RECORD STORE TALES #1064: Losing California (and Hair)
2023 has been a very hard year. It was a brutal winter, as I’ve said many times, like a broken record. It has been a year of loss, and it’s not even half over yet.
What have I lost so far?
In January, I said goodbye to one of my oldest friends. It was my choice to say goodbye, and I have no one else to lay responsibility on. The relationship had changed and suffered some serious fractures over the previous year. I felt that it was best to say goodbye before it got even worse for me. I still feel that was the right decision, though I regret how it ultimately went down. In May, I took a break from one of my newest friends, in the hope that time can heal deep wounds on both sides. I feel a huge loss. I will have to spend some time writing and reflecting on this loss down the road.
I’ve even lost my hair. Last year it didn’t look like this. That’s how hard 2023 has been. I have really aged in the last few months. I look 10 years older than I am.
I have a grandma who has lost her ability to live at home. She’s now lost her home of over 50 years, and is adjusting to a new life. Her first new home found her with a roommate that made her cry. Who makes a 98 year old woman cry? My heart was broken that day. She is in a better home now, though further away.
I have an uncle who is no longer taking care of himself and can’t remember yesterday thanks to Alzheimer’s. Talk about loss. Unfathomable loss.
But we keep on keeping on.
I’m drinking less soda.
I’m walking every day.
I’m losing weight, which is one loss that I don’t mind.
One thing I would like to lose in my life: lies – both to, and from me.
The summer will continue, and nothing will stand in my way. I will absorb these losses and move on. As I always have.
You hit rock bottom and everybody knows it But does anybody care how you got there? Admit to yourself that everything’s a problem But when it comes down what do you care?
They’re losing California Inch by inch, sit back and watch it go. Coming in clearly Dance, dance, dance to the radio.
And everybody loves it but Nobody knows what it stands for. Get into yourself in dark sunglasses And elevate it all ’til it means more.
And move out to California Inch by inch is all you need to go. Coming in clearly Dance, dance dance to the radio.
Sometimes it’s too much You want to get right out of your mind. Sometimes it’s too much You’re gonna go right out of your mind.
You hit rock bottom and everybody knows it But does anybody care how you got there? Admit to yourself that everything’s a problem But when it comes down what do you care?
Sometimes it’s too much You want to get right out of your mind. Sometimes it’s too much You’re gonna go right out of your mind.
California Inch by inch, sit back and watch it go. Coming in clearly Dance, dance, dance to the radio. California Inch by inch, sit back and watch it go. Coming in clearly Dance, dance dance to the radio.
RECORD STORE TALES #923: The Dead 90s (A Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list)
I think it was around 1995 that I really gave up into the ’90s.
What do I mean by this? It’s simple. In late 1991, there was a sea change in rock music. The old guard was suddenly unhip, while a new unkept kind of rock was surfacing in Seattle. Within three years, classic rock bands such as Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Poison, Ratt, Whitesnake, and even the once-bulletproof Guns N’ Roses were in some sort of decline, losing key band members or just breaking up completely. They were replaced on the charts with a swath of new bands, from Nirvana, to Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Rock had been on such a high in mid-91 with #1 albums by Skid Row, Metallica, Van Halen and more. It only took months for the landscape to darken. But really, the warnings were in place well back in ’89.
It was a disorienting change and it got to a point in the middle of the decade where my favourite bands were dropped, broken up, or transformed. Bon Jovi survived this period unscathed, losing only the inconsequential Alec John Such. They were one of the few exceptions. Motley Crue put out a killer record with their new singer that was criminally panned at the time by its critics and many longtime fans. Winger couldn’t catch a break. Some of the bands that did put out records in the 90s released sub-par trash. Quiet Riot: guilty with Down to the Bone. Judas Priest: Jugulator. Dokken: Shadowlife. Unless your name ended with Jovi, it seems like every old guard rock band put out albums that were crap, sold like shit, or both. Then, half of ’em broke up.
What was a metal head to do? Still buy the old bands’ records and hope for the best, yes, but when you’re buying so much shit on a wing and a prayer, you start looking for something else. I had to open my heart to some newer bands that, I felt, had something in common with the old.
Here is a list of 11 bands that made their way in.
