Archive for the ‘Letters to Cleo’ Category


After a lengthy hiatus and a comeback EP, Letters to Cleo have returned with a Christmas EP.

It’s four songs and the title is a pretty funny indicator that the songs here are not full of great cheer–things are okay.

It’s a bit of a surprise for such a happy-sounding band.

The first song is a fun rocking version of The Kink’s “Father Christmas.”  This song always seems happy until you listen to the lyrics.  This version is a bit more pop punk than the original, but not by much.  However, Kay Hanley has updated the lyrics from

But give my daddy a job ’cause he needs one
He’s got lots of mouths to feed
But if you’ve got one I’ll have a machine gun
So I can scare all the kids on the street


But give my daddy a job ’cause he needs one
He’s got lots of mouths to feed
And can you melt down all the machine guns
so the kids are safe on the street

“Miss You This Christmas” is an original that sounds like classic Letter to Cleo and could easily have been written and recorded back in the 90s.  Its a song of longing (obviously) with a positive twist at the end–coming home to kiss me New Year’s Eve.

“If I Get Home on Christmas Day” was sung by Elvis.  It’s a poppy little number that sounds upbeat and has a lovely lap steel guitar. But it has a lot of questioning about being together for the holidays.

The final song “X Mas Time (Sure Don’t Feel Like It”) I heard recently by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  I assumed it was their song–it suited their sound very well (and its about Boston).  But it turns out it was originally by The Dogmatics (which makes sense because it’s a bit too dark for the Bosstones).

It’s the twentieth of December
Rain is coming down
Kenmore squares deserted, now
The college kids have left town

This version is a little less dark than the Bosstones’ since Kay Hanley’s voice is so much prettier than Dicky Barrett’s but it’s still not a very happy ending.

I understand what the band was doing with this OK Christmas, but I do wish it ended a bit more happily. Because that album cover (a great design by Daykamp Creative) is just fabulous.

[READ: December 24, 2019] “Vigil”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story is a memory of Christmas Eve,  It also includes a bunch of Polish words.

On the Holy Night vigil, Wigilia (which means “to watch” in Polish), the young narrator and his family sat around while his father read “The Night Before Christmas.” They were ready for bed when there was a knock on the door. It was the grizzled, kooky old taxidermist from downstairs.

The man presented them with a large unwieldy package.  They invited him in, but he wouldn’t stay.  They wished him Wesolych Swiat and closed the door.

The present proved to be a very large carp wrapped in newspaper with a pinkish bronze tail and a gray thick-lipped snout with its white mustachios. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 14, 2018] Letters to Cleo

When Letters to Cleo first put out Aurora Gory Alice back in 1993  I was really excited about them.  They were punky and fast but they were poppy and intriguing.  The chorus of “Here & Now” is somehow really catchy and impossible to sing.  I lived in Boston, they were based in Boston.  They were getting much buzz in the Boston Phoenix and on WFNX (“Here & Now” was inescapable–it was even used on Melrose Place).  And their name was weird and mentioned my childhood dog (Cleo).  I also thought their album title was funny so I bought a copy on Cherry Disc records (one of dozens of CDs I bought on an indie label only to later find out the major label pressing aided like five more songs and a gold chain or something).

Their second album had an even weirder name Wholesale Meats and Fish but was equally as strong, if not stronger.  Their third album was the amazing Go!–it added so much depth to their songwriting and was really just fantastic.

Then they appeared in 1999’s movie 10 Things I Hate About You.  They had songs on the soundtrack and were filmed playing “I Want You To Want Me” over the closing credits.

Wikipedia says that “the band then recorded 13 new original songs for the Kids’ WB cartoon, Generation O!, which aired from 2000 to 2001″ and which I’ve never heard of.

Then they broke up. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 14, 2018] American Hi-Fi

Back in 2001, I thought that American Hi_Fi’s single “Flavor of the Weak” was great.  And I still do. It’s a funny and self deprecating look at young love.  And it’s catchy as all heck as well.

American Hi-Fi got lost for me amid the power pop surge of the early 2000s.  There’s only so many catchy rocking songs you can absorb, after all.  And I basically forgot about them.  They put out a couple of discs and then wound up taking four or five years between the others.  They haven’t released anything new since 2014, so I was a little surprised that they were opening for Letters to Cleo.

Then I read that Stacy Jones, the lead singer and guitarist for American Hi-Fi was the original drummer for Letters to Cleo and he’d be playing with them on LtC’s short 2018 tour (5 shows).  Well it made perfect sense that his other band would open for them.

