Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What's New?: 1.23.2013

A batch of seven inch singles. . .
Bill Withers — The Gift of Giving / Let us Love (1972)

Rarely heard non-album action from one of the best ever.  The a-side here is a typically melancholy number for Bill.  Making good feelings about family and acquaintances into a minor key introspective tone poem masked as a holiday song.  Super warm, super deep; still Bill.  The flip is a tune called 'Let Us Love' that was performed on Bill's live album, but this is the almost never heard studio version here.  It continues in the holiday theme, but I really dig the message of the tune: be nice all year round.  If you like someone, let them know.  Don't fake it for a month or so at the end of the year.  Really a hard song to dislike.  

Carla Morrison — Una Salida / Tu Luz (2011)

The only instance I've found of Carla's music on vinyl.  And, yes —and I do mean YES— it is a good one.  The a-side is one of her best ballads.  Aching, building and beautiful, it's the reason I love her music.  The b-side is 'Tu Luz.'  And while the song starts out as a typically pretty acoustic Carla Morrison ballad, by two minutes in, it builds to a dreamy, towering, piano-laced wall of sheer beauty.  One of her dreamiest tunes, it's the clear winner on this single. 

David Axelrod — Theme from "Gumshoe" / The Lost Lament (1972)

Super essential, but unfortunately rarely heard non-album single produced and arranged by the man himself.  The timeline of this single is just insane: Axe was fresh off the death of his son, recording the Pride album (easily one of his best works), quickly slamming out his blue-eyed soul rendition of the Messiah and then to work on his bluesy funk rumination on the slave trade.  Somehow, in the middle of all that, he found time to reassemble a good portion of the band that had recorded his classic albums on Capitol for this completely inexplicable (in retrospect) non-album single.  For me to sit here and type out how good it is is redundant at this point.  This is simply my acquisition of this record in physical form.  Thanks to one of the current internets, I've known these tunes for a few years now.  The a-side may seem gimmicky upon initial glance, but it's given the vintage Axe treatment and the result is fanboy fodder of the highest order.  The flip is a little tune called 'The Lost Lament' and, as a greenhorn Axe scholar, I'd venture to say it's probably in the top five most important original David Axelrod songs of all time.  Keen listeners may pick the tune out as something Axe would redo a couple years later in a more polished fashion.  But listen to this initial rendition of the tune.  It's huge.  It's aching.  It's triumphant.  It's funky beyond belief.  I don't know whether to dance or cry.  It's just complete musical perfection.  There's a reason he is the best ever.  This is just one contributing factor.  Roughly six minutes of music and I'm still babbling on, years later, about how incredible it is.  I finally own this vinyl for myself.  It's a musical monument for me: I can now say I own every record this man has ever made under his own name.  Finally.


Monday, January 21, 2013

What's New?: 1.21.2013

Been slackin' lately. . .
Siouxsie and the Banshees — The Scream (1978)

Siouxsie and the gang's obviously most punk-sounding album.  This is technically a reacquisition, but, focusing on their decidedly more new wave-y 80's records in the interim, I had forgotten just how raw and punk this one actually is.  The building, rollicking, eff-bomb dropping demolishing of 'Helter Skelter' makes good and goddamn sure you know these blokes are all for knocking the system of musical conformity down.  Standard punk numbers 'Nicotine Stain' and 'Jigsaw Feeling' are just abrasive enough to get by.  Still, there's those few numbers on the album that are a bit more spacious and hint at things to come.  Songs like 'Overground' and the towering closer 'Switch' are excellent and, even though they would have been highlights on any other Banshees album, they really stick out here because, not only are they fantastic numbers, they look past the scope of not only this album, but the whole punk scene at the time.  One of the most diverse and curious debut albums to come out of the entire punk and new wave thing.  Only wish the equally as great non-album single 'Hong Kong Garden' had been included as a bonus track.

