Kristian's Picks

Kristian Hoffman

Photo by Rocky Schenck

Occasional Meditations on Music You Should Know About



Sad to say, but between my recording, being in a scrillion bands, and doing my weekly radio shows, I just haven't had the time to do in-depth raving slavering reveiews of all the great music I am still privileged to discover almost every single day!

But that doesn't mean I'm not listening to, and enjoying immensely, all sorts of wonderful kooky stuff. And it's amazing how many rare obscure records are being re-issued on CD, thus made available for those of us with shallow e-bay pocketbooks! One of the few uncompromisingly GLAD accomplishments of the digital era.

So since I barely have time to listen to these albums AND prepare them to play on my radio show, I'm not going to write epic descriptions of each of them. I going to ask you, dear reader and listener, for that golden treasure that one should rarely extend to an on-line rambler like myself: YOUR TRUST!

I just hope you will trust that:
IF you like melodic, quirky, often Beatle-addled, but sometimes just peculiar 60's POP with lite psych overtones, harmonies, and occasional bursts of faux Baroque grandeur, or music that sometimes goes to the slightly garage-ier side of the musical spectrum,

Most are available (CHEAP!) on

But a few of them require you to log onto e-bay, do an "advanced search", which just means putting the name of the album and/or artist into the "search" box, and then putting "worldwide" into the "where" box, and you'll discover some great virtual record stores where, even with the international shipping charge, the CDs are often cheaper than a domestic release from Amoeba! Nuevos Horizontes - here we come!


Fickle Pickle - Sinful Skinful. On Sanctuary/Castle Records

Modesty Blaise - Original Sountrack. On Harkit Records

Olympic - Jedeme Jedeme. On Supraphon Records

A Day In My Mind's Mind - 20 Kiwi Psychedelic Trips. On EMI Music New Zealand Records

The Troll - Animated Music. On Radioactive Records

Los Brincos - Contrabando. On Zafiro Records

This music makes me HAPPY! I hope it makes you happy too! And now that I've decided to be LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAZEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, expect me to post unsolicited recommendations more often!

Can a Hippie Chrysalis turn into a Pop Butterfly? 14 August 2006

CHRYSALIS - Definition

Early last year, I was over at Steve Stanley’s house where he was designing the immensely complex Mumps “How I Saved The World” dual disc package. He works amid massive piles of 45s and LPs, stacked so high everywhere like a petrified forest that you feel like you’re in one of those contraband “Book Lady” interiors in Fahrenheit 451. We got no end of joy sifting through this fantastic library just throwing on whatever caught our fancy. Even though he’s incredibly knowledgable, with a library this vast he couldn’t remember every little thing, so we shared the joy of naive discovery on my part, and knowing rediscovery on his, over and over again, often with my wild eyed covetous response: “Omigod! This is my NEW FAVORITE RECORD! Play it AGAIN!”

One of those records was “Chrysalis”. Oh, how I loved it! Steve said, “Oh you can get that for cheap on E-bay any day!” But he lied. Those days are gone. A couple of months later I finally received the only copy I could afford, one with so much ringwear on the black cover that it looked grey, and with the crackling pops of an uninvited campfire sizzling through all the quiet parts of the vinyl. But the beautiful textured silver gatefold interior was intact, with the high contrast photo of all the band members, fists aloft, in a Black Panther/Chicago 7 salute. "Hot!" I thought as I ran my fingers over this treasured relic that was now IN MY HANDS!

You won’t have that ebay problem - because now it’s out on CD with cool extra tracks, cool liner notes, all the lyrics and everything! And I hope you’ll buy it today!

Here’s why: This record is an obsessively arranged Hippie pop rock masterwork!

Whatever the dichotomy between the words “Hippie”, “arranged”, and “pop rock” is - that is what you’ll get! That usually untraveled bridge is crossed in the most satisfying way here. Think: Country Joe and the Fish crossed with the Cowsills. The Daughters of Albion crossed with the Jefferson Airplane. With a little Ars Nova, Love, and bad jazz as well!

The bad jazz is in full force in the opening number, but don’t let it throw you! It’s only bad lite jazz from a high school Anita Kerr perspective, bouncy and perky with a girl doing melodic scat singing a la Marty and Elaine. Then suddenly a sweet altar boy Belle and Sebastian vocal arrives as a crazy sped up piano, like George Martin's "In My Life" solo on 78, does an unexpected crash landing in the mix.

Then, in the ethereal evocative “Lacewing”, a French horn intro invites you into a graceful folk/rock nightengale ballad, which is suddenly waylaid by some bad jazz harmonies in the chorus -but here’s the paradox of Chrysalis: it doesn’t ruin anything. In fact it makes it more enjoyable - more totally Chrysalis! It’s like they’re a rattletrap threadbare dirigible that shouldn’t be able to get airborne, but somehow they soar.

They’re not afraid to be merely gossamer pretty, and they often are, but it wouldn’t be Chrysalis without the sudden intrusion of an uber-brassy Grace Slick styled vocal, which would be unwelcome on any other record, that somehow makes sense on this one.

“Cynthia Gerome” is a truly beautiful melody that I haven’t quite been able to place yet, but I know that if it IS stolen, it came from a wonderful source. So I’ll just luxuriate in it! If the Bee Gees had done this song, it would have been a straightforward ballad, but Chrysalis infuses it with an oceanic wash of Country Joe and the Fish “Electric Music For the Mind and Body” cymbals, odd touches of 77 Sunset Strip/Mancini piano, and one gets the feeling it’s more the Manson Family cowing the string quartet into submission than a rote George Martin lift in the string arrangement.

There’s more bad jazz ahead with Nancy Nairn Davies’ Nico/Spanky and Our Gang vocals, but again, it’s oddly pleasurable through the Chrysalis looking glass.

“Father’s Getting Old” has a great riffy fuzzbox guitar backing track overlaid with a patent Chrysalis melody: complex and meandering yet still ineffably hooky, as if the New Pornographers had actually taken drugs rather than just being inspired by the music of people who did.

