Category Archives: Albums and 7″s

Video: This is Different

Turns out Gina Birch of the Raincoats loves this song! As a huge fan of the Raincoats, this is really exciting! She asked me what the music was (on FaceBook) in a video of my currently available paintings, so I listed all five songs and she said she hadn’t gotten past the first one, that she’d been playing it over and over. I got her email address and sent her the mp3. In our brief email exchange, she said she loves my paintings — says she’s gonna buy one! I’m not gonna try and hide my excitement here! The Raincoats are hugely important to the formation of Mecca Normal. It’s hard to imagine what we’d be doing if the Raincoats’ records weren’t around in 1984 or so, and much earlier for Dave who lived in London in the very early 80s and knew of them then.

It’s an added thrill that I play cymbal on this song. This is the recording session that Kathleen and Billy (of Bikini Kill) dropped by. We were in the basement of the ABC house in Olympia, recording with Pat Maley. Kathleen and I sang something together, but it didn’t go that well. I was in the bathroom as an isolation booth and I didn’t have any lyrics. There was a bottle of Gold Bond powder on the window ledge so I started singing about “the final days of the gold bond” and for at least a few minutes the “band” was gonna be called Mandarin Atomizer until someone mentioned it sounded like an atom bomb in an Asiatic country, and that was that.

Also, I’m not sure which is weirder. Either I mention that Mecca Normal were total rock stars at this time, and that Kathleen and Billy arrived as fans (and friends) or I don’t mention it. Too late.

“This is Different” from a 3-song 7″ on K Records, Vol. XXVII in the International Pop Underground Series, and Jarred Up, an LP compilation of 7″ records (K Records, 1993).

Jean Smith’s $100 USD paintings (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) from October 19th back to the beginning of the series (January 7, 2016).

“First, oh my word I love these portraits {acrylic on canvas panel} so, so, so much. Second, Canadian rocker turned painter Jean Smith sells these paintings on Facebook for $100 a pop. WHAT? Yes, true story. Are you wondering what you’re still doing here and why you’re not over there buying a whole bunch of these 11×14 beauties? Me too. Here you go… Jean’s Facebook page. You’re welcome.” – The Jealous Curator review 09/17

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Pat Maley, Kathleen and Billy at the Mecca Normal recording session that included “This is Different”

 

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Review: Butt Rag #7

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Review by Peter Margasak (Editor) Butt Rag #7 (October 1991)

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Live album in the works

Mecca Normal poster Montreal, BNW, 1996Mecca Normal live in Montreal (1996) album (LP, CD, extra tracks on BandCamp) will be released in 2018. Dave found the tape last week and we took it into a studio yesterday to listen to it. Finally, a live album from that era, and it sounds incredible. Until now, not releasing a mid-90s Mecca Normal performance has been one of my biggest regrets.6878

Tentative tracks

1. Water Cuts My Hands
2. Prize Arm
3. Don’t Shoot
4. Tower Island
5. Revival of Cruelty
6. The Dogs
7. Drive At / Peach-A-Vanilla
8. Breathing In The Dark
9. Ribbon
10. Medley: Man Thinks Woman / SWM/ I Walk Alone
11. Armchairs Fit through Doorways
12. When You Know
13. Are You Hungry Joe?
14. Crimson Dragnet

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7″ record covers

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Cardboard Box House of Love 7″ (K Records, 1990) art by Jean Smith

Malachi (K) 2010,Paris In April (K) 1996, The Bird That Wouldn’t Fly (Matador) 1995, Echo (Jettison) 1993, Rose (K)…

Posted by Mecca Normal on Saturday, May 11, 2013

All Mecca Normal 7″ covers

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RATE YOUR MUSIC

Comments on Mecca Normal albums on RATE YOUR MUSIC website:

Dovetail (K Records, 1992)
“It’s disgraceful that this record only has 23 ratings–not even enough to chart it here at RYM. One of the greatest records of the late 80s/early 90s K-Records scene … before “indie” existed properly, in the immediate wake of the Nirvana hype. This album–probably the band’s best–mixes rhythmically-driven (all from the guitar) pieces that have a punk-rock edge with ballad-like, slow pieces. It’s remarkable in its balancing of these modes (sometimes within a single song). Beautiful stuff. Search it out. Now!” – denti, 2012

“The perfect Mecca Normal album. Throw Silver and Clatter make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. This band is largely ignored by most supposed “indie” listeners and they’ve been doing for almost thirty years. Consistent as hell and never boring. This record is solid gold.” mortytoad, 2009

Water Cuts My Hands (K Records, 1991)
David Lester is one of the unsung greatest guitarists. He is incredibly inventive with the little he plays (a few chords, no solos) and makes his guitar sound so raw and real and right there with you. I love it. This record is fantastic, though not consistently so. Still one of the best places to start with this great band. The CD comes with the 1988 record “Calico Kills the Cat,” also worth repeated listens. “Taking the Back Stairs,” “Dead Bird’s Feet” and “Lois Wrote About the Farm” are among the band’s best.” denti, 2011

Sitting on Snaps (Matador, 1995)
The beginning and end of this album are brilliant. Like Concrete Blonde meets Lush with a sprinkling of Siouxsie, but also no drums, like, on any song ever. Yes, this is a drumless band. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not… just layers of guitar and voice, but not too many layers. There’s some minimalism going on here too.” Sukwtto, 2011

 

 

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Sex Stains’ Allison Wolfe in Pitchfork

Sex Stains’ Allison Wolfe (formerly of Riot Grrrl band Bratmobile) describes moving from Olympia to DC in the 90s in a new Pitchfork feature on music that has mattered to her.

“I brought all my records over, including this one 7″ by Mecca Normal, this band from Vancouver that was very influential in the Olympia music scene. “Strong White Male” was an anthem of mine. I would play it all the time because all of a sudden I was surrounded by a lot of strong white males who were too entitled, who had grown up with a lot more money than a lot of the Olympia girls. It talks about that privilege that’s invisible to the people who possess it but painfully obvious to the people who don’t.” – Allison Wolfe

Video by David Lester

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All Albums

All Mecca Normal’s albums (except the most recent one) are somewhat-secretly archived, chronologically, song-by-song in Normal History the weekly column David Lester and Jean Smith collaborate on for Magnet Magazine.

 

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A New Review of 2006’s “The Observer”

Nearly 10 years after its release, the Chesapeake Public Library in Virginia has reviewed Mecca Normal’s album “The Observer” in great depth.
Forget everything you know about Mecca Normal.

Wait, no, don’t panic. All is not lost, and in fact many of the oak-like constants remain. The Vancouver-based duo of vocalist Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester, a sapling (with tree rings counting all the way back to 1981) in what later blossomed into the Riot Grrrl movement, is very much present and accounted for. Novelist Jean continues to draw subject matter from her writing, and the lyrics to her songs read, as they always have, like flowing, stream-of-consciousness stories. Jean’s unique vocals, residing somewhere in that same ethereal ZIP code as PJ Harvey and Joanna Newsom, have not filled out a change-of-address card, and David’s virtuoso guitar playing, veering from angry to angular, has not dulled its edge against the ever-forward grind and march of time.

No, the sharp, commanding sound these two have been making together for decades has not left the building.

With their album The Observer, however, Mecca Normal takes us down a thematic rabbit hole as they tackle something not normally associated with their own work, or even with punk in general: the concept album. And even amongst concept albums, this is an odd one, as Jean delves into and delivers back to us the strange and sordid world of online dating. “Say again?” If you just cringed at the thought, if it somehow sounds gimmicky and topical or just plain awful, that would be a perfectly understandable reaction. And yes, in lesser hands this could be a disaster, but Mecca Normal are no mere mortals. Despite the unsavoriness and overall rotten-fish smell of the subject matter, Jean does indeed deliver, and The Observer does indeed rock.