Pink Floyd — Obscured by Clouds (1972)

Another reacquisition.  The second of Pink Floyd's soundtracks for otherwise totally obscure films.  The instrumentals on this album kick so much ass, I don't even know where to begin.  Seriously, have a listen to the album kickoff title track and try to tell me that that isn't badassery of the highest order.  Elsewhere, as the album right before Dark Side of the Moon, 'Burning Bridges' fills the space as the perfect pre-cursor (song's great too, by the way).  As an album, it kind of peters out after the great 'Mudmen' but that first two-thirds or so is just wonderful stuff.  Floaty and pretty and thoughtful and cerebral; there's a reason I've always gravitated towards this early 70's Floyd material.  It just asserts its influence more and more as the years pass, and subsequently manages to stay relevant and seemingly ageless all the while.  S'good.

Björk — Biophilia (2011)

It's a pretty sad day when Björk releases an album, I forget that she did so and then proceed a year more with my life before finally realizing what I've done to myself.  And further, when I actually do get that album, it's not even good (or bad) enough to really get any strong reactions out of me.  I think it's safe to say that the last Björk album I felt like I really understood and completely loved, despite not liking some of it, was Medúlla.  It was just exactly what I wanted from Björk: a beautiful challenge.  Volta was okay, but I never have loved it, which was a first for me and Björk albums.  And now, Biophilia just seems like Björk creating an album around a concept without having the tunes to back it up.  Instead, musical ideas from her last ten or fifteen years are just rehashed in lieu of anything new to make way for a broad, impenetrable concept about the beginning of time and the way everything is related to everything else (or something).  I'm no prude when it comes to big ideas in music, but if the concept is more important than the tunes, I'm out.  Tuneless essay/rants like 'Hollow' don't help when in the company of post-Homogenic duds like 'Sacrifice' or 'Crystalline' (that one comes complete with a totally not predictable drum'n'bass switch-up in the third act **rolls eyes**).  The seeming Medúlla outtake 'Virus' is passable, but a tad disappointing.  All that said, the very first and the very last songs on the proper album are absolutely gorgeous and sparse numbers (featuring Björk's by now saving grace, Zeena Parkins on harp).  Overall, I feel like I've heard this album done before, and better.  I guess when you've set the bar as high as Björk has, you're bound to hit a few dips.  Just never thought I'd get to a point where Björk's music wasn't exciting and/or emotive. 

Lorelei — Everyone Must Touch the Stove (1995)

Woefully moody and wonderfully artsy and noisy early post-rock from Virginia.  Have a listen to the restrained opener 'Today's Shrug' and its explosive follow up 'Quiet Staid Debt' to get an idea of what's going on here.  Sounds like bedroom rock obsessed with stargazing.  Not a whole lot to say about this one.  Just great tunes, great scope, great atmosphere and wonderfully weird indulgences every so often.  The whole thing's got a shifting nature where songs will end up sounding completely different from what they began as, so it makes the album a very complete work and a rewarding full listen every time.  Pretty fun when you can catch up to an album seventeen years later and it still sounds fresh.  Fantastic.  It's on Spotify in full; check it out.  

Caravan — In the Land of Grey and Pink (1971)

Fun Canterbury scene stuff.  I know, because their roots lie in the Wilde Flowers and they have very close ties to Soft Machine, that they are known as a primarily a prog band, but most of the songs on this album are much closer to a sort of poppy folk rock sound than they are prog.  The lead track 'Golf Girl' sounds a bit silly, in all honesty.  Catchy tune, sure.  But c'mon, boys!  'Winter Wine', on the other hand, is pretty convincing.  I have no idea what the tune is about, but darned if it doesn't create a wonderful little micro-world that exists for the song's duration.  There's an accent on dreamy keyboard chords here that I can't help but say reminds me very much of Yes.  The obligatory sidelong jam 'Nine Feet Underground' seems to only exist to satisfy the fact that the band could fill up the entire side of a record with one song.  This expanded edition nearly doubles the album's running time and features the superb outtake 'I Don't Know its Name (Alias The Word)' among its other ephemera.  As my first taste of Caravan properly, I'm intrigued.  As this was an impulse purchase, it reminded how few times I've actually seen their albums on shelves.

