Smith & Smith top the WESU Charts!


1. SMITH WESTERNS / Soft Will
2. CURT SMITH / Deceptively Heavy
3. DAFT PUNK / Random Access Memories
4. BOARDS OF CANADA / Tomorrow’s Harvest
5. CFCF / Music For Objects
6. ROBERT POLLARD / Honey Locust Honky Tonk
7. ALL TINY CREATURES / Dark Clock
8. SYNCHRONICE / Countdown – EP
9. JAMES ZOLLAR / It’s All Good People
10. GOLD TOP / “Uh Oh” [Single]
11. MOLLY VENTER AND EBEN PARISER / Goodnight Moonshine
12. ELLIS / Wherever You Are
13. BOZ SCAGGS / Memphis
14. TRAVIS BRETZER / Making Love – EP
15. OXYLICE / Signs (feat. Katie’s Ambition) – Single
16. SPEEDY ORTIZ / Major Arcana
17. JIM JAMES / Regions Of Light And Sound
18. BENNETT & BRUBECK / The White House Sessions
19. BUDDY MONDLOCK / The Memory Wall
20. ALICE GERRARD / Bittersweet
21. ROBOKOP / Therapy
22. BIG STAR / Nothing Can Hurt Me
23. ALEX BLEEKER AND THE FREAKS / How Far Away
24. VARIOUS ARTISTS / Verve Remixed: The First Ladies
25. YAMANTAKA / YT//ST
26. DOUGH ROLLERS / Little Lily
27. HOT CHIP / Dark And Stormy
28. PART TIME / PDA
29. BASS DRUM OF DEATH / Bass Drum Of Death
30. ROSE WINDOWS / The Sun Dogs

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me opened on July 3 at the IFC Center in New York and is now playing throughout the country in select independent theaters. The film is a documentary about one of the greatest bands that never made it big, the unfortunately named, Big Star. The documentary opens with one of the defining moments of Big Star’s career, a concert they played in front of music critics from all over the country, who had gathered in Memphis for the supposed reason of organizing a union of music critics. However, the organizers of this event secretly intended to bring attention to a little known Memphis group, namely Big Star. It worked, at least to some extent. One of the critics interviewed for the film recalls with bemused surprise that she even saw critics dancing at the concert.

Big Star are, in a sense, the ideal pop group for music critics– smart, contagious pop music that you can dance to without feeling embarrassed. Alex Chilton, Big Star’s best known band member once said, “Most of the Big Star stuff was searching for how to get through two verses without saying anything really stupid.” That might be selling the group a bit short. Chilton was notorious for his curmudgeonly attitude toward the band that he would be most associated with throughout his prolific, if scattered, and at times sloppy career. Three years before he died in 2010, Chilton summed up his opinion on the group that he was constantly asked about in interviews: “I’m not as crazy about them as a lot of Big Star cultists seem to be. I think they’re good, but then again, I think Slade records are good, too.” Another critic admitted that Big Star was a group that critics didn’t want to share with the world. Instead, they preferred to keep them for themselves: the little band that everybody liked.

Part of the reason for the group’s lack of success was simply bad luck. Signed to Ardent, a local Memphis label tied to the more well known Stax, the band’s records received distribution by Columbia, but the corporate executives in New York cared little for this pop band from Memphis. They weren’t heavy enough for the ’70s rock scene, and they were from Memphis, a town much better known for its soul music than its rock scene. Though they received rave reviews in places like Rolling Stone, many towns didn’t even carry the band’s records in their stores or give them radio play. In the pre-Internet age, this meant that there simply was no way for the average music fan to hear their music. The band, and in particular, the band’s founder, Chris Bell, desperately wanted the adoration received by their heroes, like The Beatles. That adoration came, but not while the band was still around. In gushing interviews, musicians from bands such as Hot Chip, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Cheap Trick (whose cover of Big Star’s “In The Street” is the theme song for That 70’s Show), R.E.M., and, of course, The Replacements (whose song “Alex Chilton” introduced many of their fans to Big Star) speak of their fondness for the band, and the influence of Big Star on their own music.

Unfortunately, the delayed adoration was little solace for Bell, who left the band after the group’s first record, the hopelessly optimistically titled #1 Record. Bell is the truly tragic figure of the film. Chilton, though far better known, comes off as self-obsessed and spottily brilliant–the kind of guy it might be fun to share a drink with, but not necessarily work with every day (Big Star producer Jim Dickinson recalls at the beginning of the film seeing Chilton tripping on acid as a pre-teen and thinking that he was in for an interesting life– that’s certainly true, but he seemed to lack the emotional depth of Bell). Bell was tormented by several things– first of all by the fact that #1 Record was a flop, selling fewer than 10,000 copies. The reviews, though positive, concentrated mostly on Chilton’s role in the band. Chilton had previously served as lead vocalist for The Box Tops, a more traditional blue-eyed soul group from the late 60s, who had a hit with “The Letter,” a song that features a teenaged Chilton with an almost impossibly deep sounding baritone. Perhaps most significantly, Bell was (probably) gay. This is a fact that is hinted at several times during the film, though never declared outright. His gayness was certainly never referenced in the group’s music, or Bell’s later solo output. Bell’s brother recalls that Chris turned to Jesus, as well as drugs in order to distract himself from issues with his “sexuality.” Coming from a wealthy family in the south during the era before homosexuality became more or less accepted in this country, Bell must have felt deeply guilty (some have even suggested that he was in love with Chilton, though that remains the realm of rumor and hearsay).