No holds barred and in medias res, the band dive right into the thick of things with the first song, “I’m Not Into Being the Woman You’re With While You’re Looking for the Woman You Want.” Surprisingly poppy and concise despite its unwieldy title, its name also aptly sums up its theme. The song is a tale of a woman trying to diplomatically back out of a lousy relationship (“I need to figure out how to get his CD’s back to him…”) where the man she’s with not only constantly compares her unfavorably to past loves, but openly searches for someone supposedly better. Of course this is hardly a new phenomenon, but one of the unintended “benefits” of this golden electronic age has been the increasing ease with which one can play the field, and the unparalleled ability to keep one’s options open.

Another glitch in electronic dating is explored in the next song, “Attraction is Ephemeral,” where two people who are quite plainly wrong for each other try to make things work despite their obvious differences. “We connected right from the start. You can’t make this happen, you can’t make this happen … can you?,” Jean questions, subtly mocking the engineered, inorganic method by which this pairing happened in the first place. As Jean goes on to describe her wardrobe, a “slutty” fifteen-dollar outfit including one-dollar panties and a Value Village bra, her significant other, seemingly out of touch with the contradictions set out before him, explains that he prefers a woman who adorns herself with jewelry, good shoes and other fineries. He rattles off his professional accomplishments (“he’s the architect of a hospital, a hotel, a prison in Texas”) and fills the air with empty promises of bringing his grand piano out of storage while Jean describes how she walks 20 minutes to the grocery and would cross the street to save ten cents a pound on oranges. We can only envision how this will end, as Jean trails off pondering the genuineness of this gentleman’s words and about his being an architect, “the architect of another line, a really long line…”

The pinnacle of the The Observer, and perhaps its most difficult moment, is found in the song “Fallen Skier.” Here, again courtesy of narrator Jean, we get a bird’s eye view of a first date gone horribly wrong, or at least horribly not right. “I picked the date, I picked the place for the date, a radical bookstore to which he, a 47-year-old English student, has never been…” At one time or another, we’ve probably all found ourselves sitting across a table from a mistake, an error in judgment, and staring down an utter lack of chemistry. And yet – out of curiosity, politeness or just the sheer hope that we haven’t dug deep enough – we somehow keep the conversation going. Jean finds herself in such a moment of ennui here, and she is awed by the enormity of this man’s vapid existence. He shows no interest at all, not just in her, but in anything. As painful as this sounds, there are comic moments, like when her date frets over whether Jean’s being in a punk band might mean she’s akin to Henry Rollins, and also moments of pure poignancy:

“I ask what sort of music he listens to. He says his taste is ‘eclectic,’ my least favorite answer to a question meant to increase understanding.
‘Eclectic,’ in this case, means that music isn’t really that important to him, isn’t really that important to him…”

Some may complain that, at twelve minutes plus, this painful exorcism carries on for far too long. The flip side, however, is that by stretching this moment, by fleshing out each lifeless detail and thoroughly examining this hollow, would-be suitor, the listener becomes a part of the story and feels the same tedium and awkwardness that Jean did in going through the ordeal. Life, or love for that matter, isn’t all about butterflies and fireworks, and as a slice of realism this piece is outstanding.

In the album’s final moments, its self-titled track quietly ties up all the loose ends of the online dating conundrum and of the search for meaningful connections of any stripe. Jean, the observer, finds herself riding a bus. Different people get on and off the bus as she rides. She hears parts of conversations, sees different landscapes outside her window and momentarily catches glimpses of beauty and meaning. “I close one eye to lose my depth of field, I am so limited, so limited the infinite unravel of the universe.” As the ride draws to a close, everyone has gotten off the bus except Jean. With everything stripped away, in the end she finds herself as the one constant, as are we all. Each of us, individually, are observers, and ultimately, no matter who we reach out to in our lifetimes, no matter who we connect with or who falls away, in truth we have only our own selves to fall back on, and we each will die alone.

– manwithnoname, Chesapeake Public Library (Chesapeake, Virginia), April 3, 2015

Video: “Naked and Ticklish”

“Naked and Ticklish” is an excerpt from Jean Smith’s novel “Obliterating History – a guitar-making mystery, domination and submission in a small town garage” (literary fiction)

From the new Mecca Normal album “Empathy for the Evil” on M’lady’s Records