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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Golden Smog July 6, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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The Jayhawks, Wilco, Soul Asylum, Big Star, Run Westy Run, the Replacements and more – imagine a ramshackle alt-country/roots/rock outfit comprising members of all of those bands.

Imagine no longer, for that describes Golden Smog, a group whose output in various forms has appeared in the 1990s, 2000s and a recent re-reformation. Consisting at various times of Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Jody Stephens of Big Star, Dan Murphy of Soul Asylum, Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run and Chris Mars of the Replacements plus others constitute a dream line up.

My favourite album of theirs is 1998’s Weird Tales, a sprawling but never ungainly album, 15 tracks long. Allmusic suggests that it sounds like each of those from the aforementioned groups are given a shot at presenting their own tracks rather than building to a unitary whole, and there is something to that, but… I think it’s a strength rather than a weakness allowing for a variation in pacing and sound. It may not be entirely cohesive, but it’s rarely dull. Sure, it does like everyone is getting a go, but the quality is high enough that that adds to the effect. And, let’s be honest, only the most forensic listener is going to find them so wildly divergent as to be worthless. Quite the opposite. This is the sound of a group of musicians able to work together and have fun, albeit at times a reflective and melancholy fun.

Something also lends an odd grit to the songs. Perhaps its their supposedly boozy roots in 1980s Minneapolis, where the first incarnation of Golden Smog appeared as a sort of side project and their first record was a covers EP. Tracks like To “Call My Own” and “Looking Forward to Seeing You”, or perhaps most obviously “I Can’t Keep Talking”, nod to rock, are even amped up in places, but they aren’t unsubtle and despite some edging close to power pop or classic rock they always hold something just a little way back as if they enjoy those genres but they’re not going to become overwhelmed by them. There’s also a strand of experimentalism. Keys dabbles with funk rock, to good effect, while there’s an oddly indie sound to some of the other tracks (sadly Keys isn’t available on YouTube). Of course some will trace the Big Star legacy, and that’s true, but… the countryish aspect of the music comes across loud and strong.

And some of the tracks are classics, “Until You Came Along” – a ragged wonder, “Reflections on Me” (with its overt nod to the Replacements although, perhaps ironically, Chris Mars had moved on from Golden Smog before this album), “Jennifer Save Me” and “Jane” spring to mind as examples. It would have been good to have lead female vocals in the mix, Jessy Greene providing violin and backing vocals. But that caveat aside this is album is near perfect in its imperfectness.

One small oddity, I’d wanted to write post on them for years now, but when I went looking in 2009 there were only a handful of live tracks available on YouTube which didn’t give a sufficiently wide impression of the album. Four years later and there’s a much more varied selection, though still not perfect. Sign of the times.

Lost Love

To Call My Own


Reflections on Me

Until You Came Along
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUu7yXDYch4

Jennifer Save Me

Please Tell My Brother

Looking Forward to Seeing You (Live from an Obama rally no less)


Jane

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