By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Does Minnesota need its own version of Mojo magazine--the British music monthly devoted to all things old and cool? This year, I began to wonder, what with hopeless local music buffs pretty much O.D.-ing on surprise reunions and reissues. In May, for instance, '90s mod-rockers the Spectors revived themselves at First Avenue and brought onstage Bemidji resident Gary Burger, singer of '60s cult-garage greats the
Monks--one of the great bands of all time--for a rendition of "Oh, How to Do Now." This was the kind of moment that you tell German record-store clerks about just to watch their heads explode with envy, though none of my friends went to the show.
Then there were the Suburbs, who reunited (again) and appeared in something called The M-80 Project, a newly restored 1979 "new wave/no wave" concert video that premiered at the Sound Unseen festival. Along similar lines, local folk-blues legend Spider John Koerner received cheers during City Pages' Get Real documentary film festival for his brief cameo in the rarely-seen 1967 concert documentary Festival. By year's end, Paul Westerberg had released his own new documentary and two albums; the Gear Daddies had reunited; and "punk rock nursing homepage" TCPunk.com was up and active again. The same week that City Pages published its "best new band" poll, the Star Tribune's Chris Riemenschneider cheekily profiled our state's "oldest bands"--i.e., Lamont Cranston Band, Mighty Mofos, Rockin' Hollywoods, Middle Spunk Creek Boys, and Sounds of Blackness. Do you see a trend here?
Not surprisingly, this was a boom year for local reissues. Here are some of the best albums that are older than you.
Flamin' Oh's,The First 2 Albums Plus a Bonus Track! (self-released)
Collecting 1980's The Green Album and 1981's Oh!, here's a glimpse into the pure heart new wave never had. The almost dainty pop sound--punk-simple melodies, surprising chord changes, roller-rink synths--might have marooned their great songs in barland. (For a truer document, see last year's '83 live reissue--or their recent shows for that matter.) But you never doubt for a minute that these guys loved something (or someone) in this stupid world--a stunt that the so-called New Romantics never quite managed.
Micranots,Return of the Travellahs(Rhymesayers Entertainment)
Hip hop's most poetic paranoids reissue their 1996 cassette--and still sound like they recorded it five years from now. Kool Akiem's minimalist bass samples are 1991-jazzy but also Cannibal Ox-creepy: They're the perfect counterpart to I Self Divine's rapped belief that he'll be brain-food for future anti-totalitarians.
The Phones,Back in Time Volume 1
1979-1989 (S.A.M. Records)
If they came out today, the Phones would be a fashionable post-punk throwback. Nostalgic psych harmonies give way to declarative no-wave yelps. Scraggly post-punk guitars do battle with a restless, melodic bass. The production sucks, but the Phones transcend slickness when they're hot--they were the rare bar band that was Europhile enough to love white funk, and garage-pure enough to cover the Sonics. No wonder they ended up in commercial limbo.
This is a reissue of a reissue, basically--a version of the same "lost album," culled from recordings made in 1989 and 1990, appeared in 2000 as Stinson Blvd. on Rock X Change Music. Still, the music deserves a wider audience than it got either time around. The crusty power-pop of "Cop Tape" and "FAFA" may not unseat the Replacements' Let It Be as Bob Stinson's finest punk moment, but his guitars juice every song, and still glisten like vomit in the slush.
The Stillroven,Too Many Spaces(Sundazed)
Listening to this gooey relic, you can almost imagine some hippie record executive telling the garage band to get more "psychedelic." In any case, Stillroven became the billionth band to basically break up in the studio, while recording these unreleased songs for A&M in 1969. But this is still the Stillroven--Robbinsdale punks at heart--so the bottom rocks hard even as the harmonies go to San Francisco. The CD is so funky, it made the two-year-old son of my City Pages colleague Dylan Hicks do something called "the happy dance": fists balled, butt stuck out, big smile--you try it!
The Suburbs,Chemistry Set: Songs of the Suburbs 1977-1987 (Beejtar)
Along with a live concert DVD of their October 2002 shows, this is what you hand clueless friends who wonder what the big deal is. (Though the band's 1980 debut In Combo is still what I give to fans of nü-new wave stars the Rapture.) It's tough to fathom how the cigarette-choked disco of the early Suburbs became the bright pop of "Love Is the Law," but it's a fun trip to make.
Inspired enough to declare, "I love Dick Tracy and I love you, too," damaged guitar shaman Michael Yonkers keeps his priorities straight--shaken vocal melody first, menacing noise vibrations second. He never sounds more doomed than when warbling "Smile for a while and you see your troubles fading into nothing," a chorus that feels like a warning. Sick as I am of making Sonic Youth comparisons, there really was nothing else this scary when the album was recorded in 1968--making its long-delayed release all the more fitting.