Monday, January 30, 2012

Favorites of 2011

Breaking from my usual format, instead of blabbering on (yet again) about how much I liked the music released this past year, I am simply going to let the music speak for itself.  Here are my favorite songs from my favorite albums of the year, sequenced in a way that you may find rewarding to listen to, if you should choose to do so.  Most of the songs are proudly sourced from vinyl, so headphone listening is encouraged.  It's ninety minutes long, so please allow yourself some free time to fully embrace it.




Tracklist:
01 Jónsi — Why Not?
02 Kate Bush — Snowed in at Wheeler Street
03 Thurston Moore — Space
04 The Appleseed Cast — Middle States
05 The Sea and Cake — Inn Keeping
06 The Horrors — Endless Blue
07 Death Cab for Cutie — Doors Unlocked and Open
08 To My: Long Lost Love — If You Say So
09 PJ Harvey — In the Dark Places
10 The Feelies — Bluer Skies
11 Gavin Friday — The Sun and the Moon and the Stars
12 Radiohead — Separator
13 King Krule — The Noose of Jah City
14 The Beach Boys — Look (Song for Children)/Child is Father of the Man/Surf's Up
15 Fleet Foxes — Grown Ocean
16 David Sylvian — A Certain Slant of Light
17 Sigur Rós — Lúppulagið

I am participating this year in the St. Baldrick's fundraiser.  Go here to donate.  And yes, I'm serious: if I raise $500, the beard is coming off too.  Otherwise, it's staying and I will be an unsightly bald man with an inexplicable beard.

~Austin

Sunday, January 29, 2012

To My: Long Lost Love


This is the type of thing that can be equally frustrating as it is compelling as a music fan.

Yes, I’m here because Robin Pecknold put this on his list of albums of the year for 2011.

The bandcamp page lists the artist as either “anonymous”, “to my long lost love”, “heart and soul” or “junior cloud apprentice.”  It’s only been released on vinyl and I had to send an email off to a nondescript Gmail address to open a correspondence with its creator and purchase it.

This can be fun in a romanticized way where things simply boil down to the music and judging that simply on its own merits.  However, a bit of internet sleuthing and some keen Googling will reveal (most likely) the creator’s name.  My common sense tells me that it’s someone who is affiliated with the Fleet Foxes circle, as the record was released in September of last year and Fleet Foxes had been on tour for several weeks previous at that point (and, as has been expressed to me, the album’s creator has no intentions to release it digitally — which raises the obvious question as to how Robin Pecknold heard it).  All of this I must admit, as much as I hate to remove the discussion from the actual music, is darn good fun.

I just wish I knew who exactly I had sent money to in order to receive the record, so I could properly give them credit.  Oh well, I suppose.  Maybe one day I’ll know.  For the time being, I’ll just say that I like the songs that somebody whose name I don’t know wrote.

But I’m not about to overlook the actual music to speculate on someone’s identity.

I guess if I were to sum it up shortly, I'd say its sound hearkens back to the lo-fi, slow/sadcore sound of the early and mid-90's.  It's got the sparse, low and scratchy electric guitar strum of the quieter moments of Slint, mixed with the flourishing psychedelic atmospheres of early Mazzy Star.  Add a whispery, soprano-ranged singer on top of the lush musical concoctions and you get a downright pleasant album.

It's actually pretty direct, musically — which is the last thing you'd expect when considering its presentation.  A lot of the songs clock in at around two minutes and consist solely of guitar and multi-tracked vocals.  Some drum loops here, a synth harmony there, sad and sparse piano chords for good measure; nothing that revelatory, really.

The things that make it rise above and become a listenable —and, indeed, rather enjoyable— little lo-fi pop album are the catchiness and sincerity of the songs.  The recollections of an intense bedroom conversation on 'What You Said' or the analogy of one lover pushing the other off a cliff on 'The Mountain' make for lovely little slices heartbroken pop, much akin to the twee generation.  'If You Say So' is the most impressive thing here, conjuring up a sort of Stereolab meets the Cocteau Twins vibe.

