Song of the Day, August 15: Broken Heart Blues by Stuart Moxham

MoxhamBrokenToday’s song is Stuart Moxham’s Broken Heart Blues. It originally appeared on 1992’s Signal Path, the first album he released under his own name after Young Marble Giant’s breakup and his short-lived stint as the leader of the Gist. Credited to Moxham and his regular backing unit, the Original Artists, it’s a solid set of songs that shows off his talents as a writer and musician nicely. His confidence as a vocalist had grown significantly, and he makes the most of his songs of life, love, and loss. This track is a look at a man bruised and battered by love gone wrong and reluctant to be tempted again. It features one of Moxham’s most direct lyrics, delivered with charming openness. He later included a fine acoustic version on the album Fine Tuning.

Enjoy this charming original version today.

Song of the Day, February 18: Martian Man by Barbara Manning and the Original Artists

BManningMartianToday’s song is Martian Man by Barbara Manning and the Original Artists. Manning, an indie-pop legend, records only sporadically and often in collaboration with other, like-minded artists. For one delightful album, she hooked up with Stuart Moxham and Jon Langford, borrowing the name used by Moxham’s occasional backing band. Barbara Manning sings with the Original Artists is a lovely collection of songs mostly written by Moxham or Langford and sung perfectly by Manning.

This track is a cover of a Lora Logic song from her work after leaving X-Ray Specs. It’s a great kiss-off song, with the singer expressing her frustration that she was sold a bill of goods. “You could have had the decency to say that Martian Man was really tin.” The examples cover a lot of pop culture and romantic ground and Manning’s delivery is flawless. Sympathetic instrumentation (including a nice bit of sitar work!) makes the package complete.

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, January 28: Yet Another Girl by the 6ths

YetAnotherGirlToday’s song is Yet Another Girl by the 6ths, Stephin Merritt’s alt-rock superstar experiment. Featuring vocals by Stuart Moxham, the song was included only on the vinyl version of the album Wasps’ Nests, helping round out the beautiful eccentricity of the project.

Moxham is a perfect choice, with his quietly wry delivery skating along Merritt’s charmingly quirky keyboard line. Working as a sort of Warhol World tribute, the song depicts a transsexual’s night on the town. The jaunty music perfectly summons up an image of her cocky strut while the lyrics celebrate her blending into the scene with flawless grace.

Mademoiselle Chelsea Hotel
Prettiest in all the world
The divinest androgyne
Silver wig and plastic pearls

Enjoy this delightful song today.

Album of the Week, October 13: Wasps’ Nests by the 6ths

6thsWaspsStephin Merritt has always had a restless streak. Although his early musical work — based on a cheap synth and homemade four-track recordings — was something like lo-fi Kraftwerk or pre-alt-rock indie New Wave, his lyrical bent and musical passion have more in common with the rich pop textures of Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, and ABBA. After founding the Magnetic Fields and recording two albums with singer Susan Anway, he took over primary vocal duties himself. The band has slowly grown into a core of five or six musicians, blending the electronic foundations with natural instruments to support Merritt’s mordant wit and pop perfection. The Magnetic Fields also feature a handful of regular vocalists, including Merritt. The bandleader has also recorded under his own name (mostly indie film soundtracks) and with the lo-fi post-disco dance trio Future Bible Heroes and the goth-bubblegum band Gothic Archies. In 1994, Merritt had a set of songs that didn’t quite fit his vision for the Magnetic Fields, so he asked a bunch of friends and acquaintances to lend a hand.

Title Wasps’ Nests
Act The 6ths
Label London Release Date March 21, 1995
Producer Stephin Merritt
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[lead vocalist]
  1. San Diego Zoo [Barbara Manning]
  2. Aging Spinsters [Stephin Merritt]
  3. All Dressed Up In Dreams [Mary Timony]
  4. Falling Out of Love (With You) [Dean Wareham]
  5. Winter In July [Ayako Akashiba]
  6. Pillow Fight [Mitch Easter]
  7. Dream Hat [Mac McCaughan]
  8. Movies In My Head [Georgia Hubley]
  9. In the City In the Rain [Lou Barlow]
  10. Looking For Love (In the Hall of Mirrors)
    [Amelia Fletcher]
  11. Heaven In A Black Leather Jacket [Robert Scott]
  12. Here In My Heart [Anna Domino]
  13. Puerto Rico Way [Mark Robinson]
  14. You Can’t Break A Broken Heart
    [Jeffrey Underhill]
  15. When I’m Out of Town [Chris Knox]
  16. Yet Another Girl [Stuart Moxham]

The result was the 6ths, a non-band centered lo-fi synth, clever production values and Merritt’s lyrics with a panoply of alt-rock talent providing the vocals. Enjoying the pronunciation challenge of the band’s name, Merritt upped the ante with the album title Wasps’ Nests. It includes 15 songs, with the liner notes providing a quick bio of each singer. The album was also released as a box set of vinyl 45s, featuring a 16th track, later included on the Merritt collection Obscurities. Strange though it may seem, the whole project is amazingly cohesive, a testament to the maestro’s singular vision and the stunning array of talent he assembled. On to the songs!

