Friday, September 23, 2011

What's New?: 9.23.2011

Really unassuming batch of greatness this go 'round. . .

Cocteau Twins — Blue Bell Knoll (1988)

Nothing special at all for the Cocteaus, but solid as hell regardless. By this point, the Cocteaus had become very influential, so I can understand the backlash of them doing an album that sounds exactly like them three years previous. And yet, nobody else managed to do it as well. Just listen to the dreamy fantastigasm™ on songs like 'Cico Buff' (this would have been a standout on any of their previous albums, too). The title track is dark and dreamy, while the last two tracks ('A Kissed Out Red Floatboat' and 'Ella Megalast Burls Forever') point the way towards Heaven or Las Vegas. I understand how somebody could overlook this album, but I don't understand how you could not count it among the band's peak material after hearing it. I think I might also like it so much simply because of the unfamiliarity of the material, as most of this album has not been compiled elsewhere. Top stuff from a band in top form.

Cocteau Twins — Victorialand (1986)

Very dreamy, even for this band. Most of the songs are awash with acoustic guitars, tons of delay (seemingly more than usual) and minimal percussion. The very first track ('Lazy Calm' — a perfect title) wins me over instantly. It's arguably the most Cocteau-ish song the band ever did. It's very calm, even for them and sits right next to the Moon and the Melodies very nicely. I actually really like that the band is mostly digging into calmer, less percussive territory here. I hesitate to call it the closest thing to a straight acoustic album that they ever did, but there you have it. It lends itself much better to Durutti Column comparisons than it does My Bloody Valentine. If nothing else, the relative sparseness of the material highlights Robin Guthrie more than usual and he's definitely playing in a 'more bang for your buck' mode here as he just hits these chord patterns over and over and just lets them float. Like a mofo'ing boss, I'd say. Play this for anyone who thinks that the Cocteaus didn't have diversity on their side. And I will say this again: 'Lazy Calm' is just absolute magic. One of their best songs, I reckon.

Brian Eno — Another Green World (1975)

'Tis a replacement copy. Let it be known, here and now, that I did give a (very) positive review to something that Phil Collins was involved with. Although I would imagine that ol'Phil had very little to do with the songcraft on these here selections and was only brought in to lend his drumming to the party, there you have it. For anyone wanting to know why Brian Eno is so revered, don't even play them this entire album —because it is most definitely a slow burning grower of an experience— just play them the song 'Sombre Reptiles.' That is, in essence, what Brian Eno has contributed to modern music. Just a few simple chords. But arranged in a loping, thoughtful way that makes two minutes and some change seem like the greatest piece of ambient music you've ever heard. Melodically lyrical and completely thoughtful, it is Eno's masterpiece. I could listen to it on repeat for hours. The rest of the album is darn fine, as well. Not quite as willfully weird as Taking Tiger Mountain —it's a bit calmer overall, with the entirety of side two having no drums whatsoever— it's still got that artsy quality to it, but mixed with Eno's ambient philosophies, making it a completely appealing, and convincing, mix of ambient soundscapes and pop sensibilities. He released better material as a collaborative contributor to other things after this, but he never released anything better under his own name. Defying time and trends, it is purely magnificent; and absolutely a classic album.

The Zincs — Black Pompadour (2007)

Saw these guys open for the Sea and Cake in San Francisco on the Everybody tour. At the time, I knew little of what to make if their esoteric jangle sound, but I actually really liked their set and thought they deserved to be playing higher on the bill. Definitely should have played after the Robbers on High Street — who were actually terrible, honestly, as their between song banter actually included a narrative from the singer about a waitress who "hilariously" misheard the band name as "Robbers on Ice Cream' — how hilariously pretentious to actually recollect before an audience of onlookers, you fake Macy Gray idiot (seriously, the skinny fucker sounded like Macy Gray. God, I wanted to punch him). Much in contrast to the Zincs' between song banter (the one comment I remember, besides song title introductions from Jim Elkington, was, "We drove down from Portland yesterday — that's really far! I loved it though!" — and then launched into a tune from Dimmer). I remember wanting to buy the band's albums right then and there (I was working on a budget at the merch stand), but, over the years, I've admittedly just forgotten. I have fond memories of the band playing 'The Mogul's Wives' and being pretty darned impressed as far as seeing a bunch of guys I had never heard of before recreating these wonderful Television-style dual jangle interplay guitars while Jim did this funny little dance while he was playing. The band honestly didn't seem to care that there was maybe fifty people paying attention. This album kicks butt. It's like the more jangly Sea and Cake material (appropriate, as it was recorded by John McEntire at his own SOMA studio; and helped out on various instruments), but with a bit of weary midwestern twang and seriously weird lyrics. Think Wilco, but more fun. It all makes very little sense when you consider that Jim Elkington is British and had only been living in America for a few years at this point. Really unique music and just a shame that they didn't get some notoriety off this material (in one of the bitchiest of bitch moves they've ever done —and probably a contributing factor as to why the album didn't get more notice— Pitchfork gave the album a mediocre score amidst one of the most worthless reviews I've ever read — case in point of the website trying to outcool their subject matter by pointlessly one-upping it). Freakin' lovely music, man. Smart — but not smarty pants. And just awesome how it straddles 'pop' and 'art' so seamlessly.

The Zincs — Dimmer. (2005)

One of the most complete jangle albums of the last decade, honestly. I'm sorry I waited so long. I distinctly remember three songs that the Zincs played when they opened for Sea and Cake off this album: 'Moment is Now!' (because they opened with it), 'Passengers' (because Jim Elkington played harmonica) and 'Beautiful Lawyers' (because it was so reminiscent of the Sea and Cake's jangly perfection). Things build and build in a very pleasantly jangly tone for the bulk of the album until they hit the ballad 'Sunday Night' and it just feels like one of those Neil Young-esque, late night, moment of clarity occurrences that pop up every so often with good music scholars. Overall, I have listened to this album several times over the past few days and I have to say that the band, as played to me on that spring night several years ago, is just as captivating on record as I remember they were in person. Again: I'm sorry I waited so long. I've really missed out.

Mojave 3 — Ask Me Tomorrow (1996)

I received Puzzles Like You as a promo when I worked at Tower Records and I remember being really excited to be properly introduced what is essentially Slowdive v.2. I hated it. For years ever since, I've written off the band as "shitty Slowdive with twang." A friend recently introduced me to a version of 'Bluebird of Happiness' that made me re-think things. I know I've heard this album in passing before, but I just can't say where. And sure, going in after Pygmalion (and its subsequent deluxe edition), it's just not as good. But, leave all that baggage at the door and this is a darn fine little whispery dreamy folk rock album. Reminds me a lot of Neil Young's Harvest Moon, in fact (add some reverb and you're there). Think Mazzy Star, but less "trippy man" (not that being "trippy man" isn't good). Hearing it from where I am now, 'Love Songs on the Radio' is a downright classic in my book. The boozy twang of 'Tomorrow's Taken' is as comforting as the most relatable of classic country, but with a fantastically surreal vibe to it that only former-shoegazers could pull off. Overall, it's Neil Young for dream pop fans. No wonder I like it. Again, I'm sorry I waited so long.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

What's New?: 9.18.2011

A compendium of AWESOME!!!

Ok, that may have been a little much. . . But some good stuff, for sure. . .

Love Tractor — Themes From Venus (1989)

Oh, Love Tractor, you are so deliciously jangly! This is a later one with more of a focus on vocal tracks, but it starts off with the surf 'n jangle pop monster 'I Broke My Saw', so everything is ok. There is a bit more of a rocked up punch to the production, but for 1989 standards, this was super artsy. The instrumentals are all on par with the band's early material and it's just awesome to hear something like the magically melancholy 'Hey Mess' morph into the layered jangly good time instrumental 'Nova Express.' Found this one on a whim, but I'm really glad to have added it to my collection. Hidden gem, for sure.

Waxing Poetics — Hermitage (1986)

A total obscurity from the backburner of the college rock stovetop (not to mention, the Roadrunner Records catalogue). I only glanced at the back cover of this because I didn't know what it was. Finding that I recognized two rather significant names (Mitch Easter, and more importantly, Mike Mills), I was intrigued. Sure glad I took a blind chance on it, because I found a pretty good little jangle album. It does have a bit of a power pop influence to it, and overall, reminds me very much of early R.E.M. Highlights for me are the moody 'Friday's Child', the Ocean Blue-ish 'This Parade' and the very R.E.M.-esque title track. Great stuff for jangle fans; shame it's pretty much an obscurity.

