The It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2020

The year-end lists are upon us again. Time for me to list out the ways I’m getting further away from the beaten path of popular music.

The worldwide pandemic of 2020 had a gigantic impact on the music industry. The most obvious of which was the cancelation of most tours. Artists were forced to figure out new revenue streams or at least better utilize the revenue streams they had. Many artists embraced live streaming to varying degrees of success. The ones who did it right were the ones who either partnered with someone to provide the streaming, or if they did it themselves made sure the quality was up to the standards of produced live content. A significant upswing of Patreon use helped many artists weather the lack of income storm and Bandcamp’s “Bandcamp Friday” once-a-month event where they waived their own fees had the double effect of raising awareness of bands who had merch as well as the long-tail effect of encouraging more regular use of Bandcamp. I was a fairly avid shopper at Bandcamp, but in 2020, I was buying multiple releases per month as acts I follow released Bandcamp-only albums or songs. As a result, my Best of 2020 includes some digital-only releases for the first time that I can remember.

From a vinyl perspective, 2020 was as screwed up as everything else due to COVID-19. Just ahead of the widespread lockdown one of the two plants that manufacture the lacquer plates required to start the process of creating the physical stampers burned down taking out about 70-80% of the lacquer plate availability. Add to that the fact that manufacturing in general was impacted either by the infection rate of employees interacting, or by limiting the number of employees when they could work, pretty much all release dates for vinyl were pushed way out. Add to that the fact that the US Postal Service suffered losses due to sorting facilities being limited as a kind of way to prevent mail in ballots for the 2020 primaries and the impact of COVID-19 cases with the employees, it’s a miracle any titles were released this year.

Record Store Day in April was delayed to June and then eventually re-tooled as three “RSD Drops” in August, September and October. Most of the titles for RSD in April were manufactured in 2019 in anticipation for the usual vinyl manufacturing delays surrounding the April event. As such, most of the big titles for that event came out as planned, with some titles being pulled out and released outside of the drops and some delayed to later Drop dates or Black Friday RSD (which happened as planned). RSD 2021 is slated for June 12th, presumably so that manufacturing can better deal with these restrictions. The other obvious reason for pushing the date out is that it is predicted that general availability of vaccines for COVID-19 should be out by then and the risk of going to a store would be lessened and as such, the stores can have a regular “big” event. The downside of it being in June is the temperatures are starting to get warmer and will increase the risk of warping the records both in shipping to the stores as well as any shipping for online purchases.

Here are my Top 20 releases from 2020 (in no particular order):

Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown Parker’s follow up to his brilliant 2016 album The New Breed finds him continuing the very contemporary blending of jazz and electronic elements. Fans of his work in Chicago Post Rock outfit Tortoise will find a lot to enjoy with this release and maybe will enjoy it more than the odd sidestep of 2016’s Catastrophist. Get Suite For Max Brown from Bandcamp.

Chicago Underground Quartet – Good Days – Speaking of Jeff Parker, the reunion of one of Rob Mazurek’s more notorious projects Chicago Underground Quartet– an expansion of his Chicago Underground Duo with drummer Chad Taylor whose last album was the self-titled release on Thrill Jockey back in 2001 (way out of print and copies go for over $75 when they show up…). This session was an unplanned reunion in that producer Chris Schlarb instigated by getting the individual musicians to come to L.A. to work on another project and then offered to produce a Chicago Underground Quartet record. The album was recorded in one day, but doesn’t sound thrown together due to the fact that most of the songs were actually composed for the other members prior to the recording.

Exploding Star Orchestra – Dimensional Stardust A third album with Jeff Parker on it and a second album from Rob Mazurek. I loved the 2010 release Stars Have Shapes on Chicago Blues and Jazz label Delmark. (Still in print!) Exploding Star Orchestra is an expansive interpretation of Mazurek’s experiments in abstract jazz. To me the best parts of Dimensional Stardust are when the band hits a groove, like on track 2, “A Wrinkle in Time Sets Concentric Circles Reeling”

Parker’s clean guitar runs run counterpoint to the horns on this track which lends a lot of complexity for the listener to follow through the various musical strands of the work. The flute from Nicole Mitchell is fantastic and adds a fluttering beauty to the proceedings. Very much recommended for fans of Thrill Jockey bands.