  • San Diego Zoo [Barbara Manning is the guy from the San Francisco Seals and is also Barbara Manning] Manning lends her finest plaintive vocal and SoCal passion to this touching tribute to a love she regrets leaving behind.
  • Aging Spinsters [Stephin Merritt is the guy from the 6ths and The Magnetic Fields] Merritt’s lone 6ths vocal is perfect for this dour warning to beautiful girl not to let her life pass by.
  • All Dressed Up In Dreams [Mary Timony is the guy from Helium] The ethereal effect of Timony’s delivery is perfect for this happiness-will-betray you song.
  • Falling Out of Love (With You) [Dean Wareham is the guy from Luna, who used to be the guy from Galaxie 500] In this brilliant anti-love song, Wareham delivers a quirky near-deadpan dismantling of a relationship that is disintegrating out of boredom.
  • Winter In July [Ayako Akashiba is the guy from the Japanese band Sunshower] Akashiba’s twee vocals make this song of geographic displacement and distant love oddly touching.
  • Pillow Fight [Mitch Easter is the famous producer guy who used to be the guy from Let’s Active] One of the standout tracks, it features Easter’s great vocal as he ponders the fate of a relationship, hoping for reconciliation, however goofy the means.
  • Dream Hat [Mac McCaughan is the guy from Superchunk and Bricks and Portatastic, and the guy from Merge Records] This is my favorite song on the disc. With a rich, wall of sound style production that belies the electronic instrumentation, it features brooding vocals and a firm rejection of a failed relationship.
  • Movies In My Head [Georgia Hubley is the guy from Yo La Tengo] In another charming broken relationship song, Hubley warns her suitor that her rich fantasy life will always be more important than his pointless entreaties.
  • In the City In the Rain [Lou Barlow is the guy from Sebadoh, Sentridoh, The Folk Implosion, etc.] Barlow turns in one of his most deadpan vocals ever, making this is-it-really-a-celebration song resonate perfectly.
  • Looking For Love (In the Hall of Mirrors) [Amelia Fletcher is the guy from the U.K. group Heavenly] Fletcher provides a spot-on delivery in one of the darkest tracks, a song about hopelessness and alienation, sounding eerily like Merritt sped up about 50%.
  • Heaven In A Black Leather Jacket [Robert Scott is the guy from The Bats, The Clean, and The Magick Heads, all of whom are from New Zealand] A perfect little vignette, this song has some of the best lines on the album, fittingly delivered by master vocalist Robert Scott, masquerading as a late-night New York nightclub habitué.
  • Here In My Heart [Anna Domino is the guy from Anna Domino] Merritt and Domino channel the Petula Clark in this upbeat love song with just a hint of darkness.
  • Puerto Rico Way [Mark Robinson is the guy from Air Miami, who was the guy from Unrest and is the guy from Teen Beat Records] Robinson provides a wonderful near-salsa vocal over rich synths as he celebrates a romance with a woman of ill repute. It’s strangely more charming than it sounds.
  • You Can’t Break A Broken Heart [Jeffrey Underhill aka Jeffrey Borchardt is the guy from Honeybunch and The Velvet Crush] Another standout track, with Underhill declaring his damaged invulnerability. It’s a brilliant kiss-off with flawless delivery.
  • When I’m Out of Town [Chris Knox is the guy from The Tall Dwarfs, who used to be the guy from Toy Love and is also Chris Knox, all of whom are from New Zealand] This dark meditation on infidelity could have been written by Knox, which is a true compliment. It’s one of the best mergers of vocalist and lyric on the album.
  • Yet Another Girl [Stuart Moxham is the guy from Young Marble Giants and The Gist] This is the bonus track and it’s a crime that it was so hard to find for so long. Moxham delivers a wonderful vocal as he reflects on a woman who defines herself by the shallow life of the clubs.

It’s quite a journey, and well worth the embarking. Few people are bold enough to try an experiment like this, and far fewer could make it succeed In the inspired hands of Stephin Merritt and his cohort, Wasps’ Nests is a nearly flawless collection of pop songs.

FURTHER LISTENING: The array of vocalists is stunning, as is the myriad of ways they have collaborated over the years. The 6ths are so distinctively Merritt that it’s dangerous to assume too much about the contributors’ sound outside the project, but if something grabs you, try the singer in another setting. Chris Knox and Barbara Manning probably differ the least. Merritt assembled a second set of 6ths for the even more trickily titled Hyacinths and Thistles. While it has some moments, it pales next to the first outing. Standouts are contributions by Sally Timms, Bob Mould, and Momus.

