Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Rocketship Discography Review

Here is a review of every Rocketship release so far.

Hey Hey Girl EP (vinyl)
A1. Hey Hey Girl
A2. Naomi and Me
B1. People I Know

Recorded in November 1993 and released in early 1994, Rocketship's first release, the 7" Hey, Hey Girl EP was a land mark indie pop release. Modeling himself after ambient and noise pop groups of the day (such as Galaxie 500 and My Bloody Valentine) Dustin Reske was able to release 3 songs that took less than 10 minutes to listen to.

The EP explored with ambient interludes and used the organ as the main instrument to compose the music. He also included simple, but effective vocal harmonies between himself and 2 other female singers. My favorite song on the EP is Naomi and Me; I especially like the "Ooh Ooh Ooh Ooh" choruses with the tambourine. It's a great indie pop release; a true classic.

Why Popstars Can't Dance (comp)
5. Your New Boyfriend
6. Like A Dream

After their first EP Rocketship were signed to Slumberland Records and appeared shortly after on the compilation album Why Popstars Can't Dance. Dustin Reske wrote 2 songs for the compilation and appeared as tracks 5 and 6. The songs themselves molded into each other via a nice ambient interlude, but both tracks sound extremely different. The first track "Your New Boyfriend" is a wonderful pop song with an amazing bass line telling the story of an ex-girlfriend who continues to torment the character of the song by riding bikes past his house with her new boyfriend and generally appearing happy without him while he suffers at this cruelty. I love the way this song is sung and the great backing vocals by the girls (who appeared in the previous EP).

The next song, Like A Dream, is much more ambient and droney with a repetitive chorus and more experimentation in sounds than ever before. It's not that its a very bad song, because it certainly isn't, but I do feel that this song is more of an experiment in sound and probably just a chord progression too good to do nothing with so he had to include it kind of deal. However, this song did mark a change in Rocketship's sound that was going to happen in the future.

Honey, I Need You EP (vinyl)
A1. Honey, I Need You
B1. She's Gonna Make Me Cry

Rocketship waited over a year to release their second 2 song EP. Recorded from June - August 1995 the Honey, I Need You EP is probably one of Rocketship's most underrated releases (especially 13 years later). Both songs took a turn for the dramatic with the mood of the songs suddenly about heart break, loneliness and betrayal. However, the music on this release got more creative in it's use of instruments and organs. The song She's Gonna Make Me Cry is also in 3/4 time.

This is my favorite Rocketship EP. I love the song She's Gonna Make Me Cry. It's probably one of the most perfect ballads ever recorded by anyone ever. If you can ever get a hold of this album (or just buy it online) you absolutely should. It's a lost jewel.

A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness (CD)
1. I Love You Like The Way That I Used To Do
2. Kisses Are Always Promises
3. Heather, Tell Me Why
4. Let's Go Away
5. I'm Lost Without You Here
6. Carrie Cooksey
7. We're Both Alone
8. Friendships And Love

All through 1995 Dustin Reske and the rest of Rocketship had been working hard at finishing their debut full length album, and when it was released in January 1996 what an album it was! A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness is an album of pure ambition chronicling it's creators emotions and sentimentality. It has as much devotion and creativity put into it as Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper combined with the D.I.Y. production to still keep it cool. Everyone song on the album flows into one another to make one seamless recording that dares you to skip a song.

Rocketship had come full circle from all of it's previous releases, including everything they had experimented with so far, including but not limited to ambient interludes, organ driven melodies, male-female harmonies and extreme sentimentality. The songs on the album are all well written, crafted works of art and Dustin Reske's expertise at recording and production make the entire album sound great. It's pretty impressive to think that everything on this album was made without even touching a computer.

My favorite track on the album is Heather, Tell Me Why. Listen to it and you will probably know why.

Rocketship/Henry's Dress Split
1. It's Gonna Be Soon

Shortly after their full length album, Rocketship appeared on a split CD with another Slumberland band, Henry's Dress. The song they contributed, It's Gonna Be Soon, is stylistically different from the songs that were included on their last album, abandoning the indie pop style and choosing a more relaxing style of song with quiet distorted guitars and an optimistic view of love as opposed to the more negative songs that appeared on the last few releases. Rocketship also seemed to have lost it's female singers for this song and has just Dustin singing on it.

Double Agent Compilation
1. The Love We Could Have Had

Dustin Reske next appeared on a compilation album for Double Agent Records accompanying singer Rose Melberg for the song The Love We Could Have Had. The song is a little hard to digest at first, because of the intensely distorted guitars and the very "trebley" production. But after listening a little longer it becomes obvious that this is another great pop song with wonderful hooks and great male-female harmonies. It's nice to have considering how extremely rare this is.

