Thursday, August 25, 2011

What's new?: 8.25.2011

More stuff picked up from the Borders liquidation sale (along with other bits). This could be a long one. . .

Red Garland Trio — Red Garland's Piano (1957)

Just really strong piano trio stuff, basically. This is fresh off Red's run with Miles, so he was still playing very much in the Ahmad Jamal mode. He still has a few of those vintage Red Garland runs here and there, but he mostly sticks to the classy long melody statements and syncopated block chords. Paul Chambers is here and he takes a couple bowed solos that are just laughably good. I'm a big fan of Mr. PC, so it's nice to hear him whenever I can. The main thing to mention here is the mega epic ballad that opens the album on one of the best renditions of 'Please Send Me Someone to Love' I've heard. . . well, ever, honestly. A fantastic (and unique) take on 'But Not For Me' ends things and I can't really say I expected anything less. Really excellent stuff overall; and this is the wonderful Rudy Van Gelder remastered version from 2006, so extra bonus there.

Dexter Gordon — Doin' Allright (1961)

Dexter Gordon — Dexter Calling. . . (1961)

Both of these albums, in the grand Blue Note tradition, start off with unbelievable mid-tempo numbers that are so tuneful and so well done that you'd swear the label didn't even care what else the band recorded for the session; that first track was good enough on its own. The title cut "I Was Doin' All Right" on the formerly mentioned album is just lovely. Horace Parlan (an unfortunately neglected Blue Note name) shines on piano and Dexter, in his initial solo, just sounds like he looks. Just pure badass, tempo switching arrogance. Seriously: look at this dude:

That's what he sounds like on that cut. Yeesh. I will never be half as cool. A typically great ballad ('You've Changed') and some great be-bop to follow (mostly 'Society Red') and it's just another day in the books of Blue Note classics. Dexter Calling isn't much different. And I guess that's what makes these two albums so remarkable. Doin' Allright was cut on 6 May 1961 and Dexter Calling was cut just a matter of hours later on 9 May of the same year. With a completely different band, sure. But, that's what makes these two albums so listenable. 'Soul Sister' (which kicks things off) was probably the most soul-jazz oriented thing Dexter had yet done up until that point and I have a hard time believing that the previous rhythm section would have done it justice (Dexter is joined here by Kenny Drew on piano, Mr. PC on bass and the almighty Philly Joe on drums). It has a soulfulness —indeed, almost a funky aspect— to it that just sparks. And man, when Kenny Drew plays those blues in his solo, yeah, I had goosebumps the first time. The post-boppy 'Modal Mood' (composed by Drew) is Dexter at his hard swingin' 60's best. When he hits that soprano register in his solo, that is intense stuff, man. The ballad 'Ernie's Tune' (by Dexter) is surprisingly affecting, as it takes turns into minor territory where you wouldn't normally expect it and, again, the band is just completely in sync with Dexter's mood. Contains the outtake 'Landslide' and whoo boy, I'm happy as heck to find these collection fillers for cheap. Just so happens they're awesome too.

Horace Silver — The Cape Verdean Blues (1965)

I have neglected Horace Silver. I've always been hip to Song for My Father because, let's be honest, if you're only going to own one Horace Silver album, that's the one. And that was the one for me for a long time (years, in fact). I randomly found a later, more soul jazz-oriented album at the used record store about six months ago and I was really impressed by Horace's ability to sound contemporary in 1972, but also not bow down to the cheese factor that had started to infiltrate Blue Note at that point. Rewind to 1965 and this album and Horace is probably riding high off the success of the Song for My Father album. Meanwhile, he and Joe Henderson are still very good friends (because, let's face it, who knew who Joe Henderson was at that point?) and he's just vibin' off some soulful stuff. The title track on this album is so groundbreaking, I don't even know where to start. I just won't start, but I will say that Nicola Conte, the Five Corners Quintet and all affiliated acts would not have a career if such a song was never made. Holy moly, it's good. The sparse, minor-oriented 'The African Queen' is next and it's just a long groove. I know of few other jazz things from 1965 that sound similar. It's all restraint and repeated theme. Wow, what a good one. The rest is pretty much Horace's, for the time, status quo post-bop. Nothing unique in context, but still remarkably good. Do believe that the first released recording of Joe Henderson's 'Mo' Joe' appears here. What a stunner of an album.

