In 1997, the way I learned about new music changed yet again. Even though I’d worked as a community radio DJ before and between my early college years, and even though I knew and liked most of the people working at the college station, I never got involved with it. I’m not sure it ever occurred to me to try, or maybe I’d just been too swamped with theater over my four years. In any case, not long after I’d gotten settled into a new job in the city where my girlfriend was still in college, she got her own radio show, and I followed her lead.
The show itself was fun, but most of the time it felt like I was playing music mostly for myself. I had no way of telling whether I had any listeners. But there was still some small pleasure in playing the music I liked and just the music I liked (especially in contrast to community radio, where all I could do was desperately sift through the officially sanctioned easy-listening music for something I could stand to sit through), and more importantly, I suddenly had access to all the promo CDs that came in, past, present, and future. This hipped me to all sorts of stuff I’d never have found any other way — indie label records, imports, “college rock” in the most literal sense.
More importantly, because my girlfriend also became Music Director of the station in short order, she got to arrange interviews with all sorts of bands coming through our city and the surrounding areas. I’ve mentioned a few of them in the 1977 entry. Now it’s time to talk about Geneva.
The first thing you’re going to notice when you listen to Further, their debut album — and you need to track it down, trust me — is that voice. Andrew Montgomery has probably had every journalistic superlative in the thesaurus hurled at his falsetto, trying to get across just how extraordinary it is. Most such attempts usually invoke Lis Fraser (from Cocteau Twins) sooner or later, and it’s not a bad comparison…the high pitches, the acrobatic melodies, the otherworldly timbres. But where Fraser meanders, Montgomery is direct; where she’s ethereal, he’s cold fire. She’s a jar of fireflies. He’s a buzzing Tesla coil.
With a voice like this out front, many bands would be content to sound heart-stoppingly beautiful, but Geneva put instrumental muscle behind their songs, and the contrast is perfect. “Temporary Wings” kicks down the doors, and “Into the Blue” pours the ocean through them. This gives “The God of Sleep” room to brood, just as the other upbeat tracks like “Best Regrets,” “No One Speaks,” and “Wearing Off” create space for the slower, moodier ones like “Worry Beads,” “Nature’s Whore,” “In the Years Remaining,” and the title track. And then there’s “Tranquilizer,” a soaring pop masterpiece, and the track I probably listen to the most. It’s a fantastic debut, and very quickly pinned down a prime spot on my girlfriend’s playlist as well as mine.
I’m not sure exactly how she hooked up an interview with them, but I’m assuming she took the initiative on it. She’s not easily impressed; bands don’t make it into her favorites without being something really special. So I have no doubt she must have gotten in touch with their management and made it happen. In any case, we found ourselves heading downtown one day in September to the venue where they were opening for Catherine Wheel, and — it still amazes me that this happened — were invited onto their tour bus to interview them.
No doubt this is a quotidian experience for professional radio types. For me it was still pretty incredible to be sitting down and talking face to face with the faces behind this music we’d been marveling over. I wish I could remember more about the interview itself (hell, I wish I still had a copy of it); all I really remember was that they were utterly sweet and down-to-earth, which was not a surprise but was still a relief. I must have asked some dopey question at some point, but it can’t have been that dopey or it would have stuck out in my mind along with all the other embarrassing gaffes my brain likes to keep in permanent storage. So that’s good. I remember at one point one of us asked which was their favorite song on the album. One of the guys we were talking to said “Tranquilizer” (Keith Graham, maybe?) but I can’t recall which song Andrew Montgomery named (“Fall Apart Button”?). And that’s what tape recorders are for.
After the interview, we took pictures with them lined up against the tour bus, thanked them, and went off to wait for the show to start. It was magnificent, and we danced like fools with unfeigned enthusiasm. Unless I dreamed this part, Montgomery found us in the crowd afterward and thanked us for being there and being excited enough for the whole room. At this point I was feeling such a surge of loyalty for these guys that I decided to leave the show halfway through the Catherine Wheel set. Partly the cigarette smoke was getting to me, but also I’d been unimpressed by the station’s promo copy of Adam and Eve and took somewhat juvenile offense to the fact that Geneva weren’t the ones headlining the show. As I’ll mention below, Adam and Eve is now one of my favorite albums, and I’ll always regret not staying for the rest of the show…but I still would have danced harder for Geneva.
They made only one other album before calling it quits, 2000’s Weather Underground. Further‘s my sentimental favorite, but objectively speaking Weather Underground is just as incredible. I love “Killing Stars,” “Amnesia Valley,” and “Cassie” particularly, but “If You Have to Go” is probably my favorite, not least because (you’ll see a pattern developing) of the harmonies I sing along with Montgomery in the car. I’m down an octave (or two?) of course, but I think we sound great.
If you listen to these two albums and you love them, because you have excellent taste, you should know that at long last Andrew Montgomery has a solo record out, Ruled By Dreams. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what to expect — I was just looking forward to hearing his voice again. But I already like it as much as the Geneva records, maybe more — “La Graciosa” is my favorite track so far, but since the whole thing is frankly stunning I expect that to shift around a lot as I continue to listen to it. You can preview and buy the album at andrewmontgomery.bandcamp.com, and if you do the one I predict you’ll be unable to resist doing the other.
Catherine Wheel, Adam and Eve
I wasn’t a Catherine Wheel fan yet when I first heard this, so to my ears it was lugubrious, leaden, a bit pretentious. I didn’t like it. I don’t remember what drew me back and got me to give it another try years later, but I’m glad I did, because it’s fucking amazing, isn’t it? When I eventually went to see Rob Dickinson’s solo shows, I told him truthfully, “I’ve been a fan since Adam and Eve.” I didn’t mention how long it took to get through my thick skull.
Radiohead, OK Computer
I wasn’t a Radiohead fan yet when I first heard this. “Creep” hadn’t done much for me, and I hadn’t paid any attention to The Bends, but when I heard this at a listening station in a Hillcrest record store in San Diego, I was riveted. As a rule I’m still not a big Radiohead fan — the hard left turn to Kid A left me in the dust until In Rainbows — but I take the uncontroversial stance that this is a masterpiece.
The Spice Girls, Spice World
I take the uncontroversial stance that this is not a masterpiece, but that never stopped me from loving anything. Look, we were young, and we were having fun, and this was pure fun, both soundtrack and movie. Even if you hate the Spice Girls themselves, everybody who’s anybody guest stars or cameos in it. Yes, we saw the movie something like three times in the theater; yes, we went to the concert; yes, we sang along to the music in the car every chance we got; yes, we own the DVD even now and I’d happily watch it tonight if I weren’t so busy writing this. Non, je ne regrette rien.
- Blur, Blur
- They Might Be Giants, Then: The Earlier Years
- Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Barafundle
- Depeche Mode, Ultra
- Ani DiFranco, Living in Clip
- David Byrne, Feelings
- Ween, The Mollusk
- Dandy Warhols, The Dandy Warhols Come Down
- Dar Williams, End of the Summer
- Tanya Donnelly, Lovesongs for Underdogs
- Morrissey, Maladjusted
- Cornershop, When I Was Born for the 7th Time
- Björk, Homogenic
- Chumbawamba, Tubthumper
- Echobelly, Lustra
- Bis, New Transistor Heroes
- The Autumns, The Angel Pool
- Suede, Sci-Fi Lullabies
- Ciao Bella, 1
- Janet Jackson, The Velvet Rope