A Little Help From My Friends

A lifetime of collecting music to love is a bit like a lifetime of saving money – when times are tough and you can’t come up with any new tunes to enjoy, you need an “account” of old music to draw upon to get you through. But you always want to be sticking a little more into the old bank. I’m constantly on the hunt for holy money: the sweet rewards of new music – or more accurately, music that is new to me.

Bank of MUSIC.

Regular readers may remember that a consistent theme threading through these posts is the experience of music as a form of time travel. With a little help from my friends, I recently got hipped to two great things worth sharing – and both of them fit right in for experiencing music as time travel.

First, thanks to my friend Amy Farnstrom. She and I have exchanged opinions on music from time to time since we were at college together. Our tastes run close so it is no big surprise that when we would catch up to exchange suggestions with one another, (sometimes after long stretches of being out of touch,) we’d discover that we had picked flowers from the same musical garden. She helped turn me on to one of my all-time faves, Belle and Sebastian; she was always a huge fan of David Bowie; and she championed wailing guitar gods like Johnny Marr and Pete Townshend.

She recently sent me the link for the self-titled first record of the band Heron Oblivion. I got a chance to listen to the whole thing once through this morning. There were immediately “grabbing” elements that Amy knew would be in my wheelhouse – especially the wonderful female vocals and the psychedelic rock aspects of the songs. I could also tell that the record will be a “grower” and that there will be much to pull out and appreciate on repeat listens.

Blessed psychedelic wonders, Heron Oblivion.
Blessed psychedelic wonders, Heron Oblivion.

The expansive sound percolates with fantastic rhythm provided by great 60s/70s style rock and folk drumming, and by creative bass flows. Throughout the record you can depend on the sweet, dull roars and resounding flickers of psychedelic guitar. And the big star for me here is singer Meg Baird – her vocals fairly sparkle.

The time travel machine invoked by Heron Oblivion can take you back to any of the prior five decades. The opener, Beneath Fields, has the assured trippy psych-folk quality that I would associate with a smoky subterranean San Francisco bar in the mid-1960s. My immediate favorite song, Faro, conjures the late-80s and the 90s with a driving, insistent, wildly experimental pluck and flow of sound that is straight out of Sonic Youth’s playbook – including the freaky guitar tunings and the breathy lyrical delivery that Kim Gordon mastered – a mixture of spoken and sung words that convey simultaneous vulnerability and confidence.

Heron Oblivion.
Heron Oblivion.

The record is due 4 March 2016 on the Sub Pop label. You can hear individual songs, or the whole thing here, now:

Heron Oblivion – NPR First Listen

Thanks also to friend Scott Lewandowski for his recent ‘reco’. Sweet Lew and I were boys together, and have stayed in close touch ever since. He has always had a great ability to sniff out cool sounds – and he recently unearthed a band that we had missed from the early 1980s – ESG – Emerald Sapphire Gold. (They recorded 1980-1985, and again for a time after 1991 – their music was reissued in 2010 on the Fire label.) I have just been poking around on YouTube to sample the band’s tunes and every click leads to a delightful new find for me.

Funky! The Scroggins Sisters.
Funky! The Scroggins Sisters.

It turns out that we have all probably heard lots of ESG’s music because so many great bands, including Public Enemy and Beastie Boys, have sampled it. Their influence on the original music of bands like Luscious Jackson is easy to hear, too. What is so crazy is that the Factory Records’ sound guru, Martin Hannett who is associated with Joy Division, produced the band’s first EP.

ESG’s main drivers were the Scroggins sisters from the south Bronx. They created a pretty stripped down and original music that is remarkable for its variety – from weirdly dark to just funky and fun.

Lew suggests checking out this one because, “the chorus sounds like dogs barking,” and he, “loves the tambourine.”

Dance by ESG from Dance to the Best of ESG (reissued in 2010 Fire Records).

This should be familiar:

UFO by ESG from the EP ESG (1981 Factory/99 Records).


Naked Eye by Luscious Jackson from Fever In Fever Out (1996 Grand Royal).

New Town Velocity by Johnny Marr from The Messenger (2013 Sire Records).

Get in touch with an old friend.

27 Feb 2016

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