Philip Selway — Familial (2010)

Is it just me? Or does his voice totally sound like this Morrissey song the entire time? I actually really like the album (especially since I expected not to) and was glad to find it for so cheap, but man, that's a dead ringer right there. 'By Some Miracle' was the pre-album teaser song and it's no wonder I never checked this one after hearing that: it's just ok. Arguably, the whole album is just ok, but there are much better tunes throughout the album. I must admit: I do like his no-nonsense guitar playing and modest vocals. I guess I'm just a sucker for the earnestness in every songwriter. I guess the big question here is: does any of it sound like Radiohead? Well, I guess, no would be the short answer. Is there a long answer? Of course there is! 'Beyond Reason', to my ears, could easily have an arrangement adapted to make it sound more Radiohead-esque. But, I guess, why should he sound like his band when his band sounds like his band just fine? Exactly. So, the horn-laced, 70's pop (Archer Prewitt-esque, perhaps) flourishes of 'A Simple Life' sound just right for those of us wanting to just hear some mellow stuff. His acoustic guitar and whispery middle range vocals are up front the entire time and it's hard to dislike music that is so blatantly earnest. There are tunes here, but they take a backseat to words. And the words that Phil sings on the album are perhaps the most impressive thing about this album. At once simple and poignant; you'd never know that the guy's day job was keeping his mouth shut in his other band. 'Broken Promises' especially strikes an emotional chord, as Phil is obviously talking about something even more personal than is the standard for the rest of the album and when he declares that 'Once the hurt has faded only love will remain', I have a hard time not getting into it completely. Not a super duper masterpiece, but good vibey mellow, low key and personable, through and through. Unexpected, to say the least. I dig it.

Sufjan Stevens — Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State (2003)

I was not into it at the time as a musical endeavor, but when Sufjan Stevens announced his fifty states project, I admired the idea from afar. A noble thought, I asserted. A few years removed, I'm admittedly a lot more open minded and just more in tune to acoustic music altogether. The idea of an acoustic guitar strumming, whispery-voiced, geography obsessive sounded like no fun to me then, but after I've lightened up, gone through some stuff, packed some emotional baggage and just learned the awesomeness of travel in general, I can really get into this guy. I know little about his background, but his claim to fame in the mid-2000's was being a spark in the "freak folk" scene (oh, for fuck's sake, why did we need to bring that up??!). I admit now, I purposely avoided him to be contrary. But, now that the hype has been removed and his albums are all on sweet deals at Borders, I decided to jump right in. Removed from the actual subject of its geography, Michigan is a neat and tidy little modern folk pop album. But —and here's where the kicker lies— Sufjan, in a genius move, uses the geographic points of discussion as jumping off points for these introspective-tinged songs of personal lament. It's almost as if, instead of the place itself, he used the morale of the places after which he named certain pieces as his muse. 'Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)' may seem like a corny title, but the actual song starts off the weary and unsure album masterfully. The centerpiece of the album is 'Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)' which paints the picture of a once great heartland on the verge of resilience. Musically layered and catchy as heck despite a difficult time signature, I have to say, I'm sorry I missed out on such a thing the first time around. Overall, really solid stuff. And tunes for days. Sheesh.

Sufjan Stevens — Seven Swans (2004)

Less layered, more folky overall. Still has the exact same vibe as the Michigan album. I like that it's very much more low key. Why is he so obsessed with god and religion though? Sheesh. Lots of banjo up front in the mix, which is always fun. This strikes me, after just a few listens, as a much more deep listening experience. One that I'll appreciate a lot more the fiftieth time than I did the fifth. Will say this right now: the ballad 'To Be Alone With You' is nearly too good to be true. Shades of the pure solitary expression of being in love (mirrored on songs like this one), but mixed with a strangely surreal aspect. Overall, with songs like the title track and especially 'Sister,' it definitely takes on a distinct British folk-rock tone (think Unhalfbricking-era Fairport Convention) that just rules. Overall, a subtle change in sound, but not overall vibe. Which makes for just enough of a change up to make this one very worthwhile.

