Musical Picks from Ken Stringfellow – 1999


I had all the way until Thursday to type up my next review; it seemed like an eternity It seemed like an eternity, that is, until it occurred to me at two o’clock this morning that today was Friday.

I sucketh.

At any rate, this week’s review isn’t even a “review”; it’s a feature. Or a quasi-interview. Or just a recommendation. Whatever — it isn’t a review.

A few days ago, I had the joy of talking to Ken Stringfellow, my favorite musician — formerly of the Posies, currently of Saltine and touring with REM — on the phone. It was one of those moments of random chance in which you realize that life is incredibly fantastic and now-or-never, and that yes, there really are no coincidences.

And with that realization comes also that overwhelming understanding of how much you really love all this music, and it renders you speechless and makes you use the word “amazing” too many times.

During the course of this conversation, Ken recommended a number of different bands and their albums to me. He’s been on tour with REM all summer, giving him the opportunity to see many of these bands live as openers. When I asked if he had any favorites as of late, he was definitely enthused about the following:

The Scud Mountain Boys — Massachusetts

The name Ken mentioned first, The Pernice Brothers, is the current project of frontman Joe Pernice…the Scud Mountain Boys are its predecesessor. I’m not sure if they’re still together or not, but I do know that this album, in particular, definitely got raves — “This album is just really great — are you writing this down?”

Yes, I was…though I did forget to write the name of the album and had to look it up. However, I’m glad I did, as it enabled me to read the kind of information that attracts me to a band:

(from the UBL website:)

“…But the bandmembers soon tired of hauling equipment around, and found they much more enjoyed the after-show get-togethers playing acoustic country songs around the kitchen table at home. Finally they decided to haul the kitchen table to a club. Finding the response positive, they’ve kept with the new format.”

The paragraph refers to the end of the Scuds’ “electric rock and roll” sound…I find it endearing. But I guess that’s just me.

Young Fresh Fellows — Electric Bird Digest

These guys were around for quite some time before their hometown of Seattle suddenly turned into a musical mecca, but they’re one of those bands that no one seems to have heard of, despite their fame in indie-rock circles and Japan. You may even have seen them featured in the hilarious* documentary, “Hype!” YFF frontman Scott McCaughey and Stringfellow have been friends for quite some time, as evidenced by the magical collaborations of their work in the Minus Five. Also in the Five is/was REM guitarist Peter Buck, which helps lead all three men to their present cushy luxury on REM’s latest tour.

The YFF have a long discography, but Ken assured me this was their best. Personally, anything that’s called Electric Bird Digest sounds good to me.

Suede — Suede

Suede opened for REM during a leg of their European tour, and they’re good. To be honest, that’s all I can really remember Ken saying. I’ve actually heard many good things about them myself, though.

Damien Jurado — Rehearsals for Departure

“This is a really fantastic album, and the production is brilliant.” That comment I remember, particularly because (of course) Ken produced the album. Sienna found this guy one night while searching for something or other, and she mentioned it to me as “Hey, Sarah, this album was produced by Ken!”

That wasn’t too surprising…we all know by now that Ken Stringfellow is a very busy man. Anyway, everything I’ve heard about this album has been great, and Ken confirmed that opinion.

Teenage Fanclub — A Catholic Education

Everybody loves Teenage Fanclub. Their name gets bandied around in power-pop discussion nearly as much as that of pop legends Big Star, and usually the two end up in the same sentence. At any rate, TFC earn every bit of press they get. A Catholic Education is their first effort, and, in Ken’s opinion, their best. Having heard a good portion of their other stuff and liked it [their song, “Mad Dog 20/20”, is included in my review of DGC Rarities, Vol. 1], I’m actually quite eager to hear how great A Catholic Education truly is.

Mercury Rev

No album in particular was mentioned, but Ken did say that he watched Mercury Rev nearly every night opening for REM. Their spot with REM, in particular, has given them a bit more press lately, and everything I’ve heard has been good. Granted, my idea is “press” is what I hear from the Dear 23 mailing list, but those folks have great taste in music; I’ve never been steered wrong. And what Posie fans listen to, it seems, is also what Posies listen to. I’m definitely curious to hear what these guys sound like.

Wilco — Summerteeth

Yes, everyone has heard of Wilco. Sprung from the alt-country loins of Uncle Tupelo and grown in the veins of country, pop, and a little bit of rocking, Wilco is one of the most talked-about bands of the last few years. Their sophomore effort, Being There, not only is named after a truly great book/movie, but also appeared faithfully in nearly every top ten list of 1996.

Apparently, their latest, Summerteeth, is every bit as great. As I write this, I’m actually kind of ashamed that I’ve never heard Wilco; it’s kind of strange for me not to have run into them one way or another. It was funny, in a way: “Oh, you know what’s really great? The new Wilco!”

And there it was: another Wilco mention. Much as I shy away from any “alt-country” label, I think this is really an omen. Listen to Wilco or perish, they’re all telling me.

Well, maybe I will.

It’s hard to write about music you have yet to hear, but you have to know it’s there before you can listen to it. That’s part of why Sienna and I developed Under the Influence, and that’s why I asked Ken Stringfellow what he’s been listening to in the first place.

Besides, it’s not as if that sort of opportunity comes along often. But someone once told me that there are no coincidences, and I think that’s true. And as much as I believe in his motto, I also believe in his musical recommendations.

Maybe you should, too.