NOTE TO SHELF: Spilt Milk by Jellyfish
I recently started a brand new feature here on The Pulmyears Music Blog which I call Note To Shelf.
This is the space where I recommend, or just blather on about, a recording from my shelf that I feel you should know about. I won’t do this everyday but when I do, it will be about recordings that “glow” or scream “play me” when I walk by the shelf (or the virtual iTunes shelf).
Today I want to recommend one of my all-time favourite power pop gems, a burst of California tanned Anglophilia by a great and fleeting Los Angeles band who made two albums then splintered into a million other shards of greatness
The band is JELLYISH and the album today is SPILT MILK (1993).
They were an ephemeral phenomenon, lasting only four years during which time they only made two albums, but San Francisco’s Jellyfish, who broke up in 1994, were too good to last. I had first heard them around 1990 just after their first album Bellybutton was released. A fellow Toronto musician, it may have been bass player Bob McKitrick, first showed me the CD jacket featuring the band, with drummer lead singer Andy Sturmer up front, part smirking Uncle Sam/ part sly Cat In The Hat, posed over a naked womanscape like it was the second Summer of Love. Sturmer, along with Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., Jason Falkner and some guests, including Steve McDonald (from Redd Kross), laid down a very XTC-ish sonic soup, and I was instantly intrigued by songs like “The Man I Used To Be”, “Baby’s Coming Back”, “That Is Why” and “The King Is Half-Undressed”:
They were so California, and yet I also pictured these guys listening to the same British records I did, from Queen to The Beatles and XTC, but then heading down to L.A. to record in the same high ceilinged room, Ocean Way, where Brian Wilson had once worked.
Cut to a few years later, 1992, and I’m starting to get my own band The Gravelberrys off the ground (still living in Toronto). When you start to get to know a lot of people in the music business, bootlegs and demo tapes just seem to come your way, shared under the silent secret code of working musicians. This time, somebody passed me a demo cassette for Jellyfish’s next album. There were about five songs on it, but these demos, which I later discovered was actually pre-production with Lyle Workman, were practically finished masters; multi-part layered vocal harmonies redolent of Queen or the Beach Boys, stabbing guitars, crazy drum fills and hooks galore.
And this was the DEMO? These songs went all over the map.
I was eagerly awaiting the finalized album, and when Spilt Milk was released on February 3, 1993, I bought it immediately. It became an instant favourite and remains as such to this day. The songs are mainly credited to Sturmer and Manning, and the band now featured bassist Tim Smith, who would later become a key member of Sheryl Crow‘s band. Interestingly, for fans of The Grays, Jason Falkner had left the band, so some of the guitars on Spilt Milk were handled by guest Jon Brion, along with Lyle Workman. Also of note, the late T-Bone Wolk, Daryl Hall’s former right hand man, guested on bass on one track.
They opened with“Hush”, a track that felt like Freddie Mercury had remade Pet Sounds:
This dreamy opener was just a bit of misdirection to lull the listener before the sonic slam of “Joining A Fan Club”, perhaps their greatest rock song ever, to get the whole album cooking:
I could literally post the whole album, but for expedience sake, let me skip paste the awesome “Sebrina, Paste And Plato” to another of their greatest rock songs, (a sort of harder Ambrosia or Toto with balls), on : “New Mistake”:
Not ashamed to say that I get goosebumps and tear up a little when I hear that one. Euphoria never had such a loud kick drum. But this album doesn’t quit there!
There’s “The Glutton Of Sympathy”:
THEN, the best song about the music business, and prescient too, coming just a year before Kurt Cobain’s death:
“The Ghost At Number One”
After “Bye, Bye, Bye” we are treated to the onslaught of “All Is Forgiven” one of the five songs I had heard on the demo:
which is smash cut (on the album) to its polar opposite, the pleasantly San Franciscan, “Russian Hill”:
There’s three more great songs after after that. Spilt Milk was produced by Albhy Galuten, Andy Sturmer, Roger Manning and the great Jack Joseph Puig, who also recorded and mixed it (the man loves compression and so I love him) who also did The Grays album.
Trust me, this album has been in my top 20 for years now and it just gets better and better for me.
After the album, grunge probably made it difficult for a band with such curlicued tastes, and Sturmer and Manning eventually got on each others nerves, or so I’m told. Jellyfish packed it around the same time as Kurt Cobain did. Post-breakup, there was a Japan only best-of called The Greatest (1998), a four disc rarities set called Fan Club (2002) and the compilation, Best! (2006)
Andy Sturmer seems to do well in Japan, he’d produced and written for Puffy Ami Yumi and Yuki, and has worked with The Black Crowes and a lot of great L.A. acts. He’s kind of legendary now.
Roger Joseph Manning Jr has been a little more visible on these shores, and after a short-lived rock band (with former Jellyfish touring member Eric Dover) called Imperial Drag, he made two great instrumental synthesizer albums as The Moog Cookbook, with fellow synthesist Brian Kehew. Highly recommended. You may also know Manning as a sideman for Beck and Air.
I also loved Jason Falkner’s Presents Author Unknown (1996), which I wrote about here for Crawdaddy, as well as most of his solo albums.
I read online that Manning and Falkner have reunited (along with ex Redd Kross member Brian Reitzell) as TV Eyes. Reitzell and Manning also worked on the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Recently, Falkner and Manning have been sidemen for Cheap Trick, and I hear they’ve opened some shows for Rockford, Illinois’s Finest.
For an excellent history of Jellyfish click through to: God’s Gift To Oxygen: A Brief History of Jellyfish