Like most albums of the time, there is the excursion into underthought “good tyme” music - the dreaded Nilsson/”When I’m 64” spawn, written by those who got their superficial musical education by listening to the New Vaudeville Band rather than researching any actual 78s. As a child I lived for these moments: Straw hats and canes! Pizza parlours! Davey Jones! Main Street Disneyland! But since young adulthood, I already knew in my soul that this usually ends up being a cringey fast-forward moment. Only Tiny Tim, and a very few others, could successfully navigate these treacherous waters. Even the Stones fell for it on “Between the Buttons”. But like the Stones, Chrysalis’ take on this dubious tradition is too weird, too catchy and too left field to drown with lesser entries in the genre. In fact, it’s great!

From bad jazz, to bad Kurt Weill and back - how DO they make it work? I detect a note of Zappa in the willfully counterintuitive mix, and he is slavishly worshipped in the CD liner notes as a sort of musical Godfather. But there is none of Zappa’s chilly sarcastic egghead condescension here - this music has the all sweetness and warmth of the crazier Daughters of Albion compositions. If there is humour, you’re invited to share it, NOT be intimidated by it.

The music is full of dreamy fragments: there are manic hippie tabla/flute/sitar breaks that alight on the speaker for 15 seconds and then dart away like a frightened dragonfly. There are non sequitur momentary inserts of Love “Forever Changes” strings. There are occasionally gorgeous Paul Simon “America” minor key melodies that at first seem effortless, but this record is all about effort. Every second seems nuanced and teased and mollycoddled and cherished as some jazz-damaged conceptual hippies speak to the irresistibly incongruous Bee Gees 1rst/Appletree Theater lush melodic impulses that reside in their souls. It’s not stoner music, but it’s high music.

In fact the whole Chrysalis ethos invokes what was most glorious about the Victorian painted lady Haight-Ashbury S.F. scene: those dusky afternoon-lit pachouli interiors with swags of madras and thrift store lace, herb teas in Cost Plus orientalia and the faint smell of langourous sex and genteel revolution, with the Sears Hi-Fi playing some new sonic adventure while the green expanse of Golden Gate Park beckons with a sense of paisley summer vacation camaraderie. A fleeting tantalizing moment, that may never have actually happened outside of skewed legend, where a tribe of wayward youth found a momentary epiphany of community, talent, and vision. Of course now we know they were all a bunch of grubby moronic std-infected speed-freak drug-addled biker trailer trash know-nothings, living off of stolen credit cards and the last economic largesse of the G.I. bill, just like our parents said. But Chrysalis speaks to the original kaleidoscopic version, and tells another, perhaps truer, dream history.

Spider Barbour, the main songwriter/visionary (in the best hippie tradition), cites Gogi Grant and Rimsky-Korsakov as influences, and it is no idle comment. He says he wanted to write “a new kind of song”. It is not totally new, as it is bound by its era, but only in the best ways. Would that the musical revolution had continued in this vein, and NEVER have gotten back to it’s roots! I don’t want to be down there in the dirt with all those awful 70’s earth tones. I’d rather be at the tip of the branches, where all the opiate scented flowers are, like Chrysalis.

Danish Dessert! 12 August 2006


1rst Floor Here’s a record I paid a shamefully high price for on e-bay, after reading in the item description that it was the only Danish 60’s band to attempt an album with the breadth and depth of Sgt Pepper or the Blossom Toes.

Yes, I believed them! Color me dopey! I’m a midway sucker to begin with, and that description hit both of my 60’s damaged achille’s heels, even though I’d been burnt over and over again by item descriptions that bore absolutely no earthly relationship to the product I’d eventually receive.

Did that make me smart? Savvy? Did it give me a healthy dose of skepticism with which to approach future hucksters waiting to prey on naive hopefuls like me? NO! So even since these faith-smashing disappointments, my closet is full of overpriced records I wish to GOD I could return. I guess you could say I have a spirit of adventure. Or I’m like Charlie Brown - Please Lucy - do the football trick again!

But this time was different - or so I thought. Okay, it’s no Sgt Pepper. That’s okay! I know there can only be one! But on first listen, it seemed pretty rewarding. The problem was, I’d paid so much for it, and had been huckstered into believing it was so incredibly rare, that I was actually afraid to play the damn thing for fear of ruining it forever on my midpriced Technics turntable. Which is pretty stupid! Buying music I’m too scared to listen to!

Two or three years pass. Enter the good folks at Radioactive Records UK.

This label once seemed dedicated to re-issuing middling lumpen uncharismatic late 60’s-to-early 70’s prog like Sum Pear, or the Stained Glass’ inexplicably highly regarded 2nd LP (the first one, and all the early singles, are FAR superior Buffalo Springfield wannabes - look for the “Scene In Between” bootleg!), usually with a deceptively delightful paisley cover, or seductively whimsical psych-pop title. Lots of these re-issues are defended by what I should have come to realize was actually an ominous pitch man red flag: “Lots of swirling organ.” That is really code for “Lousy blues-based no talent shit , and we’re just calling it ‘psych’ to sucker you into buying it!” So at first I thought Radioactive was the corporate-adjacent equivalent of those dreaded lone shark e-bay dealers. Either way, I wouldn’t know it was shit til I paid to taste it - and then it was too late!

But lately Radioactive seem to have started including a lot of lite psych (read: better music, with songs, melodies, craft, harmonies, a sense of adventure, and kooky production - as opposed to lumbering riff prog usually made further offensive by an affection for both “the blues” and horn sections). So the welcome re-issues of the incredible Snow LP, plus the quirky Federal Duck, the scattershot but amiable Troll, and the Lollipop Shoppe/Early Love stylings of the Other Half had me rethinking my prejudices. This was cool stuff! Radiocative doesn’t do liner notes, or histories. Radiocative doesn’t search out rare B-sides or unreleased studio tracks or early demos. Radioactive doesn’t even come up with any cool pictures of the key players!

What Radiocative does really well is give you a great sounding copy of the original album (with, admittedly, a barely standard reproduction of the original cover), for a fraction of the e-bay price - and that’s if if you could even find the album in question! So, even with their drawbacks - they get my vote. Now I have a copy of the 1rst Floor that I can actually play! I can’t wait to order Nova 1 and Orphan Egg!

So here’s what you get when you go on to Amazon and order a nice copy of the 1rst Floor for about 10$:

“Damned Little Fool” starts the album on a deceptively American sounding Jay and the Techniques “Apple Peaches Pumpkin Pie” note, albeit with touches of the far cooler Keith, and some Penny Lane cornet faux classical flourishes. Pleasant, with inventive backing vox, and certainly inoffensive, but it’s no Blossom Toes!