Brian Eno — Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974)

Try to be weird and poppy at the same time, end up sounding like this album. This is a re-acquisition, of sorts. God, he was ahead of the curve. 'Third Uncle' still sounds contemporary. It's supposed to be a concept album, but I've never actually sat down and figured it out. The lyrics are jut too trippy, honestly. In a good way, but sheesh. I'm not figuring that wacky shit out. I mean, what can you say about this album? If the song is totally calm and catchy, the lyrics are completely bizarre ('Put a Straw Under Baby' and 'Burning Airlines Give You So Much More' for instance), but then there's songs where things are just plain weird and out of place ('Third Uncle' and 'China My China'), going off into these noisy, atonal tangents that predict any number of post-punk sub-genres (confusingly, a good three years before such a thing was even possible!!!??!!!?!). Through it all, there's a strange sense of melody going on that is just fantastic. The title track points towards his ambient future, and overall, it's hard to imagine he could get even better.

Brian Eno — Ambient 4: On Land (1982)

Eno's late 70's and early 80's ambient albums are works of sheer mastery. So good, in fact, that people who otherwise don't like a good ambient segue respect the hell out of them, if they don't flat out like them. I have been more and more open to the annals of ambient music these past few years and, I have to say, after years of disregarding Eno's non-pop albums and ambient stuff in general, I've really come to admire his work the most. It has a resonance —dare I say, a soul?— to it that I have yet to find with most other works in the genre. This one starts off with one of his best songs ever on 'Lizard Point.' A shorter piece, it characterizes this album, as it has a clear main theme that is not only discernible, it's actually kind of catchy. The album builds and builds until the second to last track ('A Clearing') and it's clear that this is very emotional music for its creator. He has better ambient albums, but not many.

The Horrors — Skying (2011)

This album has already been addressed. It is a very nice double vinyl edition, with a gatefold cover, full color inner sleeves, heavy 180 gram records and a digital download redemption. I expect nothing less from the folks over at XL.

Shelleyan Orphan — Helleborine (1987)

Completing my collection of the early Shelleyan Orphan stuff. It strikes me as "Baroque Pop" in the best sort of way. They have that string and woodwind accompaniment, but with an acoustic strummy guitar base that just appeals to me. It's like post-punk folk. This is their first album, and probably their most produced one, oddly. Although it contains arguably their best song ever with the seven minute album closing epic 'Melody of Birth.' Side two of the album is definitely the overall stronger one, but it's hard to call the album anything but a pure success, with other highlights like 'One Hundred Hands' and 'Jeremiah.' Fantastic stuff from a sadly forgotten band.

Aztec Camera — Still on Fire EP (1984)

Hard to see that spine on the scan above, but this is the 12" I picked up. I'm the last person that can claim objectivity when it comes to Roddy Frame, as to me, the guy practically invented my favorite brand of rock music, so take that as you will. This one contains the fantastic single from Knife, along with two live tracks that I previously had on an American ten inch EP, along with live versions of two High Land Hard Rain classics, 'Walk Out to Winter' and an absolutely stunning 'The Boy Wonders.' Sure, I'm rating it on the strength of two (new to me) live renditions of songs that I've known for years, but hey, when you're a whore, you're a whore for all of it. Hard to believe a band that sounded that good and that passionate got so. . . well, shit on. This is the sort of thing I collect vinyl for. Now I just need to track down that extended nine minute 12" mix of 'Walk Out to Winter.' And those Love-era b-sides. Oh yeah!

Cocteau Twins/Harold Budd — The Moon and the Melodies (1986)

It's good — really good. But, besides the straight ambient songs, the proper songs are really no new revelation for the band. Still, when you're hot, you're hot. And it should come as no surprise that amongst the proper songs, 'Sea, Swallow Me' and 'She Will Destroy You' are pretty much in the top tier of Cocteaus material. The ambient tracks are really, really good. But, they do sacrifice the cohesiveness of the album. It would have been nice to follow Bowie and Eno's precedent and do all the pop songs on one side and all the ambient stuff on the other. But, no points taken away for them trying something different. I want to say I've heard this album in passing before (shoutout to Chris Hubbell when he was in one of his mellow moods, perhaps?). I've neglected this post-Treasure Cocteaus material for too long.

The Soft Boys — Underwater Moonlight (1980)

I've told myself I would buy this album without ever having heard a single note of it if I ever saw it, quite literally, for years. Well, that day finally came and I made good on my promise to myself. It's been said that the Soft Boys were the very first jangle band, and after hearing this, I can't properly agree with that, but I definitely understand that they were important as hell to the scene. It's a bit more new wave all around in its philosophy. But definitely has moments of 12-string jangle that are completely out of place for 1980 (and yet, the Feelies released Crazy Rhythms the same year — just sayin'). I'd actually place this one very much in with Paisley Underground crowd from the west of the US. It has absolutely nothing to do with that scene, but does its sound not fit right in? The title track here is a totally awesome Byrds-revival jangler that must have sounded completely wrong in 1980. But, oh so right. Robyn Hitchcock went on to more notoriety after the band, but it has never held my interest much. This stuff is like jangle pop filtered through an odd druggy stream of conscious early 80's haze. Gotta love it. Quintessential stuff for me.

Travis — Good Feeling (1997)

The first track is 'All I Want to Do is Rock' and indeed, amongst the overdriven guitars and gutty vocals from Fran Healy, this is the band's most Brit-poppy album. The tunes are there, but hearing it now for the first time in retrospect, it is very dated. Much of what made the band so great from The Man Who onwards is not really present (or, at least, not very apparent). Most of the songs have big guitars up front and semi-whiney vocals. The reggae rock of the title track hints at the songcraft that the band had up its sleeve, while 'Tied to the 90's is a surprisingly lucid realization of the band's own mortality. The second half leans on ballads heavily and that's where the hints of the greatness that was to come shone through. Still though, easily the band's worst album, even though it does hint at where they would go.

Travis — Ode to J. Smith (2008)

Within the first three tracks ('Chinese Blues', 'J. Smith' and 'Something Anything'), it's a pure and complete contrast (in a good way) with Good Feeling. These three songs rock out more than anything the band had done since that first album, but they are more polished, more layered and just all around more well-thought out than anything on Good Feeling. Granted, for the first third of this album, the band's guitars sound more ferocious than they have in a decade, but their songcraft is as good as ever. So, when things evolve back into their now-stock jangle sound on 'Quite Free', it sounds natural and fluid. I do prefer the calmer second half of the album, but you have to really marvel at how good Travis has become at what they do. With this album, they have become what Coldplay wishes they were: a pop band that actually plays challenging riffs and meaningful changes. They are this generation's interpretation of Crowded House.

Keith Murray — Enigma (1996)

Another mostly Erick Sermon-produced mid-90's gem. I did have this one on cassette in high school (for car listening, of course), so I guess this is a re-acquisition. God, the beats on this album are just. . . wow. I never would have arrived at this at the time, but when I started making beats in late '98, I was subconsciously trying to make beats like on this album. Jesus, 'The Rhyme'? Do you know how many of my beats sound like that? That song is so good, I didn't even realize I was copying it. Keith is on some complete and pure nonsense on the mic the entire time. It's like the beats are these bass-heavy, vibed out mellow masterpieces (think G-funk, but with better drums) and Keith is saying stuff like, "Fuck you, comin' from the 'Fuck you' man" the entire time. So, yeah. But, good beats are worth their weight in gold and this album still sounds great. The last two proper tracks are surprisingly lucid, humble as they may be as attempts at poignancy. 'To My Mans' has a beat that should make any MC jealous while 'World be Free' is an unnecessarily aggressively meditation on the awesomeness of travel that only a hiphop album could pull off. An early Jay Dee production on the masterful Bill Evans-sampling 'The Rhyme' remix closes things out and I have a really hard time not loving this album, even after all this time.

Cocteau Twins — Milk + Kisses (1996)

As a first step taken to dive into that later Cocteaus material that I felt I was neglecting, I saw this album used on the shelf and went for it. I know some versions of these songs from the Lullabies to Violaine set from a few years ago. But, mostly, I was marveling at how good the Twins still sounded so late in their career. Nothing changed really, besides nuances in production, and they're still able to sound undeniably like themselves. 'Half-Gifts' totally rips off 'Suzanne' and still manages to sound great. 'Seekers Who are Lovers' is the sort of vintage Cocteaus song that must have sounded like it was from another planet in 1996. I wish they would reunite, honestly.

