From Shoes’ first Elektra Lp, Present Tense, released in 1979. Also, one of the first videos to be played on MTV’s inaugural day.
Librarians With Hickeys
Long Overdue (Big Stir Records)
A funny band name is always guaranteed to spark interest, but often overshadows its music. However, that is not the case with Librarians With Hickeys, whose cleverly-chiseled songs are as attention-grabbing as their moniker.
Consisting of Ray Carmen on vocals, guitar, ukulele and keyboards, Mike Crooker on guitar, keyboards and backing vocals, Andrew Wilco on bass and Rob Crossley on drums and piano, the Akron, Ohio-based quartet gathered a universal following with a pair of singles they issued last year. Encouraged by the positive response, the band began working on a complete album, Long Overdue, which will be released August 14th by Big Stir Records.
The band’s debut album wisely contains the two singles that put them on the map. Radiating to a repertoire rigged with glistening guitars, yearning harmonies and the heart-stopping hum of a harpsichord, Until There Was You is a poptastic prize of the highest order. The subsequent single, Black Velvet Dress is directed by a hypnotizing beat layered with shimmering textures.
Punctured with a trippy psychedelic air prompted by the plucking of a backwards guitar, Obsession punches in as another A-grade track heard on Long Overdue, not to neglect the pure pop pleasantries of That Time Is Now featuring acclaimed vocalist Lisa Mychols.
Amplified by driving instrumentation grooving and swinging with a go-go sixties flavor, Looking For Home also receives a big round of applause, while the whimsical Be My Plus One is embedded with the sweet strum of a ukulele. Ray’s daughter Grace lends her vibrant vocal power to the grand and gorgeous Silent Stars, where the hooky and neatly-groomed Next Time yields a brace of cool saxophone fills.
By mating old-school pop properties with frequent art rock flirtations, Librarians With Hickeys have produced an album that is both comfortably familiar and novel. The band’s bright and breezy vocal expressions, compounded by melodic strength, are sure to satisfy fans of artists such as Shoes, The Beach Boys and The Smithereens.
Assessing Long Overdue, Librarians With Hickeys have gotten off to a mighty good start. No matter what the current trend is, we all love catchy pop songs, and here’s a band whose contributions are most welcome.
The 24th video to air on the first day of MTV was Too Late, by Shoes, from their 1979 Lp, Present Tense.
Test Test Test
While I’m not a huge collector of music, I have accumulated what amounts to several small collections. One one shelf, sits the vinyl records that I’ve managed to hang on to since I was a kid. On another shelf sits second-hand records that I picked up for a buck or two. Most of these are records that I wanted when I was much younger, but didn’t have the cash to make the purchase. These records have dog-eared jackets, scratches and imperfections aplenty. I referent to these as “rescues.”
My favorite of these micro collections, however, is the shelf that is home to music projects that I have a personal connection to. There is an original pressing of Shoes’ Present Tense the recent Hey! It’s The Pandoras, and Dw Dunphy’s latest, a cassette rerelease on his 2015 album, Test, Test, Test. These folks that I call friends are a talented bunch, and their creations not only entertain me, they inspire me.
So, in all honesty, I have to be upfront and begin with a caveat that isn’t really a caveat. Dw Dunphy is a friend of mine, and someone who I definitely consider to be in an exclusive club that I refer to as “The Good Guys Of Pop.” Dw is the kind of guy who spends more of his time and energy promoting the music of others, rather than his own. He is the creator of the Co-op Communique compilations, my Lost Hits Of The 80’s co-conspirator, a brilliant graphic artist, and an underdog-backer of the highest order.
Now, for the music…
Dunphy’s Test, Test, Test is an instrumental work, which often reminds me of the most atmospheric works of Pink Floyd, but more visual in nature. Even though I often listen to it while I’m doing other things, pictures and movies always begin to form in my head. It’s almost as if the music is trying to get me to see, or to understand, something that I’m too busy to notice. I’m really intrigued by that.
The opener, That Never Works, is a buoyant shoe-gazer, and what amounts to a musical oxymoron. It flits between Pachelbel and U2, and back again. Nifty. Track two, Shootout At The Spaghetti Factory (or, Do Breadsticks Come With That, Hombre?) wins “The Best Song Title Ever” Award.
Tsuburaya, with its hypnotic drum groove and droning keys, feels as if it’s straight out of a monster movie score, while Polymorph, which might also be Tsuburaya II, creeps along with various ’80’s inflections. Dunphy plays chorused Andy Summers guitar arpeggios throughout, giving this bookend with an optimistic feeling.
Two Empty Rooms is a nine-minute string opus, worthy of any Hollywood soundtrack. What seemingly begins as atmosphere, turns into an English symphony at the six-minute mark, bringing to mind sweeping Jane Austen countryside vistas.
This cassette version of Test Test Test adds one bonus track, Built On The Bones, from the 2013 release, The Radial Night. It almost serves as an acoustic-guitar laden intermission, before side two begins with the brief Hacienda, a folky piece accentuated with Dunphy’s superb harmony vocals, stacked-up high.
I can’t put my finger on the exact reason, but Mr. Burning Suit reminds me of a couple of Tears For Fears singles, Elemental and Raoul and the Kings of Spain. Merging progressive and pop elements, it’s probably my favorite track of the lot.
Blue Wire Green Wire removes the listen to the Far East, or is it Ireland? With its soft keys and barely-there percussion, it really is ripe for dreamy interpretation. I suspect every minds’ eye will produce something completely unique.
Closing the cassette is The Radial Night, which serves as the perfect musical bed for contemplating the entire journey the listener has just been on.
By Dan Pavelich
Stephen “Spaz” Schnee know a lot about music, especially the genre of power pop. In the latest episode of his show “CD Junkie,” he gives us the skinny on the band Shoes, and their new box set.
The 1979 Sessions (Futureman)
When Tommy Marolda sequestered himself into his home studio one weekend in 1979, he probably didn’t realize that the Lp he was creating would come to be coveted by power pop vinyl collectors. As rare as that platter is, thankfully, our friends at Futureman Records have seen fit to reissue in on CD.
If bands like Shoes, The Knack and The Raspberries mean anything to you, this may just be your next favorite record. Boyish vocals top Beatlesque choruses, weaving through the Revolver-ish “Call The Surgeon (Part 2) to the Rutle-y “Guilty As A Killer Wave.” Marolda is a one-man band with rare aplomb, and these fourteen songs are an absolute joy to take in.
It would not be over-selling “The 1979 Sessions” to say that it is a pop masterpiece, because it most certainly is.
Update: I was incorrect in stating that these recordings and The Toms’ debut are one and the same. These are previously-unreleased recordings, that were tracked during the same whirlwind sessions as the debut. Thanks to Futureman’s Keith Klingensmith for setting the record straight, I’m even more impressed now!