But things look up on the second track, and after that it’s pretty cool all the way through - which is saying something!

“Trusting Mr. Jones”, is a Bee gees 1rst minor key ode to the advantages of married life, with some lovely backwards guitar that reminds me of the best songs by July. It’s a quintessentially 60’s bemused critique of suburban dystopian whimsy, but this time it has a surprise twist - the wife is having an affair, but the husband never finds out, so they live happily ever after in his cloud of unknowing. It’s like a happy three way!

“Nevertheless” shines with eclectic bright chipper Swingle Singers backing vox and Cowsills Harp glissandos, and a proto-“Up Here In Heaven Without You” outlook - the guy finds his girl cheating, and wants to kill her beau, but kills himself instead! “I don’t want to hang around in heaven, sitting so far away!” he ruminates, knowing he’ll be closer to her in hell!

“Hey Mr. Flowerman” sounds like “Sunshine Girl” era Parade with a bit of Dave Dee and company mixed into the Bah-bah-bah mix.

“In Every Hand” is bluesy, not in the prog way, but in the mournful Bee Gees Horizontal era “The Change Is Made” way, with a few nice suspended minor key turn arounds that make it sound a little like the Ohio Express trying to assume the mantle of Traffic.

Then of course, there’s the de rigeurTaxman riff song - everyone is allowed at least one! But this is different from the Bee Gees “In My Own Time” - it takes its cue more from Yeh Yeh beat era Georgie Fame with a little farfisa thrown in for good measure, and some cool “Sleepy Hollow People” counter melody falsetto backing vox in the outro.

“Mrs. O’Grady” has Manfred Mann “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James” era perkiness, with fabulous banks of stabbing cellos, ending after the last hooky upbeat chorus with an inexplicably mordant three part harmony coda, “Mrs. O’Grady, your husband is dead”! Maybe it IS true about the serotonin starved Norsemen!

“Moonbeam” is an Elizabethan marriage of “The Butchers Tale” era Zombies with “She’s Leaving Home” - pretty!

“Rainbow All Around Us” is a fantastic Hollies raga rock trifle, “Little Mr. So and So” is a catchy Craise Finton Kirk Winchester Cathedral sing along (If you can remember to “Snatch a fat fish like a pelican!”), “I Think I Can Change You” has a “Whenever You’re Ready” Zombies lite jazz swing, and “Hush” is a fitting flute-sweetened lullaby ending that reminds me a little bit of the lighter songs by Stackridge.

No - it’s no Pepper! And, like many contempoary projects of this sort, you’;re constantly reminded that another thing that set the beatles and the Zombies apart from their classmates was the sheer beauty of their vocals. These vocals are always workmanlike, and sometimes the arrangements are inspired, but the sound of the lead singers voice is average-guy homely. But it’s a completely listenable LP, if schizophrenically scattershot, from beginning to end, often with surprising shifts of melody and key, and the ambition to compete at least with “She’s Not There” Zombies. And that’s good enough for me!

Finally! Gramps Made Some New Picks! 12 August 2006

Four Fun CDS, plus this Month's Must-Buy: Snow!


Richard Butler Yes, I LOVED the Psychedelic Furs, from the epiphany of “Sister Europe” through their somewhat lamentable “Mirror Moves” liasons with Keith Forsey (Of course, “Alice’s House” is the one thrilling exception!). “Talk Talk Talk” - one of the best 2nd albums ever, with one of the greatest leaps forward in craft and stature. “Forever Now” - masterpiece! Even the non-album B-sides (think “Aeroplane”) were magnificent.

Richard was always a transparent Bowie Wannabe, no matter how he dressed up in post-punk affectation, so it shouldn’t have been surprising when he tried to co-opt some of the worst aspects of “Let’s Dance”-era Bowie onto “Midnight to Midnight”, the Furs’ “New Waviest” deep dish disco record. But despite its embarrassing veneer, I even loved THAT record. They really knew their way around a chorus - witness “All of the Law”. Or “House” from their semi-desperate “back to our roots” LP “Book of Days”. And Richard’s one patent “look right, then look left, with accessorized matching wrist flailing” gesture was so Bowl-full-o’-Bowie in the Heartbreak Beat video - hot!

But I always thought of the Furs as people who sort of stumbled on to the good stuff. They never seemed to be in control of their gifts or their craft. It was like they were oddly untalented, even hammy. Their posturing always seemed slightly inept, and one had the lingering suspicion that these were people who actually had really bad taste (check out some of those clothes!) after the peculiar fashion of certain English folks who collect unremarkable antiques but think nothing of putting loud mylar print wall paper and midnight blue deep pile shag carpet in their tiny medieval bathrooms.

But I guess you can be a lumbering horse fly and still alight on as beautiful a bloom as a hummingbird. Their questionable systems and production decisions should have brought travesty, and yet somehow, more often than not, there was always a more than salvageable hook, a cool phrase, or something just compelling about their odd vision - or lack of same.

And I equally LOVED their late period LPs, when they got a little more meditative and layered, and relaxed into the fact that their brush with superstardom had failed, like a great writer who would retire to some ruined Italian villa to write his autumn poetry - it never seemed strident or bitter, and the music continued to have quiet rewards.

And I LOVED “Love Spit Love” - they were sort of the records Tin Machine SHOULD have made. They were a “return to rock” that actually had great guitar parts and hooks, and of course some of Jon Brion’s earliest production, when he was still trying to prove himself, so it didn’t sound like it was off his patent Fiona Apple Mellotron/Chamberlin assembly line.

And now “Richard Butler”. At first listen it sounds predictable - or maybe it just has his imprint, his brand. Maybe it’s just product recogintion. It’s a logical continuation of “The World Outside” era Furs combined with the more spare folk adjacent musings of an artist embracing his “maturity”. I mean he’s getting fucking old, just like me!

But it stuck with me, and I’ve played it more than most new CDs, even ones that I like. Am I the clueless boomer seeking comfort zone in the familiar? Probably!

It opens with an unexpectedly resilient falsetto, and - speaking of age - which I ALWAYS do - that’s usually the first part of the voice to go. Pretty!