More shortly on the way. . .


Mark Burgess + Yves Altana — Paradyning live in Frankfurt '96

A little curiosity can take you a long way, my friends. . .

After finding this little gem late one Saturday night, I soon stumbled upon this, filled out the form and thought nothing more of it. When I heard back, it would be a lie if I said that I didn't get a little hint of butterflies. I've long thought that the Paradyning album was an underrated chapter in the Mark Burgess saga. It's almost like a more focused version of the Sons of God project, as it features a lot of the same lineup, but everything is whittled down to its bare essentials. Jon Lever on drums and you get a couple downright Mark Burgess classics that have remained in his live repertoire ever since.

So, this album is just candy coating on an already super sweet semi-hidden treat.

The set opens with two rip roaring rocking out moments on 'Sin' and 'Silver' that definitely look forward to the more aggressive material Mark and Yves would tackle on the Invincible album a couple years later. It really makes me go back to the proper Paradyning album, as I guess I never really noticed before that the album definitely does rock out in a few spots — the production is a bit restrained, so I guess it was an easy thing to miss.

While not everything from the proper album is played here ('Adrian Be' and 'Stop Talking' are not performed), three Chameleons songs are played with pure expertise (a blistering 'Home is Where the Heart Is', a subdued —but passionate— 'It is Any Wonder?' and a unique, building version of 'Tears' as a hidden bonus track) and, quite awesomely, an ace run-through of the Sun and the Moon's 'This Passionate Breed' round out the set. It's fantastically recorded straight from the board and sequenced in a cohesive order.

The highlight for me is definitely 'Inhaling' —it's one of my favorite songs Mark has ever done anyway, but they just captured it amazingly here. An intensity and emotional aspect, that some folk may have missed on the studio version, is present here and any doubts that it's one of Mark's best tunes should probably subside by the second chorus.

And, you know, it should speak pretty loudly about how good this thing is when you take a step back and really look at what it is: just a live album. This was just a gig for Mark and Yves. They found some local musicians, practiced the songs for a day or two and played a show. That it's now a serendipitous document of a pivotal moment in the career of an unlikely musical partnership between two people so closely linked just goes to show you that, more than anything else, Mark Burgess is a musician who will give his all no matter what. And that this was just another stop on the road for these two —and yet, simultaneously, a worthy listening endeavor on its own that has that undeniably personable warmth that seems like everything with Mark's name on it possesses— is just plain awesome.

A longtime proponent of the straight from the artist purchase, I highly recommend it.

You can buy this album from Yves Altana here.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Show review: Fleet Foxes 10 September 2011

Made the trip over to Berkeley yesterday to see Fleet Foxes at the Greek Theatre. I've been wanting to see them live for a few years now, as they are one of my favorite bands. Although I feel like maybe I'm getting too old to make such marathon trips and stand around for several hours in the same spot, I once again have to revert back to an old cliche: it was totally worth it.

Not much to say about the actual performance because it was so good, so passionate and so resonating that I don't want to be become redundant.

The opener was the Walkmen and, despite hearing them in passing previously and not really being terribly impressed, I have to say they left me pretty indifferent. The lead guitarist did have a sweet shiny midnight blue and white Rickenbacker that looked vintage, though. Nothing more to say, really.

Walking up Gayley street to get in line, I could hear the band's soundcheck harmonies echoing out of the theatre, through the city blocks and into the fog. The music on the house stereo leading up to the band's entrance had Robin Pecknold's fingerprints all over it: Van Morrison, David Axelrod and John Coltrane, amongst other things. Just provided the perfect atmosphere.

It was clear that the crowd was on the band's side, as they received a standing ovation before a single note was played. The song selection in the setlist had pretty much everything I would have asked for, had the band consulted me. 'The Plains/Bitter Dancer' —what I initially thought to be an odd opening selection— worked incredibly well. They played almost all of Helplessness Blues ('The Cascades' and 'Someone You'd Admire' were left out) amidst a selection of strong older favorites. The fluidity of the live arrangements, especially when they play those medleys was just eye-poppingly good. Even if the material wasn't as strong as it is, you'd still have to marvel at how well they played it. The medley on 'White Winter Hymnal'/'Ragged Wood' and the perfect execution of 'The Shrine'/'An Argument' (with an added extra verse from Robin and a skronky epic bass clarinet solo by Morgan Henderson) into 'Blue Spotted Tail' were definitely highlights. 'Blue Ridge Mountains' came late in the set, during the encore after a new song Robin sang solo, and it sounded just unbelievably good. The harmonies and huge dynamics were surely only enhanced by the Greek Theatre's architecture, as something like 'Sim Sala Bim' just became this gargantuan wall of sound that left more than a few people with goosebumps — myself included.