1.OASIS. I still love those first three records, and all the B-sides that came along with the tide. My mom got me into the Beatles, and while I never bought into that “the new Beatles” crap, I did like that Oasis brought back some of what I liked about the fab four. They were the only Brit Pop band I could put my heart behind. Not metal at all, but Lars liked ’em. They had guitar solos at least.
2.GOO GOO DOLLS. Right around the time of “Slide” and “Broadway”, I let the Goo Goo Dolls into my life. They reminded me of Bon Jovi without the bombast (and the solos). They would have to do during the time when I needed a surrogate Jovi, which happened in the late part of the 90s when Jon released the stinker Destination Anywhere. Goo Goo Dolls nailed the lovestruck acoustic/electric vibe that was once a Bon Jovi strength.
3.THE BARSTOOL PROPHETS. Amazing Canadian band that could have been the next Tragically Hip. The Prophets might have been a little more hard edged, and I identified with their lyrics more than the labyrinthic words of Saint Downie. T-Trev was a fan and he recommended I give ’em a try, and I have loved them since.
4.sandbox. A band that did not win me through a friend or a music video, but through the live experience. Opening for the Barenaked Ladies, sandbox (all lower case) were a bit gloomier and heavier. But there was also something magical about their songs “Curious” and “Lustre”. They soothed my soul when I was lonely. Later on, I found out that guitarist Mike Smith was on a television show called Trailer Park Boys…
5. THE PRODIGY. Who didn’t buy Fat of the Land in ’97? It was a good album and Crispian Miller from Kula Shaker had lead vocals on one track. This new heavy brand of electronica had hooks and a rock-like vibe. It was like dance-y industrial rock. I could dig it. They even had a guitar player named — no word of a lie — Gizz Butt.
6.THE TEA PARTY. I couldn’t get into Splendor Solis; I foolishly dismissed the band as a Zep clone. I came to my senses on their third album The Edges of Twilight. The Zeppelin comparisons were obvious (and I didn’t care about the Doors), but who else was making music like this anymore? Nobody. The Tea Party would do!
7.SLOAN. It was not until their fourth album Navy Blues that Sloan scratched the itch. Yes, I was a late comer. Yes, I got into them during their commercial peak. But the truth is it was really their double live 4 Nights at the Palais Royale that really nailed it. One of the best live albums since the mighty Kiss Alive. The comparisons don’t end there, as both bands feature four lead singers — a configuration I always enjoy. (Hello, Goodbye, Beatles!)
8. RANCID. Incredible band, two lead singers, and one great album that just slayed me. Many of the rock bands I liked, such as Guns and Motley, extolled the merits of their punk rock backgrounds. Just as Zeppelin and ZZ Top encouraged me to check out Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Nikki Sixx pushed the Pistols on me. Rancid were much better than the Pistols, but they had the same snot in their noses. Rancid brought with them the ska and reggae side, which appealed to me immediately.
9. OUR LADY PEACE. For one album, anyway. Maybe it was Arnold Lanni that made this band buzz for me, but they were really a single album group. Naveed is a monster. Jeremy Taggart was a good enough drummer for Geddy Lee! It had some things in common with hard rock, like loud guitars. I could build them a bridge into my heart.
10. LIVE. I maintain that everybody bought Throwing Copper in 1995. This band just had tremendously broad appeal. Unusually, every song was up to the same lofty level of quality; no duds, all keepers. A number of strong singles led to massive radio and video play, but no followup album of the same stature ever emerged.
11.NINE INCH NAILS. I was just starting to get into Nine Inch Nails. The Downward Spiral is my album when it comes to this band. They took such a long break after it that I lost interest. What I liked were the riffs built from noise, the layered approach, the angst, the self-loathing, and the anger. The album is still is trip to play, but I have never liked “Piggy” or “Closer” and think them a bit contrived. Admirable though that the video for “March of the Pigs” is 100% live, music included.
Although there were many good albums made by metal bands in the 1990s that I have not mentioned, it was not enough for a music addict. I needed to expand my horizons or remain stuck in the past. There were more — Ben Folds Five, Steve Earle, Robbie Williams, Mel C. (yes that Mel C.) and Tonic to name a few. Anything that had some kind of integrity of connection to the rock music I loved. Ben Folds didn’t even have a guitar player, but his music rocked nonetheless. These were all great picks to sample some of the best of the 90s. Have a listen.
