Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What's New?: 6.22.2011

More musical odds and ends. . .

Gary Numan — Telekon (1980)

I avoided anything post-Pleasure Principle for years, again, because of what I perceived to be an authority (but which I now realize is just a source for good information — a place where I should probably just ignore the editorial views). I mean, sheesh, this is Gary arguably doing the Pleasure Principle part two. But hey, last I checked, the Pleasure Principle was pretty much a one of a kind, era-defining album. So, to have the same guy that did that do a not quite as good redux doesn't really strike me as a bad thing, altogether. And hey, I'm essentially right, because Telekon is basically the same sort of detached, exquisitely layered, early synth pop — all it lacks is the one knockout blow that Pleasure Principle had with 'Cars.' Telekon captures that epic keyboard mini-symphony sound that Pleasure Principle captured so well initially. It's not more produced or more shiny or lacking hooks or any of the usual cliches that usually apply to albums following huge hits. It does lack the one big hit, but that's only because I'm looking at it in retrospect. I imagine, if I was there in 1980, anticipating it after Pleasure Principle, I'd be pleased as punch with it. And, with the inclusion of mini-post-'Cars' masterpieces like 'I Die: You Die', 'The Aircraft Bureau' and pretty much the bulk of side two, I find no faults with this one. And, perhaps most importantly, I see myself going back to it often just because of the unfamiliarity of the material.

Gary Numan — Dance (1981)

And this one, also despite lacking a big 'Cars'-esque hit, should be as highly regarded as anything else in the early run of Gary Numan's catalogue. Sure, it mostly ditches the analogue synths and the adopts a very pronounced fretless electric bass sound, but that's just the thing, isn't it? For the first time since arguably Replicas, Gary is evolving and getting more interesting. There is a very slow, slightly dark undertone to the whole thing. But the sheer scope of the album has to be marveled at. There's not one, but two nine minute epics ('Slow Car to China' and 'Cry the Clock Said') that are just about the best things with Gary's name on them that I've yet heard. Overall, not my favorite Gary Numan album, but easily number two, just because of the new sounds it contains. There's shades of OMD, Japan and old Numan material on this album, combined with a new sense of ambition and a grasp on space and longing melodies. Cool stuff.

Led Zeppelin — Houses of the Holy (1973)

Probably the best synthesis of Zeppelin doing the hard rocker and folk rocker thing simultaneously. They got bloated after this, but for this album, everything feels genuinely exploratory and new. The fully successful integration of keyboards into songs like 'Rain Song' and especially 'No Quarter' only ups the ante in the debate of the people versus Led Zeppelin as original songwriters (hint, they certainly didn't nick those riffs from anywhere that I know of). They do fall back on the old blues cliches a time or two, but less than ever; especially for a Zeppelin album. I will begrudgingly admit that this is a damn good album, and probably the band's most diverse and just best overall.

Pink Floyd — Music from the Film "More" (1969)

More early post-Syd, pre-Dark Side Floyd. Arguably my favorite period of the band. I'm already a self-confessed fan of "mess" and/or "transitional" albums and the Floyd made a few of those in these years. It's got some more rockin', strangely garagey moments ('The Nile Song') alongside purely instrumental, nearly ambient goodness (the excellently floaty 'Quicksilver' and a lot of the second half of the album). So, yeah. Strange times and lots of druggy sounds. I dig it. The lyrics aren't as preachy as they would come to be and the music is a lot more interesting than the guitar jam-focused affair that the Floyd would become in a few years (not to say that that wasn't good for what it was; I just prefer a little more diversity for diversity's sake). Really good stuff; and, if nothing else, just goes to support my "Pink Floyd as early progenitor of post-rock" philosophy even more.

Echo and the Bunnymen — Crocodiles (1980)

No excuses for not having this one around previously (especially since I've had the rest of the band's 80's output in my collection for years). I recall hearing it, roughly ten years ago, thanks to Reno legend Chris Hubbell, ad nauseum. So I definitely recognized a chunk of the songs on the proper album. But, wow, when I go back and sit down with it: quite a striking debut, to say the least. It's like Joy Division swirled around with some outright psychedelic moments. Fantastic post-punk stuff and it's hard for me to grasp that this was only the band's first album and that they had so many more highlights ahead of them. A classic of its era, that's for darn sure.

The Comsat Angels — My Mind's Eye (1992)

Finally, a physical acquisition after years of only having it digitally. I will maintain the same thing that I have since I first heard it: it's overrated by quite a bit. The band doesn't help either. Going around, raving about how they just loved recording it. Yes, it's good. Very good in comparison to some of their previous albums, but it's not like this thing is even seeing Sleep No More or Fiction (and, in fact, I'd argue that the Glamour is actually the better of the Comsats' two 9o's albums). There's no bad songs here and this deluxe (or, more like, "revised") edition on Renascent is the definitive. It definitely sounds like the band trying to be less intentionally commercial, but it does have a bit of a cheesy sound at times (especially in the guitar effects). Still, it is very consistent and, for the first time, there are some downright rock out moments that finally fulfill the urge to do so that the band had seemingly had since its early days. Overrated, but still worth the time and money.

Ben Webster — See You at the Fair (1965)

Ben Webster was one of the grandaddies of bebop tenor sax and it took him a long time to finally be able to lead smaller group sessions. But when he finally was given the opportunity to do just that, he just started rolling out album after album after album of downright classics. Mostly leaning on the smooth jam/classy ballad side of things, he honestly never sounded better. I guess file this one into that same category because it is completely in line with the precedent with its conspicuous greatness. Hank Jones is ace on piano and Ben sounds downright godlike for most of the material. He plays these long, melodic runs that aren't necessarily flashy, but jeez oh man, are they inventive (and, not to mention, completely awesome). The best part about the music Webster was playing in the later years of his life is that it retained a strong blues influence, without sounding irrelevant. He was genuinely inspired during these years and I'd like to think that he mostly stuck to ballads because he was wanting to be purely melodic and intentionally beautiful (mission accomplished). This edition of the album on Impulse is the definitive, gathering up bonus tracks from a label sampler and the best of Webster's features on Oliver Nelson's More Blues and the Abstract Truth. Just glaringly awesome stuff.

The Cocteau Twins — BBC Sessions (1982, 1983, 1984, 1996)

This magnificent two disc set definitely presents the case for the Cocteaus as one of the quintessential post-punk bands to emerge from the whole thing. The first tracks here are from a John Peel session in mid-1982 that predates the release of the band's seriously underrated first album and they find them full in blazing, wah-wah'd out drum machine glory. The last of the 8o's sessions documented here finds them running through three tracks from Treasure about a month before the album was released and sounding like they had the absolute true believer faith in the material (in fact, I'd nominate the version of 'Otterley' as played here to be the definitive). The two sessions from the 9o's that round out disc two are nothing if not intriguing. They provide a view of the band's neglected later day material with a more immediate take and, despite the drum machine being absent, fit right in with everything else here. And, if nothing else —amongst a smattering of rarities— three of the Cocteaus absolute best songs ever get two renditions a piece (that'd be 'Hitherto', 'From the Flagstones' and the epic 'Musette and Drums'). Really spectacular stuff.


No comments: