Crate Skimmers #43 Rose Melberg – September

Owned since: 2013
Genre: Covers by one of the lead 90’s indie pop godmothers of the USA
Where I bought it: The label
Year: 2013
Label/pressing: Lost Sound Tapes

This time Crate Skimmers is covering something from my small but sturdy collection of cassettes. I like cassettes for some releases, they make for a quick and dirt cheap releasing of music that normally wouldn’t come out on a physical format. This is why most of my cassette collection is either experimental noise music or hardcore punk demos, most of the time really early in an artist’s career. Music that is extremely lo-fi to start with and would make no sense to get pressed on vinyl. Cassettes have a current feel of irony over them, not helped by major labels selling extremely priced up releases of pop stars on a format their music is not made for. But it was extremely important for hardcore punk and after that mostly indie pop in the mid 80’s to mid 90’s. K Records started releasing cassettes and a lot of great bands started with scrappy cassette demos.

Since Rose Melberg was in two bands whose influence is bigger than ever in the 10’s and even now, it makes sense she returned to small form releases like this. Rose Melberg is, in my eyes, one of the most unsung songwriters of American indie pop. Starting with her band Tiger Trap whose fuzzy but bright fast indie rock gave a very American spin to what Talulah Gosh and later Heavenly were doing in the UK. 30 minutes of three chord pop bliss followed up by Go Sailor who never released a full length and just stuck to 7 inches. Luckily the self-titled compilation record exists and it’s pretty much the best indie pop release of the mid 90s. Again, around 30 minutes of jangly bittersweet pop about breaking up and love with Melberg’s sing-songy vocals taking the lead. Some other bands (including the great Gaze) followed but mostly from the 00’s Melberg began releasing a bunch of great solo records that tend to be a bit more folky then her band output. Until, well this one.

Let’s read what the label has to say about it:

She completed a song-a-day project during September 2012 and decided to release 22 of the songs (all covers) on a cassette through Lost Sound Tapes. All instruments were performed, at home, by Rose Melberg. The covers range from Sabbath to The Clean to Simon & Garfunkel to Sesame Street all the way to Thin Lizzy. Nearly 60 minutes of music. A very special album

A lot of people think covers are pretty useless. I always liked that some bands so openly can tribute their influences and it turns out good music a lot of the time. No band is ever original and why not get some eyes on the stuff you listened to as a fan, not a musician, that influenced your sound. Even more when they’re as eclectic as this. As the blurb says this goes from Sesame Street to Australian cult legends The Clean with Melberg mixing up the backing a fair bit. Speaking of let’s start

Tally Ho (The Clean)
Bresson: I once saw the clean play live around 2010 and I was the youngest person in the room by about 30 years. Post-punk weirdos from New Zealand who with their infectious mix of (proto)-indie rock, slight krautrock and mostly a lot of cheap keyboards paved the way for so many bands. Tally Ho is their best known song and one of my favorite post-punk singles. Just pure great catchy nonsense with the lead for the most janky organ you will ever hear. Melberg’s version focuses less on abrasive organ and turns it into a fun mid tempo song.
Sloot: Slightly cleaned up and this could be a perfect fit for a 60’s girl group.

I Don’t Believe In The Sun (Magnetic Fields)
Bresson: I still own 69 Love Songs on CD so I might cover it some day. What to say about Stephen Merritt’s mammoth song collection beside it’s absolutely great. Endless style hopping, endless great showcases of Merritt as one of the best songwriters of indie rock and just a relic of obsession. I Don’t Believe in the Sun is one of the most fully formed songs on it in its sea of great sketches and throw away songs. A Casio and drum driven ballad about giving up that might be the band’s finest moment overall. Melberg fills it with glockenspiel and ukulele but keeps the sad sack nature alive.
Sloot: Twee but not cloying

They Don’t Know (Kirsty MacColl)
Bresson: One of the earliest crate skimmers was about Tracy Ullman’s great debut which spots the most famous version of Macoll’s amazing Stiff single. A perfect ode to the Brill Building on stuff Ellie Greenwhich penned in the 60’s about teenage love this song is great in both MacColl’s original and Ullman’s glossy cover. Melberg turns it into a very fitting jangly indie pop song somewhere between the original and Ullman’s version.
Sloot: Hey speaking of girl group songs. Works perfectly as this sort of indie pop.

Whatever Became Of Alice And Jane (Confetti)
Bresson: An even more obscure spin-off of obscure but lovely 90’s tweesters Fat Tulips comes a minimal slice of twee pop that is heavy on the Young Marble Giants of it all. Melberg’s remake is a bit more uptempo and warmer.
Sloot: If this is the uptempo and warmer version, the original is colder than ice.

Jailbreak (Thin Lizzy)
Bresson: There’s few hard rock ‘classics’ that sound as fresh today as Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak. A record that forgos bad solos for direct rock songs that seem near proto-punk in spots and just shine in their simplicity. Melberg’s version is a bit eh.
Sloot: Feels like this one could use a little bit more oomph, too close to self-parody.

Not So Much To Be Loved as To Love (Jonathan Richman)
Bresson: Jonathan Richman is the real life Zelig of rock music. He is the guy who crashed on the Velvet Underground’s couch during Loaded as a mega fan, became a weird pop novelty in the afterwash of punk and pretty much invented modern indie rock music with the Modern Lovers. A bit of an odd guy who has some insane chops in writing songs and making connections. Not So Much to be Loved as to Love is the title track of his 2004 effort by the same name. If you heard any post 1980s Richman solo stuff you have heard this record, sparse guitar and drum song with Richman’s trademark talk singing vocals over it. A winning formula and this song is wonderful. Melberg’s cover doesn’t change much but speeds it up slightly and gives it a nice sweet touch which fits it very well.
Sloot: Yeah this slaps.

Mastery (The Bats)
Bresson: The Bats are part of that whole New Zealand indie rock scene of the 80’s and for sure one of the bands I know the least about. Daddy’s Highway is a classic of the genre but this is from the follow up The Law of Things which I never heard and well it sounds good. Very jangly kind of dreamy indie pop, same goes for Melberg’s cover.
Sloot: Ghostly

Tonight You Belong To Me (Patience And Prudence)
Bresson: One of the few serene scenes in The Jerk is where Steve Martin & Bernadette Peters launch in a wonderful ukulele and trumpet version of this sleepy, slightly creepy 50’s classic. Sang by sister duo Patience and Prudence who were 11 and 14 when they recorded this love song, which seems to be backed by a haunted player piano. Melberg’s version of course goes for the ukulele and makes it sound a lot less like porcelain dolls are haunting you.
Sloot: Kinda wish this didn’t have so much reverb on the vocals. Kinda takes away from the the sentiment.

One Of These Days (Stuart Moxham)
Bresson: As much I love Weekend and Young Marble Giants, I never checked out Stuart Moxham’s solo records. This is what you expect it is, pretty but also pretty forgettable folk music same goes for the cover.
Sloot: Got nothing to add to this.

Thirteen (Big Star)
Bresson: My love/relationship with #1 Record and Big Star will never come to a conclusion. Big Star are pretty much the Velvet Underground of the 70’s and with the amount of influence such a poor selling band had on rock music their discography for sure is a lot more spotty. 3 records that have some wonderful stuff on them but also fail to live up to the masterpiece. Too much filler and a lot of songs that just are a bit too generic. I’ve always preferred the more rough side of Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbert above any Big Star. Thirteen is a song everyone knows pretty much, a sappy ballad in the vein of The Beatles that is extremely well done but also so sweet it makes your teeth combust. The weakest song from the amazing #1 Record A-side before it goes into good but fairly generic rock music on the B-side. Melberg’s version is pretty much a straight cover.
Sloot: I’m actually not too familiar with Big Star, but this was nice.

We’re Through (Hunky Dory)
Bresson: Originally only released on a mini-CD in Japan by twee-pop legends Él Records, this is a fun upbeat twee pop ditty from this band of youngsters. Very sparse information but in a bit about Uncut magazine had to say in a 1.5 star review ‘These five precocious children sang and played all their own instruments, with the bulk of the material being written and arranged by one of the band’s dads. Not The Fugs here, luckily enough just a catchy sunshine song.
Sloot: Wouldn’t be surprised to see youngster band du jour The Linda Lindas do a cover of this cover.

Day By Day (Apollo Ghosts)
Bresson: Another obscure one but one I know! Apollo Ghosts were a Canadian band who played a kind of music I’ve always called glasses garage rock which well fits. Heavily influenced by 60’s pop but with a heavy tick of the Feelies Hastings Sunrise is a very fun debut. Day By Day clocks in at just 1.5 minute and is a nice throwback to Buddy Holly kind of early rock also. Melberg turns it into a hazy little rocker which is a good fit for it.
Sloot: This very much suits Melberg’s stylings. Just the right amount of melancholy and doesn’t overstay.

I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon (Jim Henson)
Bresson: A haunting little ditty that surprisingly comes from everyone’s favorite livewire Ernie. The original is a great showcase of one of the most unsung sides of Henson was being a great lyricist. This is a wonderful little song about wanting to go see places but feeling good to return home. Very relatable and perfectly sung by Henson. Melberg reworks it as a solo guitar song with a lot of reverb on the vocals which turns it even more into a bittersweet affair.
Sloot: Really don’t like the amount of reverb on this at all. Distracts from the witticisms and sentiment and pushes it to the wrong end of twee.