It definitely has the feeling to it of one person, sitting in a room with their guitar and tiny practice amp, working out the songs in the space of three or four days.  All signs point to the lyrics documenting a pretty grueling breakup — there's practically nothing else addressed here except the past.  The sequencing is great; not exactly telling a complete story, but finding proper bookends in 'It Comes in Waves' and the loss-accepting 'What Do I Do With You' (the opener and closer, respectively).  It sounds pretty darned complete for a twenty four minute affair.

There's no information anywhere on the record jacket besides titles.  So, to the person in Portland, Oregon that created this music: job well done.  A word of advice though: next time, maybe take at least partial credit for your accomplishment.

If you don't reside in Portland, you can purchase this album (vinyl only) by shooting an email off to the address here.

~Austin

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What's New?: 1.24.2012

A small batch of mostly Byrds.



The Byrds — In The Beginning (1964)

This contains basically the band's original demos.  None of the songs were released in the form they are on here  until several years later, but in different running orders and (if I understand correctly) not as complete as this one.  For somebody who's into the Byrds, it's basically a more lightweight version of what you already know you like about the band.  Jangly guitars?  Check.  Group harmonies?  Check.  Swooping choruses?  Check.  It's all just presented a little more politely than you may be used to.  Think of like this: they are a little more Kingston Trio than Bob Dylan here.  Although you do get somewhat garagey moments like 'You Movin'' which sounds great next to their spooky original rendition of 'You Showed Me' (covered five years later to great fame by the Turtles).  You get the original, decidedly very folky, arrangement of 'Mr. Tambourine Man', which is fun because they would claim the tune as their own just a year later with a revolutionary arrangement.

WU LYF — Go Tell Fire to the Mountain (2011)

Great sound these Manchester boys have worked up!  Reminiscent of Doves at times, actually.  They didn't really come onto my radar when they first released this album last summer, but better late than never.  Musically, they're very much in that echoey, noisy-yet-melodic-as-hell, cascading, "intimate roar" sort of post-rock vein.  Vocally, they have this singer that doesn't sing as much as he just shouts and screeches his way through the songs.  This can get a little grating after fourty minutes, but the powerful instrumentals behind him make a strong case for overlooking it.  Take a tune like 'Cave Song' for instance: probably the most aggressive he gets on the entire album, but the riffs and the way the song builds in just darn good.  And that should be why someone like me is interested in this album: these boys know their way around a redemptive build-up pretty well.  'We Bros' is case in point. One moment big and grandiose, the next sparse and slow, all building to a seemingly lager-fueled group singalong.  Hard to categorize exactly what these guys are trying to do with such pompous-sounding music and purposely "mysterious" persona, but the tunes definitely have a lot of qualities that I like in music, so whatever.  I suppose they've self-dubbed their sound "heavy pop" and I guess I see what they mean.  That's also the name of the album's closing song (and one of it's highlights, as well).

The Byrds — Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)

The title track influenced a generation and ignited the idea behind a melding of folk-inspired rock music.  Calling it seminal, groundbreaking or even just plain old important seems like a total understatement at this point.  There's four Dylan covers here, none as good as the title track (though 'All I Really Want to Do' was a hit in its own right).  A few other songs are reworked from the 1964 sessions documented on In the Beginning, and all are improvements.  The best of the originals are the two Gene Clark numbers 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better' and 'It's No Use' — coupla nice rockers, if you ask me.  Overall, totally strong album by a band whose potential must have seemed limitless at the time.

