The Bran Flakes – Help Me (2017)

A-148290-1358797833-2984.jpegThe Bran Flakes are back and they’re looking good. Leaner, more muscular, a bit less frumpy and scatterbrained. Hell, you almost didn’t recognize them at first. They’re even talking about the internet now, just like everyone else. Last time you saw them they were trying to fit in with the college crowd, but those giant paper mache heads seemed to creep everyone out.  Still…whatever happened to those guys?

Help Me is the first Bran Flakes album in eight years, and only their second album proper since the last one I reviewed, which, holy hell, was released all the way back in 2001. At one point the Flakes were a full-time proposition, releasing long albums on a yearly basis, but they’ve dialed it back since then, perhaps realizing that sampling the stuff gathering dust in the back of the church storage room wasn’t a great way to make a living. So they poke their heads out once every presidential administration or so and release something that gets criminally ignored, even though their music is more fun than a monkey on a pogo stick and twice as noisy. As of this writing, the only thing a Google search for this album will bring up is “Will Bran Flakes help me poop”. Okay, their music does make me a bit nauseous sometimes, but it’s never yet landed me in the bathroom. Your mileage may vary.

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Silver Apples, Part 3: Clinging to a Dream (2016)

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Just as the Silver Apples got things going again, they got derailed. Quite literally in fact. In 1998, the Apples’ tour van got into a massive crash, in which Simeon was pronounced dead on the scene. As it turns out he did not actually die, but instead suffered injuries to his neck and spine which required years of physical therapy. Slowly but surely, Simeon recovered, but the Apples’ suffered another pretty major setback in 2005, when Danny Taylor died of cancer. Perhaps Simeon’s been slowly getting his due, but Taylor unfortunately never did. It really is a shame that he never got sampled the way that say, James Brown’s drummers did – he was equally funky and even more off the hook.
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Silver Apples, Part 2

For 25 years, the Silver Apples were dead. Both members got other jobs (Danny Taylor at a phone company, Simeon Coxe as a graphic designer), while the giant contraption responsible for their sound was washed away in a flood. So it was for a long time, until in ’94, the German bootleg label TRC released their two albums on CD, and suddenly the Apples revival was on. All this came as news to Simeon, who had nothing to do with the bootleg nor the renewed interest in the band. One day he runs into a man named Xian Hawkins at an art gallery, who recognizes Simeon’s name and asks him if he’s aware of what’s going on. He isn’t, but the encounter inspires him to pick up a number of albums he was an influence on, along with a 1996 Silver Apples tribute disc. Even though he was making no money from these bootlegs and Danny Taylor was nowhere to be found, Simeon saw a second chance to take a crack at the music biz, and seized the opportunity by forming a new Silver Apples, with Hawkins and a drummer named Michael Lerner, who would later play for The Antlers. And so it was on.

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Silver Apples, Part 1

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The Silver Apples are one of those groups that sit in the corner, just waiting to be discovered. Their singles flopped and still don’t get played today, and their only modicum of chart success was when their first album just barely scraped the Billboard Top 100. But like Neu!, they always seem to inspire that “this happened when?” reaction. I remember hearing one of their songs (“Oscillations”) over the PA while waiting for Dan Deacon to take the stage, and I was overwhelmed by how modern and funky it still sounded (“surely this must be a remix”, I thought, but when I went home and put it on…nope, that was it). From time to time they get referenced as the first electronic pop band, which I think oversells it a bit, but there is a point there. You just didn’t hear sounds like that on a pop record back then, and quite frankly there’s nothing that sounds like the Silver Apples even today, given how the band came to be. They were borne out of a five-piece rock combo called The Overland Stage Electric Band, which was a five-piece until Simeon Coxe alienated nearly every one of them by bringing a 40’s audio oscillator on stage with him. As band members started quitting, Coxe piled more and more oscillators on top of each other to compensate, until eventually all that was left was Coxe, the drummer Danny Taylor, and this unholy contraption called The Simeon, a custom-built mess of circuits and manual controls that frequently malfunctioned, often leaving Coxe to sing in whatever random key the Simeon had put itself in.

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Can – The Singles (2017)

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I dig this idea because I’ve tried to do it myself. See, for most people Can are about the wild experimentation and the sidelong grooves – “Halleluwah”, “Yoo Doo Right”, “Mother Sky”, Jaki playing like an octopus, Holger doing those two finger ascending lines, Damo shouting like a cornered squirrel, and so on. But I always felt that Can were an excellent singles band as well, by which I mean they wrote a lot of awesome tunes under five minutes. I didn’t know that Can issued actual singles, not outside of “Spoon” and “I Want More” that is. I mean, coming across an actual Can LP is rare, even now that they’ve all been reissued a dozen times, so the prospect of finding some 7-inch with a 3-minute edit of a 15-minute epic (which itself was taken from a 4-hour jam session) seems downright impossible. Regardless, they existed, and this comp is an attempt to showcase them in all their hastily-edited glory.

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LCD Soundsystem – American Dream (2017) / Sound of Silver (2007)

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“I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision for another ten years of life”…kinda put your money where your mouth was on that one, didn’t ya?

He said he wasn’t gonna do it, then he did it. Look, I know that writing about LCD’s 2011 retirement in a review of their new album is lazy, not to mention the least original angle one can take. But it is hard to divorce the two; while Murphy wisely kept the reunion low-key, their initial breakup was anything but. LCD Soundsystem’s “final” show was a bona fide event, the sort that might’ve been name dropped on an alternate universe version of “Losing My Edge”. You had Madison Square Garden, you had Aziz and Arcade Fire, you had scalpers selling tickets for $1500, and you had that moment where Murphy, the man who hired a camera crew so he could release his own feature-length film about the show, started getting the sniffles on the final song. People paid a lot of money to be there; this was not a hiatus, nor just some winky-winky breakup. This was the last show ever, the perfect ending to an unlikely success story, announced and sold as such, and if you couldn’t be there, then you could at least get the documentary or the quintuple live album (I gave it a fairly rapturous review here).
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Nmesh – Pharma (2017)

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“I liked the idea of a seamless, uninterrupted ‘trip’ as opposed to the conventional methods of mixing or laying out an album. Every bit of audio from movies/TV/radio was at my disposal and there were no holds barred — as my idols best put it, “we can plunder the waste bins of time” and that’s exactly what I did. I sampled and wrecked everything under the sun.”

One would think this quote pertains to Pharma, when it fact it was about a mix done in 2002 called Peel Blue Equinox. Alex Koenig, a.k.a. Nmesh (the “e” is silent) was in high school at the time, and Peel Blue was simply the first entry in what would quickly become a lengthy and diverse catalogue. Certainly his chops have improved in the meantime; Nmesh has the sort of discography that gets better and better the further down you go.  But his “sample and wreck it” attitude has largely remained the same, going from distending Weezer songs until they’re completely unrecognizable to chopping and screwing Barbie commercials.
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