999 — self-titled (1977)

Time for a pint of lager!  As a long time Cure fan —and especially of the band's unique first albumthe leadoff track on this was quite a shock at first.  What follows is a lot more typically "punk" sounding, but there's a sense to Nick Cash's lyrics that he's a bit more of an introspective fellow than his peers, so something like 'Emergency' steps beyond its seemingly limited reach with relative ease to become an anthemic, glorious song of triumph.  'Titanic (My Over) Reaction' is the same, in a similar vein, and equally as outstanding.  This expanded edition gathers up the band's pre-album singles (all of which are very much punk songs — awesome) and generally does a good job of stating the case for 999's first album being one of the greats of British punk.

Dick Gaughan — Gaughan (1978)

This is actually the album Gaughan in compilation form.  It contains the entirety of the album Gaughan, but is supplemented with a few tracks a piece from the Bonnie Pit Laddie (released by the High Level Ranters) and Coppers and Brass (Dick's album of solo guitar instrumentals from 1977).  The album doesn't quite have the intensity that made Handful of Earth such a masterpiece, but it is a bit more of a warmer, intimate affair.  Still lots of that wonderful DADGAD tuning and even an electric instrument or two.  Have a listen to the first track to get an idea.  There's a handful of acapella songs that are very intense, but as a whole, it's a very nice album that, in this iteration, serves as a great companion piece to Handful of Earth.  It's also on Spotify and I definitely recommend it. 

T. Rex — Futuristic Dragon (1976)

Great two disc edition of this sort of forgotten Marc Bolan album.  It's a strangely enticing mix of sounds that ultimately ends up sounding like the proper fusion of glam and soul; the type at which David Bowie failed.  'All Alone' is just about as good as it gets for us T. Rex nerds, while 'Life's an Elevator' has got to be in the running for one of his best ever songs.  The album is a weird concept thing that I don't get, but the tunes are too funky and addictive to really get caught up in all the faux mysticism.  This two disc edition features the entire album in alternate recordings and while that's not necessarily interesting, the extra "solo recordings" versions of the songs at the end of the second disc are definitely worth the ride.  Not an album I knew going in, but as a big Marc Bolan fan for years previous, it's definitely one I will be listening to and taking in for a while.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

What's New?: 1.5.2013

The Collectors — self-titled (1967)

Picked this one up on pure whim. Just dug the cover art.  The year of release and the label (that classic green orange and blue Warner logo) told me that it would probably be nice lite-psych if nothing more.  And that's basically what it amounts to.  Great, floating vocal harmonies on the leadoff track 'What is Love?' had me get my hopes up, thinking it was going to be a hidden surprise, but that's probably the album's highlight.  The rest of the album has, like I said, a very "psych lite" tone to it and the only time it gets as close to the pastoral opener is later on side one with 'One Act Play.'  The entirety of side two is taken up by the obligatory psychedelic-era "journey" song 'What Love (Suite).'  It has some good passages —namely the reprise of 'What is Love?' that explodes into a nihilistic, dark psychedelic garage rocker, only to implode into probably the album's prettiest moment, complete with a tenor sax solo atop wondrous harmonies— but generally isn't really worth the whole ride.  Still, a nice find.

Amon Düül II — Carnival in Babylon (1972)

Darn good, in all fact!  I don't know why I wasn't expecting much, but I wasn't.  It has some pretty partssome wacky parts and some songs that do a little of everything.  Reminds me very much of the first two or three Yes albums, in fact.  Spacey and pretty, but with a sense that anything can (and will) happen at any point.  Despite all of its "progressivess", there is a very tuneful aspect to this music to where you play it back after three or four full listens and as each songs begins you kind of smile and say to yourself, "Oh yeah, this one's really good too!"  Fun music.  Hard to think of, in retrospect, as "Kraut Rock" though.

