For anyone arriving here through a random search and getting redirected to this page - apologies. The site was hit by a spammer, who uploaded a php file and a hacked htaccess file that added a bunch of spam pages to the site, containing a boatload of nonsense that the search engines picked up as actual search material.
I wiped out all of their code (a whopping two files), but it's taking weeks for the search engines (particularly Google) to remove all of the dead pages. (Frustratingly, it only took a day and a half for Google to index all of them in the first place.) And the urls were completely random, so it'd take me two days to submit all of the links for removal.
This is (sadly) the second time this has happened. I finally figured out how they got in (they somehow determined the FTP password for the site), so I'm hoping I can prevent it from happening again. Both attacks were orchestrated via the same IP (188.8.131.52), so that's been blocked as well.
In spite of the inconsistency of my posts in the last couple of years, it's probably pretty obvious that I've been listening to more female-vocal music in recent months. I've also aimed a little bit in a more acoustic direction as well.
Two artists have dominated those two areas for me lately. One is Dala, who I caught opening for Matthew Good up in Ontario during his fall acoustic tour. I may go more into detail about them later, but, despite some lyrical issues and the more poppy fare on their recent material, their first album, This Moment Is a Flash, has some incredibly strong songs on it.
But the one whose music has gotten the most attention from me lately is Anna Ternheim.
I first heard of Ternheim in 2005 via a site called Record of the Day. There, labels and managements submit songs for the site's subscribers to check out. (It's not a site I would normally frequent, given it's penchant for Top 40 fare. However, around that time, a member of the Everclear online community noticed that a demo of the song "Glorious" had been posted by someone at Everclear's then-management. It's a version I still prefer to the one that made Welcome to the Drama Club.) At the time, the site was reposting their favorite songs of 2005, including Ternheim's cover of Swedish band Bröder Daniel's "Shoreline".
"Shoreline" was nothing short of amazing. Within the year, I'd snagged "To Be Gone" and her startlingly strong reworking of Fleetwood Mac's "Little Lies". "Little Lies" was a song that I identified with my middle-school years, and her reworking was fantastic - and completely unlike the original.
I poked around for any news about US releases of her material and came up blank. In late 2006, she released her second album Separation Road and its first single, "Girl Laying Down". "Girl Laying Down" is a great song, but something about the out-of-key piano threw me on initial listens. Poking around, I found a so-called "naked version" of the song featuring Ternheim and a(n in-tune) piano. At that point, I discovered something unique about her catalog - for both of her albums, she recorded "naked versions" of many of the songs and released them on a bonus disc in limited edition packages of each album. Most of the tracks featured Terheim accompanied solely by acoustic guitar or piano.
Finally, late last year, I decided to suck it up and order her catalog from an online store in Sweden called Bengans. (When Separation Road was released, it was the site that her website suggested for international orders.) I figured I would get reamed on shipping and taxes, but was shocked to discover that the shipping was reasonable and tax didn't apply for international orders. I went ahead and ordered everything all at once, and the cost was only marginally more than if I'd bought some US-made CDs at full price.
Obtaining her full catalog pointed out one thing right away: many of her best songs are buried on the "naked versions" discs. "Black Widow" was only included on the "naked versions" disc with Separation Road, and was easily one of the best songs in the bunch. And, in many cases, the naked versions of her songs are stronger than their full-band cohorts. For example, while "A French Love" on Somebody Outside is an upbeat song in a 60s spy movie vein, the "naked version", featuring Ternheim on piano, is mind-blowing. To me, the emotional power of the lyrics is lost on the full-band version. (Some might consider the lyrics slightly obvious, but the French chorus - which I immediately understood from my high school classes - makes it work.)
It's a damn shame that the limited edition of Somebody Outside is out of print. There's also a great R.E.M.-ish rock song called "Wedding Song" on her out-of-print first demo CD that rivals many of the songs that she's released since. (Then again, I'm a sucker for good R.E.M.-ish rock songs.)
Having said all of this, I'm not entirely sold on what Decca/Universal is doing with her music in America. They're essentially taking her existing catalog and creating new releases out of the material. (It almost feels like what Capitol did to the Beatles in the 1960s, though in a less-nefarious manner.) The debut EP they released last fall has several solid tracks on it - I prefer the "naked version" of "Lovers Dream" to the two other released versions. (Those two are essentially the same, but one has additional vocals provided by another Swedish singer, Fyfe Dangerfield.) Her cover of "China Girl" is also strong, and "My Secret" is one of the better tracks on Somebody Outside. "Shoreline" is on there as well, but, for some reason, only as a video.