The Byrds — Younger Than Yesterday (1967)

This seems to be an overlooked one in the bigger picture of the Byrds' initial run of albums.  Gene Clark was out and there's only one Dylan cover (their surprisingly good attempt at 'My Back Pages'), so I guess that kind of explains it.  Shame, it's actually one of the better ones in that remarkable run.  Chris Hillman's Beatles-esque 'Have You Seen Her Face' is a good one, while 'CTA-102' starts out normal enough, but gets pretty wacky pretty fast.  Fun.  David Crosby was emerging as a strong songwriting voice and his four originals are definitely my favorites here.  The best of the lot is 'Everybody's Been Burned' which has that great, eerily cynical calm vibe to it that Crosby made his own.  Overall, thinking about it now, this thing's all over the place, but there isn't a song here that isn't a total winner.  I've been saying this a lot lately about these guys, but sometimes greatest hits collections just aren't good enough to paint the whole picture.  And this album definitely illustrates that perfectly.  Absolutely a contender for my favorite album by the band.

~Austin

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Andrew Hill — Mosaic Select 23 (1978/2007)

If Redundant Chicanery has taught you nothing during its tenure, the one thing you will have taken away from this place is that I often take into consideration personal experience when listening to music (either the maker's or mine — it's interchangeable, really).  

Andrew Hill —one of the most original and resonating voices in modern music— recorded nearly three hours worth of newly composed material in the late summer and fall of 1978 amidst a cross-country move in the wake of his wife being determined terminally ill.

So, the contents of this box set?  

Yeah that's what he was playing in the shadow of all of that change.  

A move to the inner-Bay Area and an acceptance of his surroundings are basically what's documented here.  

Is it sad?  No.

Is it happy?  No.

Is it boring?  No.

Is it rewarding?  Double yes with a side of yesrings, please.

He is absolutely playing his heart out for the duration here.  If you have the patience, you will be converted to the church of Andrew Hill.  I was already here, so I guess take my words as those of a true believer.

He seems to be playing life in all its profound glories and equally as profound sadness here with a cool and pronounced ability that simultaneously says, "I know that heaviness in your heart" and "Hey, cop this!"

Two songs from the sessions documented here were actually released on a seldom heard, independently released album.  Those two songs are finally reissued here along with everything that was considered along with them.  

It's astounding really.

A pianist goes into a studio and decides to play obsessively introspective material for three hours and the masters simply get handed over to him.  Years later, we finally get to hear how a tune like 'California Tinge' (in two versions) finally evolved into 'Reverend Du Bop' — and not to mention that all three versions are excellent.  

I don't really have much else to say here expect that it is an absolute joy to hear these sessions of Andrew unaccompanied and uninterrupted.  

He sounds full of creativity.  Full of life.  

Wonderfully soothing music.

~Austin

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Time catches up with you.

So, you may have been wondering, why haven't I said anything about some important recent releases?  I've just been listening, basically.

So, here's a combo-post: a short wrap-up of some important recent releases that I haven't yet spoken upon.

The Beach Boys — The SMiLE Sessions (1966/1967)
Well, I should say right now that I don't like Pet Sounds.  I find it very overrated and just lacking tunes for the most part.  In the great Pet Sounds revival of the late-90's, I totally didn't get it.  So, when I was disappointed to hear Pet Sounds, I never bothered past that.  I knew the Beach Boys' other early 60's hits and was not interested, thank you very much.  I checked out Brian's version of SMiLE from a few years ago when I worked at Tower and I dug it.  As it was one of the only decent things allowed to be played in the store, I heard it to the point of overkill and decided I did not need to buy it.  A renewed interest after some choice dollar bin finds about a year ago and a revisit of Brian's SMiLE and I was anticipating this one pretty heavy.  I bought the plain two vinyl version.  It's ungodly amazing.  The whole sequence from 'Cabin Essence' through 'Surf's Up' is just pure magic.  I can understand why it was not released though.  It's like, if Sgt. Pepper was the blueprint for the art rock, this was the perfection of that form.  It was too much, too soon.  The way that themes develop over the course of several minutes and several songs, while never becoming boring or obsolete is just the mark of a completely pure and resounding work.  I love that idea of an album just being one long extension of one really great theme.  And that dynamic is definitely at play here.  I had a discussion recently with a friend about why the Beach Boys were considered amongst the greats of the classic rock bands when they really only released great singles.  It's like, if you look at how they released 'Heroes and Villains' and 'Good Vibrations' as singles (two of the most artsy and challenging songs ever to be hits, if you ask me) and then released piddily crap on the proper albums, it's almost like they wanted to fail.  Whatever.  If this had actually been released in '67, the Beatles subsequent output would be deemed pleasant, but decidedly safe, while this would have been considered the great American pop art album for the ages.  It wasn't so.  And here we have a somewhat lukewarm final-issuing of the album over four decades later.  It's one of the greatest albums ever made.  Just like I expected.  And guess what?  It's not even my album of the year.  They actually managed to get beat at their own game.  And yet, it only took fourty four years for anybody to catch up.

