Working down the list of wishlist contributions to the Hidden Gems series has brought me to a fairly big influence on RSTB in general. For a good swath of the ‘90s, and to be honest a good portion of the ‘00s, the works of the Elephant 6 Collective reigned supreme in my listening habits. So, it’s with some excitement that this contribution comes from Apples in Stereo founding member and bassist Eric Allen. Eric’s taken a stab at an album that he’s found has missed its due and remains a treasure among ‘90s CD stacks. Check out below as he tackles Chris Knox’ 1995 sprawler Songs of You and Me and listening back again, I can see how this one made its mark on the band’s sound for sure.
Jumping in on what makes this particular piece of Knox’ storied career such an undersung classic, Allen explains, “Aside from the self-deprecation of his lyrics ¬– angry, lovesick, comedic and of the highest brow – they connect and are relatable in a way that anyone who has desired another person can understand. I still don’t know how a mid-fi, home-recorded album with one person playing every instrument can sound so interesting and varied from song to song? Songs Of You and Me” has 21 songs and it clocks in at about 25 minutes longer than what I’d consider optimal for a pop record but it doesn’t seem long. It breaks with the LP length and conforms more to the mid-90’s CD era, at 70 minutes. Most pop records sputter out after 40+ minutes but “Songs” would have stood up as one of the few great double-LP’s of the 90’s if it had been issued that way.
Eric muses, “Someday the Prime Minister of New Zealand will award Chris Knox the “Royal Order of the Grand Kiwi” or whatever New Zealand’s highest honor is – the kind of award that transcends music and other areas of art – the sort of award that countries give to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.” For now, these are a few of my favorites from an album that is nothing but favorites. It would be a cop out to list 21 songs so I’ll just list 4 and hope you go for more.
Eric’s call outs for the essential tracks to hit before diving in are, “One Fell Swoop” – A beautiful song that sounds like it was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant for the Everly Brothers or Roy Orbison. “Nothing Comes Clear “ – I can’t think of a song more beautiful and lovesick than this one. “Sympathy for the Cripple – straight-ahead but really a beautiful counter-argument to “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Knox hammers a piano drone and fuzzy guitar like “Dog” and both songs start out on the low side but Knox’s Cripple ascends his world instead of inviting the boot to visit the face. “A Song to Welcome the Onset of Maturity” – “take it all take it all” – The whole album deals with the idea of not being a young man anymore and / or being in a serious relationship, this song hammers that thought home.
Long a Knox fan myself, but leaning to the earlier bits, pre-solo work and punk sides, even I feel like even familiar friends of his work can miss out on this one. Eric is right to call it out for the treasure trove of gems that it is. Listening back again this feels like such a perfect companion piece to what E6 were stabbing at from a pop standpoint. If you’ve let you Chris Knox listening suffer then this is the perfect time to catch up. As for Apples in Stereo themselves, it’s a perfect time to catch up on their back catalog as well seeing as how their early records are all now finding their way back to vinyl via YepRoc. There’s definitely some justice in a world that’s bringing these works back to the turntable for those of us who missed a few in the early runs.
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