But I'm not quite in love with Halfway to Fivepoints. It's essentially a sampling of tracks from Separation Road and the later Lovers Dream & More Songs for Psychotic Lovers EP, plus "To Be Gone" and "Little Lies". (In fairness, I haven't heard the final version - I've simply organized the songs in order of the announced tracklisting.) On the plus side, they included "Black Widow" and "You Mean Nothing to Me Anymore" from the Separation Road "naked versions" disc, a nice move that proves that Decca went deeper in assembling the disc.
However, to me, Fivepoints feels disjointed. It's trying to show all of her sides, but I'm not sure they work side-by-side in this fashion. The Lovers Dream tracks in particular have a slightly darker vibe than her albums. For instance, the transition from more-produced Lovers Dream track "The Ones They Blame" to the sparse "You Mean Nothing to Me Anymore" feels awkward. And I'm not sure why "Bridges" gets such high billing (and inclusion both here and on the EP).
But there are some real highlights on the record. Apart from the aforementioned "Black Widow" (which has an almost Nick Drake feel), many of my favorites of her catalog (including "No Subtle Men", "Little Lies", and "To Be Gone") are included.
Honestly, though, the main issue for me may be because of my personal preference for Somebody Outside, of which only "To Be Gone" appears on the album. Somebody Outside has much of the same emotional strength of her later material, but features a more upbeat tempo. "Bring Down Like I", "I'll Follow You Tonight", "My Secret", "Better Be", the title track, and, of course, "Shoreline", are all personal faves. I'm hoping that the absence of Somebody Outside tracks on Fivepoints means that Decca might issue that album separately at some point.
It's strange - it's the first time in years that I've dived through someone's entire catalog all at once. (I generally prefer to go one album at a time, just to give each its own fair shake.) But I've really enjoyed this thus far.
I'd say the really interesting thing about Ternheim isn't what's on her albums - it's what she can do alone with a guitar. (I'm completely jealous of her fingering - I typically have to do that with a pick. Though, admittedly, my style is much more strong chords and power, not the lighter touches of hers.)
Don't watch this if it's sunny and you're in a good mood. This works really well about 3am.
For a sunnier mood:
There's actually a ton of stuff on YouTube. (She's got several music videos for her original releases. The "My Secret" video is nice, save for one horrible late 80s / early 90s angle that comes up toward the end.) The solo acoustic stuff in particular is worth the time.
That's where Anna shines. Once you've seen enough open mics at your local coffeehouse, you start to believe that the solo acoustic thing is dead and done. But here's one reminder that it's still possible to move someone with guitar and voice.
She's touring the States in May. Unfortunately for me, not around here.
Clip for Today
Not sure I need one of these, given that the post already has two clips in it, but this performance has recently found its way into my Repeat Listens bin.
It's a performance from the 2004 Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I caught it by accident during last year's induction broadcast on VH-1 Classic; they used older clips to fill time before and after the live performances.
George Harrison was inducted as a solo artist that year, and this song was performed as the final "jam session" that typically takes place each year. A lot of great things happened for this performance. Harrison's Traveling Wilbury bandmates Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne take turns on vocals, with Harrison's son Dhani playing along on acoustic. (Dhani is hard to miss - as everybody points out, he looks eerily like his father.) It also features Steve Winwood on organ. (Traffic was inducted that year as well.)
But the surprise is who takes over at the end. Prince, another 2004 inductee, steps forward and solos the hell out of the last three minutes of the song. I noticed a lot of conflicting feelings among people around the 'net about Prince's performance - many feeling it was too flashy and showy for the song. I don't think I agree with that - the first time I saw the performance, I was blown away. Just seeing the huge grin on Dhani's face as he watches Prince perform sold me on it. As a friend of mine said to me today in reference to this performance, given all of the issues around Prince, it's easy to miss what a solid musician he really is.
Setting Prince aside, I think what makes this performance work is that it feels like this amazing group of performers is putting everything into it for Harrison. I've always been a little hit and miss on the Beatles version of this song (mainly for the awkward mixing and mastering on the White Album), but I absolutely adore this version.
I spent the last years of the 1980s listening to Top 40 radio. By the end of the decade, it was a station called Power 99. In hindsight, I'm not sure how into it I was. Going back through tapes that I recorded during those years, I was stunned by how many songs I didn't recognize. And, honestly, for me, that's a surprise - I can still recall some songs that I heard as a kid that I haven't heard since. But it was still my first choice when I turned on the radio.
By early 1990, I was starting to get dissatified with Top 40. I picked up Michael Penn's March and Midnight Oil's Blue Sky Mining, and starting picking up 45's of songs from the early 80s that I loved. At the time, 80s retro didn't exist, but there I was.
I spent the summer of 1991 diving through the R.E.M. catalog. Nirvana's Nevermind caught my interest at the end of the year, followed by Pearl Jam's Ten the next spring.
In September of 1992, Power 99 debuted a nighttime show called On the Edge. They'd brought in a dj named Will Pendarvis to host it. I remember being absolutely stunned. It was like someone had picked my brain and pulled out some of my favorite songs from the 80s that I hadn't heard on radio in years. It was the first time that songs that I'd put those songs under the same banner - "alternative". Power 99 (and Z93 before it) had played songs like World Party's "Ship of Fools" and New Order's "True Faith", but I'd never done the math to put them together.
Once On the Edge started running, I felt like "our" time had come. The calls the show received said everything I wanted to say - how much I loved the idea, and how much I wished the station would play that kind of music all day long.
Within the month, Power 99 announced that they were changing formats. They teased it without specifying what the new format would be. But I knew, and I was excited. Monday, October 26th, 1992. It was scheduled to happen at 12pm. I made sure to be in the Senior lounge to hear it.
And so it debuted: 99x.
Within weeks, it was like everything had turned on its head. It seemed like every time I walked into a record store (particularly Turtle's Rhythm and Views on Peachtree), I was greeted by new and interesting music. Alternative music more or less became my obsession.
A year later, when I went to college, I was disappointed to discover that what I was accustomed to hearing on the radio simply didn't exist in the area. My dormmates found me to be a good bit of an oddball. They loved classic rock (and specifically, for some reason, Billy Joel) and found my obsession a little off-putting. During the first break home, I recorded as much of 99x as I could. Every now and again during the rest of that school year, I'd send an email through Prodigy (the closest thing to the Internet before Internet usage was widespread) to 99x midday dj Steve Craig to find out what the latest songs were. I also somehow convinced my mother to tape the weekly airing of 99x's Live X, where bands would perform half-hour in-studio (usually) acoustic sets.
Within a couple of years, alternative stations started cropping up nearby, from 106.5 The End in Charlotte to 106.5/104.7 The Buzz in Richmond to 94.5 in Greensboro. Unfortunately for me, you couldn't actually hear any of these on campus. But it showed me that tastes were changing.
My junior year, I noticed that the freshmen knew alternative music. I was no longer (as much of) an oddball.
Every time I was home, I found my dial back on 99x. It wasn't just the music, though. I loved what the dj's brought to the station. There was an odd quirkiness across the board - the station wasn't just a playlist with announcers. The epitome of that quirkiness was dj Sean Demery and his Friday afternoon show, the Swinging Velveeta Lounge.
I remember turning on the radio one afternoon in 1997 and hearing The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony". The song ended, then started again. Demery popped in, sounding audibly affected, explaining that the song had struck him personally. It turned out that he'd locked himself in the studio, and ended up playing the song seven times in a row. (Rumors abounded that Demery had had a nervous breakdown, but radio folks believed it was simply a stunt to get the song and the band some attention.)
By the end of the 1990s, my tastes began to shift. I was more and more exposed to indie music, and 99x began to shift more toward pop-alternative fare. It was still my station of choice, but some of the shine had worn off. The quirkiness began to disappear as well.
As the new decade began, the station turned its focus on the new nu-metal sounds. It's ratings were never better, but the music was awful. They dumped it a few years later, returning more 90s alternative to the playlist, but the damage had already been done.
This Friday, January 25th, marks the end. After fifteen years, 99x is going off the air. (Okay, for sake of full disclosure, it will still survive as a streaming Internet station and on HD radio - but just as music, without dj's. It's more of a modest effort to keep the brand going.)
I'm a little bit split by it. Despite my declining interest in the station, that part of me that was so attached to it in the 90s still enjoyed having those reminders active, particularly when Demery returned to the station in late 2006. But the realist in me knew that it wasn't the same. It hadn't been a quirky tastemaking station in a long time.
I remember when WDRE in Philadelphia and WHFS in DC went off the air, and thinking of what a travesty it seemed. And I remember the disappointment at seeing so many alternative stations slowly drop off the air across the country.
But this, to me, feels like an understandable passing. All things have their time and place, and I think 99x's time has passed.
But it's been one heck of a ride. The station had a pronounced influence on my tastes in the 1990s, and, for that, I offer my gratitude.
Yesterday, I threw in one of those tapes from 1993. And it felt good. It reminded me of everything that I loved about 99x in its day. I even found a couple of songs I didn't recognize. Not sure how that happened.
Clip for Today
That particular tape of 99x from 1993 included a story that a concert by The Sundays had collapsed into an on-stage brawl. The band cancelled the remainder of their tour, and rumors were starting that they might break up. (They ended up taking a hiatus, returning with 1997's Static and Silence.) After telling the story on-air, 99x dj Steve Craig followed it up with this song, which seems pretty fitting for this post: