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Today Belongs to Me: Complete Recordings 1977-1980 by The Flys: The rewards of diving into complete-output excavations by long-defunct bands that never broke through seldom outweigh the effort. For this two-disc compilation, they do. Blurring the lines separating pub-rock from punk and power-pop from new wave, the clever and energetic tunes that poured forth from these too-eclectic-for-their-own-commercial-good British rockers never stood a chance in the overground. But had they held on a little longer, the college-radio explosion that they had no way of knowing was just around the corner would’ve embraced them with open arms. Their drummer, Pete King, went on to power After the Fire, but otherwise the band was lost to history. That is, until now.
Been Around by A Girl Called Eddy: Erin Moran (not the former Happy Days star) broke the dirt on the project of bringing Bacharachian chord changes into the 21st century. But by essentially going AWOL immediately thereafter, she allowed Rumer, another alto with classic-pop leanings, to cultivate her turf and—at least in the U.K.—to reap the commercial rewards of satisfying the hunger that persists for things retro. Now, 16 years later, Moran is back. And, her world-weary album title and fondness for waltz tempos notwithstanding, she sounds more awake and eager to please than before. “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart” is a mini-seminar in classic pop, “Jody” ditto re: Steely Dan. Upbeat suits her. She should do it more.
Imperfect Circle by Hootie & the Blowfish: When Darius Rucker went country, it became fun (relatively speaking) to guess which if any of his solo work was really shelved Hootie & the Blowfish material in disguise. Now that the band has reunited, one can play the game in reverse. “Miss California”? Yep. “Wildfire Love”? Definitely. Maybe even “Hold On” and “Rollin’.” Rucker wouldn’t even have to acoustify them much, so rocked up has country become. The problem with such indeterminableness is that, studded with Rucker’s trademark clichés, it becomes overwhelmingly (i.e., underwhelmingly) generic. When the rockiest Hootie curators of the future cherry-pick, only the power ballad in disguise “Why,” the adorable love song “Everybody but You,” and the brawny “Half a Day Ahead” will make the cut.
Seems Like Tears Ago by Jason James: In case you haven’t heard, Jason James sounds almost exactly like George Jones, right down to his fondness for inserting an “l” into “ev” words such as “heaven” and “ever” and singing them as “helven” and “elver.” At times (“We’re Gonna Honky Tonk Tonight,” “Ole Used to Be,” “Achin’ Takin’ Place”), the similarity is enough to make even listeners familiar with Hebrews 9:27 wonder whether there might be something to reincarnation after all. What puts an end to such ruminating is the up-tempo cuts. Neither “Move a Little Closer” nor the Hank Williams–ish “Cry on the Bayou” sounds anything like Jones at all, raising the question of whether James is “just acting.” But if so, he deserves an Oscar.
“Gustave Moreau was nobody’s pupil,” wrote Joris-Karl Huysmans of the 19th-century painter in his novel À rebours. “With no real ancestors and no possible descendants, he remained a unique figure in contemporary art.” Adjusting for scale, genre, and civilizational impact, the same might be said of the Helsinki-based multi-instrumentalist John Ringhofer, aka Half-handed Cloud.
That Ringhofer is “nobody’s pupil” is, of course, an exaggeration. One doesn’t reach the artifact-crafting stage without picking up at least a few tricks along the way. Still, it’s hard to identify precursors to Ringhofer’s modus operandi: setting explicitly Biblical subject matter, including verses taken almost verbatim from New Testament epistles, to merry melodies with kaleidoscopic (collide-oscopic?) time signatures and instrumentation more suitable to cartoons than to “rock” or “pop.” Even “indie” and “alternative” fall short.
On his latest release, Gathered Out of Thin Air: A Second Decade Collection of Non-LP Tracks: 2010-2019 (Asthmatic Kitty), Ringhofer compiles 60 previously scattered ditties (average length: a little over a minute) featuring the accompaniment of 21 other joyful noisemakers and sequences them into an insanely catchy, 77-minute medley that hits on everything from Acts 22, Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 4-6, Galatians 6, Philippians 2, Colossians 1 and 2, 1 Timothy, and 2 Peter to Palm Sunday, the Damascus and Emmaus roads, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” Handel’s Messiah, and Christmas. If ever music had to be (and deserved to be) heard to be believed, Ringhofer’s is it.