television show theme song to a beloved Canadian alt rock staple to a legendary film director. This may be our most comforting mix to date.
DAVID LYNCH, “PINKY’S DREAM” featuring Karen O (Trentemøller Remix)
In 2011, David Lynch (yes, that David Lynch) cut his first solo album, Crazy Clown Time. For fans of the Avant-Garde director, this wasn’t surprising because he always collaborated with Angelo Badalamenti on most of the soundtracks to his films. The two also wrote the 1989 masterpiece, “Industrial Symphony No. 1” for the New Wave Music Festival in New York. This effort was also the beginning of Lynch’s association with singer Julee Cruise, who would appear in the first season of Twin Peaks way back in 1990. He also produced Floating into the Night and The Voice of Love albums for her.
Sound is an integral part of Lynch’s artistic world. Every venture of his on the silver screen and the small screen features ambient noise whether it be a fluorescent lightbulb buzzing or the hissing radiator in Eraserhead. One could even go far enough to say that it is a character, a separate entity that only adds to the overall storytelling and sets the tone for scenes. If anyone can make a natural sound like the wind seem dark and ominous, it is David Lynch.
Crazy Clown Time was a natural progression for the artist. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Lynch explained that the title and the song on the album, “speak about the world as it is these days.” Although that was nine years ago, unfortunately, it is still an applicable description for 2020. This venture also marked a milestone for the creator. He had wanted to work with Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for years. She lent her vocals to the opening track, “Pinky’s Dream.”
This work has all of Lynch’s signatures in it. The heavy bass line driving the song, the 1950s feel, when you listen to it, you can imagine cruising down a highway at night in a Thunderbird convertible at a dangerous speed. Of course, there are dark undertones bubbling beneath O’s vocals. After all, the lyrics are about a guy who is having a breakdown because his dream was “blown away.” She pleads with him to watch the road; however, we want him to punch it and take us to the edge.
While the singer was doing time in the booth with Lynch, her opera, “Stop the Virgens” which she described as a “psychedelic ride laced with catharsis,” was premiering in Brooklyn. So, that theme also translated into “Pinky’s Dream” which she is credited with writing the lyrics along with Lynch and his longtime partner, Dean Justin Hurley.
Lynch’s album also has an expanded digital edition which features a synth remix of the tune by Danish producer, Trentemøller. What is fascinating about it is the fact that somehow it manages to be even darker than the original, almost giving off a Terminator soundtrack vibe. Visionquest also had the chance to put their spin on the song. Their take is considerably more ethereal and dance-inspired.
If there is one thing we need more of during these crazy, pandemic times it’s David Lynch and “Pinky’s Dream.” — Susan Leighton
SLOAN, 4 NIGHTS AT THE PALAIS ROYALE
In a year dominated by the first global pandemic in over a century, I’ve had more than enough death, despair, pain, stupidity, ignorance, etc.—ENOUGH. Yes, there are promising vaccines on the horizon in 2021, but that feels like a millennium from now. We’re all tired and I need relief from the overwhelming darkness. Thankfully, I’ve found an aural remedy and it comes from the Toronto-by-way-of-Halifax band, Sloan. With apologies to Emily Haines, they’re my favorite Canadian band; I’ve seen them live in concert countless times (that show they did with The Flashing Lights in ’01 was aces) and have their complete discography. I’d have a hard time recommending just one album: Twice Removed? One Chord to Another? Navy Blues? I can’t pick just one! I could recommend all three iconic ‘90s albums, but those expat Haligonian lads recorded a spirited, double-length live album, 4 Nights at the Palais Royale (recorded from four live shows at the Palais Royale dancehall in Toronto in 1998), which is chockful of their classic songs from their first four albums, jubilant fan singalongs, and snappy conversations between bandmates and the audience. Yes, live albums can seem like a craven cash-in ploy, but Sloan dispels any such pessimism with an enthusiastic performance, offering fans altered versions of beloved songs. One of the best things about Sloan