Storm Force’s debut album goes straight to #1 on their very first appearance! No surprise here. I’ve been raving about this disc since February and I owe it to Superdekes for putting these guys on my radar in the first place. This is a well-deserved #1. Age of Fear is an uplifting album with depth. It’s a thoughtful, heart-pounding blast of classic hard rock.
Deep Purple’s Whoosh! and AC/DC’s PWRUP prove two things: old dogs that both learn and don’t learn new tricks can all be champions. (I call this theory “Schrödinger’s Dog”.) Deep Purple’s growth continues while AC/DC managed to tap into the vein of success that always worked for them. Both records deserve their spots in the Top 3.
It was a thrill for me to learn that Dennis DeYoung both read and enjoyed my review of his newest album 26 East Vol 1. It’s a terrific, Styx-like conceptual work that will please the old fans. As will the new albums by Harem Scarem and Stryper, who didn’t stray far from their successful classic hard rock formulas. Kim Mitchell and Sven Gali on the other hand dared to be different. Kim went laid back and acoustic, while Sven Gali went with their heaviest uninhibited inclinations. As for Mr. Bungle, it has been 21 years since their last album California. All four Bungle studio albums are completely different from one another — four different genres. For The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, they teamed up with Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo to re-record their first thrash metal demo tape. And it could be their best album since the self-titled debut in 1991. Not bad for a bunch of songs they wrote in highschool.
Corey “Mother Fuckin'” Taylor makes his debut on any list of mine with his solo album CMFT. It’s a surprising collection of commercial hard rockin’ tunes. Also appearing for the first time is Now Or Never (NoN) with their third album called III, featuring singer Steph Honde. It’s an excellent, dramatic metal album with light and shade.
Ultimately whether or not you liked the new Ozzy, its success or failure falls at the feet of producer/guitarist Andrew Watt. He is already working on the next Ozzy album, so….
Huge thanks to T-Bone Erickson for the “LeBrain Train” theme song, which amazingly and unexpectedly became the song of the year in 2020! Weird how that happened. No bias here I assure you.
Finally, Wolfgang Van Halen finally released his first solo music under the name Mammoth WVH. The non-album single “Distance” is dedicated to his late father Eddie. Though musically it’s a modern power ballad, the lyrics and especially the music video evoke serious emotion. Well done Wolfgang. Can’t wait to check out his album in 2021.
There were a lot of cool rock releases in 2020, so we need more lists! Of course the brilliant new live Maiden deserved some loving attention. Meanwhile, Sloan, Def Leppard and Thin Lizzy have continued to put out quality collections of rarities & unreleased material, well worth the time and money you’ll spend on them. The Sloan collection is a vinyl exclusive and the first in a series of LPs re-releasing some of their B-sides and non-album and bonus tracks. Finally, Metallica delivered the goods even without Michael Kamen on S&M2, a very different live set than the first S&M. That’s the way to do it!
It’s naive to assume that major touring and concerts will return in 2021. This appears highly optimistic at present, with Covid still ravaging the landscape and vaccinations only just beginning. Instead of looking ahead at things like the resuming Kiss tour, or the Motley Crue reunion, we should continue to put our faith in new music.
Accept have a new album due January 15 intriguingly titled Too Mean to Die. It is their first without bassist Peter Baltes. Steven Wilson has a new record out at the end of that month. In February we get new Foo Fighters, The Pretty Reckless, Willie Nelson and Alice Cooper. Greta Van Fleet, Weezer, Rob Zombie, Ringo Starr, and Thunder will be back soon too. Many other bands are writing and recording without an announced due date. Ghost, Marillion, Scorpions, Megadeth and even Ratt are hard at work to make next year suck a little less. Support the bands by buying the music.
Though those without the syrup of the Mighty Maple flowing through their veins might not be familiar with Sloan, there are some who consider the east-coast quartet to be Canada’s greatest rock band. With four writers / singers / instrumentalists, it’s an argument with some merit. Though some say they are too sloppy live, in the studio they have some truly shining diamonds. Some of those gems aren’t even from albums.
