Since doing the too epic Top 40 albums of 2011 blog entries, I have found myself in a reflective mood about all the music I have sitting around in my home. That top album list marked the 25th year that I have put something together ranking my favorites of a particular year. It all started at the end of 1986, when as a high school sophomore I photocopied a blank top 10 sheet and handed them out to a bunch of friends and compiled everyone’s favorites. I don’t know why, or how I managed to deal with Matt’s 6 way ties for #1, or even what I thought about Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night II always appearing in the Top 10, or why Jeff always puts Siouxsie’s Tinderbox as his #1 choice no matter what the year. Whatever the case, it was always fun to see what people were listening to. Of course, I always did mine, and though I stopped the poll decades ago, I have continued to create a list of some sort every single year. All this music over all this time and yet I find that I generally look forward and focus mainly on what’s next, while hundreds upon hundreds of records and CDs sit collecting dust on my shelves. What was I listening to 25 years ago? My #1 pick that year was Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration – beating out The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, The The’s Infected, Pet Shop Boys’ Please and New Order’s Brotherhood. As my horizons have expanded since being 15 years old, and my knowledge of music has increased, I still have a fondness for all of these albums and have been heard to say that side one of Brotherhood may be my favorite side of all time. I say that kind of thing a lot about a lot of different albums. None of these statements are true and yet all of them are true. There’s just too much to love and not nearly enough time to take it all in. Beginning here I thought I’d occasionally post a little tribute to some of these albums from the past that have meant a lot to me over the years and encourage anyone reading to share your thoughts about some of your eternal favorites, long lost loves, or forgotten moments in time.
Recently, while scanning through my CDs I started to think about Popsicle. Popsicle were a Swedish pop band that I often credit with pulling me out of a deep dark time and pushing me towards the most insane, chaotic and adventurous year of my life. I’ve found myself in a bit of a funk as this year has gotten started, and thought that listening to Lacquer, Popsicle’s debut album, might have a similar effect to the very first time I threw their CD into my player. I’m trying to remember how I first learned of this band. It was the fall of 1993 and I read about them initially via CMJ Weekly’s (College Music Journal) import section, I believe, where the writer compared the band to Ride and My Bloody Valentine who were two of my favorite bands of that time. Soon after I happened upon a three song CD single named “Hey Princess” at the much missed Ozone Records across Burnside from Powell’s (oh, I could go on and on about this magical store – a merging between the legendary and designed exactly to my tastes Ooze Records and the fledging straightforward Outer Limits shop), and oh my, it was even better then I could’ve imagined! The rush of the quickly building “Hey Princess” bled into a blasting “Blow Up” and closed with another adrenaline rush of the three minute “Never Know,” which repeats the resigned line “every thing must die” sung with desperate finality. I played this thing over and over for weeks and knew that I had to find their album. Ozone, back then, always had an amazing assortment of new import CD EP’s in stock, which were the release of choice at the time for so many of my favorite artists at the time, but they didn’t always carry the full length albums, and this Swedish import proved to be difficult to find. Eventually, I wrote a letter to the label Snap Records inquiring about mail order. After a few months I received a slick sheet with all of their releases, and there it was: Popsicle - Lacquer, and surprise surprise a CD from Easy named Sun Years! Easy had one of my favorite albums of 1991 with their shining Magic Seed. This was before the internet and the cloud and the ease of finding music just by pressing a few buttons on a keypad. Next up was a trip to the bank to obtain an international money order for the proper amount, which seemed to always involve multiple tellers and a lot of effort as a long line of people would angrily shuffle around behind me. Then, after mailing the package, the waiting and anticipation would begin.
It’s amazing to think of how difficult all of this all was back then. I read about a band that sounded like one I might like and SEVERAL months later, after consistent effort, I finally had their CD in my hands! I will never forget it either. It was the spring of 1994 by then (Lacquer was actually released in Sweden in 1992) and I was in seriously dark doldrums. In my car I had a 120 minute cassette that had been playing for months that consisted of Labradford’s Prazision LP on one side and The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa’s Free-D Soundtrack on the other. If anyone reading this knows these albums, they will know that neither album would fit onto a 60 minute side, and that there’s not a lot of joy involved. The choices were either an endless, tuneless drone or nature sounds on top of a different drone. No one who rode in my car wanted to hear it, and by the time they would be free of my car, they would feel as bad as I did. It was either that, or hearing
Boston and their spaceship rock the world on every radio station. Anyway, the day after my new Popsicle and Easy CDs arrived in the mail; I listened to them both and felt a surge of life spark through me. I recorded these two albums onto a new tape for the car. But it was the next day, when the first sign of spring time appeared with a glare of sun through my blinds and I decided to call in to work and tell them I needed the day off. For the first time in eons I felt inspired and energized and I wanted to live life again! Portland
As I listen to Lacquer right now, I am amazed at how much fire they packed into their performances. The comparison to Ride and My Bloody Valentine are apt, though they lean more on the early Ride pop rushes a la “Like a Daydream” or “Taste.” Twelve of these 13 songs are filled with layers and layers of shimmering and shredding guitar work and busy as can be drumming. Yet, even though these in-the-red guitars are pushed so far into the high end that it can hurt one's ears, they are so tuneful and the songs are so damn catchy that it only makes me want to turn it up louder. Every song is loaded with shimmering melodies and fantastic breathy background harmonies and even though I’m not always sure what they’re singing about, I find myself singing along no matter what for days after hearing this music. The single “Hey Princess” opens the album perfectly and with its abrupt finish jumps immediately into a Sonic Youth-ish feedback sprawl that starts the short “Popcorn.” “Popcorn” is the perfect song in my little world. It’s fewer than two and a half minutes, is full of all of that aforementioned atonal feedback and also manages to include one of the most infectious choruses I’ve ever encountered. There is a slight chance to catch one’s breath while some bird sounds open “Undulate,” before that driving guitar burst returns with full momentum and carries into another fast breathtaking onrush of energy. This album is relentless, but like the slow fade out closing of the 12th song “Sandy,” these songs are so light on their feet that each song feels like air and it is always a bit of a let down when these 45 minutes come to an end. This isn’t all one big blast of the same song over and over again either. There is some nice variety buried underneath the beautiful noise they create. “Pale Honey” seems to have a layer of some seriously fast mandolin that enhances the chorus with a nervous energy like one might feel when stricken with a new crush. The 7th track “She” is the one truly slow song and acts as an intermission and to set the stage for the more varied second half. More animal sounds open that second half (or side) before jumping back in to the fun of “Template” (“Let’s get out of here / Let’s have some fun / Get nothing done / Let’s disappear”), “True,” and the oddly named “A Song Called Liberty,” which sees the return of that mandolin sound. Next up is “Bird” which is the strangest song of the bunch, but maybe the most immediately accessible (along with the straight forward pop of “Hey Princess”) with its dance shuffle and its silly chorus: “Hey girl I’m okay / I just lose myself in what you say / I don’t know if you’ve seen or heard / I circle around you like a big ole bird”). “The previously mentioned “
” is another hyper catchy crush song that absolutely lifts off into the stratosphere. Finally, the closing “Slow” starts off with quietly strummed guitars and some very casual humming before building into a mid-tempo triumph. This is why Lacquer was my #1 pick for favorite album of 1994, and spawned a flood of Swedish pop bands into my collection like This Perfect Day, HappyDeadMen, Cinnamon and of course, the always amazing Easy. Sandy