Sufjan Stevens — Invites You to: Come on Feel the ILLINOISE (2005)

Well, if nothing else, I can say I was definitely there and aware when this one came out. It was when I worked at Tower Records and I heard it at least once a day when I worked in the fall of 2005. I always dug it. I just got tired of it. It only confirmed what I had already told myself was true at the time: he was very superficially enjoyable and nothing else. No staying power. Wrong again stupid Austin (you are often a dumb fucker, now that I have the chance to be heard). I mean, dude. This is like the Michigan album on super no-doze ecstacy. That album times a million colorful, uber-creative, uncomfortably resonating doses, in fact. Often, you don't notice when one track develops into the next. The green party voter in me wants a thirty-five minute album, but the lover of gigantic musical mind movies weeps at the cohesiveness and unimpeachable continuity of this album. To be very cliche:

The way he relates John Wayne Gacy into an introspective mini-epic about the skeletons in everyone's closet is equal parts creepy and fucking fantastic. 'Chicago' was my favorite track then and it still is now. I guess it's become the one that folks go to from this album, and you know what? Fuckin' A, buddy. If he can take general locales and turn them inside out into genuine inspiration, I say right on. Shame he ditched the idea. But I also understand why. This seems to be the album that most people point to when his name comes up. Definitely understand why. It certainly is good, though.

Modern English — Soundtrack (2010)

Ok, well, I missed it. I shouldn't have, but I did. 'It's OK' is the first track on the album, so I guess I'll roll with that philosophy. It's actually pretty darn good. I mean, it sounds like an update of the uber-poppy moments of Stop/Start (minus the overproduction), mixed with the atmospherics of After the Snow in a contemporary context. Only Robbie Grey (who sounds awesomely similar to his singing voice in 1984) and Steve Walker remain from the band's heyday lineup, but the (currently and unfortunately) rarely heard from Hugh Jones is on board for a latter day production that matches the band with the man who provided them with the sound to create their greatest works. Robbie Grey's songs here are up and down (in mood — all pretty consistent in quality), mirroring the band's two masterpieces (and, admittedly, the two albums that I cite when I name them as one of my favorite new wave bands ever), After the Snow and Ricochet Days. That the band sounds good again and them joining back up with Hugh makes me just parrot to the rest of everyone else who actually reviewed the album last year: it sounds like their (good) old stuff from the 80's. It almost makes you want to want to go back to the albums they did after Ricochet Days with a new ear (I did say "almost" there). It's not super amazing, but it's darn good. It's a pretty good sign when a classic band reunites with the producer that made them sound great in the first place, but this just exceeds the standard across the board. The second half of the album does go a bit slow and moody, but the band was always prone to do that sort of thing all along. It's comforting when a genuinely articulate introspective jangly rocker like 'Up Here in the Brain' is followed by the moody (and downright great) slower numbers 'Deep Sea Diver' and 'Fin' (talk about awesomely, and yet, weirdly earnest lyrics here!). It starts very poppy and just goes very moody. Reminds me very much of Trembling Blue Stars and Bob Wratten's masterful later day output in general, actually. I'm late. But at least I'm here.

Crowded House — Intriguer Deluxe Edition (2010)

For your information, Neil Finn creates excellent dad rock. Just take that stuff, listen to it while you're sitting at your cubicle or desk and just relish in the awesome world-wise articulation. Relate to it or not, if you're over the age of 27, you're into it. You don't really have a choice, so just buy the deluxe edition, watch the DVD with Neil sporting his creeper mustache and sing along with all the words. You don't need to be married, you don't need to have kids; he knows it, everybody knows it. And he will sing it to you. Probably on a kickass twelve string guitar with a capo of some sort. This album has already been discussed. I will only add that the DVD is worth everyone's while. The "Upstairs at Home" portion presents a couple of songs in superior versions, while the documented live performance of 'Don't Dream it's Over' is chillingly good (audience sing along FTW!). I think higher of this album the more I hear it.

Sweet deals, I say. Sweet deals indeed.



Saturday, August 20, 2011

What's New?: 8.20.2011

Some sweet mail order finds. . .

Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer — The Boxer Soundtrack (1998)

Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer — In America Soundtrack (2003)

I *ahem* "ACQUIRED" these two soundtracks years ago before it occurred to me to look for newer albums second hand. Catholic recently lit a spark for me to acquire proper copies and I did for cheap on Amazon. I had previously saved these albums on an external drive that crashed over a year ago, so I consequently lost them. Going back now, I like them more than ever, with a definite preference for The Boxer. It contains more variety and the music is more Gavin Friday-ish. So, in this sense, it's more like a proper Gavin Friday album. Spooky beats and lush strings amidst vocal cues from the film and two proper Gavin Friday songs (rather good ones, too) make for a darn fine listen. In America, on the other hand, takes on a more traditional Jewish sound for the bulk of its time (no doubt more fitting with the visual accompaniment; but not outright unenjoyable on its own). The actual score parts are much more sparse with long, floating melodies. The only proper song is 'Time Enough for Tears' which features Andrea Corr on lead vocals. Can't say I like it. Overall though, these albums stand apart from the films as their own entities. I always have to admire film soundtracks that I like without ever having seen the movies.

The Reegs — The Reegs (late 80's/early 90's)

You know, it's so easy for Chameleons fans to just jump on the Sun and the Moon when looking for more from the former members. The band released an album on a major label that has stayed relatively easy to find over the years and the main thing that most of us connected with (Mark's voice and lyrics) is there. But what about the other half of the band? Arguably even more recognizable than Mark's big booming wail and relatably insightful world wise lyrics was the dual guitar attack that the Chams had. Reg Smithie's overdriven melodic rhythm parts and Dave Fielding's gargantuan walls of swirling echo are the stuff of legend with good reason. Together, the two created one of the most distinct and influential sounds in 80's post-punk. But because they released records on the low key independent label Imaginary and never really gigged outside of the UK, their post-Chameleons project, the Reegs, has remained a bit of a shadowy, mysterious entity for Chams fans (especially for us in America). Well, along with the great deluxe editions of the proper Chams albums that Blue Apple Music has been doing the past few years, the boutique label also gathered up the entirety of the Reegs' output from the late 80's and early 90's and packaged it together as a two disc set. Fully remastered and restored with new artwork by Reg and now featuring outtakes, radio sessions and previously unissued recordings (including a brand new track called 'Bosnia 2009' in which Chams fans finally get to hear something we've all been curious about for a long time: Dave sings lead [!!]). The sound of the band is immediately recognizable for Chams fans, as pretty much every song here has that rush of Dave and Reg's inimitable dual guitars. There's a bit more of a dream pop element at play here. While there's certainly a lot of distorted and downright rockin' guitar sounds, there's never any real rock out moments that the Chameleons could explode into at any point. The entire thing hangs together exceedingly well and across the two discs, there's too many highlights to really cover all of them. My personal favorites so far are 'As You Leave', the trippy Cocteau-ish instrumental 'JJ180' and the epic swoop of melancholy beauty on 'The Nasty Side.' Overall, just a weird combination of sounds and ideas that shouldn't work, but does (perhaps surprisingly well). Two guitar players so in tune to the other's sounds and moods that to say they compliment each other seems inadequate, a drum machine and a bloke that sometimes sounds like Dave Gahan on vocals ranting about relationships gone sour. The only complaint I have: the liner notes were a bit disappointing, as no official band discography is offered. So, as the songs are not sequenced chronologically, it makes for a bit of a frustrating listen for my inner music curator. Overall though, really excellent stuff. So pleased to finally have it all in one place. Well done.

Tony Bennett and Bill Evans — Together Again (1977)

Finally got this one after years of knowing and loving their first collaborative album. This one has always been a bit more of a tough find, as it was originally released on Bennett's own Improv label. It sits very well next to the first album and even though I'm not a Tony Bennett fan otherwise, I really have to hand it to the way he sings these tunes. The best part is the song selection, as these are mostly tunes that was in Evans' repertoire at the time, so it's great to hear just how good he was as accompanist as he was as the highlight. This CD reissue has a wealth of bonus tracks, containing at least half of the album in alternate versions. Very mellow, pure class.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What's New?: 8.9.2011

Some bits found on sweet deals at the clearance sale at the local Borders. . .

