Meredith Sheldon recommends Electrelane

Meredith Sheldon (photo by Angie Marr) and Electrelane

Meredith Sheldon (photo by Angie Marr) and Electrelane

Meredith Sheldon’s artist recommendation: Electrelane is one of my favorite bands. They’re an all girl band from Brighton, England that have been going for a while but it’s rare for me to run into other people that know of them, at least here in the States. I think they meld a pensive, thoughtful vibe with a raw, rocking edge in a really beautiful way. When I listen to them, especially walking around or in the car, I get that wonderful thing where the soundtrack makes you feel like you’re watching your own life happen — I feel the emotion of the music washes over everything, suffuses the goings on with a true feminine tenderness, while this undercurrent of crunchy, masculine grunge keeps pushing things along…it is in that dichotomy, that contrast, the tension and balancing of the two that I feel the most joy. I like when everything, all emotions feel just on the verge of spilling over in a massive great flood.”

New to Electralane? Meredith Sheldon suggests you start here: “I think No Shouts, No Calls is a good place to start. It’s a great album, their fourth I believe, and the first track is the first track for a good reason…it’s called The Greater Times. I feel like they really came together on this album, bringing forward strong melodies and interesting dynamics. Theres a nice flow to the whole record and quite a lot of space, instrumental sections and whole instrumental tracks. Lyrically it sounds to me like an album of found perspective, like a coming out the other side and reflecting back. It feels really honest. Saturday is another track dear to my heart.”

Meredith Sheldon About our guest author, Meredith Sheldon: Massachusetts based Merideth Sheldon started playing guitar when she was six and went on to play in The Ben Taylor Band and Family of the Year. But the gods that write the ‘this is what dreams are made of’ scripts had other plans for Meredith. Evan Dando of The Lemonheads caught wind of her solo demo material and quickly invited her to open shows for him in the UK. (Ben Kweller has told a similar story where Dando heard his stuff and whisked him off on tour with him. Gotta love Dando!). She didn’t have a band, nor had she performed solo before, but she impressed enough to catch the attention of the legendary Johnny Marr (of Smiths fame). Marr snagged Meredith as his opening act on the current tour of North America and Sheldon continues to hone her sound a series of EPs that she is releasing on Bandcamp. We’re especially loving Saddle Up (hear it below), which she co-wrote and performed with Martha’s Vinyard’s own, Willy Mason. Be sure to keep an eye on Meredith’s web site for the latest info on more EP releases.

Jared Molyneux of The Shivas recommends TodaysHits

Jared Molyneux of the Shivas and James Swanberg of TodaysHits

Jared Molyneux of the Shivas and James Swanberg of TodaysHits

Jared Molyneux’s artist recommendation: “I want to tell you all about one of my favorite bands, TodaysHits (pronounced Today’s Hits) from Chicago, Illinois. The first thing that I usually tell people about the band is that James Swanberg, the principal member of the group, writes, records and posts online to Tumblr one song every day. The second thing is that now, James is nearing his 1,000th day.

I first encountered the band on a trip to Chicago a few years back, only a couple hundred days into the project. At that point the band was just James on the mic and playing a Casio. Soon after it absorbed some guys from some of my other Chicago favorites, Magic Milk and The Sueves, and since then it has grown so that now, aside from keeping to the song a day regimen, they run their own cassette label Tripp Tapes, tour the country, and have upcoming releases on Burger Records, Gnar Tapes and Randy Records.

Now, not only is it impressive to me that they are able to stick to writing a song a day for so long, but also the sheer number of true “hits” that come from the process. You might expect a song a day to produce a lot of filler to just get some material posted by midnight, but that is not the case with a lot of these pop gems. TodaysHits’ particular brand of rock and roll is well suited by many of the aspects of music production that their rapid pace necessitates. A song a day ensures a minimalism in instrumentation with the result bearing heavy resemblance to the 50’s jams that TodaysHits numbers always bring me back to. Also, a song a day means primarily home recording, nothing fancy, which makes it perfect. It sounds the way black and white TV looks, you see everything you need to, nothing more and nothing less. None of this hi-res, hi-fi, hi-def where a mole on Vin Diesel’s ass is visible from fifty yards … no one wants that. All this said, their live performance is even better than the recordings. Their melodies are relentlessly catchy and their lyrics are so clear and relatable that they completely entrance the audience. They don’t play very fast nor very loud, but they manage to get everyone’s hearts beating and feet moving.