Tame Impala – The Slow Rush – I honestly kind of forgot that this was a 2020 release! Some of that might be that it came out in early February, but also that a couple of tracks had been floating around for a while. “Borderline” came out in April of 2019! I picked up the indie exclusive green vinyl version of this from Ragged Records in Rock Island, IL. The kind of pissy thing about this vinyl release was they didn’t provide a download with it and there wasn’t a good way to get a download of it. Now, you can either buy it from Amazon, or if you buy the vinyl release from Amazon, you can do the “Auto Rip” download, so that is a good option, now.

My solution to this back in February was to buy a new CD of it on eBay from a seller who seemed to have a grey market source for a lot of new titles. These shipped from Asia even though the seller was from Massachusetts. Because the shipping took so long, the seller provided a download of the CD as well! I doubt any part of this was legal, strictly speaking. But, the CD I got was in shrink and included all of the CD artwork which was a calendar due to the theme of the album of being a year. That calendar artwork is not part of the vinyl release, incidentally.

Matt Wilson Orchestra – When I Was A WriterMatt Wilson was part of the seminal Minneapolis band Trip Shakespeare along with his brother Dan Wilson. Trip Shakespeare made the leap to a major label in the early 90’s where they ultimately ended breaking up. Dan Wilson and John Munson formed Semisonic of “Closing Time” fame. Dan would go on to pen songs for the likes of Adele, and Semisonic has reformed in 2020. Matt Wilson joined Twin Cities band Polara briefly and also released one solo record in 1998 and also formed The Twilight Hours with Munson. Matt Wilson’s latest project “Matt Wilson Orchestra” represents a return to songwriting for Wilson after a break. The “Orchestra” is made up of largely acoustic instruments and heavenly vocal harmonies. The lineup of instruments includes banjo and harp, as odd as that seems, but it totally works here and really comes as close to what I think Trip Shakespeare might have sounded like in 2020 as anything. The vocal harmonies recall The Mamas and the Papas. An all around gorgeous record and really should be on more peoples’ radars. You can order the CD/LP/Download from Wilson’s new label Pravda Records HERE.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Reunions Jason Isbell was quoted somewhere (I can’t find it at the moment) that his goal is to write songs that feel like the songs we heard on the radio years ago. To that end, I think he has achieved his goal. Isbell’s particular take on country and rock (he’s considered Americana, but these days I feel like he is really just rock to me, maybe in the same way The Eagles are really a rock band, even though they have “Desperado” and “Seven Bridges Road” in their catalog). Recognizing the tough position that brick and mortar record stores were in due to the pandemic, he released Reunions early to record stores in a special “Dreamsicle” orange pressing that came with a print of the album art and an art print of his 1959 “Red Eye” Les Paul done by Iowa artist Karl Haglund. This was a constant soundtrack this summer as I worked on my landscaping as a distraction from not being able to do anything out of the home.

TWINS – Dream On – Cedar Falls, IA band TWINS came back with a new album and new sound in 2020. Known primarily as a power pop band based on their guitars, hooks and harmonies of their first three records, the four years between Square America and Dream On saw the band change their lineup and gave lead singer and lyricist Joel Sires a chance to dig through his personal record crates to find inspiration in Springsteen, Mellencamp and Steve Earle. The resulting record represents a welcome maturity in the band and Sires flexes his lyric craft opening the door to his first solo release which comes out this year. Read my review at Little Village.

Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes – What Kinda MusicTom Misch got his start as a Soundcloud celebrity and released a few records under his own label. For his Blue Note Records debut, he partners with drummer Yussef Dayes to create what I think is the best example of what Blue Note Records should be in the new century. A blend of nouveau ideas about the landscape of music and jazz tonality. Misch is young enough to claim John Mayer as an influence, and the guitars on this album owe a debt to Mayer, but more than that, the album draws from Hip Hop and electronic music. In that regard it fits in with the likes of Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. The lyrics on What Kinda Music are a bit shallow so the tales of a tortured artist are not here, and honestly this would have kept this album off of a shorter list. But, the album sounds great and I found myself going back to this and his Mix Tape 2 album quite a bit in the last quarter of 2020.

Reno Bo – You Can See It All From HereReno Bo has been somewhat quietly cranking out brilliant rock records for about ten years. As a sideman he’s worked with the likes of Albert Hammond Jr. (of The Strokes) and Brendan Benson, and has been pretty busy in that capacity, but I anxiously await his solo releases. For his 2020 album You Can See It All From Here he returns with a sound that to me really reminds me of Tom Petty and Matthew Sweet (particularly “Like A Stone”). Bo is part of the Cabin Down Below band which holds Tom Petty tribute shows, so that isn’t probably far from the influences he would claim.

Monophonics – It’s Only Us – For Monophonic’s fourth album, the band returns with Kelly Finnigan on vocals and keys (at this point he’s a permanent member, I guess).The sunny 70’s soul and funk has been polished to a shimmer on It’s Only Us. In fact, I hear a lot of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? and The Spinners “I’ll Be Around” on it. This record is a banger from beginning to end. The title track is sheer brilliance.

Kelly Finnigan – A Joyful Sound – Speaking of Kelly Finnigan, he released another solo record in 2020, relatively soon after his 2019 solo record Tales People Tell (which got an RSD-exclusive instrumentals release in 2020) and the aforementioned Monotones album! A Joyful Sound is a holiday record on par with the Phil Spector A Christmas Gift For You. A stone cold classic that everyone needs in their collection. I wrote a review of it here.

Calexico – Seasonal Shift – Calexico put out its first holiday record in 2020. It was a collection of covers and originals. The covers include “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and “Merry Xmas (War Is Over) from Lennon and Ono. I would have liked to see “Gift X-Change” from the Aerocalexico tour album on here. Such a beautiful song from the band. Either way, a welcomed addition to the slowly-growing collection of Christmas vinyl.

Johnnie Cluney – Love Is Law – If you know of Cluney, it’s likely due to his signature illustrations for Daytrotter.com (R.I.P.). His musical output is equally notable and the Bedroom Shrine record was a favorite of mine. He continues the dusty lo-fi journey on his first album under his own name. The album sits somewhere in the neighborhood of Dinosaur Jr, Elliott Smith and Sebadoh. The physical release is a cassette and that’s pretty much the best way to listen to it. Read my review here.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Forward, Children and School Daze: Fundraisers for Durham Public Schools students – I’m kind of cheating here by lumping two releases together, but honestly they are a pair of releases that belong together, and likely everyone who bought one bought the other. Proceeds from the sales of these Bandcamp releases go to support Durham Public Schools, which ended up being even more essential as they needed to gear up for students newly in distance learning. The live shows from HGM are places where the recorded songs take on a life of their own. These two releases are made up of performances from the same tour in support of Terms of Surrender. The retooling of “Jesus Shot Me In The Head” on Forward, Children is worth the price of admission. Both of these releases support the idea that HGM could stand to have a physical live album release.

Anthony Worden and the Illiterati — ‘Voilá – Iowa City musician put out one of my favorite releases in 2020. Shining bits of guitar pop brilliance. Recommended if you stan Britpop from Costello or Nick Lowe. The additional vocals from Penny Peach take this record over the top. When’s her solo record out? Read my review in Little Village.

Elizabeth Moen – Creature of Habit – 2020 derailed the album release plans for Moen. She released two singles from her album that was supposed to come out (“Headgear” and “Ex’s House Party”) and had a tour planned to correspond with the release and then the pandemic hit. Stuck at home she started working on new songs that were anchored in synthesizers rather than her trusty guitar. The songs are some of her best yet and I can see how this “experiment” in different instruments could inform her songs going forward.

