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January 31, 2007

At long last! The January edition of "NBR's Greatest Records You've Probably Never Heard"

I've been talking about it since late October, and so I guess it's kind of time to get a move on with our "new" feature.  So, without further ado (and luckily I got it in before January is over), the January entry in NBR's Greatest Records You've Probably Never Heard:  Helium's Pirate Prude.




Released in 1994, Pirate Prude is the band's six-song Matador Records debut (and was followed by two albums, another EP, and some singles).  I first stumbled upon Helium playing the second stage at Lollapalooza in 1995 (along with Superchunk and Built to Spill--brilliant stuff happens when you let Sonic Youth book the bands).  The day after the festival, I tried to write a song duplicating Helium's sound (and failed, but got an ok song out of it I guess), and soon after I picked up Pirate Prude.  Since then, it's been a favorite of mine.

One could loosely term the EP (which Matador Records quoted Timony as calling "less an EP than a set of three singles") a "concept record," but to do so would water it down a bit.  There's definitely running images and themes throught the record, though.  One look at the song titles on the back cover will pretty much let you know what you're getting into:  "Baby Vampire Made Me"; "Wanna Be A Vampire Too, Baby."; "XXX"; "OOO"; "I'll Get You, I Mean It"; "Love $$$".  Much like her then-Matador labelmate, Liz Phair, Helium's singer/guitarist/primary songwriter Mary Timony can cover topics that most may not expect a female frontwoman (frontperson?) to cover.  I tend to think Timony is a little better, as she seems less inclined to go for shock value than the Exile In Guyville-era Phair

Anyway, on to the EP.  It leads off, as I just mentioned with "Baby Vampire Made Me."  The record opens with a plodding bass line and chiming guitars.  Timony's vocal comes in soon after, setting the tone with the first line:  "It doesn't matter if it's wrong or if it's right. You won't remember after I bite."  Then we go right into that great trademark of the early to mid-90's--the loud guitars.  True to that Pixies/Nirvana model, the song alternates between soft and loud, to good effect.  The chourses (which, of course, are loud) build, ultimately reaching the penultimate line:  "What's good for you isn't always good for me."  The song is full of heavy, but melodic guitar riffs, layered on top of each other with some almost atonal melodies.  The song ends with a nice, melodic guitar riff, with just a hint of distortion, that continues through the outro.

The second song, "Wanna Be A Vampire Too, Baby," feaures another melodic guitar line, and throws in a few more Nirvana-esque pardoxes into the lyrics (i.e., "Make me rude / make me a prude" and "You made me bite when I kissed").  "XXX" is where the EP really takes off.  Again, it starts off quiet, with the vocals jumping right in.  My vote for best line in the first verse is, "I see your wallet in your pocket. You know I carry my heart around my neck in a locket, so I can take it off."  There's a LOUD pre-chorus centered around a great guitar riff, then comes what might be the most beautifully melodic, stealthily-sweet sounding chorus about a woman of the night ("Now I feel good.  I feel like candy.  Go out on the street I'm gonna make some money.  That was just a joke about the money.  You're gonna pay me with your life."  The second verse starts off with another brilliant lyric:  "Around the corner, like a fallen maraschino cherry."  Then again, it ends just as good:  "You've got a candy red sports car.  My heart is not a sports car.  My heart is a cab.  Your love is a fad, and you're a drag."  The song is consistently great throughout.  I love the guitar leads--there's no stupid self-indulgent solos, just layer after layer of perfectly controlled, melodic guitar lines.

"OOO" features verses with a more laid back, bass-heavy feel that move into ascending choruses that build with a mix of tension and anticipation, with Timony's vocals always hovering above.  Extra spoken vocals come in and out highlighting some of the EP's "key terms" (e.g., cherry, TV, movie) behind a great lead vocal melody.  Timony's singing is exceptional in the next song, "I'll Get You, I Mean It," which eschews the verse-chorus-verse style for a more unconventional approach of a "quiet" beginning with clean guitars (played forward and backward) and a "loud" ending.  It's a really great song, and--again--the lyrics are noteworthy.  At the end of the song, for instance, we get what first appears to be a more prototypical pop song:  "I'll be the pirate if you'll be the loot.  I'll jump out a plane if you'll be my parachute."  Then it gets a little unconventional ("You'd better catch me or I'll kill you") before seemingly reverting back:  "Please don't think I'm mean.  Don't think I'm corny.  I don't know how to say this 'cause I've never had to, but now I want to."  But by now, you won't be tricked, right?  Our heroine comes back with a twist:  "You don't wanna be like I do.  You don't wanna be like I do.  I'm gonna get you.  Gonna get you."