is that it’s truly a democratic band: Each band member writes and sings their own songs, receiving multiple spotlights to perform their songs in front of a rapturous, local audience. The album opens with riveting, raucous renditions of “She Says What She Means” and “The Good in Everyone,” replete with fans singing along. “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” doesn’t have the trumpets of the original studio recording, but the band manages to work around the omission by providing backing vocals instead. Other live standouts are the increased tempo of “G Turns to D,” the infectious “People of the Sky,” and the one-two punch of “Penpals” and siren-wailing, arena-rocker “Money City Maniacs,” perhaps the best-known Sloan song, which is extended by singalong instructions from singer Chris Murphy, urging maximum audience participation to coax a drum solo from Andrew Scott. Sloan’s best albums are original songs inspired by ‘60s and ‘70s pop rock and the Canadian foursome’s frenetic, buoyant power-pop songs are ideally suited for a live show. 4 Nights at the Palais Royale won’t erase memories of a morbid year, but it will prove to be a soothing, momentary distraction. — Jay Alary
STEVE CARLISLE, “WKRP IN CINCINNATI (MAIN THEME)”
The theme to WKRP In Cincinnati is arguably the best theme in TV history. It’s a song that could’ve held its own on the airwaves during a time in music where it seems like nothing but great tracks were recorded. Why does music suck now? Probably because Phil Spector isn’t around “inspiring” artists with a .45 automatic pointed at their head.
I also wanted to mention this song because the YouTube comments section for the WKRP In Cincinnati theme is hilarious. It mainly consists of Boomers reminiscing about the America they remember. My favorite one says “for 2 minutes and 51 seconds it felt like America again.” Keep in mind this theme was written in a decade where the president resigned to avoid impeachment and received a pardon by the man who replaced him. Sorry to get political, but politics is the only thing happening in 2020 so it’s hard to avoid. Maybe I wouldn’t be on this soapbox if I was in a theater being bored to tears by a Ghostbusters reboot.
To go back to the ’70s not being a utopia, films like Taxi Driver and Joe captured the hellholes we reminisce about. Does anybody really wanna go back to New York in the ’70s? You people crumble when someone points out how poorly made Hocus Pocus is, what are you gonna do when you’re on a pissed-stained, graffiti-covered subway being robbed while another guy who looks like Vincent Schiavelli is laughing at you while masturbating?
2020 has been rough, but be ready for someone decades from now to say this was a better time to be alive. Hell, you might even be the asshole saying “it was a great time to step back and reconnect with yourself.” You won’t even notice the person who waved goodbye to their grandmother during a Zoom call fuming at your bullshit.
I think this began with WKRP In Cincinnati. Check out that theme song. — Emilio Amaro
CLIFF CLAVEN & THE NEWMANS, THE BALLAD OF DOUG THE ENFORCER
In our lonely, atomized age, maintaining friendships is more important than ever. Which means that when your friend Dave tells you “Hey, you know that band I’m in with some guys from my work? Well, we’re playing on Saturday,” you say “Okay, I’ll be there” even though you’re reasonably certain it’s going to be an awkward and terrible slog. It’s only fair to Dave. But I mean really. How good could a band full of postal workers be? Drummer visibly in his fifties. Two people still in their USPS work shorts. That kind of thing. Plus, when was the last time you saw a good set start while it was still daylight out? I foresaw disaster, got around a few stiff drinks at the bar, and settled in for what I felt was certain to be a long night of tight-lipped smiling and avoiding eye contact.
Then they started playing. My carefully neutral expression broke. My eyebrows perked up curiously. My toes began tapping, a smile crept across my cheeks. A warmth that had nothing to do with alcohol began to flood through me. Impression turned into amazement. How was it possible that they were so good?? Look at Dave attack that bass! Is this really the same guy who used to sit for hours fumbling the bass part to “Breaking the Law” while we were roommates? And jeez does that old guy ever pound those skins! I guess the calf muscles you get from all that letter carrying helps you out on the kick drum.