They played six songs from the debut (which all sounded slightly familiar), three songs from the follow up, a “rarity” and a song from their last album from 2014.

The band sounded great.  Stacy is a terrific front man.  And even though they used to play stadia (and Jones now works with Miley Cyrus apparently), he really seemed to enjoy playing in this tiny club with a rabid fan base.  Because even if I didn’t remember their songs, nearly everyone around me sure did, and they went bananas.

The guy who was next to me was about 6 foot 3 and a large dude.  He was completely hammered.  We around him were lucky that he had a buddy with him to hold him up–and he literally was holding this guy up, moving his arm when it almost hit someone else).  But this guy was so into the show, it was almost cute (almost).  His friend said he liked LtC even more, although he was so drunk he couldn’t make it through the set break and started to spit up a bit (not throw up, thankfully) and his buddy had to drag him off to the side.  At least I didn’t get thrown up on during Letters to Cleo.

Their set made me wonder what happens to bands that they get left by the wayside like that.  They sounded great, they were still tight and the fans loved them. Their songs were poppy and would fit in with modern rock radio now.  The music business is pretty inexplicable.

Scar,” “Surround” and “Hi-Fi Killer” from the first album rocked really hard, but it was “The Breakup Song” from the second album that made the audience go nuts (this was a single that I might not know, but it was so simple and catchy that by the end I was sure I had heard it a million times).  It had that whole bratty pop punk vibe that was huge circa 2003.

Safer on the Outside” was very familiar to me.  I’m not sure if it was ever a single, but it’s a pseudo-ballad that I could see being a hit.

The he said the next song was from “one of the American Pie movies, I think we had a song on each soundtrack.”  But the best intro was when he said that they ripped off the introductory drum riff from Iron Maiden (true); however, when the drummer played it the first time, he messed it up and they had to do it again.

“Portland” had a different sound than the other songs–not radically different, but a different style of song writing, which makes sense since it was written 13 years.  It had a few more delicate moments and an actual guitar solo.  “Another Perfect Day” is all acoustic and cello on the record.  But there was none of that here, just a slow intro before the mid-tempo song segued into the fun drum intro and bratty woah-ohing of “The Art of Losing” (hey ho, let’s go, I’m gonna start a riot, you don’t wanna fight it // one, two, fuck you, don;t tell me what to do I don’t wanna be like you) which ends with a shout out to “we’re the kids in America.”

As the set was ending I was thinking that I knew they had a hit single that I liked.  I just couldn’t remember what it was called.  When Stacy started singing “Stars” I thought, oh right, this song.  But my memory banks knew this wasn’t them (“Stars” is by Hum from 1995).  So after that intro verse when he switched into “Flavor of the Weak” it all came flooding back.  It sounded great and reminded me why I liked these guys so much back then.

They ended the set with “Happy,” a noisy romp with a great heavy bass line and rough guitars.  Midway through the song, Stacy grabbed a drumstick and shoved it under his guitar strings and began making all kinds of cool sounds for a mid-song diversion.

There set was great and a lot of fun and I’ve been listening to their older stuff again, and enjoying it quite a bit.


  1. Scar *
  2. The Breakup Song ∀
  3. Surround *
  4. Safer on the Outside *
  5. Vertigo ⊗
  6. Hi-Fi Killer *
  7. Portland ß
  8. Another Perfect Day *
  9. The Art of Losing ∀
  10. Stars (song by Hum…snippet played as segue into next song)
  11. Flavor of the Weak *
  12. Happy ∀

* American Hi-Fi (2001)
⊗ American Pie 2 soundtrack (2001)
∀ The Art of Losing (2003)
ß Blood and Lemonade (2014)

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[ATTENDED: April 17, 2018] Tancred

When I saw the name Tancred a while back I imagined a kind of Middle-Eastern-sounding band.  I had a very specific idea in my head.  So I was really quite surprised to discover that they are actually a 90s-sounding alt rock band created (more or less exclusively) by Jess Abbott (who was in Now, Now for a time).

When I first heard “Bed Case” I was totally psyched.  It pushed all of the buttons I have for 90s female-led alt-rock.  I mean, holy cow.  There’s a total Letters to Cleo/Juliana Hatfield vibe but with a modern sensibility of not following exactly the 90’s rules.

I was super duper psyched that they were opening for Julien Baker.

Incidentally, Tancred (1075 – December 5 or December 12, 1112) was an Italo-Norman leader of the First Crusade who later became Prince of Galilee and regent of the Principality of Antioch…. thanks Wikipedia. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 7, 2015] Alvvays

2015-04-07 20.23.26Canadian band Alvvays opened for The Decemberists last night.  I really like their debut album and I was pretty excited to see them.  Alvvays play a perfect update of female -fronted-90s-alt-rock that I really like (and which few bands do anymore).  There are plenty of touchstones for the kind of music they play (Letters to Cleo, Lush), and they do it perfectly–super catchy choruses, nice harmonies and simple ringing guitars.