Get On The Floor 7 inch (vinyl)
A1. Get On The Floor (And Move It)
B1. All The Pleasures

In 1997 Dustin Reske was all alone; the band Rocketship had dissolved and it was now Dustin Reske all by himself. So what did he decide to do? Well, he did what anyone would do...he made a dance song. Rocketship's venture into the world of club music is a bit clumsy and unconvincing with the song Get On The Floor being almost whispered behind a rather odd dance beat with whistles and tons of reverb. However, after a while I did realize this actually is a really good tune and really makes me smile. However, it's not really enough to actually get me moving, but it does improve my mood, and thats what counts.

The B-side, All The Pleasures plays out like a psychedelic trip with some freaky flute music and repetitive cymbal hits behind some kind of guitar feedback. The song is also unnecessarily long and kind of uninteresting and probably uninspired. Dustin Reske really loves ambient music, and he is not afraid to submit his listeners to it. It's probably a good idea to skip this track unless you are high as a kite.

Beikoku-Ongaku Magazine v.9 (comp)
1. All That I Know

In case you don't know, Beikoku-Ongaku Magazine is one of the most influential indie culture magazines in the world. It's published (i think) once or twice a year and always comes included with a compilations CD. In 1997 the Rocketship song All That I Know was featured in issue #9's compilation disc. The song is one of my favorite's from Rocketship and is stupid impossible to find. This song continued to shift Dustin Reske further and further away from his indie pop roots and toward a more ambient, experimental path that had it's hits and misses. Fortunately this song was a big hit and includes the female backing vocals he had been lacking on the previous release (although they are mixed rather quietly). If you ever find this song, make sure to hoard it!

Capsule Giants/Rocketship Split
1. Love So Estranged

Entering 1998 Rocketship came in contact with a small record label called Cardinal Records and did a split with a band called Capsule Giants. I looked around and I really couldn't find anything about either the record label or the other band, but Rocketship's contribution to the split, Love So Estranged is one of my favorite songs from Dustin Reske. For a long time I really loved the song (and I still do) because of the great drum beat and electronic bass lines that were crafted for the song. The song remains in true Rocketship form with organ based melodies and ambient drones, but the more hip hop edge of the song and amazing lyrics make this one of my favorite Rocketship songs. Again, this song is harder to find than clouds in the Mariana Trench.

Garden of Delights (CD)
1. We Took The High Road
2. Butterflies
3. Carved By Winds And Water
4. Artesian Wells
5. Furness
6. The Deadly Fisher
7. Jewels From Many Lands

It was pretty obvious that Dustin Reske had been itching for about 5 years to make an all out ambient record, and that is exactly what he did in 1999 with his second full length album, Garden of Delights. The album has 45 minutes of ambient swells and chill tracks to fall asleep to or get stoned to, or whatever it is you want to do. It's sort of weird to listen to this album for fun, but it is still a very polished release and clearly some of the best ambient music in the world. The album experiments with backwards guitars, bongos and lots of pads and swelling patterns all designed and carefully executed. This was the 26th release from the now defunct Drive-In Records, it was also Rocketship's 6th record label.

Cookbook Compilation
1. Pretty Sara

In Japan there used to be a record label called Eenie Meenie Records. It seems after Rocketship's appearance in the Beikoku-Ongaku Magazine Dustin was able to land a song on a compilation released in 2002 called Cookbook. The song, Pretty Sara, seems to pick up where Rocketship left off 3 years earlier. The song has the typical Rocketship distorted guitars and organ melodies that Dustin Reske had been perfecting for 10 years. I particularly like this track though! The lyrics to the song are great, "She wants a rich merchant, and I have no land..."; it's clever analogies like this that always blow my mind wide open and leave me jealous as hell. Pretty Sara is a great song, but unfortunately it's extremely difficult to find.

The Way Things Change 6 (comp)
1. I Wanna Be Your Guy

A small label called Red Square Recordings from Flagstaff, Arizona included Rocketship on their compilation, The Way Things Change Volume 6 from 2003. Rocketship included the song I Wanna Be Your Guy, an extremely sleepy ambient track that loops over itself and includes some very echo-y lyrics sung solo by Dustin, telling an unknown girl that he would, indeed, like to be her guy. The song itself is pretty bland until the newly added horns add some spice at the end. Overall, this is a pretty good song, but not really as inspired as some of his other compilation songs.

Rocketship/Trace Split
1. The Quad
2. James, That's All Over Now
3. You'll Regret It Someday
4. Never Gonna Let You Go
5. Post-Work Comedown

After his appearance on The Way Things Change 6, Rocketship rebounded with their first truly inspired release in over 4 years. Rocketship's 2003 split on the Omnibus label with Trace had 5 songs and every one of them were really good. From the exciting opener the Quad, to the first female lead song, James, That's All Over Now, the split EP finally feels like a real Rocketship release. The third song You'll Regret It Someday comes off as slightly odd, but still remains enjoyable until the 4th song Never Gonna Let You Go comes on. I absolutely love that track! The song is so catchy and has so much to offer without even mentioning that it's just a fantastically well written song. You really can't go wrong with that track.