David Bowie — Space Oddity 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (1969/2009)

You know what? I like David Bowie as a confused folk rocker. I do recall hearing the proper album in full many years ago whilst working at the used record store. But I was just into other stuff back then, so its great nuances didn't stick out like that back then. Of course, the title track is an all time classic (even though I've always preferred the lesser heard re-recorded version from the Scary Monsters sessions). But I, like many people, knew not much else from the rest of the album. When I went and properly revisited it, I rediscovered a wonderful folk rock opus. Sure, not unique at all when you consider what else was coming about in 1969. But, sheesh, Bowie is Bowie. He just has something about him that can't be denied. Maybe it's his sense of melody that makes something like the nine minute 'Cygnet Committee' a lot more engaging than it may appear to be initially. I also love that the majority of the material here is acoustic-guitar based. The proper album on disc one is a somewhat slow, meditative affair (explaining why I like it so much), while disc two indulges in pure dorkery of the highest order. One of the initial demos of the title track is included and it's just pure fun hearing the primitive synthesizers. BBC sessions, non album singles and differing single takes of album cuts round out disc two. And, with stuff like 'London Bye Ta Ta' you hear the Bowie that was in the making. A really fantastic highlight of the whole thing is the previously unheard 'Conversation Piece' which sounds, oddly enough, like a less rockin' Neil Young. It's already gotten numerous spins from me and I imagine it will spark a new re-interest of sorts to Bowie in general (even though I love him already; I guess consider him neglected).

Radiohead — Amnesiac Deluxe Edition (2001/2009)

Even though I have my reservations about releasing a "deluxe" edition of an album less than ten years after it was initially released (I imagine Capitol was pissed that they didn't re-align), I have to admit that having disc two of this thing is mighty grand. To have all of the album's eight (!!!!) b-sides in one place is definitely handy. 'Worrywort', 'Fog' and 'Cuttooth' are just godlike. It's no secret that Amnesiac is, by far, my vote for best Radiohead album. So this deluxe edition just seals the deal for me. B-sides? All fantastic. Live stuff? Revelatory. Although, why was the version of 'Like Spinning Plates' from I Might Be Wrong — Live Recordings included? (Smart guy: "Because it's epic, jackass" Me: "Oh, right"). Really just makes me think even higher of what is clearly a masterpiece. Closest Thom and the boys have yet come to being as awesome as the 80's post-punk bands they worship.

London riots: I lament you.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Gavin Friday — Catholic

Gavin Friday doesn't just make albums anymore. In the first fifteen years of his recording career (beginning with the Virgin Prunes and continuing as a solo artist), he released roughly eight albums. Since 1996's wonderfully weird pop experiment Shag Tobacco, he released some film scores (hard to credit as a true solo effort) and displayed several performance art pieces that were not recorded. To say that Catholic is a highly anticipated album —and, surprisingly, an unexpected return— for me is an understatement.

I honestly expected him to never make another album again. And yet, here he is: making his fourth solo album over two decades after his first. There is much changed this time around. The passionately falsetto vocal flourishes are still there, alongside the lush pop backdrops, but the streamlined production and toned down sarcasm is entirely new. Indeed, where he was artsy and playfully facetious in the past, he is now intimately dedicated to delving into his heart and mind. The melodramatic musical backings provide for the the calmest Gavin Friday album to date.

And yet, all of the this seems practically irrelevant when you consider one integral aspect: longtime collaborator Maurice "The Man" Seezer is nowhere to be found.

Amongst self-realizations galore, too many accounts of past mistakes and a generally nostalgic view of just about everything, the album reeks of personal revelations. That paints the picture of an album too dour for its own good, and yet, here is new collaborator Herbie Macken popping up in all the familiar musical positions that Seezer once occupied.

Oh, and Gavin declaring he is in love several times throughout the album.

At its core, Catholic is a breakup album. But, it's a little more complicated than just that. At the same time it's about loss, it's also about personal redemption. I have no idea who the bulk of these songs are about, but they do feel very specific.

Take a song like 'It's All Ahead of You' for instance. Besides it being quite possibly the prettiest thing Gavin Friday has ever done, it fulfills an incredibly articulate point of view from one estranged lover to another.

"It's all ahead of you if want it. It's all behind you, if you can let it go. . .Do you know that the best is yet to come?"

Wonderful stuff.

If I were to compare this to any of Friday's previous albums, I'd say it's most easily likened to Adam 'n' Eve because it takes on a very misleading stock "alt rock" approach; very polished on the surface, but carefully layered upon closer inspection. Instead of coming off as an overcooked cheesefest, every song offers a different approach to mainstream "alt-rock." The one track where the album actually does rock out ('Where'd You Go? Gone') sticks out on sheer dynamics alone (not to mention, it's easily a musical highlight).

With the closer 'Lord, I'm Coming' Gavin Friday recaptures his older theatrical persona, as he takes on the role of someone on their death bed and the realizations that encounter someone in that situation. A darkly beautiful homage to life's codas, it stands as an incredibly brain nutritious closer to an album filled with enough brain food to keep me going for quite a while.

It also just happens to be catchy as heck at the same time.

He has a way with words that has become refreshingly direct. He can say something convoluted one line and then redeem himself the next with the simplest arrangement of words. It's as if he is talking to someone so specifically that there is an aural paradigm shift that takes place and the most ambiguous words become the most appropriate. Therefore, all of us are drawn in and all of us can relate.

Album's defining quote: "Once I was young and then I grew up."

Don't wait so long to make another album, please.


David Sylvian — Died in the Wool: Manafon Variations

Listening to David Sylvian's post-millennium albums (save for Nine Horses, which was indisputably a crowd pleaser), you're just confronted with the darkest, dreariest side of the human mind. Most of the music is acapella and it has the sense to it that it was conceived by a man in total seclusion, just pondering away at his thoughts for hours in a starkly lit room over several cups of decaffeinated tea. Yeah: not tons of fun, but grounds for some serious soul discovering.

I kept my thoughts on the initial Manafon album brief because I found it a very difficult album to listen to. Truth be told, I've not gone back to it much since my initial few run-throughs. If the man has a knack for something, it's making his audience uncomfortable. But it's not in that Miles Davis way where I don't want to hear his next move. I just don't want to be able to relate to it as much as he is able to make me.

Make no mistakes, Died in the Wool is not a remix album in the same sense that The Good Son vs. The Only Daughter was. Where that album had guests take on the task of basically making the songs fully arranged with complete band backing tracks, Died in the Wool just simply makes the already sparse arrangements a bit more orchestral. Consequently, not as sparse, but not necessarily as immediately as accessible either. Indeed, most of the songs rely on a very post-modern classical ideal. The strings are atonal and unpredictable. Dissonantly beautiful one second, bleak and menacing the next, with accents of woodwinds and David's voice as the articulate centerpiece, Died in the Wool isn't so much a remixing job as it is a revision.

There are reused vocal tracks with new arrangements (and different titles) and some things that are just plain old brand new. If you picked up the odds and ends collection Sleepwalkers, you were treated to a couple of Manafon-period outtakes that, along with the proper album and this new revised version, make for the ultimate deluxe downer edition of the album.

As the music stands, I actually find this version the most listenable, as the string accompaniments are able to fill the space, but not clutter the dynamics. In the case of some songs —most namely, the title track— I would say that this version is an improvement. However, as such sparse music demands total attention on all of the elements, the vocals inevitably take the spotlight. David is bummed. He has been for a while. And yet, even when treading familiar water, he still finds ways to be poignant and articulate as few vocalists are able to be in contemporary times. I just wish he could look at the bright side more often (take, for instance, 'Small Metal Gods,' the one time that he does, and it's clearly the highlight of both versions of Manafon).

It's not until the all new, eighteen minute track 'When We Return You Won't Recognise Us' that it may occur to the listener that David Sylvian's music sounds like no one else' output, past or current. He is blazing trails into territory only hinted at by others. I often hear this music and think that while other combos are using a hybrid of instrumental prog and post-shoegaze sounds, David Sylvian is actually creating a music that is post-modern in its rock and roll singer pretenses. Blending atonal post-modern classical, hints of free jazz, glitchy post-production and a good old fashioned confessional singer/songwriter narrative, I think of his current output in the most literal interpretation of "post-rock" music.

I just wish he would tour America. Dammit.


The Horrors — Skying

I'm probably too old to be getting as much enjoyment out of this album as I am. But I've always said in the past that it's not an issue of how much you wear your influences on your sleeve — it's how you use those influences as a jumping off point that matters.

I know very little about where the Horrors came from. I mean, the basics are there: London band, started noisy. From what I'm to understand, every one of their so far three albums has been quite different from the last. But if Skying has anything to say about it, the band will be looked back upon as one of the most faithful —and simultaneously, one of the most creative— bands of the new millennium post-punk revival.