High Waisted – Sick of Saying Sorry – NYC surf-meets 60’s girlband outfit High Waisted is back with another slab of sunny dance-able pop rock. Front woman Jessica Dye really nails the 80’s girls with attitude vibe– think Linda Ronstadt, Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar. Her powerful soprano coupled with giant guitar is an infectious combination. This record was lost in the fog of COVID undeservedly and everyone should check this out.

Dope Walker – Save SaveDope Walker is an Iowa-Minnesota supergroup/side project made up of William Elliott Whitmore, Aaron Mader (producer Lazerbeak from Twin Cities hip hop collective Doomtree), Zach Westerdahl of Ten Grand, Mike Schulte from The Pork Tornadoes, Joel Anderson from FT (The Shadow Government). Save Save is the debut record from the collective and has a very polished post hardcore sound. This album kind of missed the radar of folks (including me for most of the year).

Grateful Dead – Buffalo 5/9/1977 Box SetFor the third RSD “Drop” on 10/24, we were treated to the second vinyl box treatment of the four-night May 1977 run represented in the Get Shown The Light CD box set released in May of 2017 for the anniversary of that 4 night run. In 2017 the legendary Cornell show was released as a vinyl boxed set. The second box set is from Buffalo the night after Cornell. This show is notable for the fantastic “Help Is On The Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklins Tower” opener, largely regarded as the best performance of this sequence. The Cornell show was the one that opened the door to the Dead for me, so I’m super happy to have this show. I think that the existence of the Buffalo show might hint that we’ll get the other two nights with a similar vinyl treatment.

Pylon – Box Seminal Athens, GA band Pylon got the reissue treatment from New West Records in 2020. The first two albums were returned to print on vinyl for the first time since the 80’s and the first time on CD since I think 1997 when DFA Records reissued them with bonus tracks. As part of this effort a WONDERFUL box set was released which, along with the first two albums Chomp and Gyrate also included the “Razz Tape” — an early recording of the band and “Extras” which included b-sides and rare tracks. There was also a beautiful hardbound book with photos and other ephemera from the band which also acts as a compliment to an exhibition at the University of Georgia of the band. I wrote an in-depth breakdown of the boxset here.

(Upcoming Release) New West Records Reissues Seminal Pylon Albums and Limited Pylon Box Out 11/6/2020 – A deeper dive

Pylon Box – Colored vinyl version limited to 500 out 11/6

On August 26th, New West Records announced that they will be reissuing the first two Pylon albums as well as an extensive box set with the two albums, an LP of extras and an LP called “Razz Tape” of a recording that pre-dates the albums along with a gorgeous 200-page hardbound book.

For the uninitiated, Pylon was a band from Athens, GA that started in the late 70’s by some art school students at the University of Georgia. For context in the larger history of Athens bands, they’re post-B-52’s and contemporaries of R.E.M. Their distinctively angular and beat-heavy sound would be described as post-punk and follows a path blazed by New York City bands like Talking Heads and Television.

The first phase of their career started in 1978 and after two albums on the now-defunct label DB Recs Gyrate and Chomp and enjoying some well-deserved exposure supporting bands like R.E.M. U2 and Mission of Burma on tours, they split up in late 1983.

Pylon would have just been a footnote in the history of the Athens music scene if it hadn’t been for the 1987 documentary “Athens, GA Inside/Out” which turned leagues of R.E.M. fans like myself on to the band. R.E.M. also recorded a cover of the Pylon song “Crazy” and released it as a b-side to “Driver 8” and it was the first track on Dead Letter Office, a collection of outtakes and b-sides. Peter Buck said in the liner notes, “I remember hearing their version on the radio the day that Chronic Town came out and being suddenly depressed by how much better it was than our record.”

