Avant-Pop… and Space Ghost

I took a trip out to my city’s antique mall this afternoon for the first time this year. When I arrived I was surprised to find two They Might Be Giants singles featuring exclusive tracks which were only otherwise available on the 1997 oddities compilation, THEN: The Earlier Years. (The set is fantastic – an absolute essential tour of the duo’s earliest recordings.)

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But the greatest value of my trip was, as always, my conversation with my favorite vendor, Bob the Record Guy. He always knows what titles to pull for me. I chatted him up for his knowledge about the music scene between 1976 and 1984, particularly the better parts of new wave, essentials of no wave, post-punk, avant/art-pop, and gothic/ethereal wave classics. He was happy to make a number of recommendations and sent me home with a few albums to get me started.

I confess that many of the artists and albums listeners take it as read that I would know are entirely new to me at present. Born in ’81, I was a touch too young for it all the first go-round and by the time I hit the age of history-combing musical discovery in college, the all-consuming craze was experimental electronic, ambient, and post-rock music. So while I’m well-versed in late-60s/early-70s synth music and 90s indie pop, my knowledge of that seminally developmental decade in between is limited to my memories of MTV flashback syndication and of dollar bin comp cassettes of 80s radio pop. (And damn it, I’m sick and tired of “Always Something There to Remind Me.“)

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Terrible cassette I purchased at a Lechmere department store in 1992.
From what Bob had immediately available, he sent me home with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s 1984 LP, Junk Culture, (with a startlingly-clearly labeled one-sided 7″ single). While the band’s first four LPs showcase OMD at the best, I was happy to pick up anything for starters.

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But it was the next record I was given which became my favorite discovery of the day. While discussing no wave and other manic, atonal music of the 80s, Bob pulled out a copy of Lounge Lizards’ Big Heart – Live in Tokyo (1986). He explained that, while the album is certainly a far cry from the aggressive dissonance of albums like No New York, that it might serve as a fitting introduction to 80s exercises in what Ornette Coleman termed, harmolodics.

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For those unfamiliar, wiki says, “Harmolodics may loosely be defined as an expression of music in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value…” resulting in music which “…achieves an immediately open expression, without being constrained by tonal limitations, rhythmic pre-determination, or harmonic rules.” While I am well-acquainted with standards of free/avant-garde jazz, (I have many of the essentials in my record library), what I didn’t realize was how this philosophy had been embraced by Sonny Sharrock and utilized in his composition of the theme to Adult Swim’s Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Bob brought up the track as an example of harmolodics and spun several tracks from Big Heart which sounded quite similar to the theme. While the first two selections from Big Heart fall a bit flat, those patient enough to go deeper into the record will find that it is arguably the best effort of their catalog.

Home from our outing, I’m surveying my finds of the day and looking forward to more discoveries of albums I should have listened to ages ago. Bob also recommended that I explore the cassette-only label, ROIR (Reachout International Records) founded in 1981 for more great music. Thanks, Bob!

The Pinnacle of 90s Geek Rock – They Might Be Giants Classic Albums on Vinyl!

Milestones of teenage rock nostalgia, They Might Be Giants’ early albums were beautifully random and absurd rock records which spoke directly to the freaks and geeks of the late 80s and early 90s.  Dadaist lyrics, a Dial-a-Song service, bizarre subject matter and a bit of art rock sophistication all made They Might Be Giants alt music of choice for a nerd culture in the midst of the angry grunge era.

Don't Let's Start

This weirdly wonderful and unapologetically happy music was complemented by their even stranger music videos.  “Don’t Let’s Start” and “Ana Ng” were hit videos on MTV in 1987-89.  Devoid of self-serious pretension, They Might Be Giants embraced oddity and silliness while simultaneously sneaking in moments of sombre artistic genius.  Lyrics like, “No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful” were woven effortlessly into otherwise nonsensical context.

Fortunately, They Might Be Giants did not die at 27 of a drug overdose.  They did not find god and start a religious crusade.  Nor did they end up with their own reality show as no-longer-relevant 40-somethings with too much money for their own good.

TMBG 2040 World Tour

Instead, they’ve pressed on through the decades, releasing 96 albums and singles, appealing to younger and younger audiences each year.

And John and John have not forgotten the children who grew up with them (many of whom now have children of their own.)  They have begun to re-issue the earliest albums of their catalog on vinyl for these life-long fans, some of which have not previously been available in the format.

Asbestos Records, an independent record label based in Stratford, Connecticut has recently pressed Factory Showroom, John Henry, and Apollo 18 after the band issued a Facebook poll asking their fans which albums they wanted on wax.  Surely more titles are to come, like the classic self-titled “pink album” and their best-selling Flood.

Asbestos Records

My copies of the new Asbestos pressings have just arrived at my door, pictured below beside my German original press of Flood and the Bar None first pressing of the pink album.

Special thanks to the Johns for all the great musical memories!

They Might Be Giants LPs

Big PFunk score at the Fall Record Show

I’m back from the fall record show, and the funk table was back again this season.  I found a number of albums from the PFunk family, including Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns and Bernie Worrell.

Prices were steep, but I talked him down on my top four from his stash.

Below is a shot of my Pfunk collection (minus the Horny Horns albums) before the show…

Make my funk the P-Funk - my collection before adding the LPs from the show

And here are the four new LPs I picked up.  The Bootsy album was sealed with a comic inside, pictured below…

More funk from the record show

Bootsy Comic

Also new in the mail from Germany is an absolute classic album from when I was a kid – They Might Be Giants’ all-time best-seller, Flood on vinyl.  This was the album that featured “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and “Particle Man.”

They Might Be Giants - Flood LP (German Import)

Flood LP