Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Moon through the clouds.

Good stuff.From the back yard about a quarter after nine this evening.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Old music: Chad & Jeremy's 'Distant Shores' (1966)

So, maybe it's the summer heat spell and the endless high desert 100°+ Fahrenheit temperatures that's done it to me.

But, whatever it is, I've just been wanting to hear some of that melancholy sunshine pop lately.

You know, that sort of music that is totally overproduced, overtly pretty and just downright melodic, great and timeless.

Chad and Jeremy initially came to mind because of their perennial classic 'A Summer Song' and how it managed to capture the dynamic of that brilliant moment that we all experience at the end of summer where we realize that it's done... the warmness, the simple meals, the long days, the extended walks that venture off into dusk past the point when the street lamps illuminate, the basketball game that somehow lasts until the middle of the eleven o'clock news, the video game match that sees the beginning of the sunset and the overall feeling of camaraderie and community that just seems to take up a comfortable residence from the middle of May until the middle of September. A fantastic song from a couple of Brits that somehow managed to resonate more here than they did there.

But that was their early stuff.

What happened after that?

Well, according to Chad, the duo's British label had them working like slaves and they didn't really feel like the material they were recording was fully representative of what they were as musicians at the time.

Fair enough.

A temporary move from London to Los Angeles and a committed move to Columbia records produced a couple good, but predictable albums that showed a lot of potential but not a lot of willingness to branch out.

Well, nobody sees the truly good ones coming.

Because, a year later, Chad and Jeremy released one of the most underrated (to this day) and most well-rounded pop albums of the 1960's the very next year.

Truly, Distant Shores is amazing. Easily as good as any other acknowledged pop classic of the mid 1960's.

The whole thing is absolutely lush. I guess, for most people, it would be most accurate to say that the music on this album is most closely related to a sort of folk and vocal pop hybrid. The string arrangements, the lush 'now sound' leanings, the irresistible duo harmonies all mixed with a strumming, acoustic melancholy base makes for a transitional album that is absolute magic. They were perhaps a little too restrained before this and maybe not restrained enough afterwords, but for this moment, they were at their peak.

Starting with the wonderful title track and venturing through the longing 'When Your Love Has Gone', the Paul Simon pre-fame composition 'Homeward Bound', the amazing harpsichord-laced original 'You Are She', through the amazingly lush highlight 'Everyone's Gone to the Moon' and ending up at the accepting breakup anthem 'Don't Make Me Do It', this album is one of the most well-rounded, cohesive and solid albums of its era. The songs take minor turns, effectively use woodwind and string accompaniments and ultimately end up as Chad and Jeremy's most repeat-worthy album that still stands up today.

Truly, the influence this album has had on the C-86 and twee pop scenes cannot be understated. I'm sure most of the kids affiliated with those scenes would classify this as a guilty pleasure, but the truth is: Bob Wratten and Jim and William Reid have all thoroughly enjoyed this album at one point in time. Don't think they haven't.

For fun, here's the original back cover on Columbia:
The labels:

The great thing about this album is that, despite its amazing deluxe edition on the unbelievably cool Sundazed label, it's an incredibly easy find on used vinyl. And the original eleven track album is definitely worth hearing. Sure, the expanded edition will be of interest later on, but as an album, released on a major label in 1966, it stands up incredibly well.

It's been on constant rotation for me over the last month or so and I highly reccommend it.

It gets the official Austin seal of approval:

Check it out, if you can. Satisfaction guaranteed. Especially in summertime.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Maxwell — BLACKsummers'night

Well, it's finally here.

And, let's just get this out of the way right now: it's unbelievably good.

To say that this album lives up to the enormous self-created hype is an understatement. Not only is it as good as I had hoped for, it's even deeper, even more perfected, even more developed and ultimately ends up as being the next logical step in Maxwell's evolution.

As usual, Max maintains his high standard of lyric writing, offering up eight concise meditations on the dark side of relationships. Songs like 'Fistful of Tears' or 'Bad Habits' would otherwise be considered downright depressing were it not for the ace musical backdrops and fantastic song development. And that's really what you have to marvel at with this album: every song feels labored over, but not excessively.

The songs have clearly been fleshed out and all avenues have been explored. This shows up in the form of the arrangements taking unexpected turns, horn charts accenting and complimenting the rhythms and the diversity of sounds. There are modern synth washes alongside grand pianos, screaming electric guitar solos right next to strummed acoustic chords, live and programmed drums and jubilant horn sections trading harmony with a background chorus. Practically every song here sounds like it could have come from sessions for different albums. But all this somehow works and, despite its short run time, it's one of the most cohesive albums in recent times. And, with its warm organics and outstanding production, it's probably Max's funkiest album to date.

As far as highlights... well, the album truly does play like a highlight reel. Any of the first seven tracks could easily be considered the album's centerpiece. 'Playing Possum' is the only track that strikes me as one of those real deep Maxwell album cuts that wouldn't ever make it to the radio and 'Phoenix Rise' is a short outro type instrumental vamp (a ruined opportunity, because it's great otherwise), but literally everything else here has hit potential. And not in that contrived radio ready way either. On the contrary, the music on this album is just that well constructed.

It's resonatingly catchy and never becomes overbearing, despite threatening to at certain points. With a theatric, epic song like 'Help Somebody', the swooping rush of harmony and purposely non-descript dramatic lyrics seems to be over the top, but then the song simply ends unexpectedly, supposing such a boombastic performance was destined to crumble on an album like this. It's also possibly my favorite song.

With this album, Maxwell has confirmed his enduring relevance in modern music. He has gone from a curiosity with unlimited potential to a fully formed and matured artist. It's too early to say where this one will fall in regards to the rest of his catalogue, but he has easily topped Now. And what's more, he has managed to sound even more relevant than before his hiatus.

At points during my initial listen to the album, I got worried. Worried because this is a planned trilogy and it occurred to me that it will be incredibly difficult for him to stay this consistent over the course of two more albums. If this is an indicator though, I'm fretting over nothing. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's finally been unleashed and it was more than worth the wait.

Fantastically satisfying.