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Record Collection Reconciliation 36-40

36. Prefab Sprout - Two Wheels Good - Epic, 1985

Prefab Sprout's Two Wheels Good

Why I Bought It: I saw Two Wheels Good (more widely known by its British name, Steve McQueen) in the dollar bin at Stereo Jack’s Records in Cambridge and vaguely recalled the band name, but I wasn’t buying enough to hit their $10 minimum purchase level for credit cards and only had enough cash to buy the soundtrack to This Is Spinal Tap and Rex’s self-titled debut. When I later learned that it’s a highly acclaimed recipient of a recent 2CD reissue, I made a mental note to venture back over there with a dollar and change in hand to pick it up. (Naturally, I ended up finding the Cocteau Twins’ Blue Bell Knoll and had to charge the purchase.)

Verdict: Due largely to Thomas Dolby’s mid-’80s production values, Two Wheels Good sounds more adult-contemporary pop than anticipated. The songs themselves, particularly closer “When the Angels,” occasionally transcend this sheen, but I found myself losing focus on what singer/songwriter Paddy McAloon is crooning about. Glancing over the lyrics on a Prefab Sprout fan site makes me want to give it another shot, but ironically—given the vinyl fetishism inherent to this project—it also makes me want to hear the acoustic bonus disc from the CD reissue.

37. Roxy Music - Stranded - ATCO, 1974

Roxy Music's Stranded

Why I Bought It: With all apologies to Stranded’s Playboy Playmate cover model Marilyn Cole, Brian Eno’s early solo work acted as my gateway to his previous band’s catalog, not Brian Ferry’s then-girlfriend. I included For Your Pleasure and Roxy Music in the last round of iPod Chicanery and the strength of those LPs prompted me to pick up Stranded at Mystery Train in Gloucester a few months back.

Verdict: Stranded was the first post-Eno Roxy Music LP, but it’s not lacking inspiration. The up-tempo single “Street Life,” the dramatic, multilingual “A Song for Europe,” and the dynamic “Mother of Pearl” are the clear highlights, but side B is consistently great. There’s a bit of drag on side A after “Street Life”—none of the other songs on that side match its energy—but I imagine that my pacing concerns will evaporate with a few more listens. Bryan Ferry’s croon carries a few of these songs, especially “A Song for Europe,” which whets my appetite for his 1985 solo LP Boys and Girls which awaits in the queue.

38. Stars of the Lid - Avec Laudenum - Kranky, 1999

Stars of the Lid's Avec Laudenum

Why I Bought It: After jumping in headfirst with last year’s excellent And Their Refinement of the Decline, I’ve been working my way backwards through Stars of the Lid’s catalog of ambient classical compositions. 2001’s 3LP epic The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid has lingered near my turntable since their astounding performance at the Museum of Fine Arts back in May, but I’ve had my eyes on the vinyl pressing of Avec Laudenum since Record Store Day. The closing of Newbury Comics’ Government Center location prompted a 50% off coupon for vinyl, which I was all too happy to use on Avec Laudenum. (There will soon be a new location in Quincy Market, one that hopefully rivals the Harvard Square and Newbury Street stores in focus and stock.) It will take longer for me to track down SOTL’s earlier LPs, since they’re no longer in print and fetching a premium on eBay, but nothing I’ve heard so far has discouraged me from the pursuit.

Verdict: Avec Laudenum sounds stripped-down in comparison to the two triple LPs that followed it, relying on arcing drones and drifting guitar chords in lieu of strings and brass. Yet this simplicity never seems lacking. Wiltzie and McBride utilize this sonic palette with the utmost subtlety on “Dust Breeding (1.316)+” and “I Will Surround You,” making it nearly impossible to extract particular elements from the flowing warmth of their drone symphonies. In the three-part “The Atomium,” the increasing presence of the guitars signals the concluding swell of the third section and then quickly vanishes, as if the ascent never occurred. When focusing on Stars of the Lid’s reverse artistic progression, it’s tempting to view Avec Laudenum’s soothing minimalism as an appetizer for grander ambience of Tired Sound of Stars of the Lid and And Their Refinement of the Decline. But Avec Laudenum, a five-song LP that comes across as two distinct, ponderous movements, deserves a better fate than to be considered a warm-up lap.