Other things that stood out to me:
Josh Tillman is an absolute BEAST on drums. The guy has provided the driving backbone that makes the band's music, especially when played live, even more passionate than on records.
Christian Wargo's bass is awesome. The tone he gets out of it is great, sure, but just the look of it wins for me.
The band has FUN when they are playing. They are an extremely tight and disciplined unit, but there was no shortage of between song banter, jokes and just general goofing around going on. You can tell they are loving every second of it up there and it really comes across in how well they play the songs.
Maybe it's just because I was down front, but they were fucking LOUD. Man, I never thought you could genuinely rock out with acoustic instruments like that.

Overall, I can't imagine a better showing from them. The entire time, I kept thinking to myself, "Yeah, this is what I think of when I hear their records." If nothing else, it's proof that they should release a live album, because the material sounds just as good when they play it live as it does on the records (and, in some cases, it's better).

In a quieter between song moment, someone a ways behind me yelled out, "You're one of the best bands of this generation." Robin looked up briefly, quickly looked back down and adjusted his pedals, obviously trying to hide a huge smile. His humility wouldn't let him acknowledge the comment out loud, but his genuine earnestness shone through — which is why people say such things in the first place.

Some folks have already put video up on YouTube: 'The Shrine/An Argument/Blue Spotted Tail' (this was the proper set closer) and the new song (no title was announced).

Staggeringly good.


Monday, September 5, 2011

What's New?: 9.5.2011

Another one that could go on for a bit. . .

Erick Sermon — Double or Nothing and Bomdigi EP (1995)

A peak example of just how thanklessly strong east coast hip hop was in the mid-90's. This album, deemed second tier at the time, holds up for that soulful, blunted out, bass-heavy mid-tempo goodness. I'm sure I had a dub of it from Iain, but I know for sure I've never owned a copy of my own before. I recognized a lot of the non-single material, but ultimately, it just goes to prove why I don't like hip hop anymore: for all of the shit talking and gratuitous amounts of swearing, there is an earnestness and honesty present that has absolutely no concern with whether or not anybody actually likes the music. R+B singer Aaron Hall appears on 'Welcome' and, while that was probably deemed a move towards the mainstream, the backing track is just too funky, too spaced out and just too off the wall to really cross over properly. The countless shoutouts to all eras of music and musicians is always fun for me to hear (when it comes down to it, we're all just fans — awesome). The poignant moment of clarity 'Focus' at once makes a point and comes off without an ounce of preachiness. Just good stuff. And, looking back now, it's easy to see how I feel so deeply in love with this music.

Invincible — Venus (1999)

Probably the best thing Mark Burgess did after the Chameleons disbanded. I've had the album in various (unofficial) forms for years, but I decided enough was enough recently and found a (still!) sealed copy on eBay. There are just gobs and gobs of vintage Mark Burgess moments here. Everything is presented with a bit more of a rougher rock and roll edge (thanks to Yves Altana's excellent work on guitars) and through it all is that voice and those words — the work of Mark Burgess, a man so good at what he does, even a relative obscurity like this is amongst his best work. Don't know if I've yet addressed it yet on Redundant Chicanery, but I feel that 'Spooks' is one of the best just straight catchy rock and roll songs of. . . well, ever, honestly. A weird manifesto about not feeling like you belong amidst a downright addictive riff. It's been said that Mark's ambition with Invincible was to rock out and still be able to connect with his audience like the bands he loved growing up did (T. Rex, Bowie, etc.). Mission accomplished. 'Think (it's going to happen)' is one of his best songs ever. A 6/8 time signature masterpiece on par with The Chams' 'Caution' and 'Is it Any Wonder?' and the Sun and the Moon's 'This Passionate Breed,' it's just a magical song that even people who don't like this style of music will probably concede is a genuinely affecting work. There's not a bad song in the bunch and there are definite shades of songs you could easily imagine as Chameleons numbers ('Only You Could Save Me' is case in point). But that's to suggest that this is a lesser work. On the contrary. This is, like I said, one of Mark's very best releases and it should be telling that, besides the Sun and the Moon (which was half of the original band anyway), this is really the only real band he formed outside of the Chameleons. What a wonderful album. Outstanding.