Healthy Sick (Sebadoh)
Bresson: I love Sebadoh but I’m also the first to confess that the Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein project lacks any kind of quality control. Which makes it kind of endearing but also, for their debut the Freed Man, it can become a bit much. Endless lo-fi soundscapes of hisses, songs that drop off halfway yet several diamonds in the rough. Healthy Sick is one of the best known Sebadoh songs and a very lo-fi folky effort that leans on Barlow’s near whispering vocals. Also found on Bettie Seveert’s debut album in a full blown band cover version which rocks also. Melberg’s cover is pretty straightforward Sloot: More jangly than what I expected from this album.

The Wizard (Black Sabbath)
Bresson: The Black Sabbath debut will never be my favorite of the band, but it’s solid. Blues rock pushed to its max and really forming the early start of metal music. The Wizard is a (mostly) instrumental jam where Ozzy gets a harmonica to blow on. It’s fairly inoffensive but for sure the weakest song on the record. Melberg’s cover is just guitar only which is even more hilarious with her very twee vocals laying over it.
Sloot: Taking a page from The Cardigans I see, though going harder than they did with their covers.

Mystery (The Wipers)
Bresson: There’s people still to this day that know me as ‘that guy who used to be at shows in a Wipers shirt’. Through my early teens to my mid-20s I went through around 4 shirts of the classic W logo Greg Sage’s cult punk favorites kept in print. Wipers are one of the most unique and most important bands to come out of the punk wave, even more so looking at the American first wave. A band that used their technical chops to make music that captures the spirit of punk but also is very much it’s own thing. Mystery is the stand out track from their immortal Is this Real? Record which is as hooky and clear as a first wave punk record can sound. Pretty much a classic 60’s pop song sped up to punk speeds with Sage moaning about someone not caring. Melberg’s version recalls the great Colleen Green with its guitar only version.
Sloot: Yeah this slaps

Do You Love Me? (Blanket Truth)
Bresson: So obscure I can’t find the original [on bandcamp , thanks sloot]. This is the old band from the guy who released this cassette also so that is maybe why it’s on here. Still a nice little song.
Sloot: Having tracked down the original, it’s interesting how the vibes of both are wistful but the production and delivery of Melberg’s version amplifies that feeling.

Jubilation (Norma Tanega)
Bresson: Norma Tanega’s been having a revival of late since her song You’re Dead soundtrack is the opening tune to What We Do In The Shadows. Releasing just two records in the 60’s and mid 70’s, Jubilation is also from her great Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog record. A lovely folk tune that recalls pre-Starsailor Tim Buckley mostly. Melberg gets the ukulele out again for a lovely echoey version of this song.
Sloot: Right kind of twee

The Only Living Boy In New York (Simon And Garfunkel)
Bresson: The Milk Carton Kids – New York Lonely Boy (Official Audio) – YouTube
Sloot: Megachoirasorus – The Only Living Boy in New York (Simon & Garfunkel cover)

Birthday Present (Mirah)
Bresson: I first heard Mirah through her appearances on several early Microphones records but her solo stuff is interesting also. This cute little ukulele ditty is from her B-side collector The Old Days Feeling and doesn’t differ much from the version Melberg put on here.
Sloot: Like goes with like, so this wasn’t too much of a stretch or swerve.

I’ve Just Seen A Face (The Beatles)
Bresson: I love Help!. It’s a perfect midway between the rudimentary rock of the first Beatles record and the later ‘experimental pop’ stuff that Rubber Soul kicks off after this. It’s just an extremely catchy but yet slightly raw rock record which has maybe the highest bunch of rockabilly and skiffle influenced tunes of any Beatles record. I’ve Just Seen a Face is pretty much a bluegrass song with a breakneck tempo in playing and singing. While a Lennon–McCartney co-joint this is clearly a McCartney showcase and pretty much an early sight into the stuff he would do after the beatles. Just an absolutely wonderful little song. To the point it was one of the few Beatles songs he kept playing while Wings went on tour. Melberg’s version is an echoey ukulele(!) version that takes the speed out of it and makes it a nice little love song.
Sloot: Another one where the reverb kinda ruins it for me.

Final Day (Young Marble Giants)
Bresson: The second Moxham penned song on here comes from one of my favorite records of all time. Young Marble Gaints’s Colossal Youth was the sole full length effort released by the Welsh band that is extremely hard to put in a box. Minimal post-pop is the best I can do, extremely sparse music carried by Alison Statton’s dry vocals and the Moxham brothers’ bass, guitar and dinky organ backing. Final Day might be their most famous song which is driven by a primitive rhythm box and some minimal guitar riffs with lyrics about the end of the world. Music to watch the world die to. Melberg’s version is just driven by guitar and a lot warmer than the coldness of the original with near choral vocals.
Sloot: Yeah this slaps

Well that was fun. The original release of this is long sold out but a digital copy is 5 dollars, a steal for the amount of stuff you get for it.