Then a lonely misstep, right on the second song. A sort of laborious repetitive “tone poem” experiment with cumbersome lyrics about global warming that have all the poetical reach of a Fabian love ballad to Annette. Weak!

But, after that, there’s really not a bad song (until the last one, which isn’t terrible). And there are many very good ones! They’re all really pretty, with surprising twists of melody and production pastiche. Basically lovely. Smooth sailing!

“Breathe” has a quietly gorgeous melody and one of Richard’s intermittently indelible catch phrases: “After all we’ve said, I guess we’re ugly underneath.” Love that!

He was never really a lyricist - his words usually seem like stuff picked willy-nilly out of dog-eared college notebooks to fill space and to hopefully evoke responses gotten by more sophisticated writers. But then he’d hit gold with little bon mots that stuck in my head for years - “Christ and all his crows can’t keep it neat.” I think of that fabulous line every time I look at the Middle East, or America, or for that matter, just about anything! Or even the more succinct and seemingly obvious “It’s sick - the price of medicine” from “President Gas”. One of those lines that seems so easy - AFTER you hear it.

And track 4, “Broken Aeroplanes”, is one of those sublimely catchy Psych Furs pop nuggets, like “Pretty In Pink”, that we used to depend on them to come up with every 18 months or so.

So yes, la Butler’s oeuvre is spotty. He doesn’t have the reach to match his ambitions. Sometimes the words are downright crummy. Or at least crumbly. And the three pictures of him on the sleeve, catching him with a disquietingly similar mid-smirk expression (Is his mouth stuck that way?), make him look startlingly well preserved (Photoshop? it doesn’t look like it), but also uncomfortably like a power lesbian Tribeca gallery owner circa 1994 who would just have made an overbaked condescending joke about Rachel Rosenthal. But he’s always been a moodist, not a crafstman. And this record puts me in a really good mood! I love it!

SNOW (Radioactive)

Snow If you’re like me, and LOVE the slightly inept sounds of bands like The Pipe Dream, who mix the boy/girl vocal ambitions of the Mamas and the Papas with a more mainstream sensibility akin to the Lennon Sisters after a drag on the skunk weed, and evince sort of hip-wannabe yearning for drug culture cred even though their Crystal Cathedral soul is more at home in Downey listening to the Sandpipers, you’ve come to the right place!

Yes, I admit that sounds like a rote Free Design world, but invoking that holiest-of-all-hypes Goofus-pop name implies a quality so specific that it doesn’t really leave room for what is so truly wonderful about these other,weirder bands.

Snow is one of those bands. Perhaps the PEAK one of those bands. Terrifically ambitious, with string quartets coming in at every possible opportunity and fantastical backing vocal arrangements, as when they sing “doodle doodle doodle” during “In Old Uncle Timothy’s Flying Balloon”. This is no Kazenetz/Katz bubble-psych throwaway! It’s more like the Johnny Mann Singers with their souls set free to do THEIR Sgt. Pepper. The ridiculous string glissandos that sound like the waltzing hippos from Fantasia at the end of said “Balloon” compostition testify to this.

Snow is also a little mysterious. There’s a photo of them on the cover that make them look just barely more convincingly “hip” than, say, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition (BTW - where IS Thelma Lou Comacho today?), but there are no actual band credits on the back. And yet all the lyrics are printed.

And what about the song about Englebert, the dog? Wild fuzz guitar soloing, a slightly distorted rocking descending bass line, and aren’t those Moogs cackling disconcertingly on the intro? A thousand tempo changes (at LEAST!), and a vocal similar to that guy from Buckwheat (you don’t know “Goodbye Mr.Applegate” already? Shame!) - and then, suddenly, one of those embarrassing comedy breakdowns a la “You’re under arrest” from “Heroes and Villains”. Eek! But wait! In this one, the guy squeals through despairing sniffles in a weepy voice, “Wait - he SHOT my DOG!!” It’s a legitimately shocking moment that packs a wallop, especially given the lite pop psych context! AND - best of all - this isn’t some good tymey notion from which there is a sudden recovery into a slap-happy Harpers Bizarre ending. No! The singer runs out, takes away the other guy’s gun, KILLS him!!!! Then all of the voices come back in for a slow funereal chorus, with a Fender amp tremelo effect on the vocals, IN LATIN!!!!

Another cheery bouncy song, about listening to early rock 45s on “The Golden Oldies Show” ends abruptly with this prescient couplet: “The newsman just came on at four to tell about a brand new war!” Things sure have changed since then.

During a peculiar waltz with a Magical Mystery Tour horn arrangement, the singer is apparently haunted by the ghost of a relative who was a trapeze artist, and to escape this ectoplasmic possession, the singer kills himself!

Harpsichords, banks of cellos and soaring if sometimes tone-deaf harmonies adorn melodies that often don’t seem to know where they’re going. It’s definitely NOT succinct little pop nuggets. It’s full blown “concept” songs - “Days of Future Past” as done by the Partidge Family.

“Caterpillar” is the defining song on the album, and apparently the single. Its cryptic credit reads “Created with Words and Music by Wm. Ryan”. Prince had nothing on that! It has a menacing distorted piano noodle intro, a gun barrel assault of military snare rolls under some phased slightly atonal “Dooo-Dooos” (on the lyric sheet it says “Doo (etc.)” Hmmmm...), then the weirdest modulation that sounds like someone put their finger on the tape while it was recording. It actually makes you a little queasy. They sing portentously:

“ Caterpillar, larval stage of lepidoptera - soon you will fly!”

Then some Daughters of Albion hippie pop call and response, a little bit of Smiley Smile “Vegetables” type nonsense, a swatch of E.L.O “Battle of Marston Moor” grumbling cellos, AND a bumblebee Moog passage over some garage guitar licks that sound they were lifted from a Paul Revere outtake in a different key!

Finally you are convinced that Snow may be the bastard love child of the Shaggs and George Martin. Amazing! And it’s available on re-issue, which you can find for about $10 on Amazon. Fetch, Englebert, fetch!

SUNFOREST - Sound of Sunforest

Sunforest Not as otherworldly as Snow, Sunforest are nonetheless HALF of an atmospheric delight. They’re sort of like a folkier version of the Cake, though thankfully minus the transgressive excursions into mock soul.

