Wednesday, March 14, 2007

All too much of a muchness for me

Trashcan Sinatras

Summary: Sometimes you need to keep something for yourself. Trashcan Sinatras are my best-kept music secret.

A Brief History of the Band (from Yahoo! Music): Scottish indie-pop stalwarts the Trashcan Sinatras were founded outside of Glasgow in 1987 by singer/guitarist Frank Reader (the brother of ex-Fairground Attraction singer Eddi Reader), guitarists John Douglas and Paul Livingston, bassist George McDaid and drummer Stephen Douglas. Initially formed as a cover band, the group was performing in a local bar when they were discovered by Go! Discs label representative Simon Dine; their first single, the superb "Obscurity Knocks," appeared in early 1990, evoking the jangly guitar-pop crafted by Scottish bands like Aztec Camera, Orange Juice and Josef K a decade earlier. A second Trashcan Sinatras single, "Only Tongue Can Tell," preceded the release of the quintet's debut LP Cake, which met with a positive response on both sides of the Atlantic; in the U.S., it became a particular favorite on college radio. McDaid left the lineup in 1992, and was replaced by bassist David Hughes; by the time the Trashcan Sinatras' sophomore effort I've Seen Everything finally appeared in 1993, however, the ascendance of grunge essentially derailed whatever commercial momentum the group still had left, and 1996's A Happy Pocket was not even released in America. A new single, "Snow," followed in late 1999. The band made a truimphant return to the scene in 2004 with their Spin Art release Weightlifting and a world tour which had them wowing old fans and gaining new ones with their stunning display of melody and emotion. Official website

My History with the Band: Every once in a while, a band takes a while to grow on me. When I was in high school, I was watching the oft-mentioned (on this blog) MTV show 120 Minutes, always looking for new alternative tunes. A jangly little number called "Obscurity Knocks" by the Scottish group Trashcan Sinatras came on, and I quite liked it. I bought their album Cake and listened to it a bit, but I never really fell in love with the album. I liked the song I had heard on MTV, and I loved a slow and catchy song called "You Made Me Feel," but after a little while, I more or less forgot about this group.
Flash forward to the summer after my sophomore year in college. My family had just moved away from Marion, Indiana to Iowa City. I knew no one in the new town, though I had a lot of fun that summer exploring the sights. Iowa City is an amazingly cool college town, and I found much to keep me occupied, especially great record stores. I also enjoyed listening to the university radio station. One day I was driving around Iowa City when I head the most interesting and addictive song I had heard in a long time. I had to call the radio station to find out what it was, and it turned out to be "I'm Immortal" from the newest album by Trashcan Sinatras. I had more or less forgotten they existed, but this new song was so excellent that I knew I had to rediscover them. I headed out and bought their second album I've Seen Everything, and I fell in love with every song on the album. I loved their well-crafted melodies, their catchy lyrics, and their layered production.

At the end of the summer, I was heading to Scotland for my semester abroad, and right before I left I decided to re-purchase TCS's first album Cake on CD. I am glad I made this last-minute decision, because these two albums were my constant companions in Scotland. After giving Cake another chance, I kicked myself for depriving myself of this music for three years. And the fact that I was in school not far from the band's hometown in Scotland helped with my appreciation.

Back at Grinnell, I spread the gospel of Trashcan Sinatras, and these two albums became constant driving music for me, and once I had moved to Chicago after graduating, I discovered they had a third album on the way. A Happy Pocket was not released in the U.S., though. But since I had all the music resources of Chicago, I was able to pick up an import copy, and the album did not disappoint. In fact, for about two months, it did not leave my CD player.

One of the things I have always loved most about this band is their clever and witty lyrics. They play with language and use little puns here and there, but because of a combination of their Scottish accents and the heavy production values, sometimes the words got lost for me. My time in Grinnell and Chicago was in the early days of the internet, but once I discovered that I could get lyrics online, I was in heaven. My best friend Kathy and I sat on my couch with a printout and listened to all of the Trashcan Sinatra songs. And when we came across a line that we had never understood, we would say things like "Oh, that's what they are saying" or "Now it makes sense."

Here is a small sampling of some of their plays-on-words and linguistic acrobatics:
  • "Your hardship is only one of a fleet that didn't go down well"
  • "And while you're castaway, the mice'll play"
  • "And if you don't give a damn, you're welcome to keep it"
  • "Hands of the clock give me a round of applause"
  • "I know she doesn't play the field, but she likes to know the strength of the team"
  • "All the words to the wise and the whys to the words I say"
  • "So typical - a battle of wits, and I've come half prepared"
  • "You made me feel I was born again; it's a shame I never grew up again"
  • "Just fair-weather words from four-letter friends"
  • "I'm immortal and that's no life at all."
  • "I stake my claim; you stake my heart"
  • "My therapist with the rapist's heart"
And I especially like these lines, in which they substitute the word "meant" for the suffix -ment:
Though I knew what argue meant,
and I knew what punish meant,
and I knew what embarrass meant,
I never found out what achieve meant.

After I moved to Minnesota, for some reason I kept Trashcan Sinatras to myself. When I talked about music, I rarely mentioned them. When I made compilation CDs for friends, I never included them. I had a strong sense of private ownership. I continued to listen to Trashcan Sinatras all of the time, but always in private.
They were something special, something rare, something for me.

Years passed, and I kept reading that the band was trying to put together another album, but they got screwed over by their record company so they were bankrupt. But every once in a while some news would surface. Finally in 2004, eight years after A Happy Pocket, Trashcan Sinatras returned with a new album, Weightlifting, another collection of pop delights, the highlight of which is one of their career-best songs, "All the Dark Horses." At this point, I was finally ready to share my love for this beautiful and wonderful band, so I made my best friends David and Erika a CD called Finally Ready to Share. Erika mock-cursed me, saying, "Why have you been keeping this to yourself all this time?"

Trashcan Sinatras are on my top shelf, one of my desert island artists, very near the pinnacle of all that I love about music. Very few things in the world make me happier than listening to Trashcan Sinatras.

Favorite Trashcan Sinatras Album: I truly go back and forth between Cake, I've Seen Everything, and A Happy Pocket.

Favorite Trashcan Sinatras Song: I cannot pick one. Contenders include "Circling the Circumference, ""I'm Immortal," "I've Seen Everything" (video), "The Genius I Was" (video), and "All the Dark Horses" (video)

Other Seminal Trashcan Sinatras Songs: All of them, but especially "Obscurity Knocks" (video); "Maybe I Should Drive"; "Even the Odd"; "The Best Man's Fall"; "Only Tongue Can Tell" (video); "You Made Me Feel" (video); "Bloodrush" (video); "Easy Read" (video); "Hayfever" (video); "Killing the Cabinet"; "Orange Fell"; "Send for Henny"; "Twisted and Bent" (video); "The Pop Place" (video); "The Safecracker" (video); "How Can I Apply?" (video); "Weightlifting" (video); "It's a Miracle"; "Got Carried Away"

Past Band Posts: New Order / The Smiths / Belle and Sebastian / Underworld / R.E.M. / The Beatles / The Boo Radleys / Saint Etienne/ Depeche Mode / The Chemical Brothers / The Pogues / The Charlatans UK / Sinéad O' Connor


At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Kathy posited...

every 18 months or so I totally crave me some Trashcan Sinatras, and then I get around to playing them, and think of you :)

At 6:35 PM, Blogger CoachDub posited...

"Hello, I'm Harry. I've had women, I've had germs."

At 9:58 PM, Blogger jason00454 posited...

I'm from Iowa and also love and keep Trashcan Sinatras for myself. Great post!


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