Dreams Come True/Lost Songs
Start with obscure pop-folkie Judee Sill's back story-late-'60s Southern California escapades of sex, drugs, armed robbery, trust funds and car accidents with movie stars-detailed in this lavish double-disc collection of unreleased material. Then proceed to "Sunny Side up Luck" on the second disc Lost Songs. Creepy shit, no? Like a church organist accompanying a parishioner who's put her short story on sailing with God to a Beach Boys-like melody. A none-too-vague spiritual subtext, relayed through accomplished harmonic intervals and jazzy arrangements, gives the songs of Dreams Come True (remixed by Sonic Youth's Jim O'Rourke) their angelic twinkle. The themes of redemption and resurrection in the rhythmically shifting diadem "That's the Spirit" and the supper-club R&B of "Living End" make it sound like Sill (who recorded two light-selling albums for Asylum before dying of a drug overdose in 1979 at 35) was trying to square accounts with those burned by her disruptive ways-herself included, as we glean from the rippling folk rock of "I'm Over": "Now I'm over/ I turned me in."
Basement Anthology 1976-'84
From the mid-'70s through the early '80s, every tertiary market from Trenton, N.J., to Tacoma, Wash., undoubtedly had a merry band of garage-punk berserkers like Syracuse, N.Y.'s Penetrators. These upstate palookas never made much of a national splash. But they did soil Syracuse's circuit of cover bands and Led Zeppelin wannabes with their unprofessionalism and an unbridled passion for '60s frat-house rock documented on the various singles, EPs and live recordings that comprise this feel-good retrospective. Photos of the Penetrators-who sported a mix of afros, porn mustaches, jeans, suspenders, baseball caps and even a tool belt-suggest they could never agree on a radio station in the van. Their bond was being a pack of dead-end kids, both stifled and amused by the insularity of their small-town scene. That's the rallying cry of the speed-fiend anthem "Teenage Lifestyle," and the Kingsmen-meets-Stooges trash-core of "Shopping Bag." Still, those potluck tastes gave them license to impersonate a rough-hewn soul outfit ("Life Stinks"), leering blues rockers ("Your So-Called Friends") and experimentalists a little too in love with the pitch-bend dial on their brand-new synthesizer ("Warlord")-and still rock a beer-soaked basement party like only small-town punks could.
Yellow Pills: Prefill
The days when landmark collections like Lenny Kaye's original Nuggets comp could blow the lid off some unheralded scene like '60s American garage rock are gone. There's just too much information out there for anything to be a total mystery. Still, there are recesses of the pop artifact landscape too intimidating for those with full-time jobs, significant others and limited vinyl storage capacity. So it takes a power-pop obsessive like Jordan Oakes-the jangle-holic behind the late Yellow Pills fanzine and compilation series-to do the legwork and curate this totally magnificent double-disc revelation featuring the second comings of Todd Rundgren, Brian Wilson, the Rasp-berries, Cheap Trick and Alex Chilton the world never got to hear. Or at least the world beyond places like Iowa, Missouri, Boston and San Antonio in the late '70s and early '80s. Some relatively familiar names like the Shoes and producer Jon Brion's early combo the Bats get all lovesick with their shimmering Rickenbackers and choirboy harmonies. The finds here-the songs that send you on a quest to track down the band's lone EP or 45, or make you say, "Holy Christ. That's a guy singing?" ("Somebody Else's Girl" by fey-core genius Randy Winburn)-are from bands no one outside of that mustachioed, bespectacled guy in the ill-fitting "BOY HOWDY!" shirt who's at all the rock shows could be vaguely familiar with. They're bands like true pop gemologists Luxury, who sound like prepubescent Teenage Fanclub, and the Tweeds, whose whirring "I Need That Record" perfectly captures the buzz of stumbling upon some obscure treasure-be it at the record shop or through a collection like Prefill.
Sun., May 22, 9pm. $23-$25. With Doves. Theater of Living Arts, 334 South St. 215.922.1011. www.theateroflivingarts.net
Sean Mackowiak, aka Grasshopper, is a busy guy. He's writing a book ("semifiction about our experiences on the road"); he's completed, along with fellow band members, the soundtrack to Euro art-house movie Bye Bye Blackbird, which he'd like to see released as a proper album; and he's currently in the middle of an American tour with Mercury Rev.
For 15 warped years now they've been prime purveyors of wide-eyed psychedelic wonderment and what the late Gram Parsons referred to as "cosmic American music." Their latest album The Secret Migration is a refinement of their patented woozy romanticism, which sees them draw the reins back on their widescreen cinematic tendencies for something a little more intimate.
It seems leading a hermitlike existence in the relative tranquility and isolation of the Catskills has played a major role in this refinement, something the guitarist readily attests to.
"Definitely," Mackowiak says. "You have these wide open spaces that I didn't have in New York and Buffalo where I'd lived previously. It affects time. Time is different here-the way you perceive it, the way it passes is slower. There's not this constant bombardment so you can kind of sit back and enjoy the haze a bit more."
Surroundings aside, The Secret Migration seems a long way from the early dissonance and barely contained chaos of the band's debut Yerself Is Steam and (in particular) its follow-up Boces. This was the sound of a band falling apart thanks to violence, breakdowns, drugs, booze and egos run amok. It was clever, but it certainly wasn't pretty.
Yet Mackowiak, who refers to the period (with considerable understatement) as "a traumatic time," argues the early chaos was not entirely negative.
"It did fuel the music. It did. But the thing is, particularly when we're in the studio, there still is chaos and tension. There's a lot of mental warfare which fuels the music, but it's not done in a malicious way."