This was my first experience with Cliff Clavin & The Newmans, and my first time hearing their one and only record The Ballad of Doug the Enforcer, the happiest musical surprise of 2018. Sadly, this record did not launch the boys into superstardom, and their guitarist eventually moved to California to become a paramedic. The band’s toast. All I can do is try to use the Grumpire platform to spread awareness of this amazing regional gem.
The Ballad of Doug the Enforcer is a power-pop concept album recounting the fantastic story of Doug, a lonely brick-breaker from another planet, and his trials and tribulations at the hands of evil intergalactic dirtbag Lord Krylon. Part space opera, part ‘80s teen comedy, riddled with in-jokes (the song “Little Debbie” is a veiled reference to the rack of snack cakes that Mike and Dave kept stocked up in their house for visitors), Doug the Enforcer is a funny, absurdly inventive, proudly lowbrow and surprisingly touching tale.
The letter slingers prove to be adept and versatile songwriters, turning their paper-cut fingers to the funky beats of “Lord Krylon” to the majestically swelling dynamics of “Machine the Machine” to the high-energy bar rock of “Dance Party.” You’ve got to marvel at these guys’ songwriting instincts – their catchy, hook-filled, well-arranged songs will make you ache for a second album that never comes. The band members take turns on vocal duties, spitting lyrics that are by turns funny, crude, and just the right amount of clever. This musicianship is clean and effortless, if not entirely without hiccups, and for a record literally recorded in a basement, it sounds damn good. The whole Doug phenomenon really coheres into a neat artistic whole – even the cover art, intentionally inexpert drawings of babes, spaceships, and musclemen, resembling those found on an eighth-grader’s Trapper Keeper, is of a piece spiritually with the whole album.
I can’t remember a time when I recommended a friend’s band with less reservation than this. Please support our struggling postal workers and buy a copy. — Tyler Peterson
THURSTON MOORE, BY THE FIRE
“Here we are, we come in peace,” is the line delivered when the nearly 17-minute track “Locomotives” reaches its crux, a line that I needed to hear this week more than I really had imagined.
For 2020’s By The Fire, Thurston Moore once again employs his signature mix of both experimental and accessible charm: noise and pleasantries not only coexist, but seem to feed off of each other to prove a point. Often I go to my noise rock playlists when I’m working at the office because they strangely give me a sense of calm among the stress of spreadsheets and deadlines, etc., even if some of the musical execution is a bit jarring. What I’m getting at is, in the experimental, in the cacophony, there are an underlying joy and peace. Noise rock is much more than its namesake, and much more of a positive, radiant experience than a lot of casual listeners may think.
My 4th quarter 2020 has been especially tumultuous as I’ve had to deal with the loss of a loved one (more on that in a future blog post, I’m sure), and perhaps it’s a given I’d be struggling to find a sense of normalcy and balance. I’m glad I decided to revisit this record since its September release because it’s provided me with some deeply meditative comfort. They say you can’t know yourself until you take the time to be still, and that’s what By The Fire does for me: I’m enveloped in fuzzy warmness, and as corny as it sounds, feel elevated. Heaven is a droning guitar.
Joining Moore on By The Fire are frequent collaborators English prog-rock guitarist James Sedwards (formerly of Nought) and My Bloody Valentine bassist Debbie Googe, who lend the record extra professionalism; also contributing to the clout are Jon Leidecker (formerly of the late ’70s experimental group and SST recording artists Negativland) and drummer Jem Doulton, who, along with her work in the Thurston Moore Group, has played with Roison Murphy and The Oscillation, among others. The group seem to have instinctually found each other and bloomed into a symmetry of fervid and weird. Have you dreamt of a Sonic Youth reunion? Keep dreaming, but this is close enough. I’d even call it…satisfactory. — elbee