The jittery energy of the live version of “Stop It!” with the militant growled vocals by Vanessa Hey was like nothing I’d ever heard before and even though it was the R.E.M. songs that drew me to the film and soundtrack, it was the Pylon track that ended up being my favorite part of that soundtrack. (Honestly, I always kind of felt like R.E.M. sort of phoned in their contribution with that Everly Brothers cover…)

Pylon reunited and in 1989 released a compilation called Hits which had notable tracks from the two albums as well as some tracks from singles. In 1990 they released another studio album Chain.on Sky Records. They went on tour with R.E.M. and then split up again in 1991. The band reunited for shows sporadically over the years that followed until they finally broke up for good after guitarist Randy Bewley passed away in 2009. Vanessa Briscoe Hay fronts a Pylon tribute band “Pylon Reenactment Society” along with members of other area bands and have even recorded a couple new songs.

In 2007 DFA Records, owned by Tim Goldsworthy of UNKLE and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem reissued Chomp and Gyrate on CD with bonus tracks . Titled Gyrate Plus and Chomp More, they went immediately out-of-print and the CD’s are now super-expensive in the secondary market. So, clearly there is demand for this catalog to be reissued again.

For Black Friday Record Store Day in 2019, New West Records sort of tipped their hand in the matter by reissuing Pylon’s debut single “Cool”/”Dub.” I reached out to the label about whether they were going to reissue the albums and at the time they confirmed it, but weren’t going to announce anything for a few months. Then COVID happened which messed up record manufacturing, so I’m guessing that’s why the announcement happened much later for the albums and the box set.

The box set comes in two versions, black vinyl and a limited-to-500 colored vinyl version. Four 140g LP’s include new remasters of Gyrate and Chomp, an LP of Extras which include singles, b-sides and other rarities, and Razz Tape, which is a recording of the band which pre-dates their 1979 debut single recorded in their practice space by Chris Razz. 47 tracks total with 18 of them unreleased.

Since they aren’t also reissuing the 1989 compilation Hits which also included some non-album tracks and there were extra tracks on the DFA releases, how do the tracks compare and what are we missing with the box set?

We’ve seen “Cool,” “Dub,” “Crazy” single mix and the “Danger!!” remix from the !! import EP on Hits and the DFA reissues as I indicate below. We have two completely new songs “Untitled” and “3×3” plus a couple of new mixes of “Danger III” and “Spiders.” Not to mention all of the new versions and tracks on the Chris Razz tape.

Notably missing are some tracks included on the DFA reissues. “Crazy (Original Version)” on the Chomp More reissue seems to also be referred to as the single version. “Yo-Yo (Pylon Mix)” or “Male version” (it has slowed-down versions of the vocals) and “Gyrate (Pylon Mix) are two versions that were recorded during the tracks that were recorded at Mitch Easter’s Drive-In, but the versions that were used on the album came from the sessions at Channel One. We’re also missing the 6-minute version of “Beep” that is called “Four Minutes.”

Interestingly, “Functionality” was listed on the Gyrate Plus reissue as a “Studio Demo.” But the liner notes say it was recorded in 1979 in their practice space in Athens, GA, so that is from the Razz tape.

Here are all the tracks for the boxset and the breakdown of where the Extras have been released before:

Gyrate LP

  1. Volume 04:13
  2. Feast On My Heart 03:35
  3. Precaution 02:48
  4. Weather Radio 02:16
  5. The Human Body 03:11
  6. Read A Book 02:02
  7. Driving School 03:53
  8. Gravity 02:37
  9. Danger 05:38
  10. Working Is No Problem 03:29
  11. Stop It 03:06

Chomp LP

  1. K 04:32
  2. Yo-Yo 04:14
  3. Beep 03:23
  4. Italian Movie Theme 02:01
  5. Crazy 03:13
  6. M-Train 03:48
  7. Buzz 02:58
  8. No Clocks 02:57
  9. Reptiles 03:56
  10. Spider 03:58
  11. Gyrate 04:06
  12. Altitude 03:19