Sigur Rós — Inni 
I can't say enough good about Sigur Rós.  They just seem to respectfully say to everyone else in the contemporary music world, "That's nice.  Here's what we've been working on" and then proceed to play music that sounds nothing like anything or anyone else.  To hear them in this live context —just the four band members, unaccompanied— is fairly stunning.  To hear them open with the post-shoegaze gloom of 'Svefn-G-Englar' and then a few songs later burst out the ebullient 'Við Spilum Endalaust' is just impressive.  The album runs the gamut from skygazing daydream wonderment to squalling feeedback drenched epic gloom.  And man, do they not sound (and look) passionate.  You really can't help but feel the downright soul in these performances.  I bought it on clear triple vinyl in a very nice package and have played it a lot.  Granted, it's just a live album, but I find that it's probably the best so far representation of what the band does and why that's so special.  The DVD is excellent and the new song ('Lúppulagið') totally sounds like a Brian Eno circa-'76 album highlight, while still retaining that great calling card sound that has made the band so unique to begin with.  Like I said: just can't say enough good about these guys right now.  Who cares if they never make another album?  This would be damn fine goodbye gift. 

Kate Bush — 50 Words for Snow
Seriously slow.  Serious.  And slow.  And quiet.  But, jeez oh man, can Kate write resonating tunes or what?  I still don't know what half the album is about, but it just has that sound that you just feel.  Not a song here less than six minutes in length and there is so much space in these tunes that you may just start seeing stars up close.  God, I love it.  There's even a song here named after a natural landmark relatively in my backyard (that would be the eleven minute ode to ghost love, 'Lake Tahoe').  Most of this album is dominated by Kate and her piano and I have to say, I like it more for that.  I know everyone wants her to release another genre-defining, technology-reliant masterpiece like Hounds of Love, but I just don't like that idea.  There are a lot of shades of her past glories here (a lot of them occur in the album centerpiece 'Misty'), but those shades are stripped back to the bare essence and what you get is nearly Kate's unplugged album.  A surprisingly good cameo from Elton John on the emotionally deep 'Snowed in at Wheeler Street' (I can name only a few more resonating songs in Kate's catalogue) and a nearly spoken funk-jazz workout on the title track round out the album and yeah.  I will completely concede that I am still wholly unfamiliar with this one.  I like that it's slow.  I like that it lacks anything resembling a pop single.  I love that it's so understated and almost confrontationally sparse.  It often feels like the spiritual follow-up to the heavy-hearted concept proposed by side two of Hounds of Love.  Yeah.  it's that good.  But I probably won't come to grips with it either for quite some time.  It's a good one, that's for sure.

~Austin

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What's New?: 1.10.2012

I'm way behind and half of this shit got deleted midway through the write-up, so don't expect anything real deep in these thoughts.  Here we go. . .