In the midst of a deep depression, Bell’s brother took him to Europe, where he took the haunting cover photo of Bell’s lone solo record, I Am the Cosmos. Bell stands with snow covered mountains in the background, looking very cool in a jean jacket and sunglasses, but also lost in his own troubled thoughts. One of Bell’s friends from school tears up when discussing that album’s title track. It is a song that would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Bell was a very serious person, who felt things intensely. Chilton was his opposite. Though Chilton’s song “Holocaust” off Big Star’s last album Third/Sister Lovers may actually be one of the saddest songs ever written, it is a song about lack of feeling, rather than the overflowing feeling that Bell experienced. Bell’s sister admits that she, like Chilton, does not understand the cultish following that Big Star has received since the band broke up. She would rather have her brother alive than the music that he left behind. Bell became a member of the 27 Club (along with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain), dying in a one-man car crash. Perhaps most tragic of all, the local newspaper reported his death as that of the “son of a restauranteur,” rather than the founder of one of the most beloved bands of American rock history.

Big Star’s story is a good one, filled with characters like Dickinson, whose wife sweetly recalls the time that Bob Dylan visited his eccentrically designed trailer park home (complete with Otis Redding‘s “decomposing” grand piano, on which he wrote “Dock of the Bay”) and said, “Jim, you must get a lot of thinking done here,” to which Jim replied, “Bob, I think all the time.” However, the film does not have much ambition to do anything besides simply report the facts. There are no experimental flourishes, or mythologizing, as in the more memorable Rodriguez documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Luckily, the story and Big Star’s music are good enough to stand alone. The most interesting and emotional segments of the film are those dedicated to the lesser known bandleader, Bell. The movie falters somewhat when discussing the years after Bell died, going into unnecessary detail about Chilton’s post-Big Star output. Nevertheless, it’s a film well worth seeing, especially for those interested in Big Star or the history of alternative music.

-Jesse Brent

The Stepkids win the WESU Lottery!

(aka: What decade is this? Fleetwood Mac & ELO in the WESU top 30!)

WESU Top 30 for the week ending July 18, 2013:


1 STEPKIDS / “The Lottery” [Single]
2 BROTHER SUN / Some Part Of The Truth
3 SMITH WESTERNS / Soft Will
4 FLEETWOOD MAC / Extended Play
5 HOUNDS OF FINN / Gravity Pulls

6 CSS / Planta
7 SIMONE STEVENS / The Beautiful Old: Turn of the Century Songs
8 JAMES LEE STANLEY & JOHN BATDORF / All Wood and Stones
9 BETSE ELLIS / High Moon Order

10 GUIDED BY VOICES / English Little League
11 BEPPE GAMBETTA / The American Album
12 LONE BELLOW / The Lone Bellow
13 UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA / II
14 LAURA MVULA / Sing To The Moon
15 DEERHUNTER / Monomania

16 POKEY LAFARGE / Pokey LaFarge
17 BOZ SCAGGS / Memphis
18 CAROLINE DOCTOROW / Little Lovin’ Darling
19 BECK / “I Won’t Be Long” [Single]
20 KARYN OLIVER / Magdalene

21 ARI AND MIA / Land On Shore
22 GOGOL BORDELLO / “Maladrino” [Single]
23 ALEX BLEEKER AND THE FREAKS / How Far Away
24 RONNIE EARL AND THE BROADCASTERS / Just For Today
25 ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA / Live

26 VAMPIRE WEEKEND / Modern Vampires Of The City
27 HOT CHIP / Dark & Stormy
28 SHANE ALEXANDER / Meet Me in the Hurricane
29 BASS DRUM OF DEATH / Bass Drum Of Death
30 SHANNON & THE CLAMS / Dreams in the Rat House

Summer Music Festival Preview

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It’s the middle of July and that means it’s time to bust out the Ray-Bans, grab the picnic blanket, put on your cut-off shorts, lather up in sunscreen and then run around the city holding the picnic blanket as a cape and shouting, “I am BAN-RAY! Here to save the day! Where hast the evil DENIM THIEF gone, and what did he do with the leg-sleeves of my blue jeans?!? Fear my radioactive-proof skin!”