Sure, there's shades of all the greats here: Cure, Joy Division, et cetera, et cetera. But what really sets this album —and the Horrors in general— apart from their deplorably derivative and obnoxiously pretentious immediate predecessors is genuine interest and love of the music they are playing. Indeed, on Skying, it feels like honest restoration and not just a halfhearted attempt at recreating something.

Take an earnest approach to the usual 80's new wave influences and throw in a completely unforeseen shoegaze —indeed, a nearly psychedelic— element and you get a formula for something that would've been unique in 1991 — not to mention twenty years later. Indeed, when the small keyboard symphony of opener 'Changing the Rain' hits its chorus, it's clear that this band sticks out in 2011 — but not because they sound like they came from this generation.

For most of the album's fifty or so minutes, it settles into a very convincing dream pop groove. And, I guess, if I had one big criticism of it, that would be it: it sticks in that one lane almost too well (and I say this like we couldn't have thrown that same criticism at the Cocteau Twins all along). But, well, if it ain't broke, don't fix it (hello again there, Robin and Liz).

Truly, the band sounds absolutely enamoured with all of the great British rock music that was ignored by the mainstream in the wake of punk. The influences are countless and I can name drop bands for days that this album reminds me of, but I can't really say anything specific because there are just simply shades of influence. There are no direct nicks, be them through riffs or melodies. The band has just found a way to convincingly capture a snapshot of a vibe, a mood, a complete generation of sound.

Take a song like 'Endless Blue' for instance. Sure, in 2011, I can go and label it a complete Chameleons imitation. But, the fact remains, besides members of that band, I don't recall anyone doing a Chameleons imitation this well. Singer Faris Badwan seemingly can't help but sound like Mark Burgess (as he does for the entire album) while guitarist Josh Howard has Reg's tone nailed. Insert the flawless tempo and arrangement shift and I'm sold. Pretty stunning stuff, actually.

Amidst the rockin' and yet dreamy closing three song trilogy ('Moving Further Away,' 'Monica Gems' and especially 'Oceans Burning') is where the largest influence that looms over the album shines brightest. And I can't really help but love that, finally, someone has gone properly back to the Verve's A Storm in Heaven for inspiration, as it's one of the most sonically unique albums in modern British rock. Throw in some especially trippy moods lifted from Slowdive and you get a fittingly climatic closing to the Horrors' mini-masterpiece.

I can't say enough good about this album, honestly. Already a big fan of the music that clearly inspired it, I've been waiting for years for a band to come along and not just play new wave like like their favorite bands did, but to play it like they were there: simultaneously inspired by, and trying to outdo, all of their great peers.

Because this album surely would have fit right in with those greats had it existed twenty years ago.


Monday, August 1, 2011

What's New?: 8.1.2011

British pop stuff, mostly. . .

(but not "britpop" **shudder**)

Roachford — self-titled (1988)

Kind of an overproduced British soul-rock thing. I picked it up because it was name checked as a similarity to Terence Trent D'arby's early work. It's like that stuff, but a little less organic and more dated-sounding. The songs are a bit cheesy too. I don't hate it though, because it is a pretty convincing meshing of styles. Of all things, it reminds me a bit of the Style Council at times. I really do like the song 'No Way' as well. But overall, yeah, it's just ok. Glad I only spent 98¢ on it on

Terence Trent D'arby — Neither Fish nor Flesh (1989)

Fuck the hate, this album is serious bidness. It's more organic, funkier and the songs are just all around better than The Hardline. Why could anyone deem this clearly superior product subpar? Because you're an asshole that got mad at him for challenging the Beatles. That's why. I think it's time we just address this right now: Good ol' merckah didn't take too kindly to that shit and it was high time for a backlash when he released an even better album in its wake. It's like what Prince was trying to do at the time, but better. 'Attracted to You' is about as close to James Brown as the 80's ever got, while 'Roly Poly' nearly outdoes Prince at his own game and 'To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly' makes a case for the tag of "Neo-Soul" being pure bullshit the entire time. I mean, seriously guys (who am I talking to?). This album kicks butts and takes names like it's been advertising that it's going to do such a thing for at least six months previous. Call him pretentious if you will, but definitely don't write him off because of it. Because this album will make a fool of you. I really like the dichotomy at play throughout the album that pursuing a relationship in a world so torn seems rather ridiculous, and yet it's still something most of us seek. A fantastically underrated album and definitely a candidate for lost classic status. Very easy to hear this album's influence on Maxwell as well (one of current favorites, to be sure). Love it.