Song of the Day, September 17: Love At First Sight by the Gist

GistLoveToday’s song is Love At First Sight by the Gist. When Young Marble Giants broke up, guitarist and principle songwriter Stuart Moxham was unsure about his musical future. His next outing was a loosely organized group, basically Moxham on guitar and vocals with a bunch of friends pitching in track by track; the name the Gist seems very apt. (Moxham adopted this same model later for his regular backing band, the ironically named Original Artists.) The Gist only released one album, Embrace the Herd, which strikes an uneasy middle ground between YMG’s brilliant post-punk minimalism and the lo-fi folk pop of Moxham’s later solo career. He’s finding his footing as a vocalist, a pleasant if unremarkable baritone, and embroidering on the stark, often cryptic lyrics of his first band.

Love At First Sight is far and away the high point of the album, a charming song about the surprises of falling in love. Moxham seems both bemused and delighted — a perfect mix — as he tells the story of a breathtaking first encounter. It’s simple, joyous pop at its finest and a nice demonstration that Moxham’s talents would continue beyond his acclaimed first band.

I was waiting at the station
When your train came in
Wasn’t you I was tiptoeing for
But you gave me a grin

Felt my heart in my throat
Felt my soul going out to you
Could this be love at first sight
I just didn’t know

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Album of the Week, July 14: Colossal Youth by Young Marble Giants

YMGCYStuart Moxham learned guitar as a child growing up in Wales. He convinced his brother, Phil, to do the same, and some years later they formed a band called True Wheel. Phil’s girlfriend at the time, Alison Statton, provided backing vocals. When the band disintegrated, Stuart, Phil, and Alison formed a new unit; they named it Young Marble Giants after the classic Greek statue known as a Kouros. After a bit of gigging, they signed to Rough Trade and recorded Colossal Youth, also named for the statues. The sound is minimalist, with Phil’s bass and Stuart’s organ providing melody and Alison’s light but strong vocals riding over them. Stuart occasionally contributed guitar as well; percussion was supplied by a drum machine. Building on this deceptively simple base, they recorded almost every song in one take, creating a lively, immediate sound that belies the almost mechanical feel of the music. Stuart wrote most of the songs, providing clever lyrics that often read like inside jokes or references made between longtime friends. The result is intimate but slightly askew, creating a distinct mood unlike anything else.

Title Colossal Youth
Act Young Marble Giants
Label Rough Trade Release Date February 1980
Producer Young Marble Giants
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Searching For Mr. Right
  2. Inclue Me Out
  3. The Taxi
  4. Eadding Noddemix
  5. Constantly Changing
  6. N.I.T.A.
  7. Colossal Youth
  8. Music For Evenings
  9. The Man Amplifier
  10. Choci Loni
  11. Wurlitzer Jukebox
  12. Salad Days
  13. Credit In the Straight World
  14. Brand – New – Life
  15. Wind In the Riggings

The album starts off strong with Searching For Mr. Right, a yearning song that makes the most of Statton’s vocals. More straightforward than most of the tracks, it’s a wish for the right guy with an acknowledgment that the searcher is as critical a part of the searching as the sought. Include Me Out is a powerful testament to independence, rejecting materialism and demanding an authentic relationship. It features one of Statton’s most potent vocals with a screaming guitar bit that underscores the emotion of the message.

Up next is The Taxi,  a curious instrumental, something of a mood piece. It works nicely in conjuring the feel of a taxi ride, with a garbled vocal bit toward the end anchoring the experience. The album ends with Wind In the Riggings, another experimental instrumental that shows off Stuart’s sense of atmosphere. Neither piece is critical, but they help illustrate YMG’s approach to making music.

Eating Noddemix is a wonderful juxtaposition. Most of the lyric depicts a woman getting ready to leave the house. She snacks on a Swedish cereal bar, the noddemix of the title, and goes about other mundane activities. As a counterpoint, Statton sings about a horrific accident and the reporters to rush to cover it. The pairing is jarring but powerful and works extremely well. Constantly Changing is an urgent, brief song, featuring Statton’s higher register.

N.I.T.A. serves as the virtual anthem of the band. It stands for “nature intends the abstract” — a line in the lyric — and captures the brief, often fragmented nature of the perfect songs that surround it. Statton sounds pensive and determined as she celebrates this cerebral but emotive concept. Appropriately, the title track is next. Colossal Youth is an existential romp that sets up a series of world views and then knocks them down, concluding that “Colossal Youth is showing you the way to go.” It feels like a message that the album is intended as a road map to successful living but offers only the most abstract of clues.

