Dusted Magazinne, July 2004
Bellingham, Washington native Ken Stringfellow has had a hand in some of the most critically acclaimed pop project of the past fifteen years. He first made his name as co-founder of the Posies. While their crisp power pop tunes were beloved by critics, their label let them go after two records. Stringfellow continued to release records under the name Saltine, and eventually under his own name, including 2001’s Touched (Manifesto). He filled Chris Bell’s considerably large shoes as Alex Chilton’s partner in various revisions of Big Star, a band that was clearly influential in much of Stringfellow’s songwriting. Stringfellow has also toured as a member of REM (appearing on their most recent record), and has worked as a member of Scott McCaughy’s Minus Five. Stringfellow’s latest album, Soft Commands (Yep Roc), is a surprisingly mellow, Bacharach-esque lounge-pop songs.
1. Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter – Until lately, I had been a Seattle resident for some 18 years, and somehow, I had managed to miss seeing Jesse perform with her band. And we were all in the same ‘hood — the very Not -Depressed Ballard. They passed thru my newly adopted home of Paris, in fact in my newly adopted ‘hood, Bastille (the metro line I live on does terminate in ‘Balard’, tho’) and played, to a packed house, some of the most intense, quiet, and beautiful songs I had heard in some time. I usually get squirmy seeing bands when I don’t know the repertoire, or even bands I do love when they play their ‘we just wrote this’ bits (when they aren’t good). But I was able to stand/sit in amongst the other rapt attendees for the 2+ hour show without a trace of discontent. The instrumentation and interplay — acoustic guitar, single-note electric guitar, electrified viola, upright bass and drums is expertly delivered. And Jesse has a marvelous voice—rough enough to keep things from getting precious, but never salty or anything other than gentle and…here’s a word that must come up in her clippings — aching.
Recommended listening: Oh, My Girl (Fargo Rec., France)
2. The Residents – They have written songs about innumerable subjects, from the Bible’s weirdest tales to a parable likening Dick Clark to Hitler. They have reinvented themselves innumerable times, but always within the same orb-capped guises, and with results so cryptic (in their own word) that you can never really be sure what it is they are trying to communicate. Sure, it’s based on song-stories of the Eskimos. Or an urgent need to be in Byzantine Istanbul. They tell you everything, but can you decipher it? If the best art is ambiguous, then the Residents preside over all covers.
Recommended listening: Our Tired, Our Poor, Our Huddled Masses (Rykodisc)
3. Gary Jules – I have a record that I finished earlier this year, coming out in July. And now I hear this record, and I wish that I had made his instead. Thanks, guy.
Recommended listening: Trading Snake Oil for Wolf Tickets (Universal)
4. Snowglobe – Memphis’ best young band? They have two great songwriters, cool instrumentation, and they have the perfect amount of hopeful melancholy, such as that which inhabits most of the music I love. Built to Spill with Calexico’s horns? Sort of, but it’s much better than that.
Recommended listening: Snowglobe (Bardot Records)
5. John Frusciante – When I was in high school in Bellingham WA, the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed at the local university (the opening act was none other than the amazing Snakefinger, who not only performed on many of the Residents’ recordings, but had had a band in the UK called Chili Willi and the Red Hot Peppers!). It was the perfect show for a 16 or 17 year old — punk and what was then called rap mixed with testosterone and rampant silliness. Then Hilel Slovak died, Nirvana happened, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are now more like the .38 Special of our day — AOR stalwarts who grow the right mustache but are more polished than a Marine’s dress shoes. Somehow, after blowing Warner’s coffers on two unlistenable solo efforts, this guy goes off and makes a basic, solid, enjoyable pop-rock record. It’s not supposed to work like that!
Recommended listening: Shadows Collide With People (Warner Bros.)
6. Little Milton – Little Milton is my hero. He’s still going strong, playing wicked guitar thru a monstrous amp, and singing at an almost operatic level. I find him related in delivery and style to B.B. King, but much more real, not showbiz. But let it not be said that Milton can’t put on a show — he’s had over 40 years of experience testifying the blues in public.
Recommended listening: Guitar Man (Malaco Rec.)
7. The Replacements – Remember when this was the ultimate band? And they could deliver 8 songs in 15 minutes, and they were all great?
Recommended listening: Stink (Restless/Twin Tone)
8. Paris – In Paris, DJ nights are a dime a dozen and indie bands charge 25 bucks at the door! It’s crazy!
9. The Soft Pink Truth – This is one of those records I bought for the weird cover, at the FNAC in Paris. And it turned out to be, weirdly enough, weird. I love that.
Recommended listening: Do You Party? (Soundslike Rec.)
10. Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis – You want to hear something really weird? A meticulously made early 1950s recording of a man playing furious ragtime-y tack piano — and amazingly, it was a hit, resuscitating a career that had fizzled 20 years previously and allowing him to tour steadily until his death. Mr. Lewis was rediscovered when a famed jazz record producer found him working at a car wash in Chicago. I love happy endings! And this is my little happy ending — abientot.
Recommended listening: Tidal Boogie (Tradition Rec.)