Or, ya know, you could chill at a music festival. Here are a couple picks from throughout the US of A in the next couple months:

Pitchfork

Chicago, IL • July 19-21

Say what you will about Pitchfork as a publication that doesn’t even get what Childish Gambino’s about man, they sure do know how to put together a surprising lineup. Seeing Belle & Sebastian’s names next to R. Kelly is enough to leave you wondering which moments of high school you’re most nostalgic for: burning CDs for sweethearts or awkwardly grinding on strangers. There are plenty of WESU favorites here: Autre Ne Veut, Foxygen, Chairlift, Toro Y Moi, and Lil B have all been featured in our charts or elsewhere on our Music Director’s Blog. Lil B might just retweet you. I’m also gonna recommend checking out Killer Mike, Mac DeMarco, and Swans to round out your festival weekend with some “Hard-Core G Shit,” some goofball rock, and peculiar epic-ness. This fest should be a whole slew of radically different parties happening at the same time, as long as Pitchfork fans manage to take off their cool jackets for a minute and enjoy themselves—something they’re notorious for avoiding.

Gathering of the Vibes

Bridgeport, CT • July 25-28

Right here in our backyard, you’ll find one of the chillest festivals around. If the name “Gathering of the Vibes” didn’t tip you off to this show’s hippy cred maybe the lineup’s massive “TWO LEGENDARY NIGHTS OF PHIL LESH & FRIENDS” top bill should make it clear that GotV is the place to let your inner Deadhead loose. While this festival embraces the jam as an art form it’s also open-minded about the wide variety of grooves and jams available in this day and age: The Roots never fail to get a crowd bouncing with their Philly hip-hop jamz, The Tedeschi Trucks Band should rep the southern rock jam with pride, The Funky Meters will bring classic funk jams, and Fishbone will likely whip out a ska jam or two. Who’s bringing the peanut butter?  Also, if you want to feel old, no matter how young you are, check out the School of Rock All-Stars, a group of 7-18 year old rock stars shredding through classic rock hits. Also, I’m having a hard time figuring out who will be at this festival and also want to see James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation DJ a “Late-Night Rager,” but that will be happening, so cool beans.

Continue after the JUMP FOR FESTS in Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, and NÜ York Continue reading

WESU TOP 30 for week ending July 12, 2013:


1 AOIFE O’DONOVAN Fossils
2 TIM ISMAG Anthem – EP
3 BIG STAR Nothing Can Hurt Me
4 CHASER EIGHT Up And Up
5 BOB ANDY Love Is Sure – Single

6 STEEL WHEELS No More Rain
7 I-OCTANE Stay Above Crime – Single
8 GREGORY PEPPER & MADADAM Big Huge Truck
9 VARIOUS ARTISTS True Blue
10 BARRELHOUSE CHUCK & KIM WILSON’S BLUES ALL-STARS Driftin’ from Town to Town

11 THOMAS SNOW Friends
12 NOISITRON You [EP]
13 VARIOUS ARTISTS Decibels Riddim
14 THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS Nanobots
15 DIRT MONKEY Bussitup – EP

16 SHANNON MCNALLY Small Town Talk
17 BRIAN MCFADDEN The Irish Connection
18 RED TAIL RING The Heart’s Swift Foot
19 DAVID EGAN David Egan
20 ERWIN HELFLER Erwin Helfler Way

21 KARYN OLIVER Magdalene
22 GOLD TOP “Uh Oh” [Single]
23 JAMES COTTON Cotton Mouth Man
24 HOW TO DESTROY ANGELS An Omen
25 SWIM feel

26 ABOUT GROUP Between The Walls
27 DAUGHN GIBSON Me Moan
28 BRIAN IRVING Radiant Things
29 BOSNIAN RAINBOWS Bosnian Rainbow
30 DEADLY GENTLEMEN Roll Me, Tumble Me

WESU TOP 30 for week of July 4, 2013


1 HANS THEESSINK Wishing Well
2 BOARDS OF CANADA Tomorrow’s Harvest
3 BASS DRUM OF DEATH Bass Drum Of Death
4 STEPKIDS “The Lottery” [Single]
5 BREAKTHROUGH FREQUENCIES Temporary Limbs

6 EMILY HERRING Your Mistakes
7 RED TAIL RING The Heart’s Swift Foot
8 MOLLY VENTER AND EBEN PARISER Goodnight Moonshine
9 VINCENT CROSS A Town Called Normal
10 BEPPE GAMBETTA The American Album

11 NELL ROBINSON AND JIM NUNALLY House And Garden
12 DAVID FORD Charge
13 ROSENTHALS Fly Away
14 DARDEN SMITH Love Call
15 BLACK LILLIES Runaway Freeway Blues

16 GENE DUDLEY GROUP Saturday Shifting
17 STOLEN THYME Time Is Possibility
18 ROY BOOK BINDER The Good Book
19 OMAR “The Man” [Single]
20 MARK MULCAHY Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You

21 POST MODERN PANIC Lost In The Patterns
22 MANCHURIANS Big Rhythm
23 DUCKTAILS The Flower Lane Domino
24 IVAN ROSENBERG Oldies And Old Time
25 ROBYN HITCHCOCK Love From London

26 SALVIA PLATH The Bardo Story Weird World
27 MAPS Vicissitude Mute
28 HEAD FOR THE HILLS Blue Ruin Self-Released
29 BOSNIAN RAINBOWS Bosnian Rainbows Sargent House
30 BRIAN IRVING Radiant Things