1995 was a difficult time for Sloan. After receiving no support from Geffen for their shoulda-been breakthrough album Twice Removed, the band either broke up, or were about to break up, or considered themselves broken up even though they weren’t. The double A-sided “Stood Up” and “Same Old Flame” single comes from this murky period in their timeline, released on their own label murderecords. (In Japan, these two songs were included as bonus tracks on their third full length CD, One Chord to Another.)
“Stood Up” is a Chris Murphy number with a catchy tremolo guitar hook. The lo-fi recording is so tasty. Sloan’s usual vocal harmonies create the melodic blend you expect, but that relentless guitar groove is center stage. Not dark, but shady, with energetic shouts. By contrast, Patrick Pentland’s “Same Old Flame” is light and upbeat. The fun verses set up a more plaintive chorus, all danceable. Though both songs are equally strong, it’s “Same Old Flame” that you will singing and tapping your feet to.
For only $7, I found this single at yet another record show in Guelph with my buddy Peter. Today it sells for twice that. Though I hoped to find more than just one Sloan single that day (“Rhodes Jam” still eludes me), at least I left with what I came for. A great single for any Sloan collection, big or small. An essential one in fact, now that everybody is into vinyl again as their primary format.
SLOAN – “Kids Come Back Again at Christmas” / “December 25” (2016 murderecords 7″ single)
This record arrived at LeBrain HQ almost a year ago — too late to include with last year’s Christmas reviews. So, not only did I wait until today to review it, I actually waited until today to even open it! This record is courtesy of James from the KMA, a superfine guy who always hooks me up with the latest Sloan rarities. This 7″ single released on murderecords certainly qualifies.
The record is packaged not only with a download code, but also four unique Christmas cards and even little red envelopes for them. I would never deface these collectables and send them out; to me they are part of the single. Each card has a relevant Sloan lyric inside, such as “I’m just walking around, I made that snowsuit sound.”
Both seasonal songs are originals. Chris Murphy takes the first lead vocal on “Kids Come Back Again at Christmas”, a bright piano-based Sloan number. Bells and chimes make it sound seasonal, but otherwise it’s good old mid-tempo Sloan pop rock. “December 25” is led by the vocals of Jay Ferguson. Jay’s material is often laid back and more contemplative. Both tracks have certain Sloan trademarks, such as strong melodies, backing vocals, and an old-fashioned no-frills approach. All instruments are played by the band, with nothing extraneous added like you often find in Christmas rock tunes.
Two catchy songs, a cool limited edition package, and vinyl. Sounds good to me.
GETTING MORE TALE #616: None of My Exes Live in Texas (But One Lives in Thunder Bay)
“You’re going to meet a lot of girls here.” — The Boss, at The Record Store, summer 1994.
Here’s the sad fact of the matter. Even though it was promised to me like some kind of perk, I didn’t meet any girls at the Record Store.* That perk was as non-existent as 15 minute breaks.
Here’s another sad fact. I was absolutely pathetic at talking to girls. It’s too embarrassing to think about, but if I ever do psychiatric regression to recall all those painful memories, you could write a pretty hilarious comedy movie about my exploits back then. The working title would be The 20 Year Old Virgin. It would be something along the lines of Swingers but with a nerd as the lead character. A heavy metal sci-fi geek.
I just needed the times to catch up to me. When the internet became popular, the nerds became the kings. I was always better at talking when I have a chance to write and think about words. Email was perfect. Otherwise I used to get flustered and just flat-out say stupid things, usually trying to be funny. I began online dating in 2000. Trevor was always willing and able to help me out with advice, but regardless, the first couple years of online dating were epically awful. I can distinctly remember a Christmas card that Trevor gave me. It had a timeline illustrating the 13 “Crazy Exes” I’d accumulated so far.
“Hey, that one wasn’t crazy,” I protested as I pointed to one near the middle.
I can’t remember all the names. The detail I remember most is what city they lived in.
First was Waterloo, then came Hamilton #1. She was nice, Hamilton #1. She was originally from Prince Edward Island, and her cousin was Paul MacAusland of the rock band Haywire. I saw Haywire open for Helix in 1987. My first date with Hamilton #1 was actually record shopping. I bought two Devin Townsend Japanese imports. She got Paul McCartney’s double Tripping the Live Fantastic. She wasn’t the problem though, Hamilton was. I got severely lost on my way home and had (what I now know was) a panic attack.