I think the spirit of TodaysHits is well illustrated by the image of James’ apartment, which I saw recently for the first time. I knew he had lived there for a while, which is why when I first walked in I was surprised. It’s pretty much empty. It reminded me of the pictures of Syd Barrett in his empty apartment on the cover of Madcap Laughs. That’s when it became clear to me that all this guy does is write songs (both when he is and isn’t slinging bottles at the liquor store down the street). In the middle of the bare living room is a curious five foot tall stack of Olde English boxes. I asked him what they were for and he told me that this was the radio tower from which the hits are broadcasted to the world. This is the only place in the apartment he can get his neighbors’ internet in order to upload the songs. Throughout the course of the project, speaker and headphone jacks have broken, computers have broken, mixes have been done blindly, but equipment breaking never means missing a day.”

New to TodaysHits? Jared suggests you start here: “With TodaysHits, aside from the undeniably catchy stripped down songs that are in extreme abundance, it is the spirit of the whole thing that captures me. See for yourself, you can find all of their songs archived on the TodaysHits Tumblr as well as some favorites catalogued into collections on TodaysHits Band Camp page. Also, look out for their new tape “Gourmet Jerks” out soon on Burger Records and Gnar Tapes and their new 7” on Randy.”

Jared MolyneuxAbout our guest author, Jared Molyneux: When listening to this year’s Music Fest NW broadcast, KEXP broadcasters announced that we’d be hearing a set from their ‘favorite new band.’ Rock Torch HQ sat in a hush waiting for the band name to be revealed. And…it’s…THE SHIVAS, and they killed it at MFNW. We were late to learning about the band, so big thanks to KEXP for schooling us about these guys. They’re garage, surf, harmonized, low-fi, retro and most important of all, fun to listen to. The Shivas (whose name is taken from the Hindu god of destruction and restoration) hails from Portland, OR and recently released a fantastic LP, Whiteout! on K Records. They also impressively won the opening slot on a slew of dates opening for The Dandy Warhols. Now that KEXP has effectively spread the word, you have no excuse – get on board with this very great band. Check The Shivas website for tour info, news and more.

James Greer of DTCV (formerly of Guided By Voices) recommends Hawkwind and Can

James Greer and Hawkwind

James Greer and Hawkwind

James Greer’s artist recommendation: “I’d say that for Hilarious Heaven we were inspired as much by Space Ritual-era Hawkwind as anything else (though there are a bunch of other obvious influences, like early Blondie, Sonic Youth, the Monks, The Who Sell Out, Françoise Hardy, etc. etc.). Guylaine and I talked a lot about how we wanted to do something more ambitious for this record, and she’s always been a big fan of that era of Hawkwind, as well as of krautrock bands like Neu, Faust and of course Can. Can is probably one of my longest-standing influences as a musician. I was briefly in a krautrock-inspired band called Roi in the early 90s with Eddie from Urge Overkill and the late Charlie Ondras of Unsane. We recorded one Can cover and one Faust cover, if I remember correctly. They were each like ten or fifteen minutes long. And we played out exactly once, at CBGB. I don’t know what happened to the recording. I haven’t heard it since. It’s probably terrible. What I like about krautrock is the complexity you can achieve using really simple building blocks, and the kind of trance-like effect that produces. I’m also a fan of the whacked-out lyrics and conceptual stuff that accompanies a lot of the stuff from that era. On Hilarious Heaven, you can hear that influence most directly on How Not To Be and Alpha Waves In a Gelatinous Conductor, although the latter has a significant Black Sabbath influence as well. That’s Guylaine’s thing. She wrote that song. She came up with the drop D tuning riff for the second part and I just played what she told me.”

New to Hawkwind? James suggests you start here: “For Hawkwind, start with Space Ritual. I love the way it sounds, partly because it was recorded live. Also check their album, Lemmy!. If you’re new to Can, maybe start with Ege Bamyasi.”