Up next is the lovely Music For Evenings, a brilliant kiss-off song and one of Stuart’s finest lyrics. The Man Amplifier is a love song to an android. Statton celebrates the wonders of the perfect automated boyfriend as Stuart provides a carnival-inspired organ riff that creates a delightful counterpoint. Choci Loni is one of the most impenetrable of the songs, a brief, repeated lyric about a character out to roam. Phil and Stuart provide a wonderful spaghetti Western soundtrack for the narrative.

Two nostalgic tunes come next, the aching Wurlitzer Jukebox, featuring more perfect organ work, and Statton’s one writing contribution, the meditative Salad Days. They’re followed by Credit In the Straight World, a stinging indictment of consumerism and another highlight of the disc. Brand — New — Life is the final vocal track, a nice ending that declares independence and rejects the negative power of a former lover.

These 15 tracks form a brilliant, cohesive whole that has had significant influence beyond the minimal sales numbers. The late Kurt Cobain declared it one of the five albums that most influenced his music. The stripped down sound presages the lo-fi movement and the simple, direct core of much of alternative rock that surfaced a decade later.

The band released only a couple of singles and EPs, so reissues of the album tend to be fairly comprehensive. Les Disques du Crepuscule’s 1994 version includes all the official output of the band, appending an early track, the six instrumentals from the Testcard EP, and the brilliant Final Day single with its two B-sides; it’s the best way to capture the full spirit of the band. A three-disc reissue from 2007 includes rough demos of most of the tracks, a Peel session, and a few other tidbits.

FURTHER LISTENING: Young Marble Giants imploded during their U.S. tour in 1981. Phil Moxham has done a bit of studio work but mostly left the music business. Alison Statton formed Weekend, a quiet jazz-inflected group which also lasted one album. She works as a chiropractor and occasionally records, mostly in duos with Ian Devine or Spike. The Devine and Statton release Cardiffians and the Alison Statton and Spike disc Weekend In Wales are her strongest post-YMG offerings. Stuart Moxham has recorded under a variety of names. The Gist offered only a single album that featured the delightful single Love At First Sight. He mostly records with a loose aggregation called the Original Artists. His strongest work is the demo-inspired disc Fine Tuning and a wonderful pairing with the Original Artists that features the vocal work of alt-superstar Barbara Manning.

Song of the Day, May 21: Final Day by Young Marble Giants

ymg-final-day-frontToday’s song is Final Day by Young Marble Giants. The total output of this minimalist trio from Cardiff is only a couple dozen songs. Their influence on eighties pop and underground music and the following alt-rock movement is huge in comparison. After their stunning debut, Colossal Youth, they released a handful of singles and EPs. One of these was the four-track Final Day, featuring one of their shortest and most impressive songs.

As with most YMG tracks, Final Day features a clear, unadorned vocal by Alison Statton over a bare guitar/drum (machine) backing. In this case, there is a ghostly organ or theremin bit that sets the stage for one of the most potent nuclear destruction songs ever released. In under two minutes, the band lay out the horrific scenario following the bomb going off and look at the discrepancy between the number of decision makers and the number of victims. It’s simple and potent, resigned and furious, protest folk and twee electro-pop all wrapped in one delightful package.

Put a blanket up on the window pane
When the baby cries lullaby again
As the light goes out on the final day
For the people who never had a say

Enjoy this amazing song today.

Song of the Day, May 8: Music for Evenings by Young Marble Giants

Today’s song is Music For Evenings by Young Marble Giants. Despite their limited output, this turn-of-the-80s band had an enormous impact on the sound of what would become alternative rock. This brilliant track from their sole full-length album, Colossal Youth, shows off their minimalist approach beautifully. Alison Statton’s delivery of this detached kiss-off song is perfect.

I don’t need you to love me
I don’t need you to care
Take your body from by me
Be yourself over there

Though you think you adore me
Secretly you just bore me
When I’m thinking of something
You always come up nothing

Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, October 20: Searching For Mr. Right by Young Marble Giants

Today’s song is Searching For Mr. Right by Young Marble Giants. This pioneering Welsh trio (brothers Stuart and Phil Moxham and Alison Statton) were a post-punk marvel. They practiced a powerful minimalism, with deceptively simple tuens and quiet melodies mixed with creative instrumentation and powerful lyrics. Although they only lasted one full album (the outstanding Colossal Youth) and a handful of EPs, their influence on the later lo-fi and synth-pop scenes is immense. This song of yearning balanced with independence is one of Moxham’s finest compositions and one of Statton’s most compelling vocals. Enjoy this amazing song today.

Song of the Day, September 10: When I Dream by Stuart Moxham

Today’s song is When I Dream by Stuart Moxham. Moxham wrote this song for Barbara Manning when she recorded with his sometime band, the Original Artists. It is a beautifully simple love song which she delivered flawlessly. When he selected songs from his career to collect on the demos-as-greatest-hits album Fine Tuning, this rose to the top. Moxham’s version is equally fine and enchanting. Enjoy this quiet song of love today.

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