Foreigner — Double Vision (1978)
Just solid arena rock from when that whole thing was taking off.  I don't know what it is about Foreigner that so appeals to me, as they are seemingly in direct contrast with everything else I'm normally into.  Maybe it's the thoughtful guitar work of Mick Jones (which is surprisingly sparse, for this sort of thing).  Of course, you get the two big hits on here: 'Hot Blooded' and the title track.  Couple of harmless rockers, they are.  But fun for sure. Perhaps predictably, I like the more introspective-themed mid tempo numbers like 'Back Where You Belong' (is it just me, or this oddly reminiscent of early Prince?).  The twangy ballad 'I Have Waited So Long' is fantastic and easily the album highlight.

Foreigner — Head Games (1979)
More of the same and still pretty much harmless fun.  The production on this one is a bit more layered and interesting, as the use of synthesizers is done in a fun way that incorporates weird sounds with pop melodies.  Case in point is 'Love on the Telephone' which is lyrically a pretty dumb song, but musically, it's pure stylistic sheen and all around ear candy.  The title track was the big hit on this one, but I again prefer the mellower stuff: 'The Modern Day' (sung by Mick Jones) is the sort of blue collar, relishing in the simple pleasures of life tune that arena rock is supposed to be about while 'Do What You Like' is (shockingly!) jangly and perfectly understated.  

Foreigner — 4 (1981)
Probably their biggest album.  'Juke Box Hero' should get any 80's night started off right.  There's a bit more of a melodramatic overtone to the songs here and you can definitely hear the album's subsequent influence on the rest of the 80's rock scene in that respect.  For a full example of this, see the buildup in 'Break it Up.' 'Waiting for a Girl Like You' is the power ballad here and I must have something wrong with me, because I find something rather appealing about its Fender Rhodes electric piano riff.  Another surprising moment is the funk rock and tremelo-obsessed riff of 'Urgent'.  Great sax by the one and only Jr. Walker as well.  The big moment for me, though, was the weird atmospheric riff of 'Girl on the Moon' which I knew previously in another form.  Enjoyable as hell, with that great early late 70's/80's feel in the production sounds.

Cheap Trick — One on One (1982)
Yeah, Cheap Trick was not at their best on this one.  This kind person is to be commended for this upload as it gives a slight indicator of just how much the band was going through the motions here.  Tom Peterson was gone and Robin Zander sounds like he's trying too hard with his pseudo-tough guy vocals most of the time.  The title track is a good Cheap Trick rocker and 'Saturday at Midnight' is such a goofy new waver that it gets by purely on appearance.  Side two is a lot stronger (despite 'I Want Be Man') and might make you forget how mediocre side one was.  Otherwise, yeah: not their finest moment.

Cheap Trick — Next Position Please (1983)
Eff what you think, this is a darn fine Cheap Trick long player.  If I were to continue believing the hype, I would have just lived my life thinking they stopped being good after Dream Police and that would have been that.  But no, this Todd Rundgren-produced album is peak period new wave-ish rock from a band that had struggled for a few albums previous.  Something should spark in the listener's ears right away when the first track 'I Can't Take it' kicks in: it's jangly, it's layered, it's catchy and it's ultimately an excellent song.  When 'Borderline' follows in the same vein, you should be clued in that something is up.  The tough-guy rock stance that One on One took is noticeably absent from this entire album.  The title track is another richly melodic strummer that finds the band getting critical of consumer philosophy (much in the vein of 'Stiff Competition'), while 'Invaders of the Heart' could be mistaken for an outtake from the first album, if you ask me.  Overall, yeah!  I never thought I'd dig another Cheap Trick album as much as their initial output, but here it is.  The expanded edition from the early 90's  (sixteen tracks in total — all worth it, too) is out of print (and subsequently, kind of spendy), but all of the bonus tracks are available for download for a buck a throw on Amazon, so go for it, I say (especially when you're able to find the vinyl in the dollar bin in the first place!).  Color me downright pleased.  

