“Left of the dial” in 1985

The Replacements coined a musical term that meant a lot: “left of the dial.” It meant that when you were driving in an unfamiliar city and turned on the radio your first step was to turn the dial all the way to the left; if you didn’t find good music before you hit 92 FM, you were shit out of luck. College radio always broadcast on those frequencies–still does–so you’d hope to get a strong enough signal to get music that spoke to you. Because otherwise, my friend, it’s Madonna or REO Speedwagon or Whitney Houston for you. There are a few pop hits in the playlist below, but mostly these are the sounds you’d here on “progressive” college radio back in 1985.

Some fine new music so far this year!

Man, these are exciting times. Beyoncé dropped Lemonade and I’m still taking it in–in fact, the current trends in hip hop and R&B generally are damned exciting. Bob Mould has come roaring back with his best album since Sugar’s debut; the revival of 70s AOR sounds is picking up steam; Wax Idols and Savages are still carrying the post-punk flag. Hope you enjoy.

Sleazefest 94!

Back when I was a college radio programmer (that an a buck will buy you a cup of coffee) Chapel Hill, North Carolina was one of the most musically exciting communities in the world. One of my favorite rock and roll bands, Southern Culture On the Skids, helped organize a local festival called Sleazefest. It’s been going on and off ever since, but this was the very first one, and they made a documentary about it. There was never a DVD release–this was 1994, kids!–but you could find it on videotape if you were lucky. Apparently it was available online at one point, but that site’s gone dark.

So I’ve rectified that. If you want some great performances from underground American music in the early 90s, check out some of the great psychobilly performances of Sleazefest.

Lots of great music in 2015

And I’ve got a handy-dandy YouTube playlist to help you hear some! As always it tends towards indie pop and alternative rock, but I like to sprinkle in influential songs from hip hop, country, metal, and top 40 pop music. It’s good to know what’s going in in the culture around us after all, even if not all of it’s gonna be quite your cuppa. In any case, let me know if you enjoy it.

Hop Along, “Painted Shut”

Hop Along band

Hop Along, a Philadelphia rock band

Let’s talk about Frances Quinlan’s voice first. Best to get that out of the way because it demand and requires our attention: a yearning like Janis Joplin, a bold surety like Patti Smith, a gravel like Lucinda Williams. Quinlan’s voice–both the physical instrument and the lyrical perspective–is all about American aspiration. But for my money what puts Hop Along over the top is guitarist Joe Reinhart. He (along with bassist Tyler Long and drummer Mark Quinlan) have stepped up to collaborate on songwriting duties for the new album and the results are intriguing. Painted Shut rewards close attention; it’s made for sitting down and, you know, listening to a whole album like we did back in the day. That way you’ll hear the little unexpected guitar licks and rhythm flourishes that were obviously never part of the song’s original idea. In lesser hands it would disjointed or muddy, but here it’s accomplished. “Waitress” looks uncompromisingly at the singer’s own failure; “Sister Cities” invites you in to the dangerous lives of drifters on the edge; “Texas Funeral” is simply the car song of the year. The band is going down the East Coast for a few weeks before heading off for a European tour; the album Painted Shut can be listened to on Spotify or purchased wherever fine music is sold.