In hindsight (after watching the headliners) it must be tough for a small band to play when the headliners have so much going on.  So the five members of Alvvays looked a little cramped on stage in their small area.  They didn’t say a lot and they barely moved around.  But they brought their A-game and ripped through their entire album (I think).

I remember thinking that their album is only about 35 minutes, so their set couldn’t be much longer than that.  It was about 30 minutes.  And, since I like the album but don’t really know song names yet, I’m not sure what they played or didn’t play (and setlist.com is no help at all).  I certainly recognized a few songs, but have no idea what order they were in.

I also had to wonder…if you are an up and coming band with a single that’s getting airplay (“Marry Me, Archie”), do you play it first and get the audience psyched to hear more, or do you save it for the end when more people have arrived.   Which they did.  And it was nice to see the crowd (who was responsive but not exactly rocking) nodding along to the song. (more…)

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unityLast night, in the season finale of Parks and Recreation, the Pawnee/Eagleton Unity concert finally happened.  And, despite them never talking about who would be at the concert, the final show list was surprising and maybe not so surprising.

To see the Decemberists play live was a huge surprise and was totally wonderful (and to see Jenny Conley on keyboards looking healthy was very nice) especially since they have been more or less on hiatus for a time.  Although maybe it shouldn’t have been such a surprise since Michael Schur directed a Decemberists video a few years back.

Ginuwine played a song as well (I don’t actually know him), and it shouldn’t have been a surprise because in a past episode it was revealed that character Donna is actually Ginuwine’s cousin.

Then came Letters to Cleo.  This was a surprise because they’ve been broken up for years and, aside from a hit were never really all that big (I was huge fan and saw them live once).  Although it was not a real surprise because Ben has been seen wearing an LtC shirt from time to time on the show.  Seeing him sing along to the chorus (off stage) was great.  I also just read that the drummer from LtC is the drummer in Andy’s band Mouse Rat.

Next was Bobby Knight Ranger, a hilarious visual joke of three members dressed like Bobby Knight (with really fake white wigs) who, played nothing but “Sister Christian” for their set.  At the end of their set they threw chairs.  It was a weird throwaway joke that was very funny.  It was made even funnier when during the credits it became clear that Bobby Knight Ranger was actually Yo La Tengo.  This is just surprising as I don’t know any connection there, but in my experience Yo La Tengo are game for anything.

Land Ho! finished the night.  Land Ho!, if you follow the show is Pawnee’s biggest band (fronted by Wilco dude Jeff Tweedy (!)).  They played a song and then Mouse Rate (and others) jammed with them for a holographic tribute to Li’l Sebastian (a running joke that I think is way overplayed and yet which makes me laugh every single time)..

I was so delighted to not know who was playing before hand because every band was a fun surprise.  But seriously, did these bands all fly in just to play one song?   Surely they must have done a few songs for the crowd.  And if so, I think it would behoove Parks and Rec to get a CD out of songs from the Unity Concert (including some solo Johnny Karate songs as well.

The episode itself was also quite good.  While I didn’t care too much for the Tom’s Bistro segment (most of the jokes were pretty obvious from the get go), it was nice to see so many old characters make a cameo.  In fact, with the concert and the old characters and the tidy wrap up, it felt more like a series finale than a season finale.

And, SPOILER ALERT UNTIL THE VIDEO CLIP OF LETTERS TO CLEO PASTED BELOW: I though that their meld from the scene in the office on the third floor with the sly tag of three years later was a stroke of genius.  I have been a little down on this season because I thought it was getting a bit overdone with Leslie’s failures and whatnot. I actually wanted her to get the hell out of Pawnee.  But the compromise of how she stayed made sense for the show (if she didn’t take that job I was done with the show).  I was also not looking forward to a year of Leslie being pregnant (the triplets thing was also lame to begin with).  So the fact that it was all utterly skipped over–the pregnancy, the baby problems, the sleepless nights, even the fact that we didn’t have any awkward transitions in the job and that Leslie is just settled into her new job was excellent.

I also loved that Ben and Leslie were off to do something interesting (with Ben in a tux) with no explanation–what a great cliffhanger.  Kudos for one of the best season enders I’ve seen in a long time.