Split Enz — Dizrhythmia (1977)

Absolutely peak new wave from a band that I'm finding I have neglected for far too long.  This was Neil's first album with the band and, while Tim has written all the songs (the first Enz album where he was directing the band), Neil receives a credit for mandolin.  Like a boss.  But seriously, it was still Tim's show at this point, but damn this is excellent new wave pop.  Here you go.  Don't like that?  Well, fine, here.  Still not satisfied?  Try this.  Want something besides quirky sounds?  Got you covered: the tranquilly beautiful 'Without a Doubt' and the ballad-turned-rave-up of 'Jamboree' are just what this album needed to push it over into that higher tier of works.  Talk about an album that should be much more renowned than it is.  The whole thing's great and I'm starting to wonder if I might have a new favorite Enz album.  Superb.

Split Enz — Frenzy (1978)

If I'm to understand things correctly, the fourteen track version of this album that I've picked up is the harder to find version, as all of side two contains seven selections from the band's famous Rootin' Tootin' Luton Tapes and the whole version of this album was remixed by the band in 1981.  Neil's first lead vocal on an Enz album is here and it's a good one!  Elsewhere, Tim goes into full piano ballad mode and the results are great, once again.  The dancefloor is considered (and it's a badass tune).  Neil tries to steal the show with a classic-sounding strummer.  The proper album ends with probably the most punk sounding thing the band ever did (courtesy of bassist Nigel Griggs).  Also, whistling!  This album is all over the place, but the tunes are undeniable.  Yay, Split Enz! 

Split Enz — Conflicting Emotions (1983)

Neil has basically taken over by this point, as Tim was focusing on his solo career.  Tim still wrote six of the album's ten songs, but Neil's attempts, admirable as they are, expose that he was probably not ready to lead his own band yet.  'Message to My Girl', though, finds him writing in that whimsically earnest mode that he would manage to make a career out of in Crowded House.  It's a really good one.  Overall, Hugh Padgham's keyboard-heavy production doesn't suit Neil's songs that well, but that one is able to overcome the presentation.  The overly melodramatic 'Our Day' would be a noble failure, in this respect.  On the other hand, Tim's eerie title track benefits because of it.  The production is a bit heavy handed, but the songs (especially from the retrospective view of a Crowded House fan) are pretty alright.  Plus, for those supernerds among us, the album is pressed on dark brown vinyl.  So, while it may appear to be a piece of regular old black vinyl, hold it up to a bright light and you'll be able to see through it partially.  How is that for fun?

The Moody Blues — In Search of the Lost Chord (1968)

Totally "trippy man."  Still, decent tunes and great harmonies.  As far as songs go, nothing here really sticks out all that much, but rather the presentation is the star of the show.  'Voices in the Sky' is probably the best thing here, if you have to have a highlight.  But, honestly, you're better off just listening to the album as a whole.  Pretty clear that's how these songs were meant to be heard.  Could do without all the extra curricular "heady"-ness, but not like all that stuff is to the album's detriment. Still, dollar bin winning.

The Moody Blues —  On the Threshold of a Dream (1969)

This one's alright, too.  It relies just as heavily on track sequence and mood as Lost Chord, but it has a lot more diversity in its actual songs, so that makes a big difference,  Where Lost Chord just has a very pastoral vibe that it gets by on, this one has a similar tone, but the songs, when taken out of that context, are pretty all over the place.  There is one song here that strikes me as an all time classic for the ages: 'Dear Diary.'  Quite rightly.  'Lazy Day' is a bit more whimsical, but has a similar charm.  The album closing suite points the band back towards more headier territory and it's a nice journey, while it lasts.  Good for filling in those moments when I want pure boombast and over the top-edness (with some delicious harmonies to boot).

Various — When I Was a Cowboy: Songs of Cowboy Life, Classic Recordings of the 1920's (1920's)

Indispensable collection of pre-WWII country music.  This is country music in the most classic of definitions, as most of it sounds like what most people would consider folk music by this point.  Have a listen to Jules Allen and decide for yourself.  It sounds like brilliant music to me.  Similarly, Carl Sprague's tales of boiling coffee without grinding it are just pure magic.  Ken Maynard presents a more polite version of the same thing, but his guitar is just about one of the best things ever.  Dick Devall goes completely acapella for a tale of regret.  And the Delmore Brothers have the type of harmonies that I've come to know and love.  Overall, music that's warm as hell and a darn fine introduction to this sort of thing.  Great find.