Extras LP

  1. Untitled – New track
  2. Cool – from Cool/Dub debut single, also Gyrate Plus and Hits
  3. Dub – from Cool/Dub debut single, also Gyrate Plus and Hits
  4. Recent Title – from Hits
  5. Danger!! (Danger Remix) – from !! EP also Gyrate Plus
  6. Crazy (Single Mix) – from “Crazy” single and Hits and probably Chomp More.
  7. Reptiles (Channel One Version) – New version
  8. No Clocks (Channel One Version) – New version
  9. Spider (Alternative Mix) – New version
  10. 3 x 3 (Live) 02:19 – New track
  11. Danger III (Live) – New track

Razz Tape LP – all new tracks except “Functionality”

  1. The Human Body 03:08
  2. Modern Day Fashion Woman (Version 1)
  3. Read A Book (Instrumental)
  4. Working Is No Problem
  5. Precaution
  6. Cool
  7. Functionality – from Gyrate Plus
  8. Efficiency
  9. Information
  10. Dub
  11. Modern Day Fashion Woman (Version 2)
  12. Danger
  13. Feast On My Heart (Working Version)

Pre-order the box set from New West Records HERE or at their Bandcamp site (where you can stream some of the tracks).

(Upcoming Release) Seminal Athens, GA Band Pylon is BACK with Live Album Out July 25, 2016

Pylon - Live

By the time I first heard Pylon, they had already broken up.  They were featured prominently in the documentary film Athens, GA: Inside Out and its associated sountrack on IRS Records. I bought the soundtrack first– I had heard that R.E.M. had a couple of songs on it, so the completist I was, I needed to own the soundtrack.. The R.E.M. songs were good, and the band I had at the time did a similar version of “Swan Swan H” though we couldn’t really tackle the harmonies of “(All I’ve Got To Do is) Dream.”

But, the real eye-opener was all of the other unknown bands on the album. I really loved Love Tractor, and to this day is still one of my favorites, and The Squalls, and Dreams So Real (who were swept up by a major and then lost forever). I wasn’t sure what to make of the dissonant and angular music of Pylon, whose live version of “Stop It” was kind of the centerpiece of the soundtrack. It wasn’t until I finally saw the film on VHS that I really understood that Pylon was one of the early bands in the scene and all of the other bands really looked up to them, including my heroes R.E.M., who covered “Crazy” which was included in the odds-n-sods compilation Dead Letter Office. I started college later in 1987, and found friends who were really into the Athens scene and I borrowed the two albums Chomp and Gyrate and made a tape of them and was quickly a fan.

The band broke up because they were tired of the pressures that come with a band that was rising from obscurity. In 1990, seemingly out of nowhere the band was back. In an interview with Perfect Sound Forever, they said that they realized that interest in the band wouldn’t die, and they were all still living in Athens, so they decided to reform. The put together a “greatest hits” of sorts called Hits, and then recorded a new album Chain in 1990. By that time, their unique sound wasn’t as leftfield as it was earlier. In fact, bands like The Sugarcubes probably owed a lot to the groundbreaking Pylon. But, they wouldn’t stay together for long after that.

Some time in 2004, the band reunited again and enjoyed notoriety spurred on by the CD reissue campaign of Chomp and Gyrate by DFA Records (now out-of-print again, and going for insane prices).  The band played shows and, I for one was happy they were back. The band broke up officially again in 2009, following the unexpected death of Randall Bewley.

So, in 2016 we have some developments in the Pylon camp.  In March it was announced that a 1980 performance at Danceteria by Pylon in the archives of Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong as part of the Nightclubbing TV show from NYC that captured the early days of Punk and New Wave. There were select screenings of the show with Q&A from the band. Then, in April the band announced a 7″ of live tracks from their last show in Athens, GA in 1983 at the Mad Hatter. This show was captured to video and multitrack audio for a pilot for a failed PBS series called Athens Shows.

It turns out that the 7″ was a taste of what was to come. On July 25th– Randal Bewley’s birthday– Pylon is releasing a 2 LP and digital download version of the last show in Athens titled simply PYLON LIVE. Pylon was a force to be reckoned with live and this album captures them at the peak of their powers with a setlist that picks the great tracks from the 2 LPs and drops in a couple of rarities. “Party Zone” was only available on a rare DB Recs compilation and Pylonized cover of the Batman TV theme with new lyrics.