Hamilton #2 came a bit later that year. She was better with directions, at least, so I didn’t get lost. She was into music too, but not anything particularly good. She liked…Britney. I’ll admit my interest in her was more physical than otherwise, but we did have an incredible first date. I remember telling Trevor that it was the best first date I’d ever had. The third one, not so much. She took me to her AA meeting. Obviously, that was no place for a date and I should have dropped her off and gone home.
Toronto was a repeat of the situation of Hamilton #1; panic attacks getting lost. That one was a Sloan fan, but she really turned me off when I saw that none of the discs were in their proper cases. Sloan At the Palais Royale had something else in it. The discs were scattered! But she was also a stage-5 clinger and the night I called her to say it wasn’t working out, she didn’t want to let it go. I turned my cell phone off because it was constantly ringing and I was going nuts. I went mini-golfing with some friends from the Record Store to clear my head. When I turned it back on, a friend prank called me pretending to be the ex! That eased the mood of the evening.
I really liked Kingston, and fortunately we’re friends. She was a musician and I even have a copy of her CD that I’ll review one day. My heart was heavy when she moved to Thunder Bay for school. I could do long distance but not that long. That wasn’t the end of the city of Thunder Bay though. The city taketh away, but the city also returneth: Thunder Bay Girl herself, subject of Record Store Tales Part 264: Garbage Removal Machine. She moved here from T-Bay and was into the metal. Motley Crue was her favourite. We’d hang out and watch music videos all night. I gave her a giant box of my old cassette tapes. But if Toronto was a stage-5 clinger, Thunder Bay was stage-6. I had to get out, and she justifiably hated me for it. But she hated me even more for bailing on her when she had to deliver a ferret to somebody. Attempting to be friends, I offered to drive her some place to drop off this ferret. I had to cancel because, as always, the Record Store was insane and I had to work. Having a life was very difficult at the Record Store and the ferret thing was not my fault. She didn’t care, and it was all she needed to hate me forever. She went home to Thunder Bay a little later; that’s why I like to say all my tapes are in a Thunder Bay landfill today.
I’m not innocent through all this of course; I’m sure some of these exes have their own stories. I’ll never claim to be blameless. I just like to tell my tales, because at the end of the day, you just gotta laugh. That’s how you ultimately get over shit. Laughter, and music.
Fortunately the last online lady I ever met was Brampton. Her real name is Jennifer, but today she just likes to be called Mrs. LeBrain.
*Confession time! There was one girl that worked at the Cambridge location that I liked, so I invited her out to dinner and then over for a movie. I was living with T-Rev at the time, who worked with her in Cambridge. Well I was so bored on our “date” (IT WAS NOT A DATE, TREVOR! IT WAS A HANG-OUT!) that I went to bed early and she hung out with Trev for the rest of the night! “Very awkward!” according to Trevor.
Holy craaap! It’s chapter 500 ofRecord Store Tales/Getting More Tale! Chapter one (“Run to the Hills“) was posted on March 9, 2012. Over four years and 500 chapters later, we are still rocking. If you’ve been here since day one, then you rule. If you’re new, then stay tuned because the stories are far from over!
GETTING MORE TALE #500: 500 Up
A little four-piece band from Halifax formed in 1991, at an art school. Hardly the kind of thing to make history, but they strove to make history just the same. Another art school band in the 1990’s? Who needed that?
They named themselves after a friend who had the nickname “Slow One”. Within a few months, the band known as “Sloan” had recorded and released their first EP,peppermint. Their debut single “Underwhelmed” began to make waves on MuchMusic and the buzz was building. Sloan’s secret weapon was the sheer talent of the four members. Not only were all four lead singers in their own right, but also multi-instrumentalists. Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland, Andrew Scott and Jay Ferguson were more than capable of playing whatever music they envisioned. In 1992, Sloan signed to Geffen.
Sloan’s debut album Smeared boasted a couple hit singles: a re-recorded “Underwhelmed”, and a song called “500 Up” featuring lead vocals by Patrick Pentland and drummer Andrew Scott. A few album tracks such as “Sugartune” and “I am the Cancer” gave the album some depth, but it wasn’t until their crucial second LP that Sloan really broke some serious artistic ground.