The Louvin Brothers — My Baby's Gone (1960)

Another Louvin Brothers album and this one is completely secular.  This one finds them in their same produced Capitol Nashville mode, so, looking at the album title, it should be a no-brainer that the songs take on a more typical classic country theme.  Infidelity, unrequited love and lots of regret are the main thing here.  But, along with that bigger Capitol budget comes a different mindset and some of the tunes take on an awesomely almost rockabilly tone that just kicks butt.  But mostly, the harmonies are the star of the showThrow in some kickass mandolin and it's a done deal: I love these guys.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What's New?: 1.1.2013

Been hoarding the "What's New?" lately.  Let's get into it. . .
The Police — Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)

Had a go of it over the years with the Police.  I think I have an initial kneejerk reaction against things where if I'm told I should just simply like them because of what they are.  Took me years to come around to u2 and the Beatles because of this same scenario.  Maybe, in this case, Sting's later career has played a factor in things as well.  Who knows?  Found these few in the dollar bin on a whim, so hey, why not?  By all accounts, the Police should be one of the bands I worship.  I gave it a shot, years ago.  Honest, I did.  But nothing ever seemed to be that great (or even that good) about them.  But, even though I knew the hits, it never would have occurred to me without actually sitting down with this album and hearing it for myself: Andy Summers' guitar sound on this album is absolute perfection.  That's no more clear to me than on 'When the World is Running You Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around.'  Hit those three chords and let them ring forever, Andy.  The sparseness of the song is immediately noticeable.  A lot of that has to do with that guitar part (and that the "guitar solo" is actually a bass solo).  So airy, so floating.  Just wonderful.  I knew 'Voices in my Head' was a sample favorite, but I didn't realize that the initial song was as arty and weird as it actually is.  The faux-reggae that the band got by on is still around, but you can tell they were growing tired with the schtick on the hit 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da' (still, Andy's guitar tone steals the show again).  Overall, yeah: good new wave.  Just fantastic guitar throughout—who cares what any of the songs are actually about?  (but seriously, Sting is actually pretty sharp with his words on this album, making it sound like there was a "punk rock" band that actually gave a shit)

The Police — Ghost in the Machine (1983)

It's a pretty big compliment right up front that I give this album the same score that I did Zenyatta, for a few reasons: 1) Andy's guitar is nowhere near as prominent 2) It's intentionally "weird" and "challenging" (please note the quotes) and 3) I hate 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic' with an undying passion.  The verse on 'Invisible Sun' is actually so gorgeous, I'm having trouble coming up with words to properly describe it.  Side two of the album is where things really get going.  'Rehumanize Yourself' finds the return of Andy's wonderful guitar sound and is just heady great new wave, while 'Omega Man' is the greatest punk song ever written by a band that was trying to be anything but punk.  Jeezohman, it's good.  But I don't know.  I'm a self-proclaimed fan of "mess" albums.  And this just seems like one of the better candidates for that category, doesn't it?  Wonderfully bad, keyboard-favoring early 80's production by Hugh Padgham and the cycle is complete: I have a new source of romanticization

The Police — Synchronicity (1984)

Fancy little new wave album!  It's actually pressed on very dark purple vinyl (as were all retail, non-record club copies of this album) that is only really legible when you hold it up to very bright light.  Fun!  It's got three big hits on it and, I don't know, maybe enough time has passed between my youth and those songs (coupled with the fact that the Police have not really achieved retroactive credibility). . . but, I. . . .  *long sigh*. . . like 'Every Breath You Take.'  Like, I want to learn to play and sing it.  I don't care if soccer moms know it.  It's a fantastic song.  'King of Pain' boasts one of the greatest vocal melodies of all time (one that Ben Gibbard has stolen a lot from over the years).  But, besides that, it's got to be one of the best songs of the 80's.  Sure, its earnest melancholy tone must have been lost through so many plays over the years, but imagine hearing it for the first time again.  It took me rewinding to age 10 and conjuring up that memory to really appreciate this song.  While, there's no chance any ten year old would ever truly understand the song, it's a weird (and wonderful) thing to recall the burgeoning world with that song in my head.  The album closer 'Tea in the Sahara' is one last jolt of floating faux reggae wonderfulness, Andy's guitar making one more final hurrah.  'Mother' sucks.  Bad.  Full of all kinds of stuff, this is definitely one of the best new wave albums of all time.