The vinyl package comes in three different colors– 200 on magenta vinyl (which compliments the cover well) and 200 on clear vinyl. The rest are on black vinyl. The LP’s are a reasonable $29.99 plus about $5 shipping. The digital download is $8.99. If you pre-order, you get immediate download of “Volume.” Here it is in their Bandcamp player:

PYLON LIVE is available for pre-order at chunklet.com, chunklet.bandcamp.com, iTunes, Amazon, and wherever digital music is sold.

Limited to 200 on magenta vinyl.
Limited to 200 on clear vinyl.
Unlimited on black vinyl.
Track List:

SIDE A
Working is No Problem
Driving School
No Clocks
Altitude
Gravity

SIDE B
Crazy
K
Cool
Italian Movie Theme
Buzz

SIDE C
Danger
Reptiles
Stop It
Feast On My Heart
Beep

SIDE D
M Train
Volume
Weather Radio
Party Zone
Batman

B-Sides in the Bins #22 – Cedar Rapids 2/22 & 2/23/08

Friday night Sherry was at a class, so I decided to hit Half Price Books before coming home from work. I also hit CD’s Plus on Saturday while I was out running some errands. I got some pretty cool stuff, including a CD that I was hoping to snag for a review from a label.

Prince – Purple Rain – 20th Anniversary (2 DVD, Warner Bros. 33533, 2004) ($9.98) One of the cool things about Half Price Books is that they get “cut outs” of CD’s and DVDs. They had two copies of this sealed and notched as cut-out. I had purchased not too long ago a copy of the 1997 release. I think it was in one of the bins at Wal-Mart. This was the “Standard Version” that was pan-and-scan 6×9. The 20th Anniversary version is 2 DVD with a second DVD dedicated to extras like a cool documentary on First Avenue where the live performances were filmed, a making of documentary with interviews with Dr. Z, Wendy and Lisa, Jimmy Jam and others. They also have a somewhat embarrassing “MTV Premiere Party” from the movie premiere complete with interviews of John “Cougar” Mellencamp, “Wierd Al” Yankovic, “rising star” Eddie Murphy, Wendy and Lisa, Little Richard who was in full Bible-thumping mode, and a self-important VJ Mark Goodman. An interesting view into the MTV promotional engine. Talk about non-sequitur interviewees! I guess Eddie Murphy and Little Richard make some kind of sense– but the “Wierd Al” and John Mellencamp interviews were certainly a stretch. Little Richard turned his interview into a thing about him and Murphy makes some funny digs about that. Mark Goodman goads Murphy unsuccessfully to do an impersonation of Prince, and then tries to get him to do an impersonation of James Brown. Eddie says, “I’ve already done that” and walks away. The bonuses also include all of the associated videos from Prince, The Time, and Apollonia 6. Wow, “Sex Shooter” was a really horrible song and even worse video.

As the story goes, Apollonia Kotero replaced Vanity (Denise Matthews) for the lead female part after Vanity broke up with Prince and went solo under a record contract with Motown. So, the remaining members of Vanity 6 (Brenda Bennett and Susan Moonsie) plus actress Patricia Kotero (renamed “Apollonia” by Prince) became Apollonia 6. The Vanity 6/Apollonia 6 girl group was an idea that Prince had for a while and of course created songs for. Apollonia 6 recorded one record tied in with the rest of the records associated with the movie and that was it. Kotero and group were supposed to open the tour with the Revolution and the Time but that never panned out. Interestingly, Prince apparently wrote “Manic Monday” which would eventually go to The Bangles (and likely specifically to Suzanna Hoffs) and “The Glamorous Life” which went to Sheila E. for the Vanity 6/Apollonia 6 projects. Coincidentally, both Vanity and Apollonia have become born-again Christians. Actually, Prince is too, I guess.