Terence Trent D'arby — Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'arby (1987)

This album has good songs, it just takes forever to get to the point with them. The very first song ('If You All Get to Heaven') is case in point. It takes a full minute for the darn thing to actually get to the tune! Not that I don't like a good build up, but the way it's done on this album feels contrived. And the formula is unfortunately repeated a few times. Of course, 'Wishing Well' is the big hit and it's definitely in the vein of those classic giddy, well-intentioned and resonating, but ultimately meaningless, catchy as heck 80's pop tunes (see also: 'Just Like Heaven,' 'Melt With You' and so on). The album mostly sounds like a more euro-centric Prince of the time (how much does 'Let's Go Forward' remind you of Lovesexy, for instance?). I do like it quite a bit, just not as much as his follow up album. To close with a classic modernization of 'Who's Lovin' You' is effective, I must admit. Still, there's a lot of dated sounds here. But that the album still stands up as unique statement and, considering when it was released, that says something indeed.

Shelleyan Orphan — Century Flower (1989)

Kind of Bowie meets Fairport Covention at a Fleetwood Mac show in 1978. It's got those big swooping choruses and riffy moments, but mostly played on acoustic instruments and a mesmerizing female vocalist in Caroline Crawley (she's actually a bit reminiscent of Harriet Wheeler). The first three tracks on this thing blew me away. One of the best (and most convincing) integrations of violin into a pop/rock context I've ever heard, honestly (seriously, check out 'Tar Baby'). The best thing about this album is its restraint. You feel like the choruses, though already very captivating, should be all noisy and relentless. But they're not. They're just there: lovely and reserved. Pure class. It is unfortunately a case where the band toploaded the album with its best material, as nothing else really recaptures the awesomeness of those opening three tracks. But it is a good album. Definitely.

Shelleyan Orphan — Humroot (1992)

A helping hand from Boris Williams and Porl Thompson (who were both, at the time, of the Cure) really helps the duo flesh out their songs and the potential really sounds fulfilled here. A wonderful little carefree jangler like 'Burst' seemed impossible on Century Flower, but it sounds totally natural here. The big one here is the incredible ballad 'Sick.' A meditation on the intense inner feelings experienced whilst in love, its sparse vibrato jangle and leisurely pace feels like a dreamy sea of realization amidst a galaxy of insecurity. The rest of the album retains the mild folk-rock elements from before, but it's just better executed here. Not a bad one in the bunch. Excellent stuff.

Seal — self-titled (1991)

I avoided it for so long because I remember 'Crazy' being on the damn radio everyone hour, on the hour when I was ten (or so it felt like). Do love his voice. Rough most of the time, smooth when it needs to be. The acid-house opener 'The Beginning' wins points with me because it's a song about music. I just like when music celebrates itself. Like, yeah, your broken heart is awesome, tell me about it and I'll listen. But what do I really want to hear about? How awesome music is! I mean, who can disagree with that? Assholes, that's who (apologies to deaf people everywhere!). It's big budget pop music. I like that some of the songs have mini-movements in them (take the acoustic first half of 'Deep Water' contrasting with the fully produced second half, for instance — that works really well). Enough time has passed for me to hear 'Crazy' now and appreciate it as just a really god pop song. There is a bit of U2-itis to the whole thing where the music seems to have this sense of self-importance that threatens to drown out the appealing tunes with a really "poignant" "message" that ends up being about nothing. But, at this point, that doesn't happen. The closer 'Violet' is just plain excellent. An eight minute meditation on the confused realization that it's time to move on from a failed relationship. It's the one track where the message is spot on and he totally nails it. The musical backing is nearly ambient in its scope, but with an added backbeat. It almost seems like the whole album builds musically to this track, as it literally saves the best for last. And it really makes you appreciate the production of the entire album. Sure, it's big budget Trevor Horn production, but I dig his work with the Pet Shop Boys from the same era for similar reasons, so I took to this pretty well. Bottom line: it's just good pop music, with a flair for the dramatic side of things. I mean, I can't imagine anything half as artsy (or emotionally affective) coming from a contemporary pop musician, can you?