Culling the Herd: Buddy Holly, Cake, Calexico, The Call, Camper Van Beethoven

Guess I was wrong.  I still have one more 'B.'  Sigh.

The Buddy Holly Collection - 5 stars.  Dig it.
It's not the entire record - I got it from the library and didn't burn the entire thing:  "Cryin', Waitin', Hopin'", "It's So Easy," "Not Fade Away," and "Oh Boy!", "That'll Be The Day."  They're all fantastic songs - when I listen to them, I almost always think of what it must have been like to hear this stuff for the first time, before everything that followed.  It's not a gigantic exaggeration to say that Buddy Holly invented rock and roll.  Okay, yes it is.  But still - it must have been a huge adrenaline jolt to hear this in 1957, when the charts were dominated by Perry Como and Frank Sinatra.  And they still hold up.

Everyone should have them some Buddy Holly.

Cake, "Frank Sinatra" - 2 stars.  Dump it.
Speaking of Sinatra.  I guess I should like this song, but it just doesn't do anything for me.  I think it's the autotune / electronically manipulated lead vocal at the beginning...it then goes into more of a raw feel, but even so, it doesn't really go anywhere.  Dump.

Calexico, "Garden Ruin" - 5 stars.  Dig it.
I used to subscribe to this service called "Scrobbler" that would keep track of what I listened to and make recommendations for stuff that I didn't have in my library.  One of the artists that seemed to come up all the time was Calexico - possibly based on my attachment to a couple of Latin artists that I was listening to at the time (Los Lobos, The Iguanas).  Not sure.

In any case, I didn't get any of their stuff at the time, probably because due to their relative obscurity I couldn't find them using my then-method of getting music (more later).  A few years later, I stumbled across them at the library and burned the "Garden Ruin" CD.  Oh, my...what a record.  "Cruel" starts it off simply enough, basic guitar guitar bass drums, plaintive vocal; your basic singer / songwriter fare, and adds layers of backing vocals and horns and becomes something much more evocative, of southwestern landscapes and melancholia and longing.  Not to say that it is some sort of navelgazing elegy; far from it.  Every time it seems to turn that way, it turns up the tempo just enough to keep me interested and happy to listen to it.

Or maybe that's all just mood when I turn it on.  Whatever, it's a real gem of a record.

The Call, "Reconciled" - 3 stars.  Hold it.
I've spent much of the last ten years trying to gather digital versions of my old college favorites.  One way I did that was by digging out my old cassettes, reminiscing about that one time at that one party when I was almost (but not quite) able to pick up that one girl while we heard that one song, then I listened to the cassette during all-nighters in the architectural design studio.  "Man," I'd think, "that was a great record, I wonder why they never made it big."  Then I'd try to find a CD, or some downloadable version.  There are still a few records that I've never found, but not too many.

One thing I found, though, is that many of those great old records are, you know, not that great.  They've gotten a lot bigger in my head in retrospect, these lost gems of punk and new wave that I hold ever-so-close to my heart as examples of my great taste and their misunderstood genius...The Call is a good example of that.  They were sort of a non-angry, slightly spiritual version of U2, all chimey guitars and fist-rising anthemy (is that a word?).  But there's a reason U2 is still around and the Call isn't.  They weren't as good, not even back then...and when I found a digital version of their entire album, I only burned four songs:  "Let the Day Begin," "Everywhere I Go," "I Still Believe," and "The Walls Came Down."  They're okay.  I've already culled the rest.

Camper Van Beethoven

St. Andrew's Hall, Detroit, 1988, about to see R.E.M. again.  Their openers were the really strangely-named Camper Van Beethoven.  They were as weird as the name might imply; they mixed surf punk, and ska, and country, and straight punk...just a stew of all sorts of stuff.  they wore tie-dies and had dreads, and someone played the violin.  In the middle of their set - as openers, mind you, which is typically not a receptive audience - they did this long (probably at least ten minutes, although it felt longer) 'wall of noise' jam session.  That is not an exaggeration, either - they literally just played essentially one long note.  For ten minutes.  They got booed off the stage, as I recall, although I think that was what they were trying to do in the first place.  something had clicked, though.  The ska, the willingness to just throw stuff out there and see if it jelled, some clear pop sensibility - I don't know what it was, but I bought their first record the next day...

Camper Van Beethoven, "Telephone Free Landslide Victory" - 4 stars.  Dig it.
...and of course, it's weird, and absurd, and wonderful as hell.  The first song is "The Day That Lassie Went To The Moon,' and it stays right in that sweet spot of odd.  There's a self-conscious randomness here, sure, but there's also some discipline, even as they go off on weird lyrical and musical tangents to heaven knows where.  "Where The Hell is Bill," "Skinhead Stomp," "Club Med Sucks," and the brilliant "Take The Skinheads Bowling,"  I still listen to this record, which is a little surprising given my ongoing disdain for some of my old favorites from the 80s.

I did delete a few songs that didn't appear on the original release, however; the digital version includes a bunch of outtakes and ephemera that isn't all that great, or at the least hasn't been grooved into my brain via hundreds of previous listens and just doesn't stick with me.

Camper Van Beethoven, "Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart" - 4 stars.  Dig it.
More of the same, although it does reflect the switch from an indie label (IRS) to a...less indie one (Virgin).  They still take flights of surfer-dude fancy, and they like to just throw random instruments together, but it's' a bit more disciplined.  Songs are a bit tighter without sacrificing the loopy attitude.  And there are a couple of just terrific pop songs (well, sorta pop songs) - "My Path Belated," "Tania," and "Life is Grand," in which David Lowery tells all the "they went commercial" complainers to suck it.

"Tania" lends the entire record a laid-back California vibe, recounting what it must have felt like in the Valley during the Patty Hearst saga.  Although it's late in the record, it seems to be the centerpiece and sources the album title.  All in all, still a good album.  Still!

Camper Van Beethoven, "Key Lime Pie" - 5 stars.  Dig it.

More of the same, still weird, still prone to druggy flights of fancy, still chock full of historical and SoCal geographic references, still able to find a hook in the patchouli.  'Jack Ruby' is a good example.  David Lowery was probably only a few years old when Kennedy was killed, but writes a personal, intimate account of the televised shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.  Go ahead, write a song about that, I dare you.  And he still finds space to write lovely songs of love and attachment ("All Her Favorite Fruit" picks up on the little things we see in our true love - mashed potatoes, holding the phone against her ear, whispers - inside a languid alt-country groove).  Or maybe I'm just feeling clingy at the moment.  Regardless, I still pick this record and listen to every song.  I can't think of a better thing to say about a 24-year-old album that I've listened to a thousand times.