The EP's last song, "Love $$$", fittingly wraps it all up.  There's the quiet verses and loud choruses with the hovering vocals, and the lady-of-the-night motiff:  "He'll buy you anything, you're his honey.  He'll pay for anything, you're his money."  We get a little bit of resolution, though, in the choruses, however, as when Timony sings: "You're not a model, you're not an angel.  You're just a person.  You're not an axe murderer, you're not a monster.  You're just a person."

Maybe that's what I find so great about this album--the way it goes back and forth between the title dichotomy--between the "pirate" and the "prude."  On the one hand, you've got hookers (and maybe even the girl next door) plotting your death.  But, on the other hand, you think that it all might just be a little bit of stress relief through fantasy.  You can never be sure, though, and just like the album's musical dichotomies of soft/loud and clarity/distortion, both sides of the coin always seem present.

As I mentioned, Helium went on to make a few more records, all of which are unique, and very good, in their own right.  Mary Timony now records as a solo artist.  While I'm at it, I should note that the 1999 EP Timony recorded with Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein (titled The Age of Backwards) is also worthy of inclusion in this series.  For my money, though, Pirate Prude stands slightly above all of these releases, and I really think there's nothing like it in the lexicon of rock.  As has happened with a lot of Matador's classic 90's releases, Pirate Prude is out of print, but I checked today and there's a number of used copies available for less than $10 on Amazon (the seven year-old headline for the review by someone from my one-time home, Stow, Ohio, even reads "probably the best CD you've never heard!" (this wasn't me--I lived in Dayton, by way of Hudson, at the time).

So yeah, until next month (which is only a day away)....

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January 21, 2007

Swearing at Motorists is on the record player--my, that Dave Doughman can sing...

I was recently pointed to the Band in Boston podcast website, and more particularly toward the Swearing at Motorists set available on it.  I haven't finished listening to the podcast, but I strongly suggest that you download it.  Face it--how can you go wrong when the leadoff track is a cool new organ-propelled version of one of the greatest songs of all time, "Flying Pizza" (which takes its name from one of the greatest pizza restaurants of all time--I'd even venture as far as saying that you can't fully comprehend the song unless you've fully comprehended the pizza)?

While I'm making grand statements, I'll also add that Swearing at Motorists' 1996 EP, Tuesday's Pretzel Night (which takes its name from the Tuesday special at the Walnut Hills, the sadly-defunct Dayton bar that, for my money, was the best bar in Dayton (I know, I know, there's still a bar where the old Hills was, and there's a new Hills closer to the UD campus, but it's not the same)) is one of the top ten EP's of all time.

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January 15, 2007

Q: Why do I like buying college football jerseys?

A: They don't have names on the back.

Five days after getting back to Columbus, I finally got around to unpacking my bag from Arizona tonight.  And so it is that on the day that Ted Ginn announced he's going to the NFL, I threw my Ted Ginn jersey (which I have faithfully worn to every OSU game I've been to the last two years, including both Texas games, this year's Michigan game, and the national championship game) into the washing machine for its last time as my "Ted Ginn jersey."

That's right, as of today, my Ted Ginn jersey is officially my Antonio Henton jersey.  See, that's the beauty of college football--my old #7 jersey doesn't have to be doomed eternally to my closet, like the Tim Couch Browns jersey I bought a few days after the 1999 NFL draft.

Don't worry, faithful readers: I will be posting my BCS National Championship Game diary in a few days.  It's just taking a while because I'm still dragging myself up from the floor after the beating we took.  The way I see it, writing the diary will be therapeutic.  When it's done, we can all start looking forward to who will play quarterback for the Buckeyes next year (my vote is for Henton, and not just because I have his jersey already).

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January 13, 2007

Happy belated New Year

Here's the deal: Our blog-based resolution for the year is to write more frequently.  Our record label-based resolution is to actually really start putting out records (it's hard to do when you only have two people really "working" for the label, but you don't want to hear me whining).

In other news, Lee Wadlinger has made his YouTube debut.  Professor Lee of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law used "Picture of Me," a song from Wadlinger's 2000 LP, What's Wrong With Me, as the soundtrack for a video of a Halloween party.  There is a short version and a long version.  This marks only the second time that a Wadlinger has appeared on YouTube.

Speaking of Professor Lee, he has an interesting blog all about YouTube, and he was recently quoted in a story on YouTube in the Washington Post.

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