XTC — Love On A Farmboy's Wages (1983)

XTC b-sides!  Alright!  First things first: the a-side is one of my all time favorite XTC tunes.  It's one of the rare moments of XTC that captures their Britishness from a rural standpoint.  Heartfelt and political, it's a winner through and through.  Flip it over and three live tunes on this one.  'Burning With Optimism's Flame' mines a similarly faux reggae sound that the Police were famous for, while 'English Roundabout' is as tense and manic as new wave could get (and which XTC had no problem accomplishing), while 'Cut it Out' is played in tandem with its predecessor, almost like a dub version.  Pure fun, and great to hear XTC live at this point, as it was to be one of the last times the band actually played live.

XTC — Great Fire (1983)

Another winner for the a-side here.  If it's been a secret around here previously that Mummer is one of my all time favorite albums —and easily my favorite XTC album— then let me settle that here and now: that shit's about as badass as it gets.  This single has great b-sides.  The first of which is the poppy jump of a song 'Gold' which just goes to exhibit that the band was still as fun as ever in these days.  The other two tunes are Andy Partridge's instrumental ambient/synth side project moonlighting as XTC b-sides.  'Frost Circus' and especially 'Procession Towards Learning Land' are arty and beautiful and chancey and brilliant and ultimately they exhibit why this is my favorite period for XTC: the band did not give a single fuck for anything or what anyone thought.  Amongst the most punk rock-minded moments of the 80's.  Mummer is amazing.  Deal with it.

Pink Floyd — Atom Heart Mother (1970)

Enh, it's not bad.  The side one dominating suite is pretty damned uneventful and just downright wasteful.  Side two is such an improvement.  Just. . . wow.  Why didn't the whole album make use of its time like this?  I guess it should be obvious by now that I prefer the more folky, introspective-tinged Floyd material.  So, stuff like 'If' and 'Fat Old Sun' is more or less awesome.  The second suite on the album, 'Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast' is also nice, if not a bit too much for its own good.  At least it's listenable (unlike the album's first half).

Dick Gaughan — Handful of Earth (1980)

Celtic folk masterpiece from one of the style's sorely forgotten talents.  A friend recently played 'Craigie Hill' for me and when I inquired about Dick, he described Handful of Earth as "a British Isles classic."  Didn't take much more than that for me to become instantly interested.  And the whole album is just about as great as that four word description implies.  Seems every song here is in DADGAD, or a tuning pretty close to it, and is subsequently gorgeously played, in those deep tones.  The blues be damned: Nordic folk music has its own rules.  It is an unabashedly sparse album, with no more than three musicians credited (at most) on any given tune and no percussion of any sort employed.  In that sparseness is where it finds the intimate quality that connects with you.  I didn't think so much of it after one full play through.  But something just got me to play it again.  And then again.  And now, here I am, a week later and I'm pretty much only wanting to listen to this album.  'Both Sides the Tweed' is the one tune on the album that makes use of non-traditional instruments and it's a magically haunting moment.  Folk Roots called it "album of the decade" for the 80's.  And why the hell not?  Clearly a masterpiece for the ages.  You have no excuse for not having heard it at least once: it's on Spotify in full.  Relish in the glorious sounds.  Some of the most "soulful" singing and guitar playing I've heard in quite some time.  This is the really nice (and highly recommended) 180gram reissue on the Dutch 6 Spices label.  Really just fantastic work all around.

Lots more on the way, shortly.