Unfortunately that second album, the brilliant Twice Removed, was engulfed in problems. Chart magazine called it “the best Canadian album of all time”, in 1996. Geffen however was unwilling to promote it. They would have preferred if the band remained an alterna-grunge darling, rather than explore the lush sounds of Twice Removed.
The band went on hiatus and somehow managed to extricate themselves from their contract with Geffen. A brilliant single (“Stood Up”/”Same Old Flame”) released on their own Murderecords let the die-hards know they weren’t dead, although the impression in mainstream circles was that the band had folded. They were actually hard at work, recording yet another album for just $10,000 in only two weeks.
That album, the critically hailed One Chord to Another, cemented Sloan as a force to be reckoned with in Canada. Three brilliant singles including the hard edged “The Good in Everyone” ensured Sloan lots of air play in 1996. But it was 1998’s Navy Blues that hooked me in.
There was a palpable buzz in the air. Customers were asking about the new Sloan song “Money City Maniacs”, a hard edged rocker often compared to “Firehouse” by Kiss. Some people know it as the “goat piss” song due to one of the commonly misheard lyrics in the song: “And the joke is, when he awoke his body was covered in Coke fizz.” Coke fizz, goat piss: Same difference right?
“Money City Maniacs”
Upon release, we gave Navy Blues daily store play. I can all but guarantee that album was played in one of our stores each and every day upon release in ’98. Although it was not as well received critically as the prior two Sloan albums, it did go gold and earned a Juno nomination for Best Rock Album.
Even though Navy Blues was the first Sloan album I bought, I didn’t become a full-fledged Sloan fanatic until they did the inevitable double live album. Sloan are Kiss fans and classic rock fans, so a double live was all but inevitable. It’s only appropriate that this is the album that cemented my fandom.
4 Nights at the Palais Royale was recorded in Toronto, and the full tally was 28 great all-original songs over the course of almost two hours. It is simply one of the greatest live albums I’ve ever heard: fun, very live sounding, with loads of audience participation. The band consider it representative of a typical Sloan show, and you can hear both their sloppy rock chops and lush pop vocalizing. It’s all there. The package was brilliant, stuffed with photos and liner notes from the band. If one can claim a single moment when Sloan “arrived”, I would argue for 4 Nights at the Palais Royale as that moment. Talk about being on a roll: the even managed to release another studio album that year! (My favourite one, Between the Bridges.)
Now completely addicted to Sloan, I bought all the albums, and then soon upgraded them. During a trip to Toronto in 1999, I headed over to the once-big HMV on Yonge and bought all the Japanese versions of the Sloan albums, with bonus B-sides added. It was quite a haul and a brilliant score. Like any good classic rock band, they have a number of B-sides that are as good as the hits. I still have these; it is hard to find Sloan singles, but worthwhile. Some of their most interesting material exist on B-sides, such as the aforementioned “Stood Up”/”Same Old Flame” and the impossible to find instrumental “Rhodes Jam”. (I’m still missing that one.)
Though the Sloan story continues on today with 11 albums and a 25th anniversary tour, my story peaks here. That double live album remains the high water mark for this fan. It’s a time machine. Upon hitting play I am instantly transported back in time. What a glorious summer that was. As it turned out, 4 Nights at the Palais Royale is the exact same length as a drive to the cottage. As such it got car play almost every single trip. Even my grandmother liked it.
On the occasion of this 500th instalment of Record Store Tales/Getting More Tale, I encourage everyone to check out some Sloan. Not only an incredible band, but Canadian, eh?
1992 Peppermint (EP)
1994 Twice Removed
1996 One Chord to Another
1998 Navy Blues
1999 4 Nights at the Palais Royale (live)
1999 Between the Bridges
2001 Pretty Together
2003 Action Pact
2005 A Sides Win: Singles 1992-2005 (best of)
2006 Never Hear the End of It
2008 Parallel Play
2009 Hit & Run (download-only EP)
2010 B Sides Win: extras, bonus tracks and b-sides 1992-2008 (download-only compilation)
2011 The Double Cross
The big peave that I have today in my current work is my daily commute. It’s not far at all (I can do it in 10 minutes if there’s no traffic) but it can be hairy. To understand this, you would have to see the poor planning that went into the roads in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, otherwise known as the tri-cities area.