Crosby Stills + Nash — Demos (late 60's/early70's)

Just a crowd pleaser. Simple, sparse run-throughs of long-familiar CSN favorites. I like that it doesn't stick strictly to material that ended up on the band's two initial albums, as several of the tracks appeared on the band member's solo albums. While there is more Stills tracks than I would care for (a full third of the disc), they don't take away from the other highlights. The solo Crosby demo of 'Deja Vu' is darn near better than the original and it's a little stunning to hear that he had such a complicated arrangement worked out so fluidly before the band had at it. Graham Nash's mostly solo rendition of 'Marrakesh Express' is pure fun while, the full band-backed initial run of 'Long Time Gone' is a lot more funked out than I would have imagined. Besides 'Deja Vu', no real revelations, but definitely good fun to hear this stuff.

Gastr del Sol — Camofleur (1998)

I will say the same thing I said when I first heard it about ten years ago: it reminds me of Brian Eno's pop albums from the 70's while sounding nothing like those albums. Instead, it just takes on a confluent role of two guys who just soaked up any and everything they could. The very first song ('The Seasons Reverse') is proof positive that David Grubbs and Jim O'Rourke were just two guys that were into everything and wanted to find a way to incorporate it into the music they were making. The acoustic twangs, the glitchy post-production, the challenging time signature, the incorporation of brass horns and steel drums, it's a really weird song that somehow manages to be catchy. Overall, it's really an acoustic-based album that uses post-production to manipulate the listener into thinking that it's a lot more weird than it actually is. Its influence is probably a lot larger than its notoriety. Wonderful stuff.

Stereolab — Fab Four Suture (2006)

One of the most consistent bands ever just keeps right on going. You can really hear how they were gearing up to move into the orchestrated pop variation of their sound on Chemical Chords (which would be their next move). 'Get a Shot of the Refrigerator' sounds exactly like them, but with an inkling of something else at play. I'm having a hard time articulating it, but that is a fine little manic number. I also really like 'Excursions Into Oh, A-oh' which sounds like classic Lab to me. Overall, there's enough quirks and nuances here to make this yet another one to own for Stereolab fans. And you just can't help but love the democracy that they have in regards to their discography: this is basically Switched On Volume Four, as it collects all of their singles and b-sides from 2005 and 2006. Tunes for days and pure catchiness and interesting ideas from a band that never seems to run out of any of those things.

Squeeze — Cool for Cats (1979)

Squeeze should be one of the most trusted names in retrospect for pure pop goodness. They do have large hits in America, but unfortunately, they get overlooked as kind of a novelty act. I'm not defending anything past East Side Story, but those first four albums are top tier new wave pop. 'Slap and Tickle' has the synths while the title track has the jangly guitars. It's jerky enough to be easily lumped in with new wave, but it's got enough attention paid to layers and poppy eccentricities to make it transcend; just like the rest of their best work. It probably hangs together with the least continuity of their initial three classics (this one, Argybragy and East Side Story), but its highlights are just as good as the other two. I really like the album as a whole because its songs, as an American listener, are just less familiar. Hard to dislike such a strong album from a band that was in such a productively consistent phase.

Embrace — Embrace (1985)

A curious dollar bin find. This is indeed the Embrace that recorded for Dischord in the mid-80's and was fronted by Ian MacKaye post-Minor Threat and pre-Fugzai. It's good. Very punk and very melodic at the same time. Ian is screamy at times with his voice, but, for the most part, he exhibits his tenor croon in a really well done fashion. The themes he covers in his lyrics are pretty dark and very much angry, self-deprecating and accusatory of others. His music always has a bit of self-righteousness to it, but it feels very real here and you have to just sit back and admire the passion in a song like 'Dance of Days.' And you know what? That's the theme of this material: it may not be expertly played or sang, but the sheer force and passion in the playing and performance genuinely affects the overall outcome of the music. It actually makes me think a lot of early Joy Division because the musical backing is very raw and punky, but the overall feeling is one of the band straining to be something perhaps beyond their capabilities. There is something in me that just loves that intensity.