The Hollies — The Hollies' Greatest Hits (1960's/early 70's)
I'm here as a Graham Nash fan, first and foremost.  I find him and his work in the 70's (be it with CSN, just C or on his own) to be extremely underrated and a lot more enduring than a lot of his peers' work.  But, also as a 60's music fan in general, when this thing kicked off with 'Bus Stop' I couldn't help but grin ear-to-ear.  This the later issue of this compilation from the  70's, so it does include some later songs from after Graham had parted company with the band, but even some of those are darn good.  But still, Nash is why I'm here and it's awesome to hear his unmistakable vocal timbre and enunciation on songs like 'Carrie Ann' and especially the godlike mini-masterpiece 'King Midas In Reverse.'  Great stuff, especially out of the dollar bin.  And nice to finally hear where Nash was coming from, pre-CSN.  

Donovan — Barabajagal (1969)
I decided, after hearing a number of his songs in passing and surmising that they kick all kinds of butt, that I've neglected Donovan long enough, thank you very much.  I've had that one album that seemed pretty much essential for a few years, but I've not bothered beyond that.  Until now.  The big revelation here for me is: he's folky!  Strummy and jangly, poppy and lyrical.  Sheesh, he's a downright songwriter, by gum!  'Where is She?' displays Donovan the balladeer and just goes to that place that I love in 60's pop.  And, you know, I should say that I have a serious predisposition to this music.  I love the way the snare drum crackles, the way the the bass sounds like an oversized rubberband.  You just can't recreate that.  'Atlantis' was the hit off this one and its pure gold.  Its seemingly effortless resonance is just a screaming clue to the obvious fact that I should not have been ignoring the guy for this long.  And besides, he sounds way too much like Stuart Murdoch at times for me to be able to honestly dislike him.

Donovan — The Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)
Probably too much of a mixed bag that anybody at the time would really take a step back and understand what Donovan actually did here.  It's all here: psychedelic blues rock, strumminess, novelties, folky guy musings.  Packed to the brim with thirteen short tracks that find Donovan firing on all cylinders like nobody's business.  The highlight here is easily 'Get Thy Bearings' which manages to be pseduo-funky, jazzy and retain that great strummy acoustic base that Donovan used as his launching pad.  Understandably underrated, as there were no hits on this one, but that just ensures its enduring quality.  Nearly fifty years later and it still sounds great.  Right on.

The (English) Beat — Special Beat Service (1983)
Born out of Britain's ska-revival, I have to say that I'm shocked it took me so long to get to these guys.  They have so many of the qualities that I love in music.  British?  Check.  New wave-era?  Check.  Jangly guitars?  Check.  Slight reggae influence?  Check.  Introspective tones?  Check.  When I dropped the needle on this and heard 'I Confess' as the opener, I knew that I had (finally) made the right decision.  There's a pop sensibility at play here, so even the band are from England's ska-revival, they have not forgotten the lesson that a great pop tune can teach (see 'Sole Salvation').  'Save it for Later' is the band's biggest moment for us Americans and, boy oh boy, is it a good one.  As a fan of Aztec Camera, Orange Juice and the Clash, I'm surprised that it took me this long to find these guys.  Glad I did though.  Peak new wave stuff.

Travis — Coming Around (2000)
Non-album single that finds the band finding their voice for the first time.  The title track is a tasty R.E.M.-esque twelve-string jangler, complete with chorus harmony vocals.  There are two b-sides here as well: 'Just the Faces Change' is an acoustic strummer that finds a rare non-Fran Healy lead vocal while 'The Connection' is the sort of layered, jangly, introspective song that the band has made its calling card over the past decade.  I know bands like Crowded House, the Trashcan Sinatras and these guys are not considered "cool" with most Americans, but as long as these guys are able to remain one of the kings of the middle of the road jangle band throne with songs like these, I don't want to be "cool."

Andrew Hill — Dusk (2000)
And then he was back.  He would die a few years later, but this album is the one that got most critics and jazz listeners in general used to the fact that Andrew Hill was on the scene and was just as poignant as he was in the 1960's.  The title track is the sort of slow, rolling post-bop exploration that Andrew made his calling card.  Much too weird to be considered mainstream; much too melodic to be considered avant garde.  And such was life for Andrew Hill.  This is a strong set of melodies he's working with here and it's nice to hear him wrestle with themes uninterrupted on a tune like 'Tough Love' (though we'll properly address Andrew's solo explorations next time).  Overall, not a lot to say outside of how I find it absolutely awesome that he can record an album like this one, thirty five years after he made his initial impact, change nothing about his compositional approach and still manage to sound wholly unique.  

Kenny Dorham — Una Mas (1963)
The only album of the Kenny Dorham-Joe Henderson co-leader sessions that I didn't have.  Of course, the title track is the sort of Blue Note soul jazz blowing session that made the label famous in the first place.  So good, I won't even try to articulate.  Just listen and try not to groove along (and then enjoy the hell out of your fail).  'Sao Paulo' is a ridiculously moody post-bopper and just goes to show how daring and uncaring Blue Note was at this point.  It's like Miles' second great quintet before they even got there (though Herbie and Tony being in this band certainly helped).  I can finally understand why this album has such undisputed classic status.  And, besides that, it's a very important chapter in the early years of the Joe Henderson story.  

Ike Quebec — Soul Samba (1962)
A glance at the title and the year of release on this one and you may guess that it's a gimmicky cash-in on the bossa nova craze that had America in its grasp at that point.  But you're not taking into account that the mighty Ike Quebec is involved.  At this point in his career, he could have taken polka and have successfully made it sound like some of the best soul jazz ever.  Kenny Burrell is about on guitar and despite the similar pace of the songs and the similarly likable heads of the tunes, you just can't truly hate on something that has this much soul.  

Ike Quebec — Heavy Soul (1961)
And again, Ike in the twilight of his career, much like Ben Webster, just hit these unbelievably soulful mid-tempo grooves like it was just nothin'.  This one does have the ballads that he became known for in his later years, but it also has these moments of pure badassery that remain unmatched to this day.  I often forget about how good he actually is because I've got a spotty cross-section of his discography.  But, jesus, he's good.  Man oh man.  Maybe I should do something about that. . .

The (English) Beat — What is Beat? (early 1980's)
Good overview!  As a hits collection, it does its job, but it also serves more than that purpose, as it includes extended 12" mixes of the big hits, non-album singles and even some live tracks towards the end.  Can't be mad at their so-silly-it's-great cover of 'Tears of a Clown' or the long mixes.  I have to say that the long mix of 'I Confess' surpasses the original for me.  Just seems to lend itself to the longer, stretched-out form (thanks for the tablas).

The Byrds — Turn! Turn! Turn! (1966)
Been listening to the Byrds a bit recently and it occurred to me that, besides Notorious Byrd Brothers, I have none of their proper albums.  Considering that one of my favorite singers of all time started with them and that they are quite possibly the one definitive American jangle band, I decided that I had no excuse.  Had a good opportunity to scoop this one up, so I figured I'd go for it.  The title track, overplayed as it might be, is quite simply, one of the greatest pieces of music I've ever heard.  It never gets old.  However, it was the deeper album cuts that really surprised me: the airily-atmospheric, Gene Clark sung 'If You're Gone' and Roger McGuinn's mind-expanding revision of 'Oh Susannah' clue me in to something that I never would've gotten from a greatest hits collection.  I should have known better than to write off their albums for this long.

The Jam — Sound Affects (1980)
I haven't necessarily written the Jam off over the years, I've just been a lot more interested in Paul Weller's angry, but pretentious side.  The big hit from this album is the decidedly not punk-sounding 'That's Entertainment' and I still love the song (though I will admit that I was more familiar with this cover than I was the original previously).  'Man in the Corner Shop' is another case for why greatest hits collections aren't representative pieces, as it's clearly the best Jam song I've ever heard that isn't called 'In the City' (although I don't have that whole album either, so I could still be missing something that might trump it).  Overall, yeah man, I dig the Jam.

~Austin