James GreerAbout our guest author, James Greer: You don’t hear the term renaissance man much anymore, but it fits perfectly for James Greer, a legend of the alternative music scene. James started as a writer for Spin in the ’90s and then joined Guided By Voices as a guitarist/bassist. He then formed a band with Guylaine Vivarat (ex-Useless Keys, Tennis System) called Détective, published two novels (Artificial Light and The Failure) and wrote several screenplays. He’s now back with Guylaine Vivarat in a new band called DTCV, which has put out a couple of EPs and now their full lengther, Hilarious Heaven. Yup, there is mention space rock influence above, but for us, the Guylaine led tunes sound like Chrissie Hynde backed by Superchunk (we know this sounds like a crazy concoction, but give a listen to the remarkable I Was Where Were You below). Greer’s tunes are Pixieish and snarl with humor (in Creative Class Dismissed James remarks, “Greer, you’re killing us here.”) In short, this album is our new love. Be sure to sign up for the band’s Facebook, etc. at the DCTV web site.

Chan Poling of The Suburbs recommends David Bowie (and a bunch of other artists)

Chan Poling and David Bowie

Chan Poling (l) and David Bowie (r)

Chan Poling’s artist recommendation: “Hey folks, Chan Poling here. You may know me from my bands The Suburbs and/or The New Standards and as a composer of songs for the theater and what have you. I’m pleased and honored to be among the artists asked to post here on Rock Torch.

Now, if I’m not mistaken (and I often am) my purpose here is to talk about and recommend an artist or band that I admire and who has influenced me. A band so great I am compelled to share their merits and delights. A sharing of musical passions, a “passing of the torch” as it were. Hence the name of this site: Rock Torch!

We used to play this game more earnestly in high school, when all that mattered was “who you dug.” If your friends didn’t get absolutely high listening to John McLaughlin hit those high bendy notes during Birds of Fire, then they…just…didn’t…get…it. Gee whiz, I still love that record. But that’s not the record I’m going to pass on for my Dear Readers (see? I can cheat, neatly. I wonder how many more awesome records I “can’t” recommend before the end of this thing…).

This is too hard.

Fact is, I think a lot of us “rock” musicians have been influenced by so much: jazz artists, world musics of other cultures (the way Mahavishnu Orchestra channeled Indian music), theater composers (would Bowie be Bowie without Kurt Weill?) and a million other sources. Just think of Nirvana’s dark modal sound and The Doors and Eastern music and you get what I mean.

So, I stretch a little here and thread together an essay on influences at large. People, if I were to pass on a torch of musical influences that torch would be burning bright with the fuel I picked up from a life listening to everything from Miles Davis, to Mozart, Stockhausen, Aaron Copeland to The Beatles, Stones, Joni Mitchell, Bowie, Roxy Music, Iggy, Weirdos, Screamers, Television, Talking Heads, Sex Pistols, to The Strokes, Atmosphere and MGMT!! The list is too long.”

But wait…there is one single artist and album that he holds above all others…: “So, being an honest Midwesterner, I must return to my task. What ONE ARTIST/ALBUM would I recommend?

Listen to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It has the theater, the jazz, the rock, the attitude, the voice, and f***ing Mick Ronson.”

Chan PolingAbout our guest author, Chan Poling: Chan is the leader of The Suburbs, a group that has to rank up there with The Replacements for the comeback act of the year award. Similar to The Replacements, The Suburbs had their start in Minneapolis, but their sound was closer to New Wave than the speedy thrash of the early Mats records. They released their first album in 1978 on Twin/Tone and later had a solid hit with Love Is the Law, earning them marquee opening slots for Iggy Pop and the B52′s. Several albums followed, but the band broke up in 1987, setting up Chan’s solo career in which he released two solo records and scored compositions for a slew of television, film and theater. Poling also formed the group The New Standards with John Munson of Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare in 2005 and released an album of covers with the group. Chan was sure to play Suburbs tunes in The New Standards show, very much keeping alive the legacy of the band that DJ Jim McGuinn called the ‘Midwestern Psychedelic Furs.’ In 2013, The Suburbs reformed, had a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for recording and released the spectacular comeback album, Si Sauvage. Give a listen to the record below and you’ll certainly agree with Jon Hunt of letoile who calls it “…just straight-up entertaining and full-stop great.” The horn packed Turn the Radio On and You’ve Got to Love Her are two of our faves, as is Dumb Ass Kids, a tune that finds Chan and the group looking back on their history with biting humor and awe. As Poling told, “It’s about me talking to our younger selves. We had more than one conversation about how lucky we are to be alive still after the way we used to live.” The band is already prepping a followup record and is playing select tour dates for some very lucky audiences.

* Bonus fact: Chan also played keys on some of the tracks from The Replacements Let It Be album.