The movie is restored to Widescreen and remastered. The old release was really shoddy, and this one is a vast improvement. I see that there is a BluRay version of this available, too. I’ll probably upgrade this copy when I get a BluRay player.

Aimee Mann – Bachelor No. 2 (Or The Last Remains Of The Dodo) (CD, Superego Records, 2000) ($5.98) This is the album that followed the success of the soundtrack to Magnolia. It includes some of the songs from Magnolia– one as an instrumental. Aimee Mann is one of my favorite female musicians and her pairing with Jon Brion is perfect. The songs from Music from the Motion Picture Magnolia and this album would make a nice mix CD. Only “How Am I Different,” “Deathly,” and “You Do” are on both. “Nothing Is Good Enough” appears on the soundtrack as an instrumental.

This was a sealed copy or re-sealed. Aimee’s first release as an independent artist.

Mike’s Mann Mix for the Last Remains of the Magnolia

1. One (from Magnolia)
2. Momentum (from Magnolia)
3. Build That Wall (from Magnolia)
4. Deathly (from Magnolia or Bachelor No. 2)
5. Driving Sideways (from Magnolia)
6. You Do (from Magnolia or Bachelor No. 2)
7. Wise Up (from Magnolia)
8. Save Me (from Magnolia or Bachelor No. 2)
9. How Am I Different (Bachelor No. 2)
10. Nothing Is Good Enough (Bachelor No. 2)
11. Red Vines (Bachelor No. 2)
12. The Fall of the World’s Own Optimist (Bachelor No. 2)
13. Satellite (Bachelor No. 2)
14. Ghost World (Bachelor No. 2)
15. Calling It Quits (Bachelor No. 2)
16. Just Like Anyone (Bachelor No. 2)
17. Susan (Bachelor No. 2)
18. It Takes All Kinds (Bachelor No. 2)
19. Nothing Is Good Enough (Instrumental) (Magnolia)

Pylon – Gyrate Plus (CD, DFA 2181CD, 2007) ($5.98) This is one that I’d hoped would come to me as a promo for review, but at $5.98 used, it was worth buying. I was surprised to see its spine looking up at me from the bins. Pylon was one of the seminal Athens, GA bands and were contemporaries of the B-52’s. Started as a kind of side project for its members who really thought of themselves more of an art collective. They were inspired by the B-52’s very stripped down approach (at least in the early days). I think you can hear a lot of similarities in the tribal dance beats and angular guitars. I became familiar with Pylon through the documentary “Athens, GA Inside/Out” and their performance of “Stop It.” When I got to college in the late 80’s I met a guy named Tom Lally who had the Pylon records on vinyl. These were on the now-defunct DB Recs label. I had made a tape of Gyrate and Chomp. Pylon broke up after Chomp just as they were asked to open for U2. Pylon reformed in 1990 for Chain on the now defunct Sky Records. I bought Chain when it came out and the 1988 Hits compilation on DB Recs. Other than the few tracks on Hits, the tracks from Chomp have not seen re-release. I hope that DFA is planning to reissue Chomp as well.

Listening to these songs again for the first time since the Nineties, I can tell that my remedial bass-playing skills are very influenced by Pylon– especially the track “Volume” on Gyrate. Pylon got back together last year and played a handful of shows to promote this re-issue and there are a couple of them available via BitTorrent.

R.E.M. are fans of Pylon and covered “Crazy” on their Dead Letter Office album of B-Sides.

Click Here to visit Southern Shelter’s page of live mp3’s from Pylon.

Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog (CD, SubPop SPCD 710, 2007) ($7.99) I got this one from CD’s Plus. I was happy to have stumbled into this one. I was really impressed with Sam Beam’s collaboration with Calexico for the In the Reins EP. Shepherd’s Dog picks up nicely from there. Full instrumentals provided with help again from Joey Burns and Paul Niehaus. Very nice percussion one this record makes it kind of a toe-tapper for me. Sam’s voice is one of my favorites in indie rock today. Brilliant record, I can’t recommend it enough.