To get from work (in Cambridge) to home (in Kitchener), there are only a handful of good routes. The trick is getting across the Grand River, and there are only three nearby bridges to access. One of them is Highway 8 into town (two lanes each way but expanding), which is always in a state of construction. Another is the King St. bridge (one lane each way) and another is Fairway Road (a bit too far out of my way). Any accidents can cause jams on any of these routes, but the worst location is what I call the “sweet spot”:
The Tri-cities “Sweet Spot”
The “sweet spot” is on Highway 401, between Hespeler Road and Highway 8 into Kitchener. An accident there at the right time of day (3-4 o’clock) will tie up traffic going into town on any of my routes. Prior to the opening of the Fairway Road bridge, accidents there have delayed me by almost two hours (on a normally 10-15 minute drive). Add in winter weather conditions for part of the year and you’re in for a real good time.
There are accidents on my 10-15 minute drive home nearly every day. Once a month there will be an accident in the dreaded “sweet spot” causing major delays. Last week there were two in a row! On those days, all I can do is study the traffic map, select a route and hope for the best!
When I first started this commute, all I had was a single disc CD player in my car. Each day I’d pick an album to listen to. I only had room for one or two CDs in the car at a time. Length didn’t matter; a Van Halen album would be perfectly fine for my commute on a good day. On a bad day however, you can count on running out of music and having to start over! Fortunately I have since switched to a couple 8 gig flash drives, avoiding traffic tie-up repeats.
On the bright side, a “sweet spot” traffic tie-up informed my review of Sloan’s The Double Cross (which I got to hear twice in one drive), during my drive home.
Other commuting misadventures that I witness on my way home, on a daily basis:
1. Motorcycle idiots passing between two cars. On the highway. Last seen on Friday last week.
2. People passing on the shoulder of the 401.
3. Being cut off in traffic, daily.
4. Idiots on cell phones.
5. Somebody in a Dodge Ram weaving in and out of traffic, trying to make it further along than anyone else, only to get stuck behind a transport truck.
These stories are not so unique. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you witness these same things too. As I progress into the RST Mk II’s, I intend to vent about traffic again in the future. (In fact, I’d like to buy a dash-cam. The video gold I could produce every day would provide endless blog fodder.)
Fortunately, music does soothe the savage beast. Rather, technology does. Back in Record Store Part 16: Travelling Man, I stated “when you’re stuck in traffic on the 403, in a torrential downpour, listening to Winger, it still sucks pretty much as bad as it would if you weren’t listening to Winger.” What has changed since then? Well, I’m not driving that far for one. GPS and Bluetooth have reduced the stress greatly. Having 16 gig of albums in the car is also better than five cassette tapes.
What’s your favourite album for being stuck in traffic? Take it from me: Sloan’s Double Cross works really well!
I’m not a big fan of early Sloan. I rarely listen to the first album Smeared (haven’t played it in years despite having two great singles on it). I don’t really get into Sloan until their second album, the magnum opus Twice Removed. I didn’t like them back then in 1992 at all; Sloan were the enemy. A bunch of glasses-wearing short-hairs who pouted and didn’t play a lot of solos. The antithesis to what I liked; and the Canadian embodiment of the kind of thing that was killing off my kind of music like a cancer!
So there’s that. Listening to the peppermint EP today (I even hate that the title is all lowercase) still doesn’t do much for me. “Underwhelmed” is an outstanding song, but this early slower version is just a patch on what it would later become. I do like its lyrics, even though it contains these lines:
She skips her classes and gets good grades, I go to my courses rain or shine, She’s passin’ her classes, While I attend mine.
Taken out of context, kind of lame; but the song is actually quite clever lyrically and one of their finer achievements.
Patrick Pentland’s “Sugartune” is catchy but not outstanding. “Pretty Voice”, sung by Jay Ferguson is also one of the better tunes. This one did not make the album Smeared for whatever reason. It’s the first really fast upbeat song, and it has a bit of a tasty guitar riff to it. It’s just recorded so damn muddy, as is all of peppermint. And that’s my biggest obstacle to liking this EP. It boils down to the sound.
Even though the band themselves are noisy and enjoy guitar squeals and feedback at this early stage, it’s not captured on tape. Instead there’s this dull roar of 90’s sounding guitars, without a lot of distinction. I can hear bits and pieces of coolness and even genius, but only buried under the morass of the mix.