The Split comes to a great end with the appropriate Post-Work Comedown. It really is just that too...a relaxing ambient track that makes a perfect closer to the album. This split EP is actually one of the easier Rocketship releases to get a hold of (thanks to Ombibus making it available on many online retailors), so I would strongly recommend getting a hold of it. It was so amazingly refreshing to hear a Rocketship comeback EP that reminded me of their older releases.

Homemade Hits, Vol. 2 (comp)
23. Rocketship's Got Something

After the great Split CD released 2 years earlier Rocketship resurfaced in 2005 on the Kittridge Records compilation Homemade Hits, Vol. 2. However, it seems as though Dustin Reske took a big step backwards in creativity and instead chose to experiment with more electronic noises and strange Fruity Loops patterns and even used some hip hop samples (I have no idea where they came from). It's so extremely bizarre to hear this "song". I almost hate to call it a song because it never really goes anywhere. You expect the absurd clicks and beeps to suddenly transform into a viable piece of music at some point...but it just never happens.

Rocketship's Got Something is a pretty big let down and is really nothing more than 2 minutes of beeps and blips (not the good kind).

Here Comes...Rocketship (CD)
1. The Scene Section
2. You're Too Young
3. Oh! Woe Is Me
4. The Foxes' Teeth
5. No More Tomorrows
6. They March In Line
7. The Passersby
8. I'm Gonna Take Your Place
9. This Modern Livin'
10. Good Intentions?
11. Noose and Saddle Blues
12. Our New Track

When I first heard that a new Rocketship album was coming out, I was naturally excited, but when I heard that it was the true sequal to 1996's A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness, I was ecstatic! So when the album came out in 2006 I was a bit mystified to not hear any sounds like the Rocketship from 10 years ago. Instead, Here Comes...Rocketship is filled with the electronic experiments that Dustin had been releasing for years. Fortunately this album has much, much more to offer than that. The opening track to the album, The Scene Section is an extremely dense song with tons of layers of instruments, synthesizers, backing vocals, drum beats and guitars. The song is also extremely fun and catchy, something I hadn't heard in nearly a decade from Rocketship.

The album also uses the acoustic guitar for the first time and has 2 ballads, the rebellious You're Too Young and I'm Gonna Take Your Place. Both songs show off Reske's song writing and singing in a simple way, proving what a great song writer he is, regardless of genre or style. The album also features a track with sound clips from a symphony perfectly pasted over a hip hop style drum beat, creating one of the most powerful songs of the album. The Foxes' Teeth also had a video made for it that I posted a few weeks back.

Overall, the album is very good. Dustin Reske really proved himself capable of pulling together an entire album together again of good stuff and made the album very diverse while doing it. The girls are back, the fun is back and his production skills are so top-notch now you can't even call this Lo-fi. You should head over to his label's website and pick it up. It's free to all, but pay what you can (sort of like Radiohead).

While Rocketship and Dustin Reske have (probably) released a few more songs than this and have been featured on other compilations...this pretty much covers it. Trust me. Since 2006 I know Dustin has been producing other groups' albums and working with the nonstop co-op, so I'm sort of hoping a new Rocketship release will be out sometime soon! I also really hope maybe 1 person enjoys reading this, because I just spent a good 4 hours on it!

- eric

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Interview: Carlos Valderrama of Fitness Forever

A couple months ago I wrote about one of my favorite groups from Italy called Fitness Forever (here). Now, a couple months later Carlos Valderrama (the composer behind the group) has agreed to do an interview with me.

I really hope you'll enjoy this one. The debut album from Fitness Forever, Personal Train, is nearly finished and its really the perfect time to do an interview with them (before they're off playing world tours). Carlos is a wonderful guy with an equally wonderful Italian accent.

Eric: I know you have played with other groups, so what made you decided to start Fitness Forever?

Carlos: First of all, thanks thousands for doing an interview with me Eric! I've been waiting for this moment since I was born.

I've been playing with many bands before Fitness Forever...all kind of music, from hardcore punk to indie-rock to shoegaze, even kind of "Cruise ship music" (kind of Bee Gee-sy).

But since people in my last band, the amazing VALDERRAMA 5 cared a lot about eating, I realized I was starting to gain weight; that's when I decided to start up the "Fitness Forever" project. The first recordings were in May 2007 and now I've already lost about 2 kilos! *That's about 4.4 pounds*

Eric: Is it just you writing the songs for the group, or do any of the other members contribute anything creatively to the music?