39. Pat Metheny - 80/81 - ECM, 1981

Pat Metheny's 80/81

Why I Bought It: Pat Metheny’s involvement in Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint and Ornette Coleman’s Song X prodded me to pick up a dollar copy of 80/81, although I left behind a good percentage of his late 1970s and early 1980s releases. While I can sign off on a Metheny album with prominent involvement from Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette, my hesitation over his folk-jazz fusion compositions won’t go away until I actually hear one of his records, not a collaboration with a respected peer. 80/81 doesn’t quite qualify as that record, but at least most of these are his compositions.

Verdict: The first minute of “Two Folk Songs” was rather unnerving, as Metheny’s acoustic guitar drives a mid-tempo folk-jazz hybrid into disturbingly light terrain. As the song progressed, however, Jack DeJohnette pummeled away my doubts. His forceful drumming keeps side A from losing focus and pushes Metheny’s acoustic guitar to the background, at least until Metheny gains enough steam to compete. Sides B and C switch to more traditional, less folk-influenced post-bop, including a version of Ornette Coleman’s “Turnaround” from his 1959 LP Tomorrow Is the Question. Tenor saxophonists Dewey Redman and Mike Brecker steal Metheny’s thunder on the lengthy “Open,” spiraling their dueling leads upward in a cacophonous riot as Metheny’s ascending notes only serve as a distraction. Side D returns to the folk-jazz blend of side A, but DeJohnette isn’t nearly as thunderous on these comparatively laid-back tracks. “Every Day (I Thank You)” and “Goin’ Ahead” give Metheny’s layered guitar tracks center stage, but lack the energy of the previous three sides.

80/81 essentially succeeds in spite of Metheny, since the contributing players give far more spirited performances. It’s not difficult to see his approach for this record—bring in acclaimed jazz musicians, do one LP of folk-jazz fusion to demonstrate his particular take on the genre, do one LP of post-bop to lure in the purists and prove his mettle in a more traditional context. Yet 80/81 doesn’t sell me on Metheny’s own compositions when they’re highlighted in the mix (side D), so an album I largely enjoy ultimately does nothing to encourage me to check out Metheny’s personal discography.

40. Bullet Lavolta - The Gift - Taang!, 1989

Bullet Lavolta's The Gift

Why I Bought It: Future Chavez guitarist and Joy Ride screenwriter Clay Tarver started out in the Boston-based Bullet Lavolta, so I was more than willing to grab their debut LP for a dollar. Grabbing it, sure; listening to it, no. The Gift has been lurking in my record collection since I grabbed it (along with a few Volcano Suns LPs and a few less noteworthy albums) at a record fair in Champaign.

Verdict: Whereas Chavez’s riff-driven indie rock had hints of traditional hard rock but never succumbed to the genre’s vices, Bullet Lavolta are neck deep in hard rock bluster. Whether it’s because this material hasn’t aged well, it lacks the visceral jolt of the live setting, or my taste for throttling hard rock doesn’t meet the dosage, The Gift simply doesn’t hit squarely. Tarver and Ken Chambers attempt to find the midpoint between the breakneck pace of 1980s hardcore and the righteous shredding of early Van Halen on tracks like “X Fire,” “Sneer,” “The Gift,” and “Trapdoor,” but never sound as inspired as their source material. Vocalist Yukki Gipe wails and sneers on most tracks, but on “Birth of Death” tries to appropriate the guttural incantations of death metal with curious results, not exactly the intended effect. A reviewer on Amazon writes that if Bullet Lavolta existed in 1994 instead of 1989, they would have been a huge act in the midst of the alternative revolution, but I’ll take that prompt a different way. If Bullet Lavolta existed in 1994 instead of 1989, the weaker tendencies in their sound—the hard rock bluster, in short—would have been antithetical to the times and they likely would have been a more appealing band. Thankfully, Chavez’s mid 1990s existence saves me from worrying too much about Clay Tarver’s squandered potential.