“Bonny River” especially catches the Cake’s cool melancholy take on RenFairport Convention string quartet laments. They retain the embryonic attempts at Baroque throughout the album, with a limited but fetching grasp of the genre.

The lovely hymn-like “And I Was Blue” with the cathedral echo chamber gives way to a perky if minor key verse.

And so it goes. The songs are direct and produced with a spare style that lets every simple melody soar. The girls aren’t great singers - they sound like nice blonde hippie chicks who did some hard time in traditional English folk apprenticeship. I bet they can even play recorder! But most of the album has a vague overall aura of psych that keeps it seductive. About half of the songs are more than just pleasant girl group Folk/Baroque, and I’ve returned to this CD many more times than I would have expected.

Sadly though, these girls, like the Cake, don’t always play to their strengths. Their particular lapse is believing, without a shred of evidence (except to the absolute contrary) that they have a gift for “cute comedy”. Ooops! Groan! “Lighthouse Keeper”, “Old Cluck” and “Peppermint Store” are painfully unfortunate sidesteps into the resolutely undelightful dreaded excess of the Roche Sisters, although sometimes the instrumentation barely salvages a bit of Jim Kweskin panache. “Cluck” is preceded by an inexplicable and unforgivable spoken word in lame ineffectively broad parodies of country accents, which continues into the unpleasant faux country song about parsons eating chicken.

However, the bad humor can’t quite destroy the peculiar Purple Gang charms of “The Lady Next Door Is A Hippie”, which somehow escapes the horrendously laborious and moth-eaten comic conceit that “old people are funny!” I guess the period-evocative title and the melody (just about) save it.

Uh-oh! There’s a little proto-hippie funk going on in “The Magician in the Mountain”, with some bad horns! Buyer beware!

Thus you are wildly grateful when they return to the era of jousts and fair maidens with “Give Me All Your Lovin”, which is a cute Mead-addled Renaissance Faire harpsichord based round, and “Garden Rug”, which is a sweet woodwinds-based “bum bum bum” trifle. “All In Good Time” is like the “Roches DO Nico” with a mournful pump organ and a Gregorian-lite chant.

So I’d say - it’s a keeper, and the high points are pretty high - but proceed with caution!

Also, I found this somewhat illiterate sounding bio on a strange website called, which apparently is run by some uber-obsessed McDowell maven, so treat its legitimacy with due circumspection (note dubious passages like ‘ a man in a fur coat’). When you Google the site, you also get links to “Look Sexy Naked” - a site for a “rare Chinese slimming tea”! AND Google blandly states that “related categories” include “Gay Film”. Huh? But this bio, if true, may explain the somewhat slapdash nature of the Sunforest project, and it makes me fucking jealous too!

“Terry Tucker went to London with two girlfriends, Erika Eigen & Freya Houge, to become pop singers and were discovered almost right away in a working class cafe drinking tea. A man came in a fur coat from Decca Records, wanted to hear their songs and they went to the studio that night and recorded a demo. Two weeks later they wanted to record an album and he became their manager. They were his American girls. The recorded their one and only album Sound of Sunforest in 1969. Kubrick wanted her to record Overture for the Sun for the soundtrack. It got recorded again, Terry wrote some changes in the arrangement for the film.  It was exciting. It just fell into their lap. In those days they never tried to make anything happen, just follow their nose and it happened. Overture is instrumental, like a little renaissance piece. Terry wrote and arranged it, played harpsichord on it. Lighthouse Keeper is a song that Erica wrote and Terry sang backup on it and played the piano. Terry stayed in England about 12 years and came home to the US after the band broke up.”

The record is one of those limited edition fancy-schmancy Japanese Deram reissues, but, like the far superior Snow CD, you can find it on Amazon for pretty cheap!


Hairzen Here's a solid B-list find! I don’t know about you, but I don’t think you can have too many British Invasion sounding 60’s records. And this is apparently one of those English-as-a-second language Dutch records, which makes it even more charming.

OK, so their cover of “Hair” is middling, but there’s magic in the completely incongruent over dub of Bee Gees “The Change Is Made” distorto guitar which is so separated from the track it sounds like it’s on a different stereo in another room. AND they add cute handclaps, and they DON’T cut the verse about “Hair like Jesus wore it” like the more timid Cowsills did. Besides, aesthetically, a cover of a Hair song is always a Get Out Of Jail free card.

Off on a tangent (who, me?), I remember when as a child I researched “Hair” in various periodicals at the library because I thought it had so many great songs, and yet I despised Broadway and everything it stood for - so I was trying to rectify this soul-splitting aesthetic dichotomy. And I found in either in the New York Times or the New Yorker - both intimidatingly urbane sophisticated purveyors of cruel acidic cultural red-lining to my young mind - these immortal lines (paraphrased through the prism of memory of course): “Hair is a pleasant whimsy, but unfortunately there is NOT A SINGLE MEMORABLE SONG!” Ooof! Ouch! Umm....tell that to the Fifth Dimension, morons!

Back to Zen Hair: Unlike many bands of the era, it’s the originals that shine - it’s like finding a whole new LP of “Carrie Ann” era Hollies songs, only harder, with less strident vocals. It’s a solid beat/psych transitional LP - no huge orchestrations, yet some minor Revolver era studio trickery. “Take It” is so Hollies you’d be hard pressed to deny it was actually them ,unless you already knew, and despite some ill-advised saxes, which are fortunately buried in the mix, it’s just an A-list pop rock song. Those saxes do make lamentable appearance throughout the record. I think in certain continental coffee bars of the era, having a horn section passed for having an academic and reverential acquaintance with the mysterious American world of “The Blues”. That was some sort of qualitative social signifier back then for studenty types. Of course it IS completely unforgivable, like cannibalism, but in social context it’s at least as understandable. Barely. But at least they don’t destroy the record.

The next song is a minor key folky beat lament in the gravelly style of the early Golden Earrings with a cute Recorder break - not earthshaking, but servicable. “Start Running Away From Me” has a super catchy melody and great chords, although the dreaded Sax does raise it’s ugly head again, albeit in a nicely eastern “Marrakesh Express” vein.

“I Want You” starts with a lame Dylan inflected vocal, but then gives way to the hot Beatle-y chorus, and even goes into falsetto, with a nice fuzz beat era solo. Then “Aquarius”, which they try to give a “Tell Her No” bossa nova arrangement. You already know I’m a sucker for Hair, so draw your own conclusions. Add to this a couple of “10,000 Words in a Cardboard Box” type choruses, and a couple of Timpani effects on the toms, and I love this slight but solid pop excursion.

CD Tip of the Month: October 2004

Hugo Montenegro - Good Vibrations

Hugo Montenegro Tired of pre-election day jitters?

Here is just the thing.

Hugo Montenegro has a very spotty track record, from the early indifferent percussion stereo exploitation L.P.s like “Bongos and Brass” to the lounge hipster cliche “The Good The Bad and The Ugly”. In between he’s tried his hand at “serious” jazz and Montovani styled pap so unlistenable it surely causes ear cancer.

But this is something different altogether. One of those 50 cent junk store revelations (yes they ARE still out there - on rare occasions!), I had to research it to make sure YOU too could find a copy, and apparently it was released on CD in 1999, although I’ve never actually seen one.

Anyway, it is the most relentlessly cheerful amalgam of light wah wah guitars, curlicue theremin, strings a-go-go, and, most importantly, a chorus of seemingly gelded early 60's freshmen moonlighting from Sandpipers type session work, trying their first wacky weed, and reveling in the practically sexual release of endless “WaaaaaH - wa wa wa wa WAAAAH!” choruses at every conceivable opportunity - and some opportunities heretofore unconceived. And then theres the “ba ba ba ba BAAAAAAH - OW!” vocal punctuation that pops up like a lite pop orgasm every now and then. You'll be cleaning your tchotchke hutch like a sixties house wife on diet pills before it's over!

“Good Vibrations” has a lot of “Classical Gas” type strings, the aforementioned theremin set free into “Invaders From Mars” type spooky treble flights of interstellar fancy, loads of harpsichord, all of the vocal parts, plus the first of those “Wah wahs”, “Penny Lane” cornet, and penny whistle breaks!

Then the real “Classical Gas” arrives - it’s sped up into a sort of punk version, but plays on the two recurring themes of the album - crazy wah wah vocals, and even MORE harpsichord. Strings sounding like the brooms in Fantasia careen all over the place, and the tambourine is mixed so loud that you know Stevie Nicks’ palm is a bloody pulp before this track is over!

Yes - there’s a couple of lousy ballads. But at least they’re from movies with titles like “The Outcasts”.

But the preponderance of movie music is from “Lady in Cement” - an exploitation flick I’ve got to revisit if it has any of the verve of these peppy tracks!

“Tony’s Theme” is the first from that movie - sort of a darker “Teaberry Shuffle” type song with great distorted guitar, sometimes treated with effects so it sounds exactly like a turkey, alongside hullaballo drums, xylophone, and “yeah yeahs” plus a spot of methedrine whistling added to the wah wah mix.

Wait! Did I tell you about the “Avengers”/”Prisoner” harpsichord boogie intro to the actual “Lady In Cement” theme, with that darn Joe Cocker slap percussion instrument , fuzz guitar stabs, and those outlandish vocal “Ba bas” all over the place - like the Association doing a particularly graphic Pepto Bismol ad?

No matter what shape your stomach’s in, indeed!

“Happy Together” is saved from being an “Up With People” Johnny Mann bland-out by leslied vocals (yes, you read that right!) and echoplex “For all my Life-life-life-life” treatments - Hefner styled psych for druggy bunnies.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Dakota, the layered vocal treatment and spooky Morricone whistle are applied to the theme from “Rosemary’s Baby”! Spooooky!

“Night Rider” is another Casino Royale/ Burt Bacharach/Lolita Party Theme pleaser - unstoppable!

Their version of “Love is Blue” not only has the ridiculously ungainly lyics sung in monumentally ambitious five part but still resolutely affect-free Lennon Brothers style, but it also has the classic spaghetti western ocarina incongrouously shoehorned in over a dolorous minor key instrumental segue - Pure Montenegro!

All in all this album is so determinedly irrepressible, it could get “That Girl” to try acid! The perfect record for anyone who wants to go into about 29 minutes of Bush denial - and you know we could all use the respite.

I burnt a copy of the album for my friend Dustin Ferrer, D.J. at WPRB Princeton, and she immediately rushed it onto her radio show. She said, “Several listeners called in to ask if it was the recently released ‘Smile’. When I corrected one person, he said ‘Yeah O.K. because I was like that Brian Wilson is making some crazy shit!’ “ Admittedly, I was like that too!

So there you have it, from the mouth of the people. Crazy shit, just how we like it!

CD Tip of the Month: May 2004

Before we get to the Pick of the Month, here is a related link with a musical tribute to the United States of America's Chief Executive.

Incubus - Megalomaniac (enhanced CD single w/video)

Incubus In keeping with my theme that NOW is the TIME to COME OUT OUT OUT of the closet as OVERTLY UNASHAMED POLITICAL BEINGS, I've selected this recent single by Incubus. It's a bubblemetal pleasure from the opening cheap video game ray-gun sound effects with the ham fisted stereo panning, through the Stone Temple Pilots/Redd Kross fat lumbering chordal guitar riff, the bad Soundgarden (or is that Audioslave?) first verse, until it EXPLODES into a DELIGHTFULLY WHINEY Johnny Rotten redux anti-Bush rant in the chorus!

It's like a cheesey Las Vegas impressionist, circa 2010: in the second verse, he even does a creditable Eddie Vedder! Or is he doing Scott Weiland doing Eddie?

And the whole song has an overlay of "The Queen of the Damned" soundtrack - the only bearable music that Korn ever did - because they're posing as a fake goth band - which is often even MORE charming than REAL goth.

Also, the lead singer is allowed to be cute in a Keanu poser sort of way, although the Gap/Banana Republic V-neck "Queer Eye" type generic fashion is a serious rock star misstep. But still a refreshing break from the hulking jock growlers of Rap/Rock 101.

The included video is a lovely throwback to the 30's-by-way-of-the-80's "Express Yourself" type eye-candy, with a little third generation NIN/David Fincher xerox action as well. But what's really so refreshing is that it is RADICALLY ANTI-BUSH, and ANTI JESUS! I think comparing Bush to Hitler is a bit collegiate: Bush certainly isn't that smart. But fortunately for the metaphor police, Bush IS that EVIL! And when Jesus removes his face mask to reveal yet ANOTHER incarnation of Hitler, I almost laughed my ass off, but I was still weeping about the incomprehensible box office receipts of "The Passion". The flying Hitler ballerinas are actually beautiful, the sardonic "Heroes Don't Ask Questions" placards at the staged pro-war rally (as Justin Tanner says, "Who Would Jesus Kill?") where the American Eagle makes a blood feast of friends and foe alike - why, it's good old-fashioned rabble rousing, and if we EVER needed the RABBLE to be ROUSED, NOW is the TIME!!! Remember YOU IDIOTS, your VOTE DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!!

Too bad the other cuts on the single don't pose a very inviting teaser for the album - I'd love to give these guys my rock dollar. But they don't even promise the superficial pleasure of an STP album - which I religiously buy for THEIR 40% return on my bubble metal investment. Anyone remember "Big Bang Baby"? And Scott Weiland really knows how to DRESS - AND how to really WORK that otherwise tired rehab syndrome.

CD Tip of the Month: April 2004

Beyond The Valley of the Dolls Soundtrack (first time on CD)

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Another MUST is the FABULOUS FIRST-TIME-ON-CD soundtrack to "Beyond The Valley of the Dolls". I know I'm preaching to the converted here: "Come With the Gentle People" has been a sing-a-long inevitability at every alterna-party since baby's first thrift shop, circa 1974. And of course Redd Kross also covered the classic "Look On Up (At the Bottom)", beating all of indie rock to the most obvious get-out-of-mainstream-jail-free indie cred goldmine.

But the QUALITY of these patently fake girl group sounds, shamelessly designed to be the lost ground between the Mama's and the Papas, the Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin on a sober evening, actually competes successfully with every original. THESE SONGS ARE GREAT!

Plus, the Strawberry Alarm Clock's less-psych-more-boogie songs aren't TOO terrible, and the Sandpiper's resolutely mawkish theme song will not only find a home in the heart of every soft-pop-come-lately; it also has the added edge of bringing to mind the murderously comical vision of David Gurian, newly recovering parapalegic, hobbling stalwartly across the streams of Chatsworth to his red headed pixie love over the closing credits.

How the songwriting team of Stu Phillips and Bob Stone managed NEVER to make another memorable record is beyond me. And this version of the album has the movie versions AND the album versions of the songs: a completist's DREAM.

Of course age DOES have some advantages, and I, as the self appointed Zelig of rock, happened to be at the L.A. Premiere of this very movie - because I was a wide eyed teen-age follower of the G.T.O's, who had several male hangers-on available to seduce me into the ways of a Hollywood trash decadent, and THEY happened to be friends with one David Gurian (who is only rivalled by Timothy Bottoms in his "lift up my eyebrows and squint my eyes and suddenly I'm sensitive" school of acting).

So not only did David Gurian invite us ALL to the premiere: most of us also spent the night at HIS house (romantically, just off of Highland Blvd., below the Hollywood Bowl) - though, sad to confess, not in his bed.

So the images of Z-Man suddenly being outed as "a broad - and a DAMN UGLY broad too!" before he rushed out to behead his Nazi manservant was imblazoned on my psyche at a particularly impressionable time, and served me well on my journeys throuigh the vagaries of OZ, I mean CBGBS/Maxs era punk/new wave.

As a final postscript, the autograph I got from Russ Meyer on MY original vinyl copy of the 20th Century Records soundtrack reads:" To Kristian - Cumm with the gentle people!" God knows, I tried!

Russ Meyer

CD Tip of the Month: June 2003

The Pernice Brothers - Yours, Mine, and Ours
On Ashmont Records

Pernice Brothers The Brothers have their usual seemingly effortless soaring vocals with the smooth seductive smokey quality, and the minimal backing tracks are less rooty than tastefully spooky. But the melodies are more specific, evocative and catchy, and the lyrics seem more highly crafted with a literate sweet melancholy -- beautiful. Sample lyric:

Do you have to be as typical as a tragedy?
If I was the only one left and you were the last alive,
would we just sit there like the amateurs,
waiting for the universe to die?
Six or seven of the ten songs are great, and the last couple are okay, if a bit too like The Church, with "Friday I'm In Love"-era Cure inflections. A definite quality buy!

CD Tip of the Month: March 2003

The Moon - Without Earth and the Moon
CD reissue on Rev-Ola

Ever since Miki Zone of The Fast pointed out The Moon's first LP in a used record store in Brooklyn in 1976 -- "if you like The Bee Gees, you'll love The Moon!" --- I have been totally Moon damaged, listening obsessively to every nuance and trying to turn my friends into (forgive me) Moonies -- even giving away whatever copies I could find to try to forcibly convert the doubtful. I'm proud to say that I introduced their work to Andrew Sandoval -- because he knows so much already that he always gets to make the introductions. And now, thanks in part to the machinations of that other professor of pop, Steve Stanley, The Moon are finally out on CD.

The Moon The Moon Without Earth is like an artier, weirder, more cohesive Sgt. Pepper; not so much stylistic dabbling. If there were a post-Revolver, pre-Pepper willfully American Beatles, The Moon would be it -- it's sort of a crossroads between "Penny Lane" and "I Am the Walrus." The vocals are slightly more wobbly -- almost Neil Young-ish, but the ambitious harmonies soar. There is beautiful melodic bass playing with inventive, almost arrhythmic gaps and holes -- lazily grand. The lyrics are sometimes easy to dismiss with the affectionate condescension one reserves for overripe sunshine pop confections like The Love Generation (especially The Colours' Dalton/Montgomery cover "Brother Lou's Love Colony" and "Mothers and Fathers"). But mostly they distill pre-hippie acid/love flights of fancy with an able poetry that might not bear lyric sheet scrutiny, but is musical and evocative. There's certainly nothing as embarrassing as "Yellow Submarine," and much that is hauntingly lovely.

In "Brother Lou's Love Colony," they sing Love is the reason why we're here and, like Nick Lowe, on a good day I can still believe it. Especially with the crazy flight-of-the-bumblebee strings, the sitars, bird sounds, and doublespeed effects. Some melodies, like "Pleasure," sound like they were constructed backwards. There are great Ringo drum fills, strange counter melodies, snatches of Jefferson Airplane guitar. "Someday Girl" is a gorgeous Bee Gees-esque ballad. The line None of them have faces -- but me from "Play" is a seductive acid vision. Even this odd novelty-laden time-signature-erratic ditty is hooky. When he sings welcome the day! I want to, so badly!

A "Paperback Writer"/"Last Train to Clarksville" guitar figure propels you into "Never Mind," which is rife with Beatley 7ths, fuzz bass, and a raga rock Meccan prayer call outro.

The Dalton/Montgomery composition "She's On My Mind" ventures closer to The Rutles with its slavish "Penny Lane" cornet lift -- but it's The Rutles as you wish they were.

And the moment during the rush of backwards high hats in the bridge of "I Should Be Dreaming" when the real snare drops out and is replaced by a vocal singing snare ... snare ... snare is pure genius.

Admittedly there is no "Day In the Life," "Tomorrow Never Knows," or even a "She Said She Said" or a "Fear No One" here. But there's plenty equal to or better than just about any other cut on Pepper or Revolver -- and in, strangely, a more psychedelic yet more cohesively realized vision. Even though they were a studio aggregate, they sound like more of a real band!

The second album, The Moon, is more problematic, with more subtle evasive pleasures. It's a somewhat laborious listen, often making one second guess whether it is interesting or just plain awful. It feels trapped on the brink of the abyss of the '70s, between Cat Stevens's singer/songwriter posturings and The Band's underinformed dabblings in roots rock and gospel, complete with horrendous tone deaf blaring horn punches. The whole thing is oddly hook-free, except for "The Pirate" with its silly karmic genderfuck conceit, which is a perfect protoglitter "London By Tata" jaunty single.

But repeated listenings will yield seductive moments of languorously weird beauty. "Lebanon"'s meandering melody and spare Bartok-lite orchestrations bring to mind Nico's "Chelsea Girls" or Joshua Rifkin's arrangements for Judy Collins -- and are signs of a stylish maturation beyond the admittedly puerile sunshiney psych/pop on Without Earth. Listen for Abba's "Good As New" precisely prognosticated on the string quartet intro to the lovely quiet adventures of "Mary Jane." "Not To Know" has wonderful slinky cello counter-melodies in the verses, in a cry against the encroaching smug cynicism that would deal the death blow to '60s twee pop. And "Life Is a Season" with its Donovan jazz flutes, and defiantly Harrison hippie sentiments tiptoes into a strangely mournful instrumental coda, as if it were present at its own wake. Robert Klimes' string arrangements are as wistful as angels locked out of heaven -- suddenly knowing better and wishing they didn't. In all, a record of odd rueful charm -- and -- coupled with the masterful pop statement Without Earth -- a total must!

And I must express fanatic gratitude to Steve Stanley, who included my name (along with fellow Moon obsessive Michael Quercio) in the liner notes and the thank-you's. Either I'm the world's luckiest stalker -- or, in a kinder assessment, if you stay true to your beliefs, your community will find you!

CD Tip of the Month: December 2002

ALBUM OF THE YEAR - The Delgados - Hate
Mantra Recordings

As the end of the year neared I was reluctantly feeling I'd have to name my own CD & as album of the year, but I was saved from that morally questionable (yet objectively defensible!) gesture when a friend handed me an (illegally!) downloaded pre-release copy of Hate by The Delgados.

The Delgados They've been around for years -- but I'd never heard of them, and with no packaging or information to distract me, I was free to be seduced by this gorgeous operatic bombastic yet often ghostly and moving work of genius in terms of pure music. The lyrics, less refined poetry than evocative catchphrases, leap out at odd moments -- "when things that once were beautiful are bland" -- "hate is everywhere, inside your mother's heart and you will find it there." But then you're returned to the sweep and the grandeur of the music. My circle of friends have been listening obsessively to this album for a month.

With the album's legitimate release came information -- they share a producer with the Flaming Lips -- but where the Flaming Lips disappoint me with meandering promise never quite fulfilled, The Delgados' every song builds to a wonderful payoff. But the Lips' connection explained the odd lo-fi distorted quality of the orchestrations. Vocalist Emma Pollock is a little Cardigans, a little Januaries, a little pure folk waif. Vocalist Alun Woodward is a little Super Furry Animals with only a slight Flaming Lips uncertain quaver. But though the music seems superficially retro, there is no campy nostalgia component -- it just hearkens to a realm of pure beauty assumed to have existed -- but not proven -- anywhere but here, anytime but now. But here it is! Occasional leaden moments like the transparent lift from "Imagine" in "Child Killers" can't weigh down this magic carpet ride to euphoria, despite Emma's warning lest we let "euphoria convince us we are free." For the length of this CD, I am!

Album of the year? Of course!

(P.S. We all rushed out and bought the legit version of the album, and the single, as soon as it came out.)

CD Tip of the Month: October 2002

Barry Booth Barry Booth - Diversions
out on Sanctuary/Castle

It's a fantastic 1968 album, like an undiscovered follow up to Cat Stevens' Matthew & Son, crossed with a sort of British take on Randy Newman and bits of R. Davies-like sardonica. Quietly beautiful, perfect for a foggy seaside morning with only the barest hint of a hangover. It rarely traipses into the leaden whimsey of the era that time-travels poorly, and when it does it quickly recovers. Lyrics by Michael Palin & Terry Jones (of Monty Python!) are more poignant and less broad than subsequent work would indicate. A lovely listen!

CD Tip of the Month: July 2002

Let me take a moment to praise the Battlecats - the incredible band we met at the Dave Davies concert at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut in April. "We're the biggest band in New Haven!" they crowed over a Cosmopolitan after the set, and their irony was tempered by refreshingly genuine enthusiasm. The white go-go boots on fetching keyboardist Crissy Harris didn't hurt either. When I got their self produced E.P. Made From Scratch (get it?) with the hand colored cover (!) and played it, the unlikely but fantabulous combination of the best aspects of Jonathan Fire Eater, the Standells, and Shampoo overwhelmed me with unadulterated glee. I want to be a Battlecat too!
- Kristian Hoffman

Here is their web address: E-mail them at