Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Money Well Spent: Sally Crewe and Volcano Suns

There are two (three, if you want to get technical) good reasons for you to head to ye olde record shoppe today.

The first is Your Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, the latest record from Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves. As I'm sure you know, Sally and her ever-fluctuating backing band have already released one of the decade's best albums with their debut, 2003's Drive It Like You Stole It. Wait... you didn't know that? Well, you really should since Sally is one of the finest authors of pop music around right now. Her songs are pretty much everything one could want from a pop tune: direct and immediately affecting, but displaying a depth that becomes apparent on repeated listens. Subject matter rarely strays from matters of the heart, which is a pop music staple to be sure. It's a tribute to Sally's craft that her take on love and romance never ventures into trite or drippy territory. I can probably count the number of songwriters who pull the above off on a regular basis using both hands (and maye a toe.) In other words, Sally's breathing some rather rarefied air. Her skills as a tunesmith have earned her fans like Spoon's Brit Daniel and Jim Eno (both of whom appear on Drive It) and power pop-legend Tommy Keene (who will occasionally take a break from his legendary status to be the Sudden Moves' bassist.) I know that's an impressive group of pals but frankly, her material is even more impressive.

Below is the video for "English Medicine." Get on board this train now, people.

Also coming out today are reissues of the first two Volcano Suns albums, The Bright Orange Years and All Night Lotus Party. This will mark the first time these fantastic records are available in the very popular compact disc format. This may mean Volcano Suns will lose their status as some kind of rock snob badge of honor, being that it's no longer necessary to own a turntable to to hear the band's best material. However, if you're hearing these albums for the first time and are suitably blown away, you probably deserve to join the club anyway.

Volcano Suns were the project of former Mission of Burma drummer Peter Prescott and whatever guitarist and bassist felt like playing with him at the time. While never quite garnering the kudos his former band received, the Suns' records were nearly as essential. Prescott and co. were a much more playful outfit than Burma, eschewing much of their music-theory stodginess in favor of rocking out with abandon. This is not to suggest that the Suns were some quotidian meat-and-potatoes outfit. Just give a listen to "White Elephant," a song that serves as a microcosm of everything that was great about Volcano Suns, and has long been a personal anthem of mine. Prescott bellows his waggish parable of the collector as scraps of noisy post-punk guitar help shape a tune that's tightly constructed and melodically rich. At the risk of sounding like a hyperbolic fool, independent rock (and perhaps rock music in general) doesn't get much better.

As for which of these albums you should buy first, it's hard to say. In terms of quality of the original albums, All Night Lotus Party gets a slight nod. However, these reissues are adorned with bonus cuts which complicates things a bit as ANLP's are weaker, containing a "dub" take on "Walk Around," a cover of "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins," a Spinal Tap-esque "Jazz Odyssey" and some less silly material. The Bright Orange Years, on the other hand, contains the fabulous "Sea Cruise/Greasy Spine" single and (what I assume) is material from the original pre-record Volcano Suns lineup featuring Gary Waleik and Steve Michener, both later of Big Dipper. Plus, there's a cover Prince's "1999." My advice: buy both. Merge Records is offering a package deal of both CDs for only $20. Volcano Suns may not have gotten more than a passing mention in Our Band Could Be Your Life but these albums stand alongside the titans of 80s indie rock and hold up quite well.

Ex post facto update: Also released on this date was Ghosts, the new album from Denton, TX's The Marked Men. It may not quite measure up to their previous album, Fix My Brain, but that was as fine an example of blistering pop-punk as anything released in the past 10 (or 20?) years. The new album is worth a listen though and it's streaming online in it's entirety here.


Anonymous said...

The single "sea cruise/greasy spine" is not in fact as you describe. It's the Williams/ Weigand lineup. I believe they even cowrote the song.

Anonymous said...

>The single "sea cruise/greasy spine" is not in fact as you >describe. It's the Williams/ Weigand lineup. I believe they >even cowrote the song.

This is true--everything on the reissues is the Williams/Weigand lineup, quite obviously. I don't understand why people fill in the blanks with misinformation like that.