[READ: April 24, 2014] “The Gifts of Anna Speight”

This was a confusing story.  Well that is because it is an excerpt from a novel and therefore doesn’t stand on its own.  But I don;t know if it was just the excerpt they chose, but I found it not very compelling at all.

The story is told in second person, with Sylvie telling “us” what she knows about the Wibletts Institution.  Sylvie knew someone whose son resided there.  He suffered from PKU, a recessive disorder associated with seizures, mental retardation and blue-green urine.

There are so many layers of storytelling involved here that I was quite confused as to just who was who when Jess was suddenly interested in the story of Bob Germen.  Germen’s son is the above mentioned resident.  She wants to know about Bob’s son.  First we learn that Jess knew a lot about literary figures with disabled or retarded siblings or children and later we learn that she has a special needs daughter, Anna.

But most of the excerpt talks about the literary figures. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIREWATER-Performance from KEXP, July 3, 2008 (2008).

I loved Firewater when their first two albums came out and I even saw them once open for Letters for Cleo (a great show by both bands).  Then I more or less lost touch with them.  And it turns out that lead Firewater dude Tod A. had been out of the country for a while.

The interview (and concert) with them details his distaste for the Bush administration and his decision to get the hell out of the country for a while.  So he spent three years traveling around India, Turkey, Pakistan and then returned with this album.  I wasn’t aware of any of that, or even that they had a new album out in 2008.

Firewater had a very cool (and reasonably original) sound when they came out back in 1996.  They had a middle eastern vibe even back then which they blended nicely with theatrical pomp and a whole lot of punk.  They threw everything together into a rollicking good time (even if the lyrics were very dark indeed).

The 2008 album The Golden Hour seems a bit more upbeat (touring the world did him good) although it hasn’t changed the overall style of the music.  This live set includes several new musicians for Firewater, and their array of skills (and instruments) is great.  But the most surprising thing to me is how friendly and jovial Tod A. is.  As I said, I knew the band as being kind of angry, so hearing him be fun (and inviting the KEXP volunteers to sing gloriously chaotic backing vocals on “Beirut”) is really cool.

In total the band does four songs: “Hey Clown,” “Electric City,” “6:45,” and “Borneo.”  I think the biggest surprise for me is how short the songs are.  Not punk short, but more like pop song length.  And super catchy as well.

It’s a welcome return to a great band.  Although I see they haven’t released anything else since 2008.

[READ: April 4, 2011] “The Principles of Exile”

This was a fascinating and very sad story which had multiple layers and went in many unexpected directions.  It was really great.

As the story opens, Manny is sent to get some “special” cheese from a shop.  The cheese is called halloumi, and the best kind is made in a bucket behind their counter.  He is sent for this cheese because his mother is making a special dinner.

The dinner is in honor of Monsieur Sarkis’s new book.  There was a fatwa leveled against Sarkis for his previous book.  And that previous book (naturally) went on to be a best seller.  Well, Manny’s father had the publishing rights to the book (normally his publishing house was on the verge of bankruptcy, so a huge best seller was a big deal for them).  They didn’t even mind the fatwa.

Until it started to affect them personally. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LETTERS TO CLEO-“Cruel to be Kind” (1999).

I’ve liked Letters to Cleo since I first heard them back on WFNX radio in Boston.  And since I had a dog named Cleo and their album was called Aurora Gory Alice, how could I not love them?

This cover of Nick Lowe’s song comes pretty close to the end of their career when they were poppier and slightly less indie.  In fairness, they were always a poppy band and their hooks were irresistible, but they had a bit more of an edge in the beginning.

This cover is pretty spot on.  There’s not a lot of “Cleo” put into it.  It sounds a lot like the original, only sung by the wonderfully voiced Kay Hanley (she sang Josie’s parts in the (terrible) Josie and the Pussycats movie, the title song for My Friends Tigger & Pooh and (gasp) as a backing singer for a Miley Cyrus tour (that’s the sound of my indie heart breaking).  I love her voice (she has a strange pronunciation/accent of some words that I find endearing), so I find the LTC version better than the original, but it’s honestly not all that different.

[READ: Week of November 16, 2010] Consider David Foster Wallace [essays 4-6]

These three essays cover the novella “Westward…” and Infinite Jest.  I was pleased to begin the essays about IJ because I know that novel far better than I know the short stories or Broom of the System.

As I mentioned in the previous entry:  because I don’t have a lot to say about the pieces, I’m only going to mention things that I found puzzling/confusing.  But be assured that if I don’t mention the vast majority of the article it’s because I found it interesting/compelling/believable.  I don’t feel comfortable paraphrasing the articles’ argument.  Besides, what would be the point of that? (more…)

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