Lowlife — Permanent Sleep (1985)

Have really wanted to check this band for a while now. This is Will Heggie's band after he left the Cocteau Twins. The LTM Label has reissued the band's entire catalogue, but I just haven't been able to afford any of those pricey imports. I don't want to be misunderstood, because I do like this one, but I am disappointed, to be completely sure. The heavy bass and chimey, echoey guitars are there and that's just heaven for me, but every song sounds exactly the same. Same 6/8 time signature, almost identical tempos and the same post-Ian Curtis baritone croon. Now, with any other lineup of unflinching similarity, I'd write it off pretty quickly, but let's be honest: I am very privy to this sound and era of music, so the very production sounds and the lovely echoing guitars keep things listenable. It could definitely use some diversity, but I certainly am not put off on checking out the rest of the band's discography.

A.R. Kane — Sixty Nine (1988)

Pretty sure it should be acknowledged fact by now that the very first track on this album —the godlike 'Crazy Blue'— is an indisputable classic. Where that track is like Sade meets the Pixies in a delicious promised land of dreamy melodic vibes and into-the-reds loudness, the rest of the album is a bit more willfully weird. The vocals the entire time are mixed to sound like the mic was at least ten feet away from where the vocals were actually coming from and the songs just generally avoid anything closely resembling traditional structure altogether. 'Dizzy' is an especially weird one, as it essentially sounds like classical music being played in an insane asylum full of mentally tortured shrieking maniacs. The segue of 'The Sun Falls Into the Sea' and 'The Madonna is With Child' is just about one of the trippiest —and seamless— things I've ever heard. Ray Schulman is about co-producing and whatnot and this one is just a total winner. Roots of post-rock 101, kiddos. Shame they're still not more known.

A.R. Kane — Lollita EP (1987)

This was produced by Robin Guthrie. I know it's hard to read this spine in the scan photo with the grey text on white matte cover. There are only three songs here, but each one knocks it out of the park easily. The title track plays up the shoegazey-ness of the band and is practically the group's manifesto. 'Sado-Masochism is a Must' squalls its way into existence and is probably the most Cocteau-ish thing the band ever did (in fact, it sounds like Robin Guthrie helped out on guitar), while 'Butterfly Collector' is dark and noisy (indeed, it ends with ninety seconds of white noise). Hard to imagine something this revolutionary getting so roundly ignored in retrospect.

Kenny Burrell — Midnight Blue (1963)

One of the best Blue Notes in that intimidatingly great catalogue. I had the pleasure of sneaking a copy of this album into the in-store play stock while I was working at Tower Records, so I heard it a lot. So much that I never felt like I needed to buy it. Time passes, here I am, buying it anyway. I can't think of a better title for an album that sounds like this one does. The blues hold strong over everything played here, but with the addition of Ray Barretto on hand percussions and an all around slower tempo, there is a sense here of late night, moment of clarity haziness. The thoughtful vibe and tuneful riffs in the songs makes for one of the foundation soul jazz albums of the period. One need not look any further than the solo Burrell composition 'Soul Lament' for the depth and tunefulness achieved here. Classics don't get much stronger than this.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Lee Ranaldo — Vancouver Ambients 1-4 (2005)

Here 'tis.

A short slice of what Lee Ranaldo does to please his fans when he's not Sonic Youthing things.

For some reason, we got one of these 33⅓ rpm seven inch EPs in when I worked at Tower. I bought it for the simple reason that it was hand numbered and signed by Lee himself (in pencil no less and obviously, I got number 291). Lee is on guitar, "tapes and edit" on all four tracks, Alan Licht is on guitar and Christian Marclay is on turntables on track three and William Hooker is on drums on track four. It's mostly total skronk musically, and really, more about the actual physical thing than the music being played. Still, part two is just godlike and, I swear to yahweh almighty, it gets stuck in my head sometimes.

A limited edition of 500 copies, pressed on translucent, very very light green vinyl (doubt you'll even be able to tell from the scans, it's so light), this is one for the 2am crowd.