Carlos: I'm the producer, main songwriter and arranger and definitely the one who has in mind how the song will sound at the end of the recording (so it's my fault if everything is so creepy), but there are 2 more musicians in the band who have a main role in recordings and arrangements: Big Tony (keyboards) is also an orchestral conductor and was very, very important in writing the string quartet's scores, while Scialdone (bass and guitars), apart from being a bass and guitar master, is really half of the band, we decide together...well, almost everything!

Last but not least, the ultra cute and beautiful Paster. I believe that her sweetness and her gentle voice is the soul of the band.

We work like production teams used to work in the 60's. We spend almost the whole day in the recording studio, everyone has their own role and we work friendly together in order to produce the happiest record ever!

Eric: How do you end up getting signed with EMI records?

Carlos: It's fun! They just listened to some songs on Myspace (God bless Tom :-D), they asked for more, they liked the stuff and then I just got signed!

Eric: After the release of your single "Mondo Fitness" how do you feel about your upcoming album?

Carlos: Everything I know, every single song I've played, every love story I've had, every single second spent on the beach...they were all kind of cut/pasted from my soul to this record. I don't know if it's enough to make this a great record, but surely, I did everything I could to record the best album I could. *insert shy smile here*

Eric: Could you explain a little bit about the new album; How you're recording it, what the songs are about and when it will be released?

Carlos: We are recording it in a small studio in Napoli, in the south of Italy (the place where pizza was born!) owned by Big Tony and Scialdone on a digital mixer, but we're trying to use as much analog stuff as we can, from pre-amplifiers to compressors, reverbs, synths and echoes...

Lots of strings, backing vocals, trumpets, guitars, synthesizers and percussions were recorded. It wasn't a choice, it's just the way I heard the songs in my mind before recording them.

I'm a kind of lonely person; I feel a bit uncomfortable with people and I definitely have my own world where I live in every day, so my songs are about a strange kind of happiness I feel when I see people happy. They (the songs) talk about someone relaxing on a lonely beach in September, or about what a guy who falls in love with an anarchist may do to earn her attention. Stuff like that!

Eric: Could you talk about your influences a little bit? What sort of bands do you want your group to sound like, or just ended up finding their way into your music?

Carlos: Brian Wilson, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Circulatory System, Free Design, Joao Gilberto, John Carter, Billy Nicholls, La Casa Azul, Frank Zappa, Serge Gainsbourg, Junior Boys, Peppino Di Capri, Stereolab, Scott Walker, Burt Bacharach, Lilys, The Heavy Blinkers, Super Furry Animals, Supergrass, My Bloody Valentine, Olivia Tremor Control, The Who, The Beatles...all of them are geniuses; amazing people who changed my life.

Eric: Your music actually makes me think of the Gymnopedies by Erik Satie (you can hear the first one here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPA-GfkkkGc). They were actually the first ambient/lounge songs. Have you heard them?

Carlos: WOWWWW! That's a great compliment Eric! Satie is amazing...being compared to such magnificent music just makes me blush.

Eric: I wanted to ask about your fitness image. Do you really care that much about fitness, or is it just some kind of gimmick?

Carlos: Well, actually, we spend too much time sitting at the mixing desk, but I'm actually leaving for 2 weeks to Formetera soon, so maybe when I come back after some swimming and sunshine I'll be able to answer your question better.

Eric: I know you can speak fluently in English and Italian, but all your songs are strictly in Italian. Do you have any plans of writing any songs in English?

Carlos: Well, I actually wrote songs for 15 years in English, but then I realized it didn't work because English spoken by an Italian is sort of awkward sounding to people from the USA and England...if not just plain funny because of our Italian accent. So I decided that if I really wanted to speak to people, I had to write songs in Italian (which is actually much more difficult than writing in English, because of Italian words. Every Italian songwriter will tell you the same!)

But I also feel that since I listen to a lot of music sung in English or French or Portuguese, Icelandic or Norwich, I also figure that people from other countries may find my music interesting and lovely, the same way I do listening to songs in their language.

Eric: When your new album comes out will it have distribution in the United States?

Carlos: I don't know yet, but I will definitely ask some American labels if they are mad enough to spend money on a guy who writes songs about taking vacations in September!

Eric: Finally, what do you plan to do after the release of the new album? Are there any plans for any tours or anything like that?

Carlos: Well, after spending months recording I'd love to finally take the stage and spread the message of being in shape with Fitness Forever to the whole world!

Since we're still only a 4 member group, we need much more people on stage to perform the songs live, but we're already asking around for a female string quartet dressed in Olympic swimsuits!


I want to thank Carlos Valderrama and the rest of Fitness Forever for being